Don’t Wake Me Up

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 4, 2009 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

I want to write this post so badly, but in the back of my mind, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll regret it. I can see myself, along with all of you guys, pointing and laughing at my naivete, all of us slapping our knees in chuckling delight as we reminisce on how foolish I used to be. But I’m here, and you’re here, so I’ll just come out and say it:

Tim Thomas has been awesome.

I know that better men than I have fallen for Thomas’ 3-point shooting charms. He’s a shot-maker in the purest sense, and the 3-4 flexibility he brings can be a tremendous asset. But in Dallas, there’s no disputing that he has been a tremendous asset during what could have been a very dark time. With Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier out, and Josh Howard’s return nowhere in sight, the Mavs could have been paper thin at forward. They may have leaned heavily on James Singleton or the three-guard lineup, neither of which has been terribly effective this season. Dirk Nowitzki may have logged even more minutes than the ridiculous amount he has already, which could have short-term (Dirk being tired in the fourth quarter of recent games) and long-term (Dirk being tired down the regular season stretch run and the playoffs) implications. But since returning from his post-knee surgery recovery, Thomas has averaged 17.1 minutes over seven games, and he’s done everything we’d hoped he would and done little of what we’d feared.

For one, Thomas is sticking to his role. He runs the floor (or at this point, does what he can with his bum knee), spots up when appropriate, or dives to the basket when he has an opening. But more importantly, Thomas isn’t forcing things offensively. His usage rate is at a career low 19.2%, seventh in the team hierarchy and right where you want your dead-eye shooters. But whereas Thomas’ most productive stretches in the past have come as a result of his signature role of a shoot-first-look-for-teammates-later gunslinger, he seems to be flourishing with his newfound discretion. Take a look at Thomas’ season numbers per 36 minutes in comparison to his career numbers (stats via Basketball-Reference.com):

PP36REBASTSTLBLKTOVFG%3FG%
'09-'1018.05.41.82.10.31.5.545.471
Career15.95.72.11.00.52.1.437.369

It’s hard to get really excited over a seven game sample size, but Thomas is making shots at the highest rate of his career (.656 TS% and a .636 eFG%, both second to only Erick Dampier among Mavs), not turning the ball over much at all, staying within his game and within the system, and letting the ball come to him. Could it be that the Mavs are the team to rein in Thomas, and milk his offensive skill without bogging him down? Could it really be that Rick Carlisle is the coach to get the most out of Thomas, finding the happy medium between smothering him (a la Scott Skiles) or letting the inmate run your offense (a la D’Antoni)? Or could it really, really be that the Mavs’ offense can find Thomas enough shots to satisfy his primitive, 3-point shooting urges, while still getting him to buy into the bigger plan? These ideas sound even crazier to me than they do to you, but over Thomas’ first seven games, the evidence is there.

If this is a dream, don’t wake me. I’m not ready to watch Thomas regress to the mean, either in terms of his shooting or his emotions. If the Mavs can manage to keep Tim engaged (a tall order) and involved (an order which depends on his shooting which depends on his interest level which depends on a tall order), Thomas could be one of the Mavs’ most effective role players. I know the odds aren’t in their favor, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Carlisle has taught another old dog a new trick.

Shake It Up, Flip the Script

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 18, 2009 under News | 2 Comments to Read

This time around, the Mavs look to be the wounded tigers. Shawn Marion is expected to miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury, Erick Dampier will miss the game while recovering from his undisclosed illness, and Josh Howard still has no timetable for return. Quinton Ross and Drew Gooden are projected to start in place of Marion and Damp, but their upgrade to the starting lineup leaves the Mavs’ bench looking awfully thin.

But hey, who needs those guys? The Mavs should replace their production and then some with the grand Maverick introduction of the living legend himself, Tim Thomas. Fit those championship rings, because our savior is here!

A head nod to Eddie Sefko.

Once More, With Feeling: The Rotation

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 27, 2009 under Commentary, Previews | Be the First to Comment

This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here. To read Act II (the Four Factors), click here. To read Act III (the Coach), click here.

