Dallas Mavericks: Champions to playoff contenders
What went wrong?
How does a veteran team who beat the star-studded Big three of the Miami Heat to win the title two years back manage to sink to a level where they are contending for the last playoff spot?
Who (or what) is responsible?
A simple analysis on the team’s off-season activity would show the reason for their decline. That coupled with injuries to key players throughout the season hampered their cause for a strong regular season.
The season following their championship was reduced due to the lockout, which meant that the Mavericks had to wait an added two months to reveal the banner. With financial flexibility as his main mission, owner Mark Cuban played a major role in letting go of key players who had contributed in their run to the title.
Tyson Chandler signed with the New York Knicks while De Shawn Stevenson joined the New Jersey Nets. J.J. Barea and Caron Butler joined the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers respectively.
Butler was sidelined due to injury during the finals; however, the other three were key contributors to the championship, and trading these players only meant that Mavericks chances of a repeat would be far lower.
Just as their player’s signing other teams made headlines, their trade acquisitions too grabbed the limelight. They acquired NBA Sixth Man of the year Lamar Odom from the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade while signing veterans Delonte West and Vince Carter.
It began with a finals rematch with the Heat visiting the Mavericks, which ended in a quite one-sided bout with the final score reading 105-94. They started the season 0-3, also losing a rematch of the Conference Finals to Oklahoma City on Dec. 29th.
As the calendar changed to 2012, so did their game. They won 13 of their next 18 games, which was then followed by a mediocre stretch to the finish of 22-22. They ended the season 36-30 seeded seventh.
The first round in the 2012 playoffs was a rematch of last year’s Conference Finals. This time around there was no competition offered by the Mavs. Instead of having hopes of repeating previous year’s results, they were swept out of the playoffs.
If last year’s off season activity wasn’t enough for the Mavericks to be disappointed with, they went a step further this year. No contract extensions were offered and thus they lost Jason Kidd to the Knicks and Jason Terry to the Boston Celtics.
To replace the back court duo they acquired Darren Collison and O.J.Mayo from the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively. To help this inexperienced back court duo, the management signed veteran five-time champion Derek Fisher, only to lose him to injury nine games into the season.
They had to settle for Mike James after Fisher left the team for family reasons. Aging All-Star Chris Kaman and Elton Brand were added to the roster to help them in the paint.
They were 23-39 at the All-Star break and made a late push for the playoffs but their effort ended in vain as the Lakers grabbed the eight spot in a three way tussle that also included the Jazz. They had missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Injuries and inconsistencies:
They started the season with the face of their franchise Dirk Nowitzki being injured and set to be fit only by December. Kaman and Brand were hounded by injuries almost throughout the season. Shawn Marion’s right calf was giving him problems.
Dirk Nowitzki missed the 31 games this season. Mavericks would be foolish thinking about a great season if they franchise superstar is down and out warming the bench. Kaman missed 16 games all season but was fit along with Nowitzki for the second half of the season for their late playoff push.
Till the final months of the regular season, the Mavericks never had a rotation they could rely on or be consistent with. That never bought the chemistry into the team to play like their championship self-team from 2 years ago.
This led to an embarrassing playoff miss, the first time the franchise had missed the postseason since 2000.
Injuries come and go, but whether Cuban had a hand in the off-season activity or not, the trades that followed the title run was a huge factor in the Dallas Mavericks going from Champions of the league to a lowly 10th while contending for the last playoff spot.
After O.J.Mayo exercised his player option to not continue with team, Mavericks signed an offensive weapon in Monta Ellis. They signed Jose Calderon after not offering an extension to point guard Darren Collison. Veteran Samuel Dalembert joins the backcourt duo as Mavericks buys this offseason.
With Nowitzki healthy, the Mavericks are a really good team, sadly how they look on paper won’t buy them a spot in the playoffs. A healthy roster which plays and grows together through the season could however earn them ticket to the postseason.