In 2006, the Dallas Mavericks made their first appearance in the NBA Finals, and had a 2-0 series lead over the Miami Heat. Dallas then collapsed out of nowhere, and Miami won the next four games, along with the title. The Mavericks were then a team on a mission during the 2006-07 season, winning 67 games, and securing the top seed in the Playoffs – they were ready for the title. However, a roadblock would appear in the form of the Golden State Warriors, and former head coach Don Nelson. Dallas would be knocked off in six games by the number eight seed, and become the laughingstock of the league. Last season went by like a blur for the once great franchise, and the Mavericks seemed to be heading for obscurity at a very quick pace. The remedy, though, came in February when they were to acquire legendary point guard, Jason Kidd. Things were looking up.
The Mavericks would lock up the seventh spot in the Playoffs, and were considered favorites by many over the inexperienced New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets, however, would eliminate the Mavs in just five games. All in all, it was a horrible experience if you’re a Mavs fan, as it looked like the team was finally falling off the rocker. In this bright, new NBA season, the Mavericks have a new head coach, some motivated players, and a horrible feeling in their stomachs. This is the last chance for this Nowitzki-led team to win, and every one of the players knows it. This is still a very talented team, and an appearance in the Finals is not out of the question, but with the way the West is going, just making it to the postseason will be a challenge for this veteran squad.
Offense: The Mavericks have two superb offensive players in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Jason Kidd is one of the greatest playmakers in league history, and can still find that open guy anywhere on the floor. Dirk is unique in that he can spread the floor with his smooth shooting, and has even shown that he can score in the post. With new head coach, Rick Carlisle, I expect to see this team on the run, with both Kidd and Nowitzki the team’s focal points. Carlisle has not shown that he is an offensive mastermind, but when has he had a player like Jason Kidd running the point? Carlisle will see the best results with this team if he lets Jason Kidd run and showcase his playmaking abilities. This is all a best case scenario, but it will likely happen, if only for a stretch of the season.
Defense: Under Avery Johnson, the Mavericks were actually a very good defensive team. Holding teams to just 95.9 points per game on .443% shooting was good enough for ranks of sixth and fourth in the league last year. In the playoffs, however, they just looked old, especially Jason Kidd. Rick Carlisle, who coached the Indiana Pacers to the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, hopes to turn this team around from a shaky playoff exit. Rick Carlisle’s Detroit and Indiana teams had a defensive foundation, which became the reason for their success. Expect Carlisle’s primary objective in Dallas this season to be on defense, and keeping the Mavs as one of the best defensive teams in the league.
It will be difficult to be as good defensively as they were the first half of last season. Devin Harris was the team’s best back-court defender, and after he was traded for Jason Kidd, the Mavs obviously looked a little worse for wear on the defensive end. Jason Kidd was a great defender in the past, but he has obviously lost a few steps over the years, and has a lot of trouble with quicker guards. Kidd can still be a vital part to this team’s defense, but he will need some help. With DeSagana Diop back in Dallas, the team’s interior defense is strong again. He may be highly overpaid, but he will help. The Mavs are a team full of questions, with many coming from the defensive side, but if Rick Carlisle can bring the sort of mentality with him that he had in Detroit and Indiana, this team could transform itself into a power once again.
Strengths: The veteran leadership of Jason Kidd was great in that Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t forced to be the all out leader for the team last year. Nowitzki had a lot of trouble carrying the Mavericks over the years, but with Jason Kidd, he was able to get rid of some of the pressure, which benefitted his game. He would shine against the Hornets in the playoffs, and I suspect that Jason Kidd had a little something to do with that. Also, this team is full of aging players hungry for a title, so the lack of youth on this team is a plus, if only for one season.
Weaknesses: On the defensive end this team looked horrible after they traded Devin Harris. With DeSagana Diop back, the defense will be better, but not by much. This team is getting old, and that is never good for your defense. If Rick Carlisle can completely shake up the defense, and mimic some of his older teams, this weakness will be a huge strength. The key word, however, is “if.”
Five Players to Watch:
Dirk Nowitzki - The former MVP has been saddle-backed by carrying this team for so long, and it came as no surprise that he would come up short in the playoffs when looked upon in big games. After Jason Kidd came to town last year, Dirk looked like a changed man, and was ready to dispel everything said against him. In the playoffs, Dirk stepped up, but his team stepped back. He needs to be the leader of this team, and reacquire his MVP persona in the process. He doesn’t need to carry the Mavs anymore, and that should make it easier for him to lead, but he needs to prove that he can actually do it. Nowitzki is one of the most unique players this league has ever seen, and he has the abilities to be a team leader, but thus far, all he has shown is his magical ability to disappear when a game or series is on the line. If he can carry his game over from the playoffs last season, he’s got a head start. If not, this may be the last we see of Diggler on the Dallas Mavericks.
Jason Kidd - Jason Kidd is getting a little old for this game, but he still has the ability to be a valuable player. Kidd used to be equipped with supersonic speed and a lightning-fast first step, but that seems to have faded away over time. What Kidd still has, though, is his amazing court-vision, as well as an intelligence of the game that has only grown with age. Not one of the quickest players in the game anymore, Jason Kidd uses his smarts to get things done. The fact that Kidd would love to add a title to his already Hall of Fame career could make him a deadly player this year. Or, perhaps, he feels a Gold Medal is good enough to him. If Rick Carlisle can rejuvenate this superstar, we may see the Mavericks putting up 60 wins this season. Avery Johnson didn’t know what to do with Kidd, maybe Carlisle does.
Jerry Stackhouse - Jerry Stackhouse is a very valuable player in that he fights for his teammates. When David West began intimidating Dirk Nowitzki in the Playoffs, who was it that saved him? Jerry Stackhouse. He is always the first player to come to the aid of a teammate. He is also tough as hell. Without Stackhouse, this team would probably fold into mediocrity, but with Stackhouse, this team has a fighting chance.
Josh Howard - Josh Howard is such a gifted player. He can score the ball at will, and is a tough defender. He has all the tools to be a star in this league. The problem with Howard, though, is that he is just that – a problem. Everything he does off the court is a huge distraction for the team. Also, he takes plays, and whole nights off when he doesn’t feel like contributing. Josh Howard could be the catalyst for this team if he turns his act around. Although, it is more likely that he will just continue to lapse into a terrible mental state, and possibly become a plague to this team.
Gerald Green – If Green would put half the time into learning the game of basketball that he does in the Slam Dunk Contest, he would be a starter just about anywhere. The kid is ultra-talented, can score on the inside, and shoot the three. From what I’ve heard, he’s been practicing constantly with Rick Carlisle, trying to prove he deserves a spot in the rotation. If Green can change his attitude, and continue working, he will be a candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year. If he gets lazy, he’s back on the waiver-wire.
Title Hopes: The title hopes for this team are bleak. If Rick Carlisle gets this team anywhere higher than the sixth spot, he should be Coach of the Year. With a Western Conference that is continually growing around this aging team, as well as being in the deepest division in the league, obtaining a spot in the Playoffs will be a major struggle. Expect them to battle it out with Denver, Portland, and the Clippers all year for the last two spots in the Playoffs. If Carlisle, Dirk, and Kidd all play above expectations, this team has the chances to win the title, but it is very unlikely.
Prediction: 4th Place, Southwest Division