Defining and maintaining a rotation is a bit of a delicate process for some folks, and a simple measure of brute strength for others; it’s either a continued exercise in tinkering and ego-stroking or a desperate attempt to jam fifteen square pegs into one giant round hole. As I discussed in the last segment, Rick Carlisle usually opts for the finesse approach.

But on top of the difficulties that come with appeasing the egos of professional athletes, Rick Carlisle also has the distinct privilege of fitting many multi-positional, versatile players into a series of coherent lineups. What is Josh Howard’s true position? Or Shawn Marion’s? Or Drew Gooden’s?

It doesn’t matter. The designation doesn’t matter so much as their contextual place within lineups and within the rotation. With a team that boasts such an atypical power forward and superstar, we shouldn’t expect each player to fall into neat little roles based on the expectations of their position. The reasons why Dirk Nowitzki is so brilliant are exactly because he’s not what you’d expect from a power forward. So when I say that Josh Howard will have no problem filling in as the starting shooting guard, I want you to grasp my full meaning. I don’t think that Josh Howard will be able to fulfill the ball handling and distributing responsibilities normally assigned to a 2 guard, but in my mind that doesn’t mean he can’t start alongside Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and either Drew Gooden or Erick Dampier.

Photo via ESPN.com.

The Maverick offense is fairly unique in that even though it’s come along way since the plodding isolations of the Avery Johnson era, wing players have rarely had a role of the playmaking part of the offense. Aside from Jason Terry’s two man game with Dirk, the 2 is a position of scoring through cuts and jumpshots. Wings still create shots in one-on-one situations or the additional drive and kick, but the majority offense goes through the expert management of Jason Kidd or the high post savvy of Dirk Nowitzki.

With that in mind, why would Josh Howard and Shawn Marion be unable to coexist peacefully on the perimeter? Each is able to both shoot and slash, but in ways complementary of the other; Josh would rather shoot than slash, and Shawn would rather slash than shoot. But both are (at least) passable from three point range and fine finishers around the basket, which offers the Mavs a plethora of options in the half-court offense. Rare are the teams with two capable perimeter defenders, meaning in most cases either Howard or Marion will have free rein to do what they do best.

The other big question for the Mavs comes on the inside. Carlisle has opted to go with Dampier and Gooden as “co-starters,” with matchups determining the starter at center. That, more than anything, is reflective of the underlying theme of this year’s Mavs: flexibility. Gooden and Damp not only afford the Mavs a versatile approach to the inside game, but their unique contracts (Gooden’s unguaranteed contract and Dampier’s virtually expiring contract) will ultimately dictate the Mavs’ roster changes over the next year.

But while they’re both in Dallas, Gooden and Dampier will give the Mavs two very different looks in the middle. We know what to expect from Dampier: rebounding, on-ball defense in the post, the occasional dunk. But Gooden is more or less a wild card. We know that he’s a more gifted offensive player than Damp, but how will Drew fare on the defensive end? Determining when Gooden is the appropriate matchup will be Rick Carlisle’s first big test of the season, and assessing his offensive contributions relative to his expected defensive limitations. I’m not convinced that Gooden will give up all that much at center, but only time will tell how he will function within the Mavs’ scheme.

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images.

You have to love the depth that comes with the Mavs’ new additions. Shawn Marion will fill many of the minutes as the Mavs’ back-up power forward, particularly in the rumored small ball lineup featuring the top five players in the rotation (Dirk, Kidd, JET, Howard, Marion). Quinton Ross also gives the Mavs a defensive stopper on the wing, either to neutralize particular perimeter threats or possibly to fill in as a starter for the injured Howard. Kris Humphries is poised to build on his solid preseason by playing as either big, and James Singleton/Tim Thomas fill the role of utility big based on specific need. I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent J.J. Barea, who proved against the Spurs that he’s capable of being a big-time difference maker. Rodrigue Beaubois will get some burn as the third point guard and occasionally as an off-guard, but he won’t get enough minutes to appease the Roddy-hungry MFFLs. I’m already salivating while we wait for Beaubois to actualize his potential, but for now we should all take deep breaths and try to be comfortable with the idea of limited minutes and some DNP-CDs for Rodrigue. All of his hopefully translates for more opportunities to thrive for the big names in Dallas. It’s so much easier to succeed in the NBA when surrounded by a decent supporting cast, and Dirk, Kidd, JET, and Josh have quite the ensemble.

