28 Jul
2014

Hold Your Horses

NBA-Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks - Denver Nuggets

It’s been a helluva offseason for the Mavericks. We struck early, bringing in Tyson Chandler before anyone else had done anything. Then we finally scored a solid player in free agency, prying Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets. Then followed the low-cost, low-risk/high-reward moves of bringing in Richard Jefferson, Eric Griffin, Greg Smith, Jameer Nelson (who I made the case for myself over here) and Al-Farouq Aminu to fill out the roster.

The starting five is stronger and more balanced now than it was last season, and the bench, while losing an important piece in Vince Carter, is probably one of the best benches in the league right now. Think of it this way: Aminu, Jefferson and Felton were all starters last season.

But, do we really deserve 4th place in the preseason power rankings, per NBA.com?

My concerns about this new Mavericks team largely centers around the pieces we lost in the Tyson trade and in free agency. After all, to build the team we have now, we had to give up some important pieces. It’s not like we just added and added without losing anyone.

I think we’ll miss Caldy quite a bit. For the sake of a backcourt which could actually function on both ends of the court, moving Jose made lots of sense. But I don’t think it can ever be sufficiently stated how secure I felt every single time he brought the ball down the court. He averaged 1.3 turnovers per game! And that went down to just 1.0 in the playoffs! Granted, some of that may be due to Monta handling the ball more and more as the season went on, but that’s still a good mark.

Additionally, his three-point shooting is right up there with the best, at 45% last season. He may have only averaged 11 points, but having an all-time great shooter spotting up on the perimeter does wonders for your team’s spacing. And with the primary offensive option being Monta-Dirk pick-and-pops, spacing is tantamount.

Jameer will help, being a decent shooter himself, but he’s not an all-timer like Jose. Hopefully it’ll be enough.

Of course, you may say that Parsons is a good shooter himself and will help in that department. But consider who he’s replacing: defensive Swiss Army knife Shawn Marion. Which brings us to the second problem: is our defense really all that much better than last season’s?

Replacing Jose with Jameer maybe improves the defense at that position, if only marginally because Jameer isn’t exactly a stopper and is pretty short at 6 feet flat. But that little bit of gain will probably be negated by the loss of defense at the starting small forward position. For all he will bring to the offense, Parsons is undeniably worse than Marion on defense.

“We’ve still got Tyson!”, some may say. But this isn’t the Tyson of 2011. He’s three years older, and he hasn’t played more than 66 games in a season since leaving the Mavs. That’s… not great, especially when the effectiveness of his whole game, both on offense (getting on the end of alley-oops) and defense is so heavily dependent on athleticism. The hope here is that he was unmotivated the past couple years, and being back in a real winning environment and alongside Dirk again will get him focused and ready to go to war. Well, I hope that happens too, but for now the facts aren’t particularly encouraging.

So it could be argued that our starting lineup’s defense might actually be worse than last season’s much-maligned group, which is saying a lot. That said, having the option of introducing the likes of Devin Harris and Aminu will help, and I trust fully in coach Carlisle’s ability to mix and match players to put the overall most effective team on the floor.

All things considered, this Mavs team should be better than last year’s. It’s gotten significantly younger (I read somewhere the average age of the squad dropped by three whole years) and more athletic. This was the most exciting offseason I’ve been a part of since I started following the Mavs, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the product on the floor. I just don’t want to get carried away in the euphoria of free agency and start counting my chickens before they hatch.

Let’s see how it all plays out.

16 Jul
2014

See You Around, Vince

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It’s been an eventful offseason for the Dallas Mavericks. We kicked things off with the Tyson Chandler trade, and, after an intense 72-hour period of hoping and praying, came out winners in the Chandler Parsons sweepstakes. While there are still areas which could do with some shoring up, fans would be hard-pressed to say that the Mavs haven’t tried to improve the team.

In the midst of all the movement, and while waiting for the Parsons decision, the Mavs were forced to give up Vince Carter:

The loss of the hero of Game Three stings a little, but I’m not too torn up, for a few reasons. For one, the contract the Grizzlies gave him is pretty terrible, when you think about it. Three years, for a 37 year old? Even with only $2m guaranteed for the third year, I don’t think it’s a smart deal (on the Grizzlies’ part, of course. Keep gettin’ them checks Vince!).

