April 30, 2010
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Dallas Mavericks.
Where do the Mavs go from here? Well, probably the same place.
Seriously, there's no other option. There are a couple of pretty significant assets to deal, but all roads are going to have to lead back to shooting for another 50-win season. All roads are going to lead back to fielding yet another veteran-laden team that's pretty good at offense and pretty good at defense. Nothing remarkable.
And nothing that could come with any shame. Sure, the ceiling falls short of a championship, but there's nothing really wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with being ready to step up, just in case one of the contenders fall victim to injury. And despite what happened Thursday night, this was not a first-round-and-out team.
The issue moving forward, with all these players on the wrong side of 30, is how close this squad will get to this season's 55 wins. Every one of the vets are bound to tail off, slightly, so the Mavs can't help but merely approximate this run. Once again, I find nothing wrong with that, but it is the likeliest possibility.
The two things that can change it? One-sided deals and internal development in a positive direction. Nothing groundbreaking there. Clearly those two bits could help any team, but the Mavs could really shape up and hold off Father Time with a couple of tweaks.
For one, a full season of Caron Butler(notes) replacing Josh Howard's(notes) production has to help. As Mike Prada pointed out this week, Butler's play really didn't back up his talk, nor the talk of others this season; but as a full-year replacement that could possibly see an uptick in production, he'll help where Howard did not. It's not a huge advancement, but it will be an improvement.
Then there's Roddy Beaubois, who came alive in Game 6 to help Dallas make it close.
I didn't really have a problem with Beaubois falling in and out of the rotation this year, because though he'll get his points on certain nights, the offense more or less has to be all about Roddy when that happens. That's not him being selfish, that's just a byproduct of his game. Something we'll see out of guys like Earl Boykins(notes) or Ben Gordon(notes) at times.
You can't argue with production, but you can point to the nights where it wasn't going, and how the Dallas offense came to halts when Roddy just didn't have it. It didn't happen that often because Dallas coach Rick Carlisle didn't really allow for too many instances for it to happen. But as an outsider, while appreciating what Beaubois brought, I can understand.
But I also understand that he has to play more in 2010-11, and if he replaces Jose Juan Barea's(notes) minutes, the Mavs will improve. Assuming Roddy improves at the type of rate that his rookie year suggested.
From there, the Mavs will have to look to take advantage of a team in desperate financial straits. Not because owner Mark Cuban has deep pockets, there's only so much he can do with a capped-out team, but because the Mavs have over $16 million in unguaranteed contracts to drop on another team's payroll next year, and that's a ton.
Even if Dirk Nowitzki(notes) opts out of his contract (clearly, to sign with the Knicks), Brendan Haywood(notes) leaves and the Mavs decline to pick up either of the unguaranteed players (Erick Dampier(notes), Eduardo Najera(notes)), Dallas will still be over the projected 2010-11 cap, so the team is going to have to get creative, like the Spurs did last summer to package their unguaranteed deals in order to pull in Richard Jefferson(notes).
It's hard to point to a position that the Mavs would want to improve. Another point guard would be nice, but geez, the team has Jason Kidd(notes) coming off the best shooting season of his career. A big man who can score and defend would be nice, too, but the Mavericks would have to get in line with 29 other teams for that one. More bench scoring? An off guard with size? I mean, the Mavs have players already.
It's just that they're just pretty good right now. So any help would, uh, help.
Dallas does have to watch what it's doing with contracts, however, because they could be a good chunk under the salary cap in 2011; though I don't know how even the most knowledgeable of team-financed salary cap experts could anticipate the ins and outs of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will be in place hopefully sometime late that summer. Still, if they trade, they have to watch it. Flexibility, for the first time since Cuban took over, could be in the offing.
And, again, the payoff probably won't be too huge. The Mavs are just a B+ basketball team right now, not a lot to worry about, but a team that should still be able to wring 50 wins out of this league next season unless Dirk and/or Kidd really fall off.
Until things are figured out, count your blessings, Mavs fans. The championship breakthrough may never come, but this has been a remarkable run. Dirk is playing about as well as he ever has, and you have an owner who is constantly turning the wheels, trying to find new revenue streams and new ways to improve his team.
This might feel like Purgatory, but it's Purgatory that comes with 50 wins. I'd take it.