The Dallas Mavericks finished the last NBA season on top, winning the first championship in the history of the franchise. In an ideal world, they would have started the new season still on top, with the same group of players who won the title being given an opportunity to defend it. Of course, we all know that’s not what happened.
The lockout commenced a few weeks after Dallas won in Miami, and it lasted until December. When it ended, a new CBA was in place–one that completely changed the game for traditional big-spenders like the Mavs. The usual pre-season was completely wiped out, and all of a sudden, the shortened and compressed regular season began.
By then, the Mavericks had lost the services of Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, Corey Brewer, and Peja Stojakovic. To replace them, in came Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, Delonte West, Brandan Wright, and Yi Jianlian.
The hope was for the new pieces to fill in the voids left by the free agents who left the team. Personally, I thought they only needed time to gel and find some chemistry. They couldn’t, and the fact that the team was hastily assebled right after the lockout ended was clearly a factor. There were some flashes of brilliance, but they were admittedly few and far between. Then came the Lamar Odom saga.
Obviously, Odom loafing around was not the only problem. There were a lot of other issues that had to be resolved, the most important of which was the offense. I’m actually tired of lisetening to people say that the defense wasn’t good since Tyson Chandler wasn’t anchoring it anymore because that is (or was) completely wrong. Dallas still ranked within the top 10 in defensive efficiency and in points allowed. The bigger dropoff from last season came on the offensive end.
Last year, the Mavs were in the top 10 in offensive efficieny. This year, they were not even in the top 20. They had long stretches when they literally could not put the ball through the hoop, and it was ugly. They limped through the regular season and ended up with the 7th seed, setting up a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the Playoffs.
Dallas went 1-3 against OKC in the regular season, but they played well in all of those games. This gave some Dallas fans (like myself) some hope that maybe they could string together a few good games and actually give the Thunder a run for their money.
Games 1 and 2 showed how close the Mavs were to the Thunder, or so I thought. OKC needed a Durant buzzer-beater to win Game 1, and a two Terry misses to win Game 2. Game 3 was supposed to be the game the Mavericks would show the world that they still had something left, that they could still compete. Well, they couldn’t, not in this guise.
People will not remember how close Games 1 and 2 were. All they will remember is that the defending champion Dallas Mavericks got swept in the first round of the Playoffs. It’s not really fair, but it is what it is. Just ask last year’s Lakers.
Anyway, the season’s over now, probably much earlier than the Mavs and their fans ever thought it would be, and they go into the offseason facing so much uncertainty. Anyone not named Dirk Nowitzki could be gone by the time the season starts in November.
For the first time in the Cuban era, the Mavs have cap space, and the plan is for the team to sign a top free agent by offering a max deal. Of course, that is not a sure thing.
Whatever happens this offseason, though, I still stand by what the Mavs front office did. Re-signing TC and all of the other free agents maybe would have given the Mavs a chance to repeat, but what would happen after that? They would have been stuck with the same aging core, with no cap space or any other way to improve, for years.
By the time everyone from the title team would come off the books, Mark Cuban would have paid millions upon millions in luxury tax for an aging team that could only hope to replicate what happened in 2011.
I believe that the direction the front office took can only be judged after this postseason. If the Mavs fail to sign anyone who can significantly help Dirk Nowitzki, then yes, not re-signing the championship team really was a mistake. If they do, however, and they extend their contending years beyond Dirk’s decline and eventual retirement, then you have to give them all the credit for taking such a big gamble and for waiting for it to pay off.