At this stage of his career, as a general manager, I’d only be comfortable with either a one-year contract, or two years with a team option on the second year. There’s just no telling when the body will just say ‘enough is enough’, after which you’re stuck with a non-productive player clogging up $4m of cap space. True, it’s not a huge amount, but it’s still enough to be an irritant when you’re trying to maximize your team’s capabilities, as a team with playoff aspirations like the Grizzlies would be.

Secondly, given the Mavs’ specific roster-building circumstances coming into the offseason, I would have never agreed to give Vince $4m, and I’m glad the front office apparently agrees with me on that. We just needed as much space as we could possibly get to spend on solid starters, given our targets at the beginning of free agency. Kyle Lowry, Marcin Gortat, Luol Deng… aiming for those guys (and we’re not even talking about the likes of Carmelo or LeBron) meant that we simply didn’t have $4m to give Vince. So, to me it was always a matter of whether Vince liked the environment in Dallas enough to take a little discount and continue his good work.

Don’t get me wrong; $4m isn’t outlandish for Vince, who had solid averages of 11.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists last season. But $4m was outlandish for Vince to stay in Dallas.

Lastly, I’ve always had this lingering feeling that Vince has been a journeyman, ‘mercenary’ type of player ever since leaving New Jersey. His stints in Orlando and Phoenix left people underwhelmed, and I have a feeling the perception of him being ‘done’ would have continued had he not found a good situation in Dallas.

I’m sure he put in the work to become effective in a whole new role, and one can’t just say that ‘landing in Dallas’ was all that was needed to get him back on track, but I never felt like he really wanted to retire here. It’s why I always thought Mark Cuban’s comments about Vince retiring as a Mav to be one of those ‘things executives should say even if they don’t mean it’, like how an ownership group would never outright admit to wanting to sack their head coach, even if all signs pointed to that.

So… thanks for a solid three years, Vince. Keep gettin’ them checks, you deserve them. I won’t miss you, but I’ll have fond memories of our time together.

See you around, VC. Thanks for the memories.

11 Jul
2014

Expanding My Horizons

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Hi all! Just a quick post to let y’all know that I’ve recently started contributing at a couple other sites, The Smoking Cuban and The Pick and Roll. If you’ve only been following my stuff here on The Stepback, please do take the time to see my work over at those sites too!

Here are my posts at those sites so far:

Why not Jameer Nelson for the new Mavs starting point guard?

What does it matter if Chris Bosh signs for the Rockets?

Was the Mavs offer sheet to Chandler Parsons about more than just basketball?

Don’t worry, I have no intention of abandoning this site. In fact, I intend to step it up and try to be more consistent with my posts.

Thanks for all the support so far, and see you guys again soon!

9 Jul
2014

Superstars Are Worth The Wait

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There’s been a lot of teeth-gnashing over the Mavs’ pursuit of the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, much of it due to the fact that having to wait for them to make their decision effectively handcuffs the Mavs’ ability to make other moves.

Already this offseason we’ve seen legitimate Mavs targets like Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat signed to new contracts, and with rumours flying around over the likes of Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, there is a fear that the opportunity cost that arises from having to wait on Melo and/or LeBron is getting higher day by day, and could be too much to bear once all is said and done.

But you know what? I say that if you have a chance, even the smallest, miniscule one, to sign a superstar, you have to give it a shot.

How many superstars are in the league? More importantly, how often does even one of them become a ‘real’ free agent, who actually fields calls and meets with teams besides their own? The likes of Dirk and Kobe don’t count, because their return to their respective teams was hardly ever in doubt.

I might be wrong here, but the last time I can think of a superstar being actually available in free agency (before LeBron’s infamous Decision in 2010 heralded this new age of superstar-hunting) was Shaq, back in 1996 when he left the Magic for the Lakers. That’s a whole FOURTEEN years between instances of a superstar changing teams through free agency!

