So Far, no identity with this Mavs team
It has happened so quickly and stealthily as to barely be perceived by fans while it was going on, but our Dallas Mavericks, World Champions just eighteen months ago, have become virtually irrelevant amongst NBA commentators, networks and basketball fans around the country.
While watching the Mavs get their asses, and their dignity, handed to them in Los Angeles last Wednesday night by the Clippers, it was painfully apparent that this is a team that currently lacks any spark, charisma, and most notably, any sliver of an identity. No matter how many times the ESPN cameras chose to focus on a sidelined Dirk Nowitzki or the tortured face of owner Mark Cuban, there was no way to cover for the fact that the product on the floor is woefully bland and rapidly losing its position among the league’s upper echelon franchises.
Granted, it still appears in its share of nationally televised broadcasts, but it’s starting to feel more and more like the networks are more throwing a former champion a bone than they are actually responding to fan demand around the country. Well, actually, there was demand to see the Mavericks in one road arena this past week: when the Phoenix Suns chose the night in which they hosted the Mavs as their “Fan Guarantee Night.” As in, “if we don’t wipe the floor with this crap team, and you you don’t have a fun time watching us do it, we’ll give you your money back.”
Ouch. I don’t even remember the Clippers of the 1990′s – or the Mavericks of the 1990′s for that matter – being so disrespected.
The reasons for this rapid decline to Western conference fodder are many:
As currently fielded, this team has absolutely zero identity. Without their offensive superstar, Nowitzki, the rest of the roster is being asked to do more than they are capable of and are being thrust in to positions of responsibility of which they are clearly not capable. After a hot start in his first five games as a Mav, Darren Collison has regressed to the point that Head Coach Rick Carlisle clearly has very little trust, or even use, for him. In LA, Collison didn’t do himself any favors; he posted a gruesome -24 while on the court, while the fossil who took his starting job despite being with the team for less than 48 hours, Derek Fisher, actually posted a +2. It looks like the Ian Mahinmi for Collison trade that we all thought was a hijacking in the Mavs’ favor may have been driven by the Pacers’ knowing a little more about Collison than we recognized.
Carlisle himself has been playing the role of an identity alchemist, attempting to find the combination of players that will gel on the court. The result? A total of 10 different starting lineups after just 21 games. Not even the most ardent of MFFL’s has any idea what he’ll see from night to night.
ZERO STAR POWER
The Mavericks currently only have one player averaging more than 13.6 points per game, O.J. Mayo, who has been the lone offensive bright spot this season. Take away Mayo’s sizzling three point shooting his year (50.5%, 2nd in the NBA), and Dallas has absolutely nothing to hang its hat on when they have the ball. Against the Clippers, Carlisle elected to repeatedly post up Shawn Marion to open the game; other times, they force feed center Chris Kaman. Vince Carter has been consistently productive off the bench, but Carlisle has had no luck finding anyone to find a go-to player on the offensive end.
Dallas is on pace to the worst rebounding team that this city has seen in over a decade. Their rebounding margin versus opponents of -5.4 this season places them last in th entire league, and it isn’t even close. While their team defense has been better than you might think (currently tied for 12th in the league, giving up an opponent FG% of 44.2%), they have consistently been demolished on the boards and thus given up a ton of second-chance points. Marion, their leading rebounder at 7.2 a game ranks 42nd in the league. Kaman, their center, grabs just 6.9 RPG, ranking 20th among all NBA centers (just behind, ahem, Brendan Haywood). Not even Nowitzki will be able to help them out much in this area.
A TRANSIENT TEAM
As a city, Dallas is known as a transient town, and the local NBA team is definitely taking on that image as well. Only Nowitzki, Marion, and rookies Jae Crowder and Jared Cunningham are locked up next season. Every other player is either going to be a free agent or will be in an option year in 2013-14. That doesn’t exactly give Mavs fans, or hoops fans in general, anything to grab on to regarding the team’s future, and much like last season, this year feels unsettled and precarious. And if it’s difficult for the fans to buy in to this thing, how can you really expect players to really invest the necessary emotions and determination to generate wins when management is clearly only using them as warm bodies to get through the season and make it to next summer where they will more than likely be blown out to clear cap space in an attempt to sign a superstar. That lack of stability leaps through the TV screen.
We all hoped that the team would tread water around or slightly above .500 while Dirk was out, and that once he returned, they would find their identity and make a push for the playoffs. However, with Nowitzki’s knee slow to mend and his return repeatedly being pushed back, it is clear that the seat fillers that Cuban has brought in to actually be able to field a team are starting to run out of gas (three of their last four losses have been by 20+ points), and in doing so, are dragging this franchise in to the mire of mediocrity.