The Dallas Mavericks are back in the mix. Perhaps not the championship mix, not with the roster they've currently constructed, but in the mix to potentially be in that championship mix. Just like in 2011, when they won it all. And, while we're at it, just like in 2012 when they fell disappointingly short. Sure, 2011-12 was supposed to be a semi-rebuilding season in Dallas, but the first-round flameout gave credibility that sometimes chemistry can't be created on the fly with even the greatest of coaches.
If Rick Carlisle isn't the greatest of coaches, then he's certainly in what figures to be a short conversation about the best in the biz. And though the Mavs failed to reel in Deron Williams or swing a deal for Dwight Howard, the team's front office has given its coach parts to work with in a 2012-13 season that will feature an honest-to-goodness training camp and chances to implement new adjustments on the fly midseason.
New pickups Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and an Addition To Be Named Later (or, "Jose") shouldn't strike fear in anyone's hearts, not when we're still scared of the Heat, impressed with the Thunder and considerin' about those Lakers with Steve Nash asking for the ball. But just as we couldn't predict how the 2011 or 2012 model would turn out, this batch is dynamic and talented enough to wonder if a long season and a series of good playoff matchups will have these Mavericks back to impressing us again.
What's odd is that there's no real archetype Mavericks roster to reload, here. Certain coaches need certain types of players to work through offensive and defensive sets that they'll toss out regardless of personnel, and because a lot of coaches make it about The System, when one previously successful part of that system loses his effectiveness, another player (an approximation at worst or doppelganger at best) is brought in.
The Mavs just bring in talent. Yes, they're mindful of orthodoxy, positional need and they still boast that complicated system of scouting that we still have no clue about. But because Carlisle is so good the team can take chances and get away with it. That's not to excuse the Mavs failing in their efforts to hit that home run in the wake of losing Tyson Chandler, dealing for Lamar Odom and letting Jason Terry and Jason Kidd walk, but a lineup featuring Collison and Kaman, with Jones and Brand helping to defend off the bench alongside what they hope is a rejuvenated Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, is a sound enough save.
Dallas isn't done, yet. The group still has a few million dollars in cap room to potentially facilitate a trade or re-sign the versatile Delonte West, and it still has that "room exception" to utilize while it stays under the cap. And through all of this, the potential to hit it big in the 2013 offseason is still in place, because each of these players could be let go next offseason in order to create significant cap space in 12 months.
Of course, this is a pie-eyed hope. Kaman has never been healthy. Collison disappointed mightily in Indiana. Jones is getting on in years. And though Brand's per-minute play is exemplary, there's always the chance of the dog years hitting him without warning. Ah well -- $16 million of those dog years will be on Philadelphia's books.
It all centers around Nowitzki, which is dangerous considering the relatively poor year he's two months removed from finishing. It centers around his age (34), and the fact that even the most cautious and dedicated of NBA talents can kind of (again, relatively) mess the bed as Dirk did in 2011-12. Matching up toward another championship next or (more likely) in 2014 means Nowitzki has to be working at peak efficiency and with all-world status in the month he turns 34 or 35. And though we respect this new crew the Mavs have brought in, the difference between Dirk working at those ages and someone like Michael Jordan or Tim Duncan is the fact that those two had stars alongside them — legitimate All-Stars.
There are no other All-Stars, here. Then again, there weren't any All-Stars beyond Dirk in 2011, either.
Should we really be getting Dallas fans' hopes up this high? Perhaps not, but as an outsider it remains so engaging to see Carlisle working from game to game. Even as things failed him in 2011-12, it was an entertaining dive. To watch the Mavs work with a point guard that will actually penetrate and a big man that can ham-and-egg it at the high and low post with Nowitzki? This will be a fun watch. Unlike 2011-12, which was merely an "entertaining" watch.
Mavs fans have a right to be disappointed. But they also should feel right to be looking forward to 2012-13 and beyond. Because there are options in Dallas, man. Options.