While the new CBA has led to shorter contracts and therefore more player movement, a superstar taking the leap in free agency just doesn’t happen all that often. For that reason, on top of the obvious fact that there are only so many players who are worthy of ‘superstar’ status at any one point of time in the league, is why teams have to at least TRY when even the minutest of opportunities arises.

The Mavs may end up missing out on a solid rotation piece with all this waiting around. The basketball product on the floor next season may end up taking a step back. I’ll whine and moan with the rest of the Mavericks fans if all that happens, but I know I’d feel worse if there was a possibility of getting a superstar and Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban didn’t even lift a finger to try.

The odds might be low, and waking up to ‘LeBron signs with the Mavericks’ headlines may forever remain a pipe dream, but you’ll never know unless you try.

28 Jun
2014

Hilariously Misguided, Blind and Uninformed: 2014 Draft-Day Version

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Draft Day 2014 has come and gone, and the Mavs were silent throughout. I was hoping we’d be able to buy our way into the 20-30 range, much like we did with – *shudder* – Dominique Jones before, but, thinking about the Mavs’ most likely plans for this offseason, it wouldn’t have made much sense tying up cap space in a rookie.

The Mavs are looking to maximize the remaining Dirk years, and that means either shooting for the stars with LeBron or Melo, or getting solid veterans like Deng or Lowry. We’d need as much cap flexibility as possible to make those moves possible, so not picking up a first rounder makes sense.

I put this post under the HMBU category, because to be frank, I know nothing about college basketball and therefore nothing about the prospects coming in. All the knowledge I have comes from articles that begin to appear once June approaches, and ramp up significantly after the Finals are over. So… top-heavy info really, with the coverage being heavily focused on the Lottery.

That said, I did watch the whole first round live, and this post is just to give my two cents on what little I know, along with some slightly non-basketball observations I made:

- The first funny moment of the Draft came from Joel Embiid looking perplexed/angry/disappointed after the Sixers picked him. It came out soon after that he was watching a slightly delayed telecast, so it doesn’t mean anything, but it was funny to watch at the time. It was almost like he was openly wondering ‘The Sixers are going to be blatantly tanking again?’

- Speaking of which, the Sixers are going to tie themselves to railroad tracks for yet another season, picking the injured Embiid (what are the odds he’s kept out the whole season?) and Dario Saric, who won’t come over for one or two years. I understand the big picture and can see where they’re going with this, but this is going to be two consecutive seasons of agonizingly bad basketball in Philly. Probably the first time an ownership group is so completely okay with being terrible for two straight seasons. I think that if they had the option to forfeit the season and be guaranteed a top-5 pick, they’d do it.

At least with Orlando, you could see improvement from their young players. You could feel a core building towards something. With Philly, MCW might get better but playing this way for his first couple seasons is probably going to ruin him as a player, and Nerlens Noel will finally get started on his professional career, but there’s no one else on the roster who could realistically be anything better than end-of-the-bench material (aside from the NBA player with the most wretched life right now, Thad Young). It’s depressing to watch.

Nevertheless, the 2013-2017 (or whenever they finally put a basketball team on the court) Sixers are going to make for a very interesting case study regarding team building in the future.

- Simmons’ fist pump when the Celtics picked James Young was funny to watch. But it also set off a new stream of ‘WHY IS HE NOT OBJECTIVE THAT’S TOTALLY UNPROFESSIONAL’ tweets and reactions. Seriously? The guy writes as a fan first, always. It’s obvious in all of his articles. Even when writing stuff which doesn’t really have anything to do with his Celtics, he finds a way to slip a nugget or two in there. That’s how he is, that’s how he’s always been. So relax already.

Besides, if you follow the game in any way, shape or form, you’re going to have a favourite team or two. I’d rather someone be open and honest about it, because even if they aren’t, it’s likely that their fandom seeps into their writing anyway, and then as a reader you wouldn’t be able to tell. At least if it’s out in the open, you can decide how much weight to put into what he/she says about things which involve their teams.

- I have to definitely drop in a word here about the classy move the NBA/Adam Silver made ‘drafting’ Isaiah Austin. Getting the news he did so close to the draft must have been devastating, but it looks like he’s handled it really well and the NBA definitely handled it awesome. I, as with just about everyone else, wish him the best.

