Canis Hoopus, the excellent SBNation blog devoted to the Minnesota Timberwolves, is running a series of posts looking at every team in the league, focusing on their immediate past, the present and next season. Our fearless leader, J.R. Wilco, asked me to do something similar, focused on the Southwest division first, but doing so from a decidedly Spurs-centric perspective. As you know, the SW is likely the toughest division in the league, boasting three contenders and two playoff hopefuls, and the Spurs will play 16 of their total 82 games against the four other teams that comprise it. After taking a look at the Pelicans, it's time to focus on our long time foes, the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs treaded water for yet another season after breaking up their championship core. They signed players to one year deals in the hope of making the playoffs without ruining their chances at getting Dwight Howard in free agency. That meant O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand were the big additions and the rest of the roster was comprised of Dirk Nowitzki, flotsam from the championship team and rookies Jae Crowder and Bernard James. The results were predictably mediocre.
Dirk Nowitzki was injured to start the season, but the Mavs overachieved on their way to a .500 record in their first 20 games and it seemed they could make a push once the Big German returned. But reality set in after that. The Mavs would go on to lose eight of their next ten and were firmly in the outside of the playoff picture before the All-Star break. O.J. Mayo, in particular, came back to Earth after averaging over 20 points per game in November, and their other aditions just couldn't find their place, either. Chris Kaman struggled getting healthy and Darren Collison would underwhelm to the point where Mike James would go on to usurp his starting spot.
The Mavs lived up to their billing as a good but unremarkable team and went 15-15 in the next 30 and would go on to make a push late in the season to finish with - you guessed it - a .500 record. It was not enough to make the playoffs out West but they had another chance to hit the reset button in the off-season with most of their players coming off the books.
They finished 10th in the West and had the 13th pick in the draft.
It was clear the Mavs were determined to make a splash in free agency and needed as much cap space as possible so it was speculated that they were going to trade out of the draft. Instead, they simply traded down to the 18th spot and drafted point guard Shane Larkin. Then they traded for the 43rd pick and nabbed the troubled but intriguing Ricky Ledo in an attempt to finally get some young talent in Dallas.
The key to the Mavs' off-season was obviously not the draft. They made their pitch to Dwight Howard but were ruled out early in the process, which left them reeling. So they signed Jose Calderon to a three year deal and pursued Devin Harris. An injury would delay Harris' return to the big D, but it would eventually happen for the veteran's minimum; they would pay Spurs' outcast DeJuan Blair the same. They also signed Israeli point guard Gal Mekel to make sure the PG spot was well covered.
After Howard signed with the Rockets, the Mavs moved on to plan B and pursued Andrew Bynum, who also chose to sign elsewhere. Plan C was apparently Oden, but he went to Miami. So Dallas signed veteran journeyman Samuel Dalembert to anchor their defense. After that came perhaps the most surprising contract of the off-season, as the Mavs offered Monta Ellis $30 million over three years despite no one seeming interested in the inefficient guard for that price. Somewhere along the way they waived then re-signed productive big man Bernard James, signed Wayne Ellington and re-signed Brandan Wright to round out the roster.
After trying to avoid long term commitments to mediocre players in the past, the Mavs did just that in an attempt to become relevant again.
This is their depth chart:
PG: Calderon - Harris - Mekel - Larkin
SG: Ellis - Carter - Ledo - Ellington
SF: Marion - Crowder
PF: Nowitzki - Blair
C: Dalembert - Wright - James
The Mavs definitely have more talent than they had last season, but the pieces do not seem to fit all that well. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are definitely an upgrade over Darren Collison and Mayo, but they will also make for one of the worse defensive back courts in the league and it's difficult to envision these versions of Marion and Delembert having enough of an impact on that end to make up for it. The bench is not exactly overflowing with defensive talent either so it seems likely that Dallas will be less than a mediocre defensive team this year.
Having a good PG in Calderon will help ease Nowitzki's burden significantly and Ellis can fill it up consistently, if not efficiently. Since the Mavs budged and finally offered multi-year deals, there could be an improvement in terms of chemistry, as players won't be vying for their next contract. Rick Carlisle remains one of the best coaches in the league and Dirk Nowitzki one of the elite offensive talents, so if some things go right, the Mavs could definitely make the playoffs.
Still, it's impossible to tell what exactly they are trying to build in Dallas. If Dirk takes a significant pay cut, the Mavs will have cap room to sign a max free agent next season. But considering elite players have not chosen Dallas in free agency in the past, their best bet might be Demarcus Cousins and that's sort of tragic for a team that was at the top just a short time ago.
How do they match up with the Spurs?
Not that well, really. Nowitzki will always be a thorn in the Spurs' side, unless Kawhi Leonard evolves as a defender to the point where he can shut him down. That's unlikely, so expect Dirk to exploit Splitter's tendency to sink into the paint and Diaw's lack of length en route to some gaudy scoring outputs.
After that, though, it's hard to see the Mavs having the upper hand at any other position. Calderon is a fine point guard, but Tony Parker should destroy him with relative ease on offense. The Spurs have multiple defenders to throw at Ellis and they will live with the long jumpers Monta is so fond of. Dalembert and Wright, for all their defensive acumen, are not offensive threats and Marion and Crowder are less talented versions of Kawhi Leonard at this point.
Unfortunately, the Spurs will face the Mavs on two SEGABABAs after facing the Rockets and the Grizzlies and could struggle against the offensive firepower of Ellis and Dirk. Still, It's hard to see the likely defensively challenged Mavs containing even a tired Spurs team, so I'll go with a 3-1 split favoring the good guys.
For more on the Dallas Mavericks, make sure you visit the ever improving Mavs Moneyball.
In the next installment, we'll talk about the Rockets and all the uncertainty surrounding them.