I’m interested to see just how reliant the 2009-’10 Mavs are on the small ball approach. Putting Dirk at center certainly has its perks, but he does give up a bit defensively. We won’t really know for sure until Josh Howard returns from injury, but if last year was any indication (where Brandon Bass was a part of the Mavs’ most effective lineups), it could be Dallas’ trump card.

Once More, With Feeling: The Formula

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 26, 2009 under Previews | 7 Comments to Read

The TrueHoop Network banded together like a rag tag group of unexpected heroes to conquer the most sizable of foes: a season preview of both considerable scope and depth. Having blog representation for every team grants the project some tremendous perspective. So Act I of Once More, With Feeling will feature my contribution of the Mavs’ official season preview:

The 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks

Crystal Ball
The consensus win total prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of The Two Man Game.

Last YearCrowd Says...Blogger Prediction
50-3250-3253-29


Yes We Can!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

Team changes are often thought to exist on a continuum. On one end, “rebuilding” teams seek financial flexibility and the acquisition of young, productive assets. On the other, quality squads amass veteran talent, no matter the cost, in pursuit of a title. Defying all logic, the Mavs have simultaneously moved in both directions, an off-season strategy that bears the best of both worlds.

Dallas still has a lot to prove before we place them in the top tier, but the Mavs’ moves this summer have them planted firmly among the second group of would-be contenders. Headlining those moves was the acquisition of Shawn Marion, another offensive weapon for Jason Kidd to work with and a decorated perimeter defender. Though Marion’s odometer and price tag have understandably made some wary, it’s hard to see how adding Shawn to an already successful roster doesn’t work out for Dallas in the short-term. Historically, Marion has worked best with other scorers to play off of, and with skilled point guards capable of finding him at his favorite spots on the floor. Dallas certainly has both, though only time will tell if Marion’s down year in 2008-2009 was an aberration or indicative of real decline. In addition to Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Quinton Ross will bolster the Maverick reserves, each bringing varying levels of talent, reliability, and veteran know-how.

In spite of all of that spending, the Mavs find themselves with financial flexibility in spades. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden in particular provide the Mavericks with unusually valuable trade chips, as each can provide a potential trade partner with unique financial benefits. Given the window-shopping going on in anticipation of 2010 free agency and the current economic climate, that’s powerful. And while the Mavs are very flexible financially, they’re perhaps even more flexible on hardwood. By adding various players capable of playing multiple positions, the Mavs can offer a variety of looks and lineups to either befuddle or adjust to opponents. The desired result is a more explosive offense and more versatile defense, though the Mavs might be one more move away from fully actualizing their potential on either front.

And of course, the Mavs’ biggest guns are those returning from last year’s squad. Dirk Nowitzki is still an All-World talent, and his unique skill set will be supplemented by the better-than-you-think Jason Kidd, reigning Sixth Man Jason Terry, and a hopefully healthy Josh Howard. While that core may not measure up to the true championship contenders, it’s still stacked with enough talent to make the Mavs a dangerous element in the West.

All-a-Twitter
A 140-character insight into the
soul of the team.

Samuri Jack is back on cartoon network gotta watch” – Shawn Marion (@matrix31), who incidentally discovered the perfect metaphor for his career arc. The eponymous Samurai Jack is unwillingly thrust into the future via wormhole, and his longing for the comforts of simpler times echoes Marion’s own pining for his days in Phoenix. Though both battle an ambiguous, seemingly unconquerable adversary (be it incompatible offensive systems or the demon Aku), their true enemy is time itself. Just as Jack adjusted to a futuristic dystopia, so must Marion to the limitations of an aging athlete.

