NBA Sunday: Big Change Coming in Big D
Big Changes in Big D
So the team that won the championship a year ago is the first one out of this year’s playoffs, and nobody is particularly surprised.
The reason nobody is particularly surprised is because the no-longer-defending-champion Dallas Mavericks let a lot of good talent walk away in the offseason, particularly Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, and as good as veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Vince Carter are, not a single one of them is on the upswing of his career.
To put it plainly, the Mavericks just didn’t have the personnel to make another serious run at a title, and that’s why it’s almost inevitable that the team makes some major changes later this summer.
“We need some guys that can make plays for themselves,” Nowitzki told John Machota of the Dallas Morning News after getting swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round on Saturday. “That’s pretty obvious. If you look at all the top teams now, they have at least two-three guys they can throw the ball to and they do their thing.”
Certainly all of this year’s most legitimate contenders—Miami, San Antonio, and in particular Oklahoma City—are built that way. The Mavericks, meanwhile, just aren’t.
“If you want to be an elite team in the league right now, you have to have 2-3 guys that can go off at any time,” Nowitzki continued.
So who’s the other guy or two the Mavericks hope to add in order to change that? Obviously, the team is going to go hard after Deron Williams the minute free agency gets underway in the early parts of July. He’s from the Dallas area, appears to be open to changing teams despite Brooklyn’s recent rebranding and new start in New York, and boy do the Mavs ever want him. But he likely isn’t the last piece to the next year’s new-look Mavericks.
Only Dirk Nowitzki, Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood are under contract next season, but there’s a terrific chance that the team uses the amnesty provision on either Marion or Haywood. With only four guys on the books (five, if they manage to sign D-Will; seven if we count their first- and second-round picks this June), they’ve got a lot of roster spots to fill.
In short, this is going to be a very, very different team next season, and that’s probably a good thing. They didn’t have the horses to repeat this year, but maybe they’ll get the guys next season to make a return to the league’s elite. Whether that happens or not, goodness knows Mark Cuban is going to try.
Indiana Pacers Finally Looking Elite Again
After their Game 1 loss at home, a lot of people started to question whether or not the Pacers were really as good as we thought they were. After all, a 3 seed in the Eastern Conference is something to be proud of, but losing at home to a Magic team that doesn’t even have Dwight Howard made us all second guess ourselves. Maybe Indiana wasn’t quite ready to make a deep playoff run after all.
But the Pacers have since rebounded, winning Games 2 and 3 by significant margins and then fighting off a 19-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime in Game 4 and eventually getting the win. Now, Indy is up 3-1 in their series with the Magic, and they’re heading back to Indianapolis with an opportunity to clinch the series.
“We don’t want to make [getting down by 19 points] a habit,” Pacers captain Danny Granger told HOOPSWORLD after the road win. “You don’t want to let a team off the hook when you’re up 19 points, but in the same instance we showed a lot of resolve.”
Resolve has been the name of the game all season for the Pacers—so much so that Granger says that quality has become an integral part of the team’s identity.
“That’s who we’re going to have to be. We have to show resilience. Them coming back from 19 down, they had a lot of momentum. A lot of teams would lose that game. It’s happened quite a few times in these playoffs this year,” he said. “We showed a lot of resilience on our part.”
He was careful to give this Orlando Magic team credit, however, because through four games this series has been anything but the cakewalk a lot of pundits predicted.
“Even without Dwight Howard I don’t think they’re a different team,” Granger said. “I think they’re trying to find a way to play as far as they use to play with Dwight. They can’t play that way anymore. They’re still a very good team.”
And now they’ve got a chance to beat that very good team at home, advancing in the postseason for the first time since 2005. Granger understands how important it is to use the home crowd at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse to their advantage and wrap this thing up while they’ve got the opportunity.
“We don’t want to come back here,” he said in reference to Orlando’s Amway Center. “That place was electric tonight. Crazy environment. We definitely want to win on our home court. It’s going to be tough. Their backs are going to be against the wall once again, and that’s when they play their best.”
We’ve seen the Pacers grow throughout the series, but we’ve also seen them grow throughout the year. Personnel moves and the normal maturing process for a team have put the Pacers in a situation to be successful after years of mediocrity, and that’s certainly not lost on the Pacer who’s been there throughout that entire rebuilding process.
“(We’ve grown by) leaps and bounds. We really have,” Granger said. “We added two or three guys that have had a lot of experience in the league. For a while we had this stretch of constantly getting younger. Every year we’d draft someone else and I think front office brought in three or four guys that really have helped us. I think we’re a completely different team than we were last year.”
If they win a playoff series, that’ll be the best proof of change yet. Next up for Indiana, should they advance, would likely be the Miami HEAT, which means a second series in a row playing road games in Florida. The new opponent will be exponentially more difficult, however, and that’s when we’ll really see what the new Indiana Pacers are really made of.
Just Not Chicago’s Year
Anybody who watched Game 3 of the Chicago/Philadelphia series on Friday night caught the fast break where Joakim Noah rolled his already-bad left ankle. If the Derrick Rose knee injury was a stomach punch, that sprained ankle was a low-blow while Bulls fans were still crumpled on the ground, recovering from the first devastating hit.
Noah is doubtful to play in Sunday’s Game 4, and depending on how severe the ankle injury is (and whether or not the Bulls win), there’s a chance that he might not make back at all this series. And if things keep going the way they’re going, that might mean Noah is, like Derrick Rose, done for the postseason.
That’s an admittedly pessimistic outlook for a series that could still just as easily swing back Chicago’s way, but that sprained ankle confirmed something that even casual NBA fans have suspected all season long: this just isn’t Chicago’s year.
The injuries just highlight the flaw in the way the Bulls are built; when everyone is healthy and putting in 110% effort literally every single game, this group of players can not only achieve, but over-achieve. Because the team was so good in 2010-2011, the only “major” change they made this year was adding Richard Hamilton, but that didn’t change the fact that Chicago was still short another playmaker. In the regular season, though, when so many awful-to-middling teams suit up every night, Chicago could still win a ton of games. That gives the illusion that, even without Rose, the Bulls are too good to justify overhauling the roster.
Yet even if they wanted to, how would Chicago go about it? This team already has four eight-figure salaries on the books for at least the next two seasons, which means even if they wanted to consolidate some smaller pieces into a larger one, the payroll wouldn’t support it. Rose can’t be traded. Luol Deng likely won’t, and it’s hard to imagine much of a market for Carlos Boozer at this point. Even Noah has been too injury-prone to garner the sort of league-wide interest that would return Chicago the quality of player they’d expect in trade involving him.
That means Chicago remains a slave to its collective health. Rose could miss half of next season to rehab his knee, and it’s possible that Deng also misses time early in the year after offseason wrist surgery, which he’s putting off until after the London Olympics. The Bulls could easily start slowly next year, and there’s little chance we see many offseason changes for them.
Whatever happens next season, Chicago is still trying to salvage something from this star-crossed 2012. It’s not often we spend this much time talking about how poor the luck is for the team with the best regular season record in the NBA, but it can’t be ignored at this point. Things haven’t aligned well for Bulls success this postseason. Fans will continue to hope that they can win one for D-Rose, but they’ll understand if they fall short.
Knowing Noah, he’ll push to get back on the floor as soon as he can. It will kill him not to be in the lineup for Game 4. But there’s only so far that will and determination and hard work can take a player and his team. The rest is all talent and luck, which just so happens to be the two things the Bulls are currently running a little short on.