Redemption is the Theme for the 2012-13 Mavericks
by Scott Rozsa
The bad taste of the 2011-12 Dallas Mavericks season should finally be rinsed from the mouths of Mavericks fans after a lengthy basketball-free summer and many are approaching this season with a renewed curiosity and optimism. In fact, the word that comes to mind to best describe this campaign is redemption; there has been a resetting of the roster and renewed focus of the team to make up for last season’s failures.
The organization as a whole is looking to regain it’s place among the elite franchises in the league, but many individuals are surely approaching the upcoming campaign looking to make up for last year’s downfall. Surely, first and foremost is owner Mark Cuban, whose spread-sheet-fueled gamble to refuse to re-sign Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler following the 2011 NBA title in order to maintain financial flexibility robbed the Mavericks of the opportunity to defend their title. The lockout combined with the roster changes to further dampen a season that should have been a victory lap, and when the season finally started on Christmas Day and the Mavs were demolished by the Miami Heat at home, the tone of the season was set.
Most fans and pundits lauded Cuban and Donnie Nelson’s savvy trade to bring Lamar Odom in from the Lakers to try and fill the void left by the departed Chandler, but we all remember how that worked out; it’s unlikely any athlete has done so much in so little time to completely destroy his professional reputation. He was a unmitigated disaster on the court and in the locker room who so polluted the team with his stench that he had to be sent home to cry in to his old Lakers jersey – albeit, by the time Cuban made the move, the season was basically lost.
After the team was put out of its mercy in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Thunder, Cuban’s attention turned to Deron Williams. He was supposed to be the prize for enduring such a lost season and signing him would make up for blowing up the title team, and letting Jason Terry walk this summer as well. No dice. Williams decided to stay in Brooklyn and it looked like the Mavs would have to scramble just to find enough warm bodies to field a team. Then Jason Kidd turned his back on Cuban to go to the Knicks. Look out lottery, here we come!
Cuban and Donnie Nelson rallied nicely and brought in a young back court – Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo – as well as a pair of former All-Star veterans in the front court in Chris Kaman and Elton Brand. And not only did they fill out the roster nicely on the fly, they managed to do so by maintaining financial flexibility for next summer (cough, James Harden, cough). The Mavericks basically signed Mayo and Collison to one-year deals (Mayo has a player option for next year, and Collison a qualifying offer), and Brand and Kaman were signed to one-year contracts. Throw in defensive stalwart Dahntay Jones and the three promising draft picks who are all going to be on the active roster when the season opens and there are the makings of a very deep and versatile roster. Cubes may regain the unconditional support of the MFFL’s this season after all.
Redemption is likely first and foremost among Dirk Nowitzki’s driving influences entering this season as well. Following his legendary performance in the playoffs and winning the Finals MVP in 2011, and then immediately playing for Germany in Olympic qualifying over the summer, Nowitzki was gassed entering the 2011-12 season. The lack of a proper training camp due to the lockout, and Nowitzki’s admitted lack of preparation, led to an awful start to the year and had to take a break from games to go through a mini-training camp of his own to get in shape. While he played spectacularly at times, he still posted the worst numbers of his career – 21.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, .457 FG% – since 1999-2000, his second year in the league. The brief playoff appearance enabled Nowitzki to make the most of his summer: resting, lifting to maintain leg strength, and getting married. Everything coming out of Mavs-land sounded promising that Dirk would return to form.
One game in to the pre-season, and Dirk is back on the shelf with a swollen right knee that has had to be drained twice already and being treated in hopes that he can avoid surgery before the season starts. Not the start he was hoping for. However, if the Mavs crack training staff can get the knee clear and stable by the beginning of the season, a mentally refreshed Nowitzki could lead his squad deeper in to the playoffs.
When a player signs a one-year contract, or a contract without a guaranteed second year, he is doing so for a reason: he wants to reestablish himself in the league in hopes of landing a longer term deal next year. Brand was amnestied by the Philadelphia 76ers, who wanted to get out from the $18 million they owe him for this season, while Kaman and Mayo arrived in Dallas as free agents. In all three cases, their previous teams clearly had no interest in keeping them around, and they now play this season with a chip on their shoulder, looking to regain the professional respect they once demanded.
With the owner, franchise player and talented newcomers all looking to get their franchise and individual reputations back on a high level, let’s take a look at the new roster (seven of the 15 roster spots are taken by players acquired this past summer) and how it looks to fare this season:
Darren Collison (10.4 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.2 RPG, 13.63 PER in 2011-12)
Delonte West (9.6 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.3 RPG, 15.35 PER)
Rodrigue Beaubois (8.9 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.8 RPG, 15.39 PER)
I initially really applauded the trade for Collison – I loved him at UCLA and he was very effective for New Orleans in his rookie year when Chris Paul was injured, however, he has done little in the pre-season to get me excited for this season. His numbers have actually gone down almost across the board in each of his first three seasons, and during the pre-season games this year, he has a tendency to overdribble and commit sloppy turnovers. His size and build could be a problem on the defensive end as well. On the bright side, at least we have a point guard who, when he does get in the lane, will actually look to score – something Jason Kidd lost the ability to do several seasons ago.