On the Record
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

Everybody was in attack mode after we got stops…We didn’t have to grind it all out all the time.
–Dirk Nowitzki, following the game 3 playoff win over the Spurs

Last season’s Mavs suffered from an easily diagnosed, but difficult to cure ailment: the defense just couldn’t keep up with the offense. A lack of defensive stability left the 2008-2009 Mavs looking like an elite team one minute and a merely average one the next. That made the Mavs both mortal and dangerous, a combination that bore both a win over the Spurs and a loss to the Nuggets in the 2009 Playoffs.

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Dallas Mavericks
Offense: 5th
Defense: 17th
Pace: 16th
Team Factor Strength(s): Turnovers (4th), Defensive Rebounding (8th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Turnovers Forced (26th), Free Throws (23rd)

Despite the flaws of a system predicated on shooting jumpers, Dallas still boasted a top-notch offense handicapped merely by their inability to wreak havoc defensively. Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross were added for this reason, and, along with a healthier Josh Howard, they’ll ship up the sloppy perimeter. As for the free throws…well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Play
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Jason Terry collects the inbound pass at the 3-point line on the right side of the floor. Dirk sets a high screen, which opens up myriad options. Terry could have an open shot, or room enough to drive to the basket. Dirk will likely have the space to operate after drifting to the elbow. Just in case JET and Dirk are swarmed, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion lie in wait. That’s hardly ever the case, though; Terry and Nowitzki make beautiful music together in the two-man game, and their harmonizing versatility begs for comparisons to Pet Sounds. They simply move together in step and in time, creating an idyllic sequence with an impressive, undeniable finished product.

The People’s Choice
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Mavs fans will be chanting for rookie point guard Rodrigue Beaubois…as soon as they can conjure up an appropriate French-themed nickname for the young Guadaloupean. Beaubois has three pretty significant assets working in his favor: he’s a young first round draft pick, he’s a point guard with some flash, and his lack of exposure makes him a figure of intrigue.

If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

Erick Dampier’s contract has cast a dark cloud over the organization for quite some time, but that cursed agreement could reap some serious benefits this season. Damp is technically under contract for the 2010-2011 season, but some creative salary structuring makes Dampier a living, breathing, eight figure expiring contract (next season’s salary is not guaranteed). But wait! There’s more! Beneath the hard, inflexible candy exterior of the aforementioned expiring contract lies a hidden treat: Erick Dampier can be traded for equivalent salary value late into the 2010 off-season, providing this trade chip with an unusually long and beneficial shelf life. The timing and returns are yet to be determined but Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have a wonderful toy to fiddle with.

The 2009-2010 Season, One Itty Bitty Nutshell

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 6, 2009 under Commentary, Previews | 12 Comments to Read


Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog has taken it upon himself, every year for the past century, to assemble a giant crew of bloggers for the singular purpose of previewing each and every team for the upcoming season. Here’s my contribution on the Mavs, and rest assured: this is just a taste of the previewing to come, so stick around.

DALLAS MAVERICKS
Last Year’s Record: 50-32
Key Losses: Brandon Bass, Antoine Wright, Ryan Hollins, Gerald Green, Devean George, Jerry Stackhouse
Key Additions: Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, Quinton Ross, Kris Humphries, Rodrigue Beaubois, Nathan Jawai, Jake Voskuhl

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

The Mavs made significant strides this off-season by turning a lot of nothing into something. Jerry Stackhouse barely laced up in 2008-2009, and yet a money-saving provision in his contract made him valuable enough to net Shawn Marion via trade. They added Quinton Ross to fill the void of the departed Antoine Wright. Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas were picked up for pennies on the dollar, and Kris Humphries may hold unexpected value after being considered a throw-in in the Marion deal. That’s quite a catch of players, even if it doesn’t quite heal the burns Otis Smith was kind enough to leave with the Marcin Gortat ordeal.