Good stuff.

- Apparently there’s someone named Bruno Caboclo who’s from Brazil and plays basketball and the Raptors picked him at No. 20. No one seems to know anything else about him, and now ‘two years away from being two years away’ will live in draft memories forever more.

- OF COURSE the Spurs get a young Boris Diaw with the very last pick of the draft. OF COURSE.

- The Knicks picked up Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, with the second rounders we sent them in the Tyson Chandler trade. I’m not too disappointed, but it would have been nice having Early, one of the touted prospects, around. And Thanasis could have provided a lite version of what Giannis is doing for the Bucks. But, eh, not terribly disappointed.

- For all the hype surrounding draft night, it played out in a fairly straightforward manner. I guess that’s what happens when it’s a deep draft and no one could really flip out over a reach because a good player’s a good player regardless. Still, as an objective viewer with no horse in the race, last year’s draft was way more fun to follow, especially on Twitter.

So the fun of draft is over. But with LeBron and Carmelo opting out of their contracts and trade rumours swirling around Kevin Love, not to mention all the possibilities with the next tier of players, this offseason looks to be exciting. By the time the season starts the whole landscape of the league could look mighty different.

The Mavericks aren’t going to sit idly by, and I’m looking forward to July already.

26 Jun
2014

Let’s Talk Trades: Chandler is a Mav Again

Tyson Chandler Mavs

It’s my first day back in Singapore, my exams just finished a couple days back, and I wake up to this MASSIVE NEWS:

Tyson Chandler is a Maverick again!

Let’s look at who got what in the trade:

Dallas Mavericks receive: Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton
New York Knicks receive: Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, the 34th and 51st picks of the 2014 draft

Honestly? When I first laid my tired eyes on this headline, I wasn’t happy. Tyson is older and has missed a ton of games since leaving the Mavs. And for someone whose game is largely dependent on athleticism, what with his alley-oop finishes and all, this is a significant issue.

It also didn’t sit well with me that we were giving Calderon up. After the mess at the PG position during the 2012-2013 season, I was very happy having him around. And there was some underdog-ish aura around Sammy D that made me really like having him around.

Having taken a little time to think about it though, I’m leaning towards ‘cautiously optimistic’ on the trade. Let’s break it down:

First, the big fish of the deal, Mr Chandler. Ideally, he gives us what he did during the magical 2011 season: athletic rim protection, always a threat rolling to the rim, and a decent enough free-throw shooter to not be a liability (although that has been declining ever since he left the Mavs). However, given his injuries in recent times, I don’t know if he can do what he once did. He’s still a good player, but I’m expecting something around 70-80% what he managed the last time he was here.

His contract is big, at $14.6m for the coming season, but it’s just for one year and then he’s a free agent. On the bright side, if he’s good-but-not-great, he could be a decent re-sign, say at $7-8m per for 2 or 3 years? I know it sounds kinda steep but good Cs are hard to find nowadays, right?

Now, Raymond Felton. Oh god, what did we pick up. We picked up a fat, turnover-prone guard who just recently managed to avoid jail-time for carrying guns. I don’t know how he could bring anything positive to the team. Carlisle might be able to work some magic, and maybe Felton turns out to be a decent player off the bench, but I’m hoping and praying he gets moved on before the season starts. Don’t know how the Mavs would manage to perform that miracle though.

As a player, he’s pretty much done, unless he finds some motivation to get fit and play hard again. His contract is manageable, at least. $3.8m for this year and a player option at $3.9m for next year, which I think he exercises. It’s a number small enough to not feel too much grief over but also big enough to be an irritant when griping about things like cap space.

Now, about the players and assets we gave up:

As I said above, what Jose brought to the team last year was amazing. Sure hands, crisp passes, marksman shooting. However, moving him on is justifiable given his contract and the role he slid into over time last year. Monta’s breakout led to Jose being reduced to a spot up shooter a lot of the time, and while he was great at it, at his price and with his contract, it’s not worth it, especially since he can’t defend.