And then there’s Delonte, a player who oozes toughness, attitude and at times, unpredictability, as witnessed during his brief suspension from the team. A fairly tenacious defender, West likely surprised some Mavs fans with his ability to score from anywhere on the court, averaging a career-high 15.9 points per 40 minutes last season. Unfortunately, injuries are a common occurrence in his career – he missed 22 games last season and has played a career high of 71 only once (2005-06).
Beaubois continues to tease fans and coaching staff alike with flashes of brilliance, followed by brain-farts and costly mistakes. This will be Year Four of the Roddy B Experiment, and this season, he didn’t even wait until the season to start before getting hurt – he sprained his ankle in the team’s opening pre-season game. This is likely a sink-or-swim campaign for Beaubois, and if passing and shooting efficiency don’t improve, it may be a long trip back to Guadeloupe.
O.J. Mayo (12.6 PPG, 2.6 APG, 3.2 RPG, 14.76 PER)
Dahntay Jones (5.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.8 RPG, 10.3 PER)
Mayo finally gets the starting position he never could lock down in his years in Memphis, and he brings the Mavs the quick strike shooting that Jason Terry provided for so long, combined with much better slashing ability and younger legs. When combined with Collison, the Mavs back court has an average age of 24.5 years old, down significantly from the Kidd/Terry combos. The Mavericks are hoping that Mayo can get his shooting percentages back where they were in his rookie season (.438 FG%, .384 3PT%, .879 FT%). His athleticism and promise as a scorer are tantalizing, but he has never reached his potential in his four-year career and I fear he may frustrate Mavs fans this year with his inconsistency.
Dahntay Jones, while ostensibly a throw-in in the Collison trade, could end up having some value on the defensive end and the toughness department. He’s never fun to play against and his spirit and shooting may earn him some minutes.
Shawn Marion (10.6 PPG, 2.1 APG, 7.4 RPG, 15.05 PER)
Vince Carter (10.1 PPG, 2.3 APG, 3.4 RPG, 13.61 PER)
Jae Crowder (rookie)
Marion maintains his role as the “Swiss Army Knife” of the roster: a player who scores in a variety of ways despite never having plays run for him, and who guards a variety of positions. His scoring average last year was his lowest since his rookie season (13 years ago) and his shooting percentage was the second-lowest of his career. He is frustrating at times on the offensive end when he misses layup and put backs at an alarming rate, but he is a vital cog in the Mavs machine. His defensive versatility had Mavs brass pumping him up for Defensive Player of the Year, even though the Mavs actually gave up more points with him on the floor. With Collison pushing the ball more this season, hopefully Marion returns to filling lanes and getting dunks and layups in transition, like he used to in Phoenix.
Carter has come out blazing in the pre-season, filling the sixth man role fairly well in Terry’s absence. However, he seems to drift during games – hitting consecutive threes in one stretch, then going unnoticed for several minutes. He’s still good for a highlight dunk every now and then, and plays better defense than you might think. A decline in minutes due to the emergence of Jae Crowder may keep him fresher over the course of the season.
Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year last year, has been a pleasant surprise in the pre-season. He’s a tough, grinding player who does all the little things that coaches love: steals, saves loose balls, rebounds well for his size, and has even thrown in the ability to hit open threes of late. If he continues to show out on the floor like he has the past two pre-season games, Carlisle will have difficulty keeping him off the floor.
Dirk Nowitzki (21.6 PPG, 2.2 APG, 6.8 RPG, 21.81 PER)
Elton Brand (11.0 PPG, 1.6 APG, 7.2 RPG, 18.07 PER)
Everything for this squad begins and ends with Nowitzki. Is he misses time out of the gate with his knee issues, the Mavs could be buried in the standings by Christmas. On the flip-side, if he is able to get healthy and the break from competitive basketball that he received over the summer has refreshed him both mentally and physically, then he could easily return to All-NBA First Team status, as his play in the second half of last season and in the playoffs was a return to form. I expect a great year from Dirk as he is now surrounded by more talented, athletic players who should open up the floor for his endless variety of shots.
Brand is an ideal compliment to Nowitzki and Kaman – a strong rebounder and shot blocker for his size, and able to hit open elbow jumpers at a high rate. In the first halfo of their pre-season game against Phoenix, Brand and Kaman worked the high-low post well together, taking turns dropping passes in to each other for easy baskets. Even though he’s going in to his 14th season, I expect good things from Brand off the bench this year.
Chris Kaman (13.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 BLKPG, 15.42 PER)
Kaman immediately becomes the best offensive center the Mavericks have ever had. He can take his man from the top of the key and finish with a nice spinning jump hook with either hand; he has a fairly deadly mid-range jumper and shot almost 80% from the line last season. And get this, he even finished above Tyson Chandler (1.64 to 1.44) in blocks per game among centers last season. His experience playing with Nowitzki on the German National Team will come in handy as well as the two of them should play of each other very well.
While the roster isn’t loaded with All-Stars or high-flyers, I really like what the Mavericks have done to rebuild on the fly this summer. They have depth, versatility, experience and are a younger team as a whole than they have been in five years. And like I said before, this is a franchise with a lot to prove this year. They’re not a match for the Thnder or Lakers this season, but I can see them staying in the mix for the Southwest Division all season and qualifying fourth in the Western Conference.