By Geoff Case
The Dallas Mavericks ended last season getting swept by the much younger Oklahoma City Thunder. It seemed that all the clutch end of the game sequences that the 2011 title team was known for was gone. Whispers around the team suggested a better than average chance of landing Deron Williams that failed to happen. The Deron sweepstakes didn’t come true this summer but the Dallas Mavericks have set themselves up with a talented and dangerous cast heading into next season. Placing that number two All-Star, a Robin next to Dirk Nowitzki turned out to be a mirage but Mark Cuban and the Mavs have set themselves up nicely to compete next season and have flexibility for the summer of 2013. In fact, the Mavericks have the youngest roster they’ve had in the last four seasons averaging 28 years, 116 days.
Despite failing to nab a true superstar to keep help Dirk ride into the sunset the Mavericks have set themselves up very nicely with a roster full of one-year contract mercenaries. O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and Elton Brand represent a great roster especially since it was put together on the fly this offseason. This Mavericks team doesn’t possess the talent or pedigree of the Los Angeles Lakers in the West, but the Mavs do have a great core.
Collision will try and fill the shoes of Jason Kidd playing the primary role of shot creator. The former Indiana Pacers point guard lost his starting spot late last season. Of all of possibilities of redemption stories for the Mavericks heading into the season, Collison’s may be the steepest. He’s got a roster full of new faces that have yet to really log that many minutes together. The emphasis in Rick Carlisle’s system will be on Collison’s speed and quickness and preying he finds holes on both ends of the court.
After breaking out in a starting role with the Memphis Grizzlies team in his first two seasons, Mayo begrudgingly accepted the sixth man role during the 2010-2012 seasons. His numbers took a dive as the sixth man, but he is now penciled in as a starter once again in 2012-13 for the Mavericks. Mayo has the opportunity to prove that he has the ability to be a productive starter on a playoff team. Something people have questioned since his arrival in the league. In order for Dallas to truly contend in the upcoming season, Mayo must prove to be a consistent scorer and shot creator. With the departure of Jason Terry, Mayo will have to fill the Robin to Dirk’s Batman role. At just 24-years-old and with plenty to prove, there is enough smoke to believe that there might be a potential fire here. O.J. Mayo might be poised for a breakout season.
Kaman has an opportunity in Dallas to become the second-best center in franchise history. Kaman played with Dirk on the German National Team and that combo is something that Dallas is counting on to be one of the team’s biggest strengths this season. However, Kaman must stay healthy and play a majority of the season (70 games) – something the seven-footer has accomplished just four times in his nine-year NBA career. Kaman has proved more than capable throughout his career of being a key cog if he can stay on the court and we’ve seen the rewards of the Dirk/Kaman combo in international play. His ability to knock down open jumpers and grab tough boards will play a huge role in whether the Mavericks will be a true contender this season.
Key Departures: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Brendan Haywood
The Mavs will have to replace Terry’s scoring and Kidd’s court awareness. Baskets will come harder this season and from different areas of the court.
Can the new look Mavs keep the boat afloat until Dirk makes his return?
Dirk Nowitzki, who just underwent arthroscopic surgery on his bothersome (swelling) right knee that will keep him out for six weeks. Dirk is already at 43,595 career minutes and he’ll be asked to lead the reformed Dallas Mavericks right back into the championship hunt another time during the 2013-14 season. Larry Bird played 41,329 minutes in his career, combining playoff and postseason totals if that gives you any indication of how durable and effective the big German has been for this franchise.
Dirk is the team’s best player and the squad’s schemes and spacing come as a result of the attention paid to its best player from that high elbow. It’s true that Chris Kaman’s perimeter marksmanship will play a big part, and Rick Carlisle with help some with stellar coaching adjustments but the Mavs will struggle to begin this season. The real question is whether they can keep the squad above .500 to start the season.
Are the Mavericks a true contender?
The championship in 2011 still sets the bar in Dallas despite regressing this past season with the noticeable loss of defensive stalwart in the middle Tyson Chandler. Now, the Mavericks have reloaded and are looking to be legitimate contenders once again in the retooled Western Conference.
That’s going to be easier said than done with a bevy of top heavy teams littered throughout the conference. Notably the Lakers, Thunder and the Spurs.
Dallas is banking on comeback seasons from players like Mayo, Collison and Kaman with hopes that playing in a contract year will harvest the best from each of these players. The Mavericks have put together a quality team but chemistry and health will be major factors in defining the ceiling for the squad. They should make the playoffs after Dirk returns and will be a tough team to outfox in a seven games series. After 2011, that might be all that the Mavs fans need to hear.