It’s comforting to know that the powers that be (Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle) are willing to really go for it when it comes to improving the team. Between the courting of Gortat, the acquisition of Marion, and the trio of signings that brought Gooden, Thomas, and Ross, the Mavs’ brass clearly has an eye on the prize and the Mavs’ shortcomings in the cross-hairs. Whether or not those moves are enough is still very much ‘To Be Determined,’ but I’m optimistic. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the hustle and bustle.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

  • Overall offense. What more would you expect when you toss one of the greatest distributors the league has ever seen, one of the most potent shooters on the planet, and a handful of high-production/low-turnover players into a blender? Mmm…that’s one offensively efficient smoothie.
  • Roster flexibility. The Mavs are blessed with all kinds of options. Against bigger teams with more traditional post threats, the Mavs can use a big lineup of Kidd-Howard-Marion-Dirk-Damp. When in need of more offense, they can sub out Damp for Gooden, or play Terry at the 2 and shift Dirk to the 5. If they’re looking for all-out defense, Carlisle could theoretically trot out Kidd-Ross-Howard-Marion-Damp. And all of those lineups don’t even mention point guards J.J. Barea and Rodrigue Beaubois, big man Kris Humphries, or resident gunner/headcase Tim Thomas. Most of the Mavericks can swing multiple positions, and that gives Rick Carlisle nothing but options.
  • Defensive rebounding. You may not think it, but the Mavs have always been a pretty strong team on the defensive boards. Dirk is surprisingly good in that area, as are Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden. Jason Kidd is primo when it comes to rebounding point guards, and adding Shawn Marion to that bunch can only help.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

  • Quickness on the perimeter. This is where the Mavs usually get burned. Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and pretty much all other point guards capable of breaking the sound barrier tend to give the Mavs fits. Jason Kidd’s lateral movement just isn’t what it used to be, and unfortunately Jason Terry lacks the defensive acumen to pick up the slack. The great hope is that some combination of Josh Howard and Shawn Marion can be used in a Trevor Ariza-ish role, where speed is countered with length and athleticism. It could work, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • A lack of “true” centers. Erick Dampier is the only true center on the roster, and he may not even start or finish most games for the Mavs. If Dampier were to be injured or if the Mavs opt to cash-in on Dampier’s virtually expiring contract with a trade, the Mavs would be without a big man to counter the few existing centers left. Others consider this to be a weakness much more than I do, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t sleep easier knowing there was another big body on the roster in place of say, Shawne Williams. And no, Jake Voskuhl doesn’t really count.
  • Age. The Mavs are bordering on geriatric. Rodrigue Beaubois is essentially the team’s one great, young hope, but the rest of the rotation is either in their prime or beyond. It starts to show with the team’s quickness, and the Mavs’ — shall we say — experience could certainly play a part in recovery from injury and durability.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The playoffs are an assumption for a team that has yet to miss the post-season (or fall short of 50 wins) this decade, so the goal is to have some measure of success come April. I’d say a reasonable goal for the Mavs would be the Western Conference Finals, a destination well within their reach, but one that would require triumph over some stacked competition.

Another goal (albeit one that’s a bit more difficult to gauge) jotted down on the Mavs’ white board is defensive improvement. Some of last season’s defensive performances were inexcusable, but with the off-season additions and a renewed commitment to the defensive end, the Mavs seem as focused as ever on improving the “finer” end of the basketball court.

5. Will Shawn Marion be able to play effectively alongside Josh Howard?

This is another argument based on the somewhat arbitrary positional designations, but one that seems to be getting a lot of buzz in Mavs-land. Howard and Marion are, at their core, small forwards. I would agree with that. But both players are more than capable of manning multiple positions, meaning the capital letters next to their name and number in the program are a bit arbitrary. The real question is: do Shawn Marion’s talents create too many redundancies with Josh Howard’s, and leave too many flaws exposed? I have a hard time believing that to be the case.

Howard and Marion are both solid 3-point shooters and slashers. They’re both capable defenders and rebounders. And position aside, what part of Howard and Marion’s do-it-all games means they can’t play well with others? Marion’s success depends more on his place within the hierarchy of the team and less with the space he occupies in the program.