(I’m hoping this means we pursue Lowry hard in free agency now)

As for Sammy D, I’ll miss the big guy. When he played hard he was a joy to watch. He’s got pizza hands, sure, but the way he dunks when fired up was one of the most fun things to see last season. But I’m not feeling as strongly for him leaving as Tyson is clearly the better player, which isn’t something I can say for Felton-for-Jose.

We also give up Sugar Shane Larkin. Hmm, it’s hard. On the one hand, here’s a young guard who showed some promise last season and is just one year into the league (so my pet peeve about the Mavs just pretty much throwing away the players they draft continues). On the other, he’s a really undersized guard who I saw get easily stuffed at the rim numerous times, even after he’d gone all the way into the paint. Short arms = death, it seems.

So I feel kinda bad for him, being traded just one year into his career. But I didn’t really see him making a huge impact on the team anyway, certainly not during the remaining Dirk years.

How about Ellington? I don’t know if he was bad in practice, but his complete lack of playing time was a disappointment after coming in at the beginning of last season with a good reputation as a 3-and-D guy. I’d lean towards trusting Carlisle, but it still feels like a waste. Nevertheless, he wasn’t big (or small) enough for us last year for me to really feel anything either way about him leaving.

As for giving up the 34th and 51st picks? Well there goes my draft night. I’d still be stoked to sit by Twitter and see all the madness go down, but chances are the Mavs won’t be involved at all. Fitting, considering it’s the best draft in a decade and the Mavs have typically dismissed the draft altogether. Sheesh.

Of course, they could still buy or trade their way into something. I hope they do, but I’m not holding my breath.

So… wow. This trade came out of nowhere didn’t it? Just like the best ones do. A lot hinges on whether Chandler can be something like the 2011 version of him again, which is a big question considering his recent injury issues. If he can, I’d be okay with stashing Felton at the end of the bench and have him clean up the arena as part of his 500-hour community service and do nothing else.

Did we give up too much? I think so. At the end of the day, Chandler is older, and Felton is fatter and… useless-er. I understand giving up the players we did, although maybe keeping one of Larkin or Ellington would have been better (if not to use in the rotation then as assets to be used in another trade). But the 34th AND 51st picks?? Nah man, that pushes it into ‘gave up too much’ territory.

(I know it’s weird to put that much value on two second-rounders, especially since one of them is one of the last ten picks of the whole draft, but it’s more of a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ thing than anything else)

I’ll miss Jose and The Haitian Sensation, and wish Ellington and Larkin all the best. They were all good servants of the team, one way or another. No bad eggs here.

On the brighter side, this probably sets us up for a very exciting free agency. If Chandler is good to go, Dirk-Monta-Chandler is a very strong core. We now just need some shooting on the wing and a starting-caliber guard. I’d be ecstatic if we get Lowry plus Hayward or something like that.

Of course, the team has to give LeBron and Melo a shot. When you can get a superstar you just have to try, fit be damned. But after the disappointments of the last few summers, I’ll be happy if we just get a solid group together to push up a few places in the West.

31 May
2014

Lance Stephenson: Yea or Nay?

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With the Pacers’ season ending today, many Mavs fans’ thoughts will be turning to the only part of the series which has any realistic  impact to our team: should we be pursuing the services of The 8th Grader?

Short answer? No.

Long answer? No, because there’s too many question marks. His talent and youth, both things the Mavs sorely need, certainly makes one stop to consider, but I’m going to have to agree with the front office on this one.

The Mavs have had their fair share of quirky characters in the past. Delonte West, DeShawn Stevenson, Lamar @#%^@#^$@#$, all players with, shall we say, questionable personalities. But nevertheless, with the exception of Lamar @#%^@#^$@#$, these guys bought into the system and played valuable roles on successful teams. Stevenson toned his crazy down and knocked down threes and played great D for us in the 2011 title run. Delonte was a reliable backup guard, and although he did leave the team under some very questionable circumstances, not enough information about what happened came out for me to pass judgment on him one way or the other.

Lance doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who understands what ‘buying into a team concept’ means. Lance has a massive chip on his shoulder from not making the East All-Stars this past season, and instead of channeling that energy towards improving his game or helping his team win, he looks like he’s just going to try to win whole basketball games by himself, the team be damned.

