You get the feeling Mavericks fans can’t wait for this year to be over. A franchise in limbo, striking out on plans A through Y in free agency, playing out the twilight of a number of careers while waiting for more than $30 million in cap room to free up next summer.
You also get the feeling that, with an upgraded backcourt and a healthy Dirk Nowitzki to start the season, the Mavericks can improve on last season’s 41-41 campaign and sneak into the playoffs.
The point: it’s hard to decide what to make of the 2013-14 Dallas Mavericks.
But here’s what we do know: this isn’t the off-season that Mavs fans were promised.
You see, this summer was supposed belong to Dallas. In the years since their 2011 title run, this franchise has been shedding contracts in the hopes of freeing enough cap space to land a superstar to run alongside Dirk, and then take the baton when the Big Diggler calls it a career. They had their game changer in the crosshairs, any one of Dwight Howard, Deron Williams or Chris Paul. And for a well-run franchise with a successful track record in a desirable enough market, it seemed well within reach. When Williams signed an extension with Brooklyn last summer, the list shrunk to two and the Mavs zeroed in on the summer of 2013 for their big free agent splash.
It was a fun idea while it lasted, and we all know what happened: Paul re-upped with the Doc Rivers-helmed Clippers, while Howard took his talents to South Texas, leaving Dallas with nothing to show for three years of planning.
Pressured, it seems, to have something to show to a fan base that had been promised prime rib only to be left dining on human rib, the Mavs dished out more than $67 million in contracts. The return? A solid-if-unspectacular point guard (Jose Calderon, 4 years/$29 mil); an enigmatic, talented two-guard (Monta Ellis (3 yrs/$30 mil); a former Mavs prospect that never quite panned out (Devin Harris, 1 year/$1.3 mil); and a veteran centre who will start on this team, but at this point in his career is better suited to a backup role off the bench (Samuel Dalembert, 2 years/$7.5 mil).
Add that bunch to a “core” of Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, plus a group of unheralded prospects, and, well, ladies and gentlemen: Your Dallas Mavericks!
Additions: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, DeJuan Blair, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Devin Ebanks, Ricky Ledo, Fab Melo.
Departures: Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Mike James.
What the Mavs lacked in franchise-altering star power this offseason, they made up for in role players. (How’s that for a ringing endorsement?) Calderon seems like a nice fit for this particular team, and Blair should compliment Brandon Wright well enough down low on Dallas’ second-unit. The Mavs weren’t willing to spend the $24 million it cost the Milwaukee Bucks to ink O.J. Mayo to a three-year deal. Instead, they made their biggest splash by paying only slightly more for a better scorer who, even entering his ninth NBA season, still has everything in the world to prove. Hey, speaking of Monta Ellis…
- For all the criticism Monta Ellis receives for being an unabashed chucker (which, to be fair, is totally warranted), he is still one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA, having averaged 20.4 PPG over the seven years beginning with his sophomore season. How he fits on this Mavs team remains to be seen, but there already seem to be a lot of people lining up to declare his tenure in Dallas a disaster. Yes, Ellis is a horrid shooter, both in terms of shot selection and the frequency with which he hits ‘em. But he’s also never had a go-to-scorer like Nowitzki to alleviate some of the offensive pressure. He also posted a career-high six assists per game last season—do with that information what you will. If Ellis can co-exist with Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavs and learn to adapt his game within the existing system, his $10 mil a year price tag could wind up looking like a relative coup.
- Age isn’t just a number in Dallas; it’s a haunting reality. Aside from Ellis and former Spur Dejuan Blair, the important parts of this team are either too young or too old. Calderon, Dalembert, Carter, Nowitzki and Marion—the foundation—are all 32 years or older (Dirk, Vince and the Matrix are all 35-plus). Does any of this matter? Well, yeah, kind of. The youngsters—Shane Larkin, Jae Crower, et al—are nowhere near ready to fill the shoes of the older players. Thankfully for Dallas, Nowitzki, Marion and Carter have all found ways to remain effective as their careers progress, and the latter two bounced back last season from disappointing lockout campaigns. Still, it will be interesting to see how the NBA’s sixth-oldest team, whose most-senior players are also its most important, will hold up over 82 games.
- There isn’t much in the way of depth at two crucial positions: point guard and centre. Sure, Ellis can play a little one (though that’s far from ideal), and the combo of Brandon Wright and Dejuan Blair is serviceable at the five, but otherwise the Mavs are looking to unproven young guys like Shane Larkin, Ricky Ledo, Gal Mekel, Fab Melo or Bernard James to take on a bigger role than their probably ready for. Who? Exactly.
Breakout Player: DeJuan Blair. The former University of Pittsburgh standout spent the first four seasons of his career honing his skills with some of the best as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Though he’ll likely maintain his reserve-role status to start the season, the Mavs will be looking for options at centre before long and Blair has the skills to be a force on the glass and a reliable 10-14 point scorer. ACLs not required.
Scale of Decency: Pretty decent. Considering the Mavs were within four games of a playoff spot last season, and have added a scorer like Ellis and a solid floor general in Calderon, along with a number of intriguing prospects and the rock that is Nowitzki, there’s no reason to think this can’t be a playoff team. A seven or eight seed, maybe. And if not? There’s always next year.
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