Predicted Record: 53-29

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 5, 2009 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

  • Don’t forget to tune into the Mavs’ first pre-season game tonight against the Orlando Magic. It should be good times. (Check out Ben Q. Rock’s (of Third Quarter Collapse) game preview here.
  • I’ve been trying to find a fun way to dissect John Hollinger’s Mavs preview, but I’ve got nothing. So for those of you with ESPN Insider, have at it. For those in the cold, here’s the gist: “The Mavericks won 50 games last season and made several upgrades to the roster by acquiring Marion, Gooden, Humphries, Thomas, Ross and Beaubois. Those additions should help offset the unfortunate loss of Bass and the age issues that are creeping up nearly everywhere, but I’m not sure it does anything more than that. They’ll win more than they lose because they have Nowitzki and a decent supporting cast, as well as a coach in Carlisle who excels at optimizing his roster. However, it’s hard to imagine them playing much better than they did a year ago. Plus, the Mavs are unlikely to be as fortunate in close games as they were last season, which is likely to cost them a couple of games in the standings. The one wild card is what the Mavs might do with the contracts of Dampier and Gooden, as those may still be converted into another star. Such a move could push Dallas into the West’s elite, and the possibility can’t be discounted given how many teams are looking to shed salary while the Mavs seek to add it. Short of such a development, however, the Mavs are neither young enough nor deep enough to hang with the top teams in this conference. Based on the current roster, it looks like another year at the tail end of the West’s playoff roster and an early May tee time. 47-35, 3rd in Southwest Division, 7th in Western Conference.”
  • Your daily “Did You Know?”: Rick Carlisle was on the committee that brought about some of the new instant replay changes (via TrueHoop).
  • The Mavs were 7-27 last season when they didn’t shoot 45%. Ouch.
  • Mark Cuban on the Lakers’ addition of Ron Artest (via Tim MacMahon): “I tell you what, now that they’ve got Ron Artest, I couldn’t think of anything better…If you would have said, what one player — and I’ll get killed over this — what one player would you like to see on the Lakers? Ron Artest…Could you imagine? Ron Artest has got the ball, and Kobe’s standing there, ‘Throw me the ball.’ Thank you, Ron Artest…I think he’ll add some character to that team…Whether it will be positive or negative will be interesting to see.”
  • Artest’s response? (via Broderick Turner of the LA Times) “I talked to Kobe [Bryant] about it…He said that’s what happens when you’re a Laker.” Well played, Crazy Pills.
  • This can only be a good thing: Kevin McHale working with Dirk Nowitzki.
  • A late addition, but Henry’s Wayne Winston series at TrueHoop has finally come to a close. The third post doesn’t disappoint: Winston praises Tim Thomas, talks Blazers and Lakers, and claims he’s never talked to Mark Cuban on the phone. And in the final installment, Winston has this to say about Rick Carlisle: “We looked at every player that was traded to a coach’s team. We looked at their rating the year before in our system and then how they did when that coach got them. And look at the difference. Carlisle crushed everybody. We sent that to Mark [Cuban] and a week later he hired Carlisle. (And I think he said that was part of it — it wasn’t the whole thing.) But it wasn’t close. He was at least two standard deviations better than average. He jumped out and there was nobody else close. He kicked everybody’s butt on that.” All well and good, though I’ll never accept the use of the word “butt” in such an unsarcastic manner.
  • Shawn Marion didn’t disappoint at the intra-squad scrimmage during Fan Jam.

The Circle Is Now Complete

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 24, 2009 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

Neil Paine of the super Basketball-Reference.com Blog dove headfirst into the web that is the Tim Thomas narrative. It’d be a disservice to Paine and you, dearest of readers, if I snipped the post to shreds for the pleasures of dissection and instant information, so I do recommend that you read the whole thing.

That said, I do want to borrow a bit from Paine’s piece to build something of a frame. Thomas’ basketball story more or less begins with the following assessment from NBA Director of Scouting Marty Blake:

“Let me say this, there are some people who felt [Thomas] was the best high school player in the country. The kid Bryant came out because he had a big-time deal with adidas. [Jermaine] O’Neal came out because he didn’t get the SAT. We had three high school kids come out [in the 1996 Draft]. Thomas was probably better than all of them.”