While having a go-to guy who has the confidence to make plays in crunch time is a pivotal part of any good team, Lance is not that guy. He just strikes me as wanting to do it just so he can say he did it (if he succeeds). In other words, I think he’s too selfish to fit onto this Mavericks team. Besides, we already have a go-to guy in Dirk. He might not be taking and/or making all the big shots nowadays, but the team’s offence is built around him anyway.

Besides buying into the team philosophy, the quirky characters the Mavs have had before were also low-risk, high-reward players. Stevenson was the forgotten throw-in in the Butler trade. West was on the veteran’s minimum. Lance though, will command something in the $9-12m range, with a contract that’s probably going to be for 4 years. That’s an expensive gamble to make.

To be honest, I’m not too excited about any of the realistic options the Mavericks have this coming offseason. The likes of Deng or Ariza don’t exactly set my world on fire, even if they would be able to contribute much more than an aging Matrix right now. That said, I’d rather take a chance on Deng’s minutes-heavy body or Ariza’s contract year heroics than on Stephenson’s madness. With Dirk stepping closer and closer to retirement, we can’t afford to introduce a question mark as big as Lance into the equation.

8 May
2014

The Sweetest First-Round Exit

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The dust has settled, the heart-rates back down to normal levels. The Dallas Mavericks’ 2013-2014 season is in the books, and it ends with a 49-33 regular season record and a pretty epic 7-game series against the best team in the NBA this year, the San Antonio Spurs. By all means a successful season, given the goals that were set at the beginning of the year, but it did end on somewhat of a damp squib, with a Game 7 blowout loss.

But you know what? I have never felt so good about being knocked out in the first round, ever.

I’m really excited about the future of this team now, with some solid building blocks in place with the likes of Dirk, Monta, B Wright and more, and I’ve always been really excited at the thought of trades and free agent signings and so on. But every now and then I remember that all the team-building plans and thoughts about future cap space/draft picks/signings in the world don’t mean squat if you can’t just sit down and appreciate what the team is right now, and what they actually produce on the court.

I’m so glad I did so for this playoff series. I only caught Games 2, 3 and 6, and about one half of Game 4, due to clashes with my own personal schedule, but even this limited viewing gave me more than enough happy and hype moments to last the rest of the offseason:

I was roaring along with this one; the raw emotion of the moment overcame me:

We have truly been blessed with buzzer-beaters this season, and this was the biggest one of them all:

Dirk can still take it to the hoop:

Blair does big-man fast breaks better than Kaman:

He also made screens highlight plays:

Let us also never forget Monta Ellis and his 4th quarter feats of flight and clutchness:


For someone who averaged just 6 boards a game in the regular season, Dirk can really turn it on in the playoffs:

All future articles which contain any mention of a refereeing mishap going against us should contain this .gif:

I’m sure I’ve missed some things; everyone has their own favourites of course. And one should never discount the contributions of the likes of Marion and Calderon. But all of the above ones really struck a chord with me. Whether it was roaring along with Dirk or seeing all of my own emotions being played out perfectly in Carlisle Facespeak, I was well and truly caught up in the moment.

It’s a first-round exit and the Mavs have loftier goals than that. But they tackled this season in the best way possible, and showed everyone that there IS value in trying instead of tanking when you don’t have a championship-caliber roster.

I’ve said it before; once Vince’s shot found the bottom of the net, our legacy for this season was sealed. It didn’t matter from then on how many games we won or lost; the Mavericks would be seen as on the up and up regardless. So to be able to have the big, overarching worry overcome, AND have so many amazing memories all in one playoff series?

I’m a happy man.

29 Apr
2014

Even When We Lose, We Win

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As I write this, Game 4 is being played and the first half has just ended. The Mavericks are down 14 points. 14! I feel all sorts of disappointed and pissed off. Ginobili looks even more insufferable than usual, Tim Duncan can stuff his poker face up where the sun don’t shine, Parker can, uh, go reopen his nightclub. Point is, I’m razzled, incoherent and worked up.

