Solving Problems: Mavericks Need To Stay Together
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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At the beginning of last season there were few people outside of the Dallas metropolitan area who believed in the Dallas Mavericks’ chances of winning an NBA Championship. Four years removed from their first trip to the Finals, where they lost to the Miami HEAT in six games, the Mavericks hadn’t advanced past the second round since. They earned the reputation of a team that was great during the regular season, but just couldn’t get it done when it mattered in the playoffs.
Their run in the 2011 postseason changed that completely.
Going into a first-round matchup against the young and tough Portland Trail Blazers, many expected the Mavericks to bow out early again. They were without two of their top offensive players in Caron Butler and Rodrigue Beaubois due to injury, forcing them to depend heavily on aging veterans Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. They delivered, however, as the Mavericks bounced back after losing two straight with a 2-0 lead to advance in six games.
Waiting for them were the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, who won the regular season series against the Mavericks 2-1, were extremely heavy favorites, but the Mavericks who played like they should have been the favorites. They made easy work of the Lakers, sweeping them in four games – highlighted by a 36-point trouncing in the decisive fourth game.
The Mavericks would need just one more game than that to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals to earn their second Western Conference championship in franchise history. Oddly enough, who was there waiting for them in the Finals? The team who beat them for the championship in 2006: the HEAT.
Back in ’06 the HEAT was a team loaded with former stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton with a young Dwyane Wade leading the way. This time around, they were stocked up with three of the league’s best players currently in LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade. The three All-Stars joined forces last summer because they believed together there would be nobody who could stop them. That proved to be true through the Eastern Conference playoffs, where the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls each failed to last more than five games.
It was back and forth through the first three games, with the HEAT winning Games 1 and 3. Two losses away from finishing in second place again, the Mavericks dug deep. Players like Jason Terry, Marion, Tyson Chandler, Kidd and especially Dirk Nowitzki knew exactly how terrible of a feeling it is to come up short and didn’t want to experience it again. Plus, there was no telling if they would ever be in this position again as they aren’t positioned for the future anywhere near as nicely as the HEAT are.
Playing with a now-or-never mentality, the Mavericks won the next three games and the 2011 NBA championship. It was extremely vindicating for Nowitzki and Kidd in particular. Now the two future Hall of Famers will never be associated with the group of great players who were unable to win a championship. It was also very rewarding for owner Mark Cuban, who poured his heart, soul and millions upon millions of dollars to revive Mavericks basketball, and the very underrated head coach, Rick Carlisle. Carlisle, who never got the credit he deserved as a head coach at his previous stops, will now finally be undeniably recognized as one of the best in the league, which he’s been for several years.
As the defending champs, there aren’t a whole lot of changes that the Mavericks need to make. Aside from the addition of Chandler in the offseason, they weren’t much different looking from the team that lost in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. The strength of this team is in their chemistry and all of the experience that they have.
The recent news of the owners backing off of their demand for a hard cap is great news for Mavericks fans, because even if there is a stiff luxury tax penalty for going over the cap, it’s safe to say that Cuban is going to be willing to pay it in order to keep this team together.
Prior to the start of the lockout, the Mavericks were engaged in serious discussions to re-sign unrestricted free agent Chandler. One Western Conference executive said that they weren’t even looking at Chandler as an option in free agency because they knew Dallas would keep him. Chandler made it seem like otherwise when asked, but knowing Cuban it’s hard to imagine him letting Chandler go elsewhere. His inside presence was too vital to their success; he would be extremely difficult to replace.
Butler’s value is really hard to gauge at this time. Missing the second-half of last season with a broken leg didn’t help his value much, but teams know his abilities. He’s a complete player and an intense competitor, someone with the type of drive that the Mavericks are going to need to have around in order to go for two-straight championships. The Mavericks will probably be reliant on nobody overpaying for Butler and getting some kind of a hometown discount in order to keep him. If he goes elsewhere, veteran forward Corey Brewer will be ready to step up in his place.
Jose Juan Barea, another big key to the puzzle, is also an unrestricted free agent. A draft-night deal for Portland Trail Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez seemed like a precautionary move by the Mavericks in preparation for Barea’s potential departure. They’ll undoubtedly make a run at keeping him, but Barea’s stock has really risen over the last year and there will be some competition for his services. While the Mavericks would like to keep him, his price tag may be too high to match based on what they have to replace him. Waiting in the wings eager to play is sophomore guard Dominique Jones. A healthy Beaubois will also be looking to take some of the playing time that belonged to Barea last season.
Re-signing Brian Cardinal, DeShawn Stevenson and Peja Stojakovic ranks a little bit lower on the priority list, but they won’t be overly expensive if the Mavericks indeed want to bring them back. Of the three, Stevenson is the one they need to keep the most due to his defensive prowess.
Repeating as champions is no easy task to say the least, but the Mavericks will be equipped to make a serious run at it as long as they can keep this team together as much as possible.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat on 9/30/11 at 11 am EST. You can get your questions in here.