And the relevant portion of Thomas’ career ends with the following conclusion from Jack McCallum’s Seven Seconds or Less:

“[In Game 1 of the 2006 Suns-Lakers series], Tim Thomas bails out the Suns. At practice the day before, I watched him effortlessly put up three-pointers as [Marc] Iavaroni tried to distract him. Thomas would get a pass, and Iavaroni would wave a hand in his face or fake a shot toward his nether regions, but Thomas would just smile and launch another, insouciance in a six-foot-ten-inch package. During games, Thomas has begun a ritual by which he waves his own hand directly in front of his face after he makes a jump shot, an indication that nothing can bother him. ‘I wish he’d take that hand and shove it up his ass,’ Alvin Gentry said, almost wistfully, after watching it on film a few dozen times. The gesture doesn’t quite rise to the level of taunting. But it smacks of taunting. Of all the Suns, though, Thomas appears to be the most impervious to playoff pressure, which is good and bad. He is what [Phil] Weber calls ‘a low-flame guy,’ coasting along at a certain speed, unable or unwilling to shift into a higher gear, but, on the other hand, maintaining almost an eerie calm.”

Thomas’ calm is decidedly different from Dirk’s quiet leadership or Dampier’s trademark stoicism. Rightfully or wrongfully, it has commonly been diagnosed as apathy and indifference. To a certain extent, that much is undeniable; Thomas clearly hasn’t shown the same interest in basketball as some of his less talented counterparts.

All of that is reservoir water under the ground under the water under the bridge at this point, but the Tim Thomas of today is still very much who he’s been. Little has changed for Thomas aside from shedding the weight of expectations and the loss of a young prospect’s mystery box intrigue. We know what Thomas is, particularly that he’s not Kobe Bryant or even Jermaine O’Neal.

Still, Thomas represents a fun end-of-the-bench type: the wild card. This isn’t Austin Croshere or Jamaal Magloire; Thomas has significant talent that only sporadically manifests itself in significant ways. He’s a home-run hitter capable of offensive barrages, even if it comes with strategic shortcomings or fundamental defensive flaws. Either way, Tim can never be described as a stop-gap.

In theory, Thomas has all the reason in the world to play his heart out a la his short time in Phoenix. The financial motivations are obvious. Beyond that, this is a situation where Thomas is capable of filling in as a long-range shooter, and provided he can be somewhat reliable in that capacity, will be a welcome addition. Underneath all the first one now will later be last subtext lies a player who’s of particular interest because of his periodic ability to circumvent the Mavs’ bench pecking order in a burst of pure, unleashed potential. If you’re looking for balance, or stability, or consistency look elsewhere — the beauty of Tim Thomas is that he is none of those things. Let the chips fall where they may, but Thomas’ role on the Mavs certainly ranks as an item of intrigue.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 22, 2009 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Tim Thomas’ arthroscopic surgery was a success, but no timetable has been set for his return. There was much rejoicing. (Related: Mike Fisher catches up with Tim Thomas after yesterday’s press conference.)
  • The Mavs have run rampant all over Kelly Dwyer’s off-season top ten lists, with Dirk being the latest addition as the 8th most impressive statistical season (’05-’06) of the decade: “Stuck on a team playing the fourth-slowest pace of any in the NBA that season, it’s kind of tough to truly appreciate just how potent Dirk was. Kind of tough. He averaged 26.6 points, nine rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 combined blocks/steals and this is the biggie — 1.9 turnovers per game. To be able to rely on a superstar, someone who will touch the ball on possession after possession after possession, to cough it up only 1.9 times a game? That wins games. Dirk was tops in win shares and player efficiency rating that season. Yes, ahead of Kobe.”
  • A glimpse of the possible future of Dallas-Frisco basketball relations.
  • New faces, new/old alternate unis. I do like the new blue threads, but couldn’t we have shown a bit more creativity? The Mavs have been promoting their new-look alternate uniforms since the late stages of the summer, and though they do look nice, they show all the ingenuity of a MS Paint fill tool.
  • Tom Ziller and Matt Moore talk Mavs, but ultimately cave to the temptations of a Magic-Cavs discussion. Still, the theme of their Mavs-centric bit is evident: the Mavs are very versatile, and have plenty of lineup options.

Let This Be a Lesson to Us All

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 17, 2009 under News | Read the First Comment

Owners, GMs, and Head Coaches the league over: never let your players work out in the off-season. Under any circumstances.

