Last year, the Mavericks won 50 games in the regular season, with the league’s 5th-best offense and its 17th-best defense. They were good enough to beat the depleted San Antonio Spurs in 5 games in the first round, but not good enough to avoid a 5-game beating at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the second. Dirk Nowitzki was fantastic as always, Jason Terry won the 6th Man of the Year award, and Jason Kidd had the best shooting season of his career. To these eyes, Rick Carlisle did a tremendous job coaching this bunch and nobody should have expected them to get any further than they did without a healthy Josh Howard.
This off-season, we’ve seen this team make an effort to go from just-not-good-enough to maybe-just-good-enough. In a complicated 4-team trade, the Mavs acquired Shawn Marion (and Kris Humphries, Greg Buckner, and Nathan Jawai) in exchange for Antoine Wright, Devean George, and Jerry Stackhouse’s only-partially-guaranteed contract. They’ve also re-signed Jason Kidd for 3 years, drafted Rodrigue Beaubois, and signed role players Tim Thomas, Quinton Ross, and Drew Gooden (after Orlando matched their offer sheet to Marcin Gortat).
At this point, you might be thinking that this group is old. You might be thinking about how Bill Simmons called them the 2004 All-Stars. Kidd is 36, Dirk is 31, Terry is 31, Marion is 31, and Josh Howard is 29, so you’d be correct in saying this core isn’t improving anymore. Still, you shouldn’t underestimate these guys because they can still play. As shown last season, Dirk is still one of the league’s best offensive players. Terry can still shoot the lights out. Kidd is still brilliant at running the offense and getting his teammates easy looks, even if he gives up some points on the other end. Marion hasn’t lost as much athleticism as he probably should have and he remains a player who can greatly help this team, especially in transition and on the defensive end of the floor. If these guys come close to sustaining what they did last season and Josh Howard plays like he did two years ago (when he wasn’t sidelined or playing hurt), this team has improved.
Much was made about the Gortat saga in Dallas. When he initially signed the offer sheet, I applauded the move. He’s only 25 years old and is a starting-calibre center who is a more-than-solid replacement center for when Erick Dampier inevitably moves on. To get a guy with his skills at the 5 spot for the average salary is a steal. However, since the Marion acquisition, I think what happened here might work out well for the Mavs. I fully believe that Marion is most effective at the 4 and, with Dirk, Dampier, and Gortat in the front-court, there simply wouldn’t have been enough minutes for Marion at that position. With the line-up as presently constructed, the Mavs are free to spread the floor by playing Dirk at center and Marion at power forward for long stretches, every game.
The mid-level-exception that would have been used on Gortat ended up going to Drew Gooden. However, as noted on ShamSports, the details of Gooden’s contract put the Mavs in an interesting position. Gooden was signed for $4.5 million, but only $1.9 million of that is guaranteed, so as of December 15 he can be traded to (and then released by) a cash-strapped, underperforming team for a better player with a contract close to $4.5 million. With this trade chip, as well as Dampier’s huge expiring contract that could be used to land someone like Michael Redd, I think it’s pretty safe to say that, barring a first half of the season derailed by injury, the Mavs will be looking to acquire more talent as the season goes on. In this economy, it’s likely that they will have success doing so.
So, sure, call these Mavs old. Call them the 2004 All-Stars if you want to, but know that if healthy they’ll still be damn good. Not Lakers good and probably not Spurs good, but damn good. There’s a lot of talent on this team right now and there’s the potential to add significant talent before the trade deadline. Defense is still an issue and no one is going to pick them to make it to the Finals, but if they make the right moves, get the right matchups, and if some other contenders are hit with injury woes, this group might be just good enough to do some serious damage. You shouldn’t bet on the Mavericks, but don’t sleep on them either.