Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Dallas Mavericks.
Ladies and gents, cowboys and cowgirls, welcome to the preview of your 2012-13 Dallas Mavericks. When last we left off with the Mavs, they finished 36-30, third in the Southwest Division and seventh in the Western Conference. Their time in the postseason was quite short as the Western Conference champion Thunder swept them out of the first round. Although we’re only one season removed since the Mavs’ magical first championship, it certainly doesn’t feel that way, not by the bodies in uniform or the general feel of the franchise.
These are not your father’s Dallas Mavericks. Not the 2011 champs. Not the perennial playoff team of the 2000s. Not the offensive juggernaut powered by Dirk Nowitzki. In fact, these Mavericks are closer to your grandfather’s Mavericks. You know, the Mavericks you’d play in NBA Jam and say to your friend, “I’ll play as the Mavericks, but it’s not fair unless I get to use infinite turbo.” The pre-millenial Mavericks might as well not have been a team in the NBA, and these Mavs certainly won’t be that bad.
Dirk Nowitzki is old and hurtin’ and his supporting cast is too mediocre to pick up the slack.
Every discussion about the Mavericks over the last decade and change starts and finishes with its franchise player, and rightly so (much to the chagrin of one Mark Cuban). This team revolves around Nowitzki and will go only as far as he will take it. For him, it’s not a matter of effort — he wants another Larry O’Brien Trophy and nobody can deny it. But at 34 years old, with an extended vacation due to knee injury that will sideline him through the first month of the season, Dirk isn’t that rock with the rock he used to be.
Yet, the apocalypse is not upon us. He’s still an elite player, but because of his age and injury issues, his supporting cast has to not only make it out of November before the ship has sunk, but they have to hold it down the rest of the season as well. Now, about that supporting cast.
Starting with the frontcourt, Shawn Marion returns and is coming off his worst scoring season since his rookie year. So there’s that. However, his assists and rebounds both improved, and he’ll actually give you more defense than most of this roster. You can probably chalk it all up to a psyche that’s telling him, “You’re a role player, Shawn. It won you a championship, now do it again.” It worked on those Mavericks. Can it work on these Mavericks? Don’t know, folks.
Tyson Chandler’s departure left a vacuum at center, one which Chris Kaman is sure to fill in admirably. Assuming Kaman can stay on the court, he’ll play well enough on both sides of the ball to draw attention inside and give Dirk more opportunities to draw more one-on-ones on the wings, where he’ll be free to shoot or put it on the floor when he sees fit.
That backcourt. Damn would that backcourt look mighty fine with one Deron Williams patrolling the floor right now. If only Mark Cuban didn’t miss the meeting his front office had with Williams to go record an episode of Shark Tank instead. That was ill-advised, and now Darren Collison is Dallas’ floor general. He’s very safe, not explosive in either direction, and will be flanked by O.J. Mayo. Mayo has been floating around in obscurity ever since his over-hyped foray into the NBA, and if he’s going to turn it up and be the player everyone thought he’d be, now would be the time. It probably won’t be.
New acquisition Elton Brand and Vince Carter hold down a bench that has a lot of pressure to keep the Mavs in contention until December. Look no further than bench player Delonte West’s bipolar condition to symbolize how that unit might play, which is to say, could be very good, or not very good.
I’m leaning towards the latter. There are too many new faces on this team to gel quickly enough (a task made more difficult without Dirk), and their marquee player can’t do much leading in a suit. The Western Conference powers are starting to outpace the Mavericks in terms of personnel, and it will be mighty hard for them to catch up.
One reason you might not be screwed: Everyone said the Mavs’ window had closed before they won a title in 2011, so why not again? Like I’ve said repeatedly, Dirk Nowitzki is still Dirk Nowitzki and he wouldn’t be the first player to defy age and body wear to do something amazing. A lot is contingent on players like O.J. Mayo, Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder to play as close to their ceilings as possible, but of course, there is that possibility. Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the NBA and it’s not out of his realm of possibility to take his team on a deep playoff run.
Actual season prediction: Mavs fans don’t want to think about it, but this is looking like it could be the first year since 2000 that their team misses the playoffs. If their role players don’t play to at least two-thirds of their potential, that premonition will come true. If they do, Dirk can do enough sneak them in as a seven or eight seed. That might be as high as they get, and they certainly wouldn’t get past the Thunder, Lakers, Spurs, or whomever they’d play in the opening round.