Tim Thomas tore the meniscus in his right knee during a personal off-season workout, and will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery to repair the damage. The News reports the recovery time at 4-8 weeks,  which means that Thomas will likely miss the regular season opener.

There Are No Lines

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 4, 2009 under xOther | 24 Comments to Read

The off-season gives a basketball fan’s mind plenty of room to wander.  There are no games, there is no structure, and the overlying principles are theory and speculation.  Some of speculation is fueled by necessity (i.e. If I read one more Lamar Odom-related article, I’m going to drive my car off a bridge), some by want (All-Stars are shiny), and hopefully, some from a desire to better understand the dynamics of the NBA.

Fanhood in itself is a practice of otherization; the necessary construction is an Us vs. Them dynamic, with the defining group characteristic being a particular shade of laundry.  There are no real nationalistic ties to the enterprise of pro basketball, although the argument could be made that a localized, city-inspired pride has shaped the destinies of more than a few teams.  It’s our team versus your team, with little room in between.  Whoo-hoo.

But because most fan bases are more concerned with the color of a player’s uniform than all else, lines become blurred and allegiances change quickly.  That’s just the nature of an industry where workers are swapped for ballers or dollars.  The emotions attached to an outgoing player range from that of long lost lovers, like the fanfare that Steve Nash still receives in Dallas, to misguided feelings of betrayal, such as the inexplicable boos and taunts heaved at Michael Finley.  Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes deciphering the emotions left over is even harder.

Two newly acquired Mavs, Shawn Marion and Tim Thomas, definitely qualified as part of them.  Specifically, they were both members of the franchise rival Phoenix Suns, but each also provided a specific and unique nuisance to Mavs teams past.  Marion was a hellish defender and freak athlete who terrorized the Mavs with his leak-out speed, Flubber-infused sneaks (yes, I went there), and long arms.  He was an irritant and an enemy because he was wearing the wrong uniform.  Thomas, on the other hand, made his name in Dallas by taunting the resident superstar.  He made some big plays against the Mavs in ’06, but the reason why Tim Thomas made a splash was because he chose to cannonball rather than swan dive.  Thomas is brash, he’s cocky, and he directly challenged the Mavs’ best player.  And yet Thomas is now a Maverick, and his first three-pointer will be met with a chorus of cheers.

I’m always curious — and this is where you guys come in — as to when those cheers stop.  If not for Thomas, the man who smooched in the face of Maverick pride, then for whom?

Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are two top-level talents that come to mind, but their skills are gaudy enough to turn haters into true believers with a mere change of zip code.  The desire to field an incredible basketball team would supercede any hurt feelings MFFLs might still harbor, and Kobe or Wade would be welcomed with open arms.  Hugs and kisses, fruit baskets and Jell-O casseroles.

But there is a player out there on the free agent market that would truly test the limits of fan commitment.  He’s one of the league’s universal villains, the fruit of the loins of a conference rival, and a personal thorn in the side of Mavs’ fans in particular.  In this world, he goes by the name of Bruce Bowen, although many are convinced that his on-court persona is in congress with The Dark Lord himself.

There’s no speculation that the Mavs are interested in Bowen, and I’m not even suggesting that they should be.  But I am floating out this scenario to muck things up a bit.  Which players, despite their contributions either real or theoretical (Bowen, model citizen though he may be, is hardly the defender he once was), are beyond the pale?

Personally, I’m not so sure the pale exists.  In the good ol’ days, teams were a hallowed thing.  Rivalry was a team’s life blood and wearing a jersey meant something.  That, or a comparatively shallow perspective on teams and the league at large turned local scenes into a propaganda machine.  The availability of more and more information through television and the interwebs has made it that much more difficult to demonize players and franchises.  Bruce Bowen isn’t just a player with questionable tactics on the court, but also a stand-up guy and that nut from those HEB commercials.  Media expansion has turned players into people, which doesn’t bode well for the die-hard separatists.

The lines have been drawn, but they’ve dulled far beyond relevance.  But all of this sparks a different debate entirely: if a player’s prior employers matters less than ever, does that make us, as fans of the game, members of a greater enlightenment or simply advocates of an empire of mercenaries?