Since mid-December, the Mavs’ roster has been a talented mash of tools, working to gain chemistry and rhythm in a brutal Western conference that waits for no one. Living with two Celtics fans, I’ve gotten to know Rajon Rondo fairly well over the last 2 or 3 years. This Baxter Holmes article certainly humanized Rondo for many people who had soured on him after his spat with Rick Carlisle. I wanted them to sign Javale McGee to approximate Brandon Wright’s presence off the bench. In came Amare, but the show went on. The roster is reminiscent of 2011’s championship squad, especially with the addition of Rondo aka Jason Kidd 2.0. I was all in on this team. This post was supposed to come in the midst of a playoff tussle with the hated Rockets, a series in which Harden sported a Rondo shadow and Jet’s (Jason Edward Terry) revenge bid resembled that of Erick Dampier.
(Aside: Erick Dampier lit a fire under Shaq in ‘06 and I will never forgive him. It is possible that LeBron’s greatness will never overcome the dickheadedness of Dampier or the cursedness of Cleveland.) The Chandler Parsons shoulder chip was supposed to activate. We’ve seen what’s transpired since those expectations were set. Parsons went down. Rondo quit. Jet and J-Smoove went off. Corey ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Brewer hit dagger threes. It’s been a trying playoffs thus far. (Aside: So far, our house is 0-7 in the playoffs. We’re not cursed. I promise…I hope. UPDATE: MAVS WIN GAME 4: 1-7!) But I wrote most of this damn article weeks ago and there’s a parallel world in which the Mavs are up 2-1 behind savvy veteran play and Josh Smith going 3-20 from deep. I continually love the Mavs but this is the first Mavs roster that I’ve loved since 2011. That’s a huge distinction. It turns faith into belief. It turns disappointment into pain.
Here are just a few reasons to love your 2014-2015 Dallas Mavericks:
I will one day write a proper segment, if not volumes of leather-bound text, on Dirk Nowitzki. And I will not blow my load at this early juncture. But he has to be on this list because he is the reason I am a Mavs fan. I lived in Austin as a kid, I was born in Germany, I was a tall white kid who loved to shoot jumpers. That all added up to picking Dirk over all other offers when I entered the league as a free agent fan in the summer of ‘99.
One of the interesting things about Rick Carlisle is the rumor/understanding that he does not like coaching young players. He doesn’t. In his 7 years in Dallas, the starting lineup has been dominated by 30-somethings. Players under 25 have been role players in the mold of Brandan Wright, Brandon Bass, Jae Crowder, or Kris Humphries. Most have ridden pine consistently. Remember Dominique Jones? Or Gerald Green’s tenure with the team? The highest-upside Mavs prospect since Josh Howard was the ever-electric Rodrigue Beaubois. Roddy was enchanting when he wasn’t hurt or confused.
The problem was that he kept getting hurt, never sustained a nightly rhythm, and didn’t develop. Crowder and Wright are good NBA role players who defend and don’t kill good offense; that’s the pattern here. Granted, Dallas has been a playoff staple and picks in the 20’s warrant less initial playing time than lottery picks. But they have been perfectly happy to treat the draft like a swap meet, moving back to acquire second rounders with non-guaranteed contracts. The last time they used their first round pick was when they traded Byron Mullens for Young Roddy.
That strategy makes sense when you think about the promise they’ve made to Dirk and their resulting win-now mentality. The young players that they do acquire are cheap, toolsy guys like Wright or Humphries. This certainly suits Carlisle tactically. Carlisle is quite prickly and frank, which can be tough on young players These factors all work together. Missing out on ‘project’ players like Giannis and Dennis Schroeder has hurt the roster. But Carlisle has shown that he will go to young guys when they can help the Mavs do what they set out to do: win now. An advantage, from a fan’s perspective, is that the young guys who do play under Carlisle are those in whom to place your faith.
To speculate about the future for a moment, it will be interesting to see what Carlisle’s zone defense looks like post-Dirk. Having Tyson, Parsons, and Aminu out there will allow for some tricky tacticianing from the offensive and defensive standpoints, especially if Al-Farouq continues to improve his jump shot and offensive confidence. (Aside: Great move starting him in Game 4. Pestered Harden the same way he pestered Houston bigs earlier, by staying home and being long. More on this later.) As the NBA keeps moving in the pick and roll, three point shooting, ball moving direction, we may start to see more of what teams like the Bucks’ zones are doing. (Aside: The Kidd-Carlisle relationship is powerful and adorable) Constant switching allows the team to stay in front of would-be paint infiltration while their length chases shooters off the line. Relying on one big man can be a tough proposition when he’s taken away from the hoop on a targeted pick and roll, but savvy teams always seem to reconfigure off the ball before the paint opens up again. By that point, the protector has returned to his rim and prospect of driving to the hoop is less attractive. Great offensive teams will get into the paint but great defense will contest the hell out of resulting shots and passes.