1) At 25-19 and in the eighth spot in the tough Western Conference, there has to be some joy in the Big D, especially after some uncertainty on how the chemistry would fall into place with so many new faces. At this point in the season, have the Dallas Mavericks met expectations from a Mavs fan's point of view or surpassed them?
It probably depends on who you talk to, but I would say most everyone agrees they've at least met expectations if not surpassed them.
The Mavs' biggest needs in the offseason were reliable guard play and center. One out of two isn't bad, I guess. DeJuan Blair and Brandan Wright have certainly been as expected if not better, but Samuel Dalembert has been something of a disappointment, if fans even had expectations for him. That leaves the Mavericks' defense with the option of Shawn Marion or...well, Shawn Marion, so that's a problem. The Mavs have a very tight lipped front office, but you have to think they're exploring every option on the trade market to find a defensive-minded center or at least some sort of other defensive help. They do have some tempting younger pieces (Wright, Shane Larkin) and expiring contracts (Vince Carter, Marion, Harris) to work with on that front.
The only solace in having no defense is the Mavs have all the shooting you could want most nights. Calderon has been great, Dirk is still Dirk and Monta Ellis really does have it all (sorry, couldn't resist -- but really, he's been great. More on that below.) If nothing changes, their ceiling is realistically 7th in the West. Depending on the matchup, and the injury situation, I think they could get past the first round. But of course, that's a lot of "ifs." I think that after last season, making the playoffs in a really tough Western Conference is a victory in and of itself.
2) Gone is the speedy Darren Collison, as well as the once-promising Rodrigue Beaubois, and a revitalized O.J. Mayo. In comes the plain, but effective Jose Calderon and an enigmatic, undiscriminating shooter in Monta Ellis. Surprisingly, to some degree, Ellis seems to be working well with the Mavs' top dog, Dirk Nowitzki. How happy are you with the new backcourt and can this perfect harmony (both are averaging 16.1 attempts from the floor) exist for the rest of the season between Dirk and Monta?
Ugh, you HAD to bring up Roddy B, huh? Just kidding. (But seriously, don't do that.)
Last season's Collison-Mayo experiment, while it seemed like it might work out okay at first...didn't. Mayo had seemed to have found a resurgence at the beginning of the season, but once Dirk returned from injury, Mayo couldn't seem to figure out how to play with him. Collison fell out of favor with Rick Carlisle so quickly that Mike James (more names I don't like to remember) was the starting point guard for much of the end of the season. So. Nowhere to go but up?
Calderon has been what the point desperately needed since the somewhat controversial departure of Jason Kidd -- a steady, savvy hand. He may not have any defense, but he knows how to run point and run it well, and obviously is one of the best three point shooters out there. The real joy this season has been the Dirk-Monta pairing. There were a few rumblings that Dirk had actually asked the front office to look at signing Monta, so for once, I'll give them credit for doing some homework that the rest of the fanbase seemed to have slept on. Though both guys have had a little rough stretch of late, most of the time they work like a well-oiled machine - they play to each other's strengths very well, and have been straight up deadly in pick and roll/pick and pop situations. It's also been quite nice to have more than one player who can carry the team on any given night. I do wonder if teams are mayyyybe starting to figure them out a little, but I suppose that could be said of a lot of teams at the midway point. With a coach like Rick Carlisle, I don't think this stops being a successful pairing. It's the match that Mayo and Dirk were never meant to be.
3) Of course this question was bound to pop-up... will Dirk and Dallas still be a thing past this season? The impending free agent stated he would like to sign on for two or three more years, but would he still produce to validate what's sure to be a high salary?
Dirk will retire a Maverick -- of that, we are all sure. The question, as you alluded to, is how much that contract will be for.
As far as his production, Dirk is still producing at as high a level as he has been, but Carlisle has been very careful to monitor his minutes this season, I think for that very reason. They'd like to keep him producing at those levels as long as possible. So if that means a rest day against the Raptors, then it's a rest day. But it's a fragile reminder, as our own Josh Bowe put it so eloquently the other day, that Dirk is in the twilight of his career.
That said, this team will not tank, and Cuban has publicly stated that his commitment to Dirk is to try to stay as competitive as possible and make another title run. They're in the middle of essentially a two year plan to get there. A big part of that two year plan (we think) is that Dirk takes a substantial pay cut on his next contract. I don't know how much, but it's certainly not going to be the Kobe Bryant-esque contract: the Mavs will have room to chase max player(s) next summer in pursuit of getting Dirk to another championship. Even if that's a pipe dream, that's fine with me. I'd rather see the Mavs stay competitive and keep Dirk happy while he's still here. The full rebuild, if it ever happens, can wait.
4) Currently, the Mavericks are on the hook for $26.5 million for the 2014-15 NBA season. Assuming they do re-sign/extend Dirk, what sort of moves do you think the Mavs will need to address and spend their money accordingly to meet those needs?
My fellow editor Kirk Henderson actually tackled a similar question last week for another blog, so I'll borrow from his answer. As I mentioned earlier, Dirk will be off the books and back on for (we think) a deep discount, so Dallas should have cash to burn. Unfortunately for the Mavs, this coming off-season is a horrible one to have cap space because there aren't a lot of players worth the money they're going to make.
So the question is, who's available who would meet some needs and who Dallas can overpay for? The biggest needs this off season are probably center and small forward, so I assume they'll try to pursue Luol Deng first, because he's the best guy not named LeBron/Chris Bosh in the entire free agency class. I hate this idea, because he's going to command a ridiculous $13 million a year for at least three years from what I understand. I also suspect they'll pursue folks like Anderson Varejao or Amir Johnson and hope they can get one for a reasonable price to shore up the merry-go-round starting center spot. Lance Stephenson could also be a really intriguing option. He's a true unrestricted free agent at age 23 and he's been insane this year. But Dallas probably won't go that route because they're too busy trying to fight the slow decline and signing a third guard to a big contract doesn't make much cap sense (though it alleviates a ton of the backcourt defensive problems which hang over this team like an executioner's axe).
And of course, as Nets fans well know, it seems anyone can be had via trade. Stay tuned!
5) What are three to five other things that Nets fans should know about the Mavs? Give us a final score!
No lead is safe with this team. No lead is safe with any team of course, but the Mavs have a very frustrating (for our fans) tendency to build very large leads only to slowly and painfully (or sometimes quickly and painfully) give them right back up. So don't worry if you're down by 20 or so, they'll let you back in. It's like clockwork, every game.
Brandan Wright is awesome. He doesn't miss shots. If he missed a shot, you probably saw it wrong. He and Vince Carter also for whatever reason play very well off each other, so when they're both in the game, that's something to watch for. It seems to make Vince better. (His sudden improvement after a slow start, in fact, came when Wright returned from injury.)
Devin Harris just came back from injury a couple games ago and is still finding himself on this team. As soon as he does -- which could be any game now -- it could solve a lot of problems for the Mavs. That's a lot of "ifs," but don't say I didn't warn you if his coming out party is tonight.
As far as a final score -- I'm one of the MMB editors who won't bet against her team, so I'll say Mavs 111, Nets 106, maybe in overtime. Something like that.
DV's Prediction:Dallas Mavericks 91, Brooklyn Nets 99. IN YOUR FACE, CUBAN! So, what do you think the final score will be?
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