We could be headed for a new, depressing chapter in Dallas Mavericks history
By Robert Scalice
So now it’s official: Dwight Howard won’t be throwing up jump hooks and swatting away shots for the Dallas Mavericks next season. As expected, Superman chose to take his act to Houston, where it’s anticipated that almost singlehandedly he’ll transform the Rockets from playoff team to championship contender.
Where, do you ask, does this leave the Mavs? How about “in trouble”? Coming off a non-playoff season and with a roster featuring the aging Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter as their best players, the Mavericks head into the 2013-14 season with many unanswered questions and nearly as many holes to fill.
NO BIG FISH - Among the prominent issues facing the Mavericks concerns the apparent inability of the organization to attract top-tier players. Aside from Howard, some of the bigger names available on the free agent market included Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, J.R. Smith, Andre Iguodala and Brandon Jennings. All have either left their teams to sign somewhere other than Dallas or have chosen to re-sign with their current teams. The Mavs DID sign Jose Calderon to presumably be their starting point guard, inking him to a 4-year deal worth $29 million. While Calderon is a good player who will bring stability to a position sorely in need of it, this move won’t be the difference maker fans were looking for. One would think that the Mavs front office had to have known that signing Howard was a long shot and that a contingency plan was in place. If so, we’re still waiting to see what it is. Finding a stud to play alongside Nowitzki has been the goal and it still is. Now with the current free agent crop drying up, the reality is a sobering one for Mavericks fans: this is about as good as it’s gonna get.
TAKING CARE OF THEIR OWN - Before the start of last season, the Mavericks signed four new players to one-year deals: O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Fast forward one year later and the results are very near disastrous – Mayo, their best player during the time Nowitzki was recovering from surgery, apparently decided he had no future in Dallas; he’s now gone, having signed a 3-year deal with Milwaukee. At the time of this writing, the status of Dallas’ three other free agents was still up in the air. Collison seems inclined to return though he’s drawn interest from the Cavaliers. If he does re-sign, how does coach Rick Carlisle plan to use him? Will he back up Calderon almost exclusively or will he play them together for periods? It’s almost certain that Calderon wasn’t signed to be a reserve so there’s probably little to no chance that Collison retains the starting job he held most of last season. Brand is being courted by the Knicks and being a New York native, he may find the opportunity to go home too enticing to pass up. Kaman, who was noticeably unhappy with his role and his minutes last season, is talking to both Portland and Utah; it seems unlikely he’ll return. Should the Mavs lose three of the four as it appears they will, what next??
WAIT FOR 2014 - It seems obvious that the goal next season is to try and stay as competitive as possible and then make a big splash in the 2014 free agent market, which will include the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The Mavs seem to be stuck in limbo as they try to determine just what their player acquisition strategy will be. Do they believe they can contend for a playoff spot by tweaking the roster here and there around Dirk? Or are they in partial rebuilding mode but afraid to say so publicly for fear of alienating fans and potential free agents? They obviously are not in complete rebuilding mode because that would mean trading their most marketable asset, Nowitzki, blowing up the team and starting from scratch. Mark Cuban however, has made it clear that there’s ZERO chance he’ll trade Dirk. Given the Mavericks’ aforementioned difficulty in attracting elite players to Dallas, it seems reasonable to question whether or not the Mavs will be able to get that great player or two to come here in 2014. In which case, that leaves this team with one very unpalatable option for Mavericks fans: take the inevitable fall to the league cellar and build through the draft lottery. It wouldn’t be overstating at all to suggest that 2013 could be a VERY long year for the Dallas Mavericks.
OTHER ISSUES - Will rookie Shane Larkin be a legitimate option at the point? Did the Dallas Mavericks draft a future star or a journeyman? Where does Roddy Beaubois fit into the equation? What about Israeli PG Gal Mekel, whom the team recently added? Will he see major minutes and can he play at the NBA level? How about Shawn Marion? With the Mavs having offered him in a potential trade for Rajon Rondo, is the veteran small forward a lock to be on the roster opening day? Or will he be a trade chip to help the Mavericks get younger? And what exactly is the deal with draftee Ricky Ledo, the 6-6 shooting guard from Rhode Island who was declared academically ineligible at Providence last year? Reputedly possessed of massive talent, he was called by one coach “the worst human being I’ve ever been associated with in basketball.” Is this a risk typically associated with the Mavs draft strategy? Is THIS what it’s come to in Dallas?
As bad as things look right now, it’s tough to find the silver lining. The Dallas Mavericks may just have to roll into the 2013 season with their current group, see if they can stay healthy, hope for the best and then can go after the top dogs in the 2014 free agent pool. It’s not much to hang one’s hat on, to be sure. But when Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson elected to detonate the 2011 championship team, they did so with this day in mind. I’m sure they imagined it playing out a bit differently than it has.