Which is weird, because isn’t this what was supposed to happen all along?

Under normal circumstances, with this Mavs team, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at being 14 points down to the Spurs at halftime. You’d even feel quite comfortable putting a bet on something like that, because it’s pretty much free money. In other words, this should be the norm. It’s how the world works. It sucks, as a Mavs fan, but you expect it and just live with it. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that it’s easier to deal with disappointment that way. Unrealistic hopes and expectations just lead to harder and more painful falls.

And yet I’m getting so worked up that this series could be tied after today. Hell, before the playoffs started, if someone told me this series would be tied at ANY STAGE, I would have been ECSTATIC. I wouldn’t say I’m a pessimist, but come on, a sweep was totally on the cards here. People were expecting this to be the most likely sweep, even over the Heat-Bobcats series, and in that series we’re talking about the reigning champs playing a team which was most well-known for being historically bad prior to this season.

I guess this is what happens when your team shows you that it is the very embodiment of the phrase ‘more than the sum of its parts’. The first three games have seen us to be clearly the better team in two of them, and possessing the wherewithal to pull out a last-gasp victory in the other.

Now, in all likelihood, the Spurs get their shit together (how many games of 24 turnovers and bricktastic free throw shooting can you expect from them) and win out the rest of the way. But that really doesn’t matter anymore. The Mavs have shown the basketball world what they’re made of, how solid a foundation they have, especially since the likes of Monta and Caldy are signed to multi-year deals. Even Sammy D and B Wright have a year left on their deals. Any free agent or trade acquisition knows he won’t be joining a barren team.

This year was never going to be terribly successful. It was always, at best, seen as a ‘get back on your feet’ season for the Mavs, for us to re-establish ourselves as a good team, and for Dirk to show us he still has it. Going by those modest, realistic goals, I’d say we’ve had a wildly successful season, and even if we don’t win another game in this series, grabbing two from the Spurs and even being the clear better team in a couple of them has done wonders for the team’s prospects, as said in this piece.

We have Dirk, we have Monta, and we have Carlisle. The first two are the obvious attractions, but any smart player would probably love to play under Carlisle. I chose to use the word ‘smart’, because Dallas aren’t usually the most attractive option and people are always talking about Thibs and Doc Rivers when they talk about coaches, but really, the smart money’s got to be on Carlisle. The Bulls are stuck in limbo until Rose either comes back and proves he’s still The Man, or leaves because he can’t produce at the same level anymore. If he comes back and is a shadow of his former self, he immediately becomes Joe Johnson 2.0, where the word ‘contract’ always follows his name. Either way, that uncertainty can’t help. As a free agent, joining the Bulls could either mean immediate contention (if Rose is fine) or being stuck on a team with no one who can create any kind of offense (if Rose is never the same again).

Note: I’m not HOPING that he’s done, mind you. I totally recognize that Rose is a great player, even though I don’t like his style, and I hope he comes back and can play at the same level as he did before his injury.

As for the Clippers, I’d think their team is pretty set for the foreseeable future. They need some proper big man cover for Griffin and DeAndre, but they seem to be in love with signing role player swingmen so I don’t think that’s gonna change soon.

(Of course, there’s also the Spurs, but they’re only gonna be adding role players who can help them in tiny ways, like Belinelli.)

If a free agent wants to join a winning team with a solid foundation, and be a legitimate 2nd/3rd option (depending on who’s hot and who’s not on the night) AND be coached by the most underrated (and championship caliber) coach in the league right now, he’s gotta join the Mavs. But, as I said, it takes a smart player to do that, because Carlisle gets, relatively, no respect. And I suppose that would work out for the best anyway. I sure wouldn’t want a bonehead on my team.

Game 4 has finished, and sure enough, the Spurs have come back and tied it up after a 93-89 victory. But even then, we saw our boys battle back from a 20-point deficit.

Sure, we lost the game. We’re likely to lose the series, maybe even all the remaining games. But really, this season has just been one huge win for the franchise.

