After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
Whether they like it or not, the holding pattern for the Dallas Mavericks will sustain in 2013-14. The team’s front office and fans don’t like being reminded of the big whiffs at the plate that the Mavsies gave the 2012 and 2013 free agent market, and it’s true that a healthy Dallas team should return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus, but that doesn’t take away from the clinging frustration that the Mavs aimed high and fell short.
How short? The 2013-14 record alone can’t document it. The Mavericks did make the playoffs after the 2011 lockout in their title defense, and they certainly looked all the part of a playoff team down the stretch last season before hitting the lottery, but you can’t help but get the feeling that the Mavericks are now punting their third consecutive season. Even if the Mavs cobble together 45 wins this season, giving them a solid enough .530 winning percentage in the three seasons since their 2011 NBA championship, it won’t feel like enough.
Especially as, once again, the Mavericks look to free agency and trade flexibility in the summer of 2014 to surround the legendary Dirk Nowitzki with one last shot at a ring.
Unlike last season, the Mavericks aren’t teeming with one-year wonders. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, two more disparate guards we couldn’t possibly name, were signed to three (with a player option) and four year contracts, with Mavs owner Mark Cuban bent on paying a 36-year old Calderon over $7.7 million in 2016-17. It’s true that the bumps in one’s head may fill the holes in another, but while Ellis can score with ease and Calderon puts the ball in all the right places, the flipside to that sound result is the fact that Monta often needs way too many low efficiency shots to score with ease, and Calderon rarely takes what can be successful, game-changing chances with the ball.
Gal Mekel intrigues. Helpers Devin Harris and DeJuan Blair (who may be pressed into spot duty starting this season at times) are technical one-year helpers, working on very affordable deals that will be well worth the expense for Cuban, and the same goes double for center Samuel Dalembert and swingman Wayne Ellington, who were signed to modest two-year deals (with Dalembert’s final year only guaranteed for barely above the veteran’s minimum).
Throughout training camp, the Mavs endlessly talked up Dalembert’s wide array of gifts, and how a “dominant” center (yes, that word was used) will help shore up the Mavericks’ attack on both ends. Dalembert’s talents have long been underrated, it’s the consistency in which he brings those talents to the table that’s in question – will he be around to guard the front of the rim, use his fouls wisely, rebound and contribute offensively for 33 minutes a night, 82 times a year? His recent past, sadly, doesn’t encourage as much.
The team’s cornerstones, veteran forwards Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, don’t figure to drop off significantly as they enter their 16th and 15th seasons. Nowitzki’s conditioning and then health put the kibosh on any hopes for an extended run in 2011-12 and last season, but he figures to be in Nowitzki-esque shape and with the efficiency numbers to match. The pair’s rebounding remains a concern, but with Calderon attempting to find the two on the old-man, delayed break (same as it was when flat-footed Jason Kidd ran the same show in 2011). Vince Carter, always underrated at the strangest times, will likely contribute just as much as he came through with in his solid 2012-13 run.
That’s the hope, anyway. The idea that the far-from mad scientist in Rick Carlisle can do something with all these new parts, and create a consistent winner. There may not be a better coach in the NBA than Rick Carlisle, but he was unable to do something significant with the turned-over rosters in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Or maybe he was doing something with it. Maybe he did the best he could, and the result was a mediocre record both times out.
Maybe that’s what we’ve been attempting to get at all along. Dallas’ work in the Plan B and Plan C realm hasn’t really blown us away over the last two years. They should be better in 2013-14, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look down our sleeve at these acquisitions with a furrowed brow.
Projected record: 44-38
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Mavericks for … an offense that should light up the scoreboard.
This won’t surprise anyone who watched the likes of Darren Collison, Mike James, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones and Derek Fisher combine for 4,350 uninspiring minutes, but Dallas didn’t get very good point-guard production last year. Just how rough was the collection of guards imported to replace Jason Kidd (who went to New York), Jason Terry (who went to Boston) and Delonte West (who went off the reservation)? Here’s Mark Cuban during a recent radio interview:
[...] I remember last year when we went to Europe, and I was kind of excited like I normally am, and we had gotten Darren, and we had gotten [Chris] Kaman, and Elton Brand, and O.J. [Mayo], and I thought we kind of were fortunate to get the guys we did, and Dirk came up to me and said, “We can’t pass, and we can’t shoot. Our guards aren't there.” This is the preseason, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” and he’s like, “Sorry, bro.”
The sorry state of affairs was worsened by preseason knee surgery that sidelined Nowitzki for the season’s first 27 games and kept him from really getting in shape for another four weeks. Once he got revved up, though, Dirk was still (mostly) Dirk -- 19 and 7 on 49/43/89 shooting splits in 32 minutes a night after that warm-up month. Dallas, as a result, went from tied with the 76ers for 18th in points scored per possession during Nowitzki’s absence to the NBA’s No. 7 offense after Jan. 25, according to NBA.com’s stat tool.
The Mavs remained a tier below the league’s offensive elite -- Miami, Denver, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York and the Clippers -- but they were good enough to drag a lackluster D into the playoff hunt and eventually, after four months in the wilderness, to the whisker-clearing .500 mark. The strong finish wasn’t enough to extend Dallas’ 12-year playoff streak, but it did avoid the first losing season since Cuban bought the Mavericks in 2000. It also added volume to the annual calls to add more pieces around Nowitzki, since the presence of a legitimate secondary option besides O.J. Mayo making half his 3s (which, to his credit, he did for two months before cooling off after Christmas) might