20 Apr
2014

Playoff Preview or: Why Couldn’t We Have Gotten The 7th Seed

dirk_duncan

I really wanted us to get that last win. Not just because that would have allowed us to avoid the Spurs (although that IS the focus of this post), but actually more so because we would’ve reached 50 wins for the season. Somehow, that felt more like something we could hang our hat on, because let’s be honest, even if we were facing OKC or the Clippers, we’d still be the overwhelming underdogs. If we were gonna have our season end in the first round, at least let us be able to add to our 50-win-seasons count.

But instead, here we are, facing the Spurs with 49 wins under our belt, not a single one of which came against them. And that’s worrying, it really is. No one in the league has our number the way they do. I can’t remember which other teams swept us in the regular season this year other than Miami, and with them we at least seem competitive (or maybe they were just cruising throughout the regular season). The Spurs kill us, plain and simple.

What do we have that could work for us? Let’s list them:

1) We have Dirk. And we haven’t seen his hulked-out, playoff version for two years now (the lockout season’s sweep at the hands of the Thunder doesn’t count). Sad to say though, even there the Spurs seem to have us covered, using (of all people) Boris Diaw. Now, I’ve got nothing against the guy, and in fact have a soft spot for anyone who can even remotely be called a point-forward, but when your superman hero guy is being successfully checked by a role player, it, uh, it’s kinda emasculating.

Of course, this season Dirk has a new sidekick:

2) We have Monta! And he’s certainly a more talented player than his opposite number, Danny Green. Sadly, that’s not who he’ll have to get past on the offensive end. The Spurs are all but certain to sic Kawhi Leonard on Monta.

In fact, the Spurs have someone who can guard all our best players. Diaw and Splitter will take Dirk, with Duncan of course still well capable of doing the job as well. Kawhi will take Monta, and will cause loads of problems with his size and wingspan. Parker isn’t known as a stopper, but he can certainly cover Caldy, and will likely torch him on the other end.

But back to Monta. We need him on his A-game, driving and finishing or dishing. The two man game with the other players spacing the floor is probably the best chance we have against the Spurs. We can’t afford to have the Monta who goes 3-for-12 and has 6 turnovers. We might be able to be bailed out by Dirk or a hot-shooting VC against other teams, but if Bad Monta shows up against the Spurs, we’re done.

3) As with the whole regular season, this Dallas team will live and die by how well they do on offense. We’ve seen them play some frantic and effective defense for stretches in some games, but that’s just SOME of SOME games. Against this Spurs machine (someone needs to Photoshop up a Spurs-themed Terminator), that won’t work. They’ll just keep coming and it won’t even matter all that much who’s on the floor for them.

That said, we do have some guys who could make life difficult for them. Marion is our resident stopper, of course. Chances are he’ll draw the Parker assignment from minute one, and for the life of me I hope he does. I can’t and don’t want to imagine how Monta or Caldy on Tony for extended periods of time would look like.

We also need The Haitian Sensation to be playing well and keeping out of foul trouble. Since his early season struggles, Sammy D has really turned things around and has been a solid option at center for us. He’s probably the only guy we’ve got who can properly cover Duncan, and if we can at least take him out of the game or lessen his impact on it, that’ll go a long way towards helping our cause.

Speaking of centers, maybe we can have a ‘vengeance’ game or two from DeJuan Blair? I can hope, at least.

4) We also need our bench to perform. VC, BWright and Devin are incredibly important components of this team. Many teams have good or decent benches, but ours is vital to the team. If VC has a cold spell or Devin can’t help contain Parker, that won’t bode well for our chances.

Put simply, it’s an impossible task. This preview was littered with negativity, and, I’d argue, with good reason. The Spurs are just that damn good.

One thing to keep me believing though: this whole season has been one big impossible task. People were saying we’d miss the playoffs for sure, and what’d we go out and do? We almost got to 50 wins, and up till the last 3 or 4 games were still in with a shot for the 6th seed. People were deriding the Monta signing, and look what he gave us. He’s completely transformed league-wide perceptions of him. People were saying Dirk was done, then he goes and gives us 21.6ppg, and almost notched another 50-40-90 season.

This is a team which blows all expectations and perceptions out of the water, time and time again. And that’s as good a reason as any to not completely give up on them even as they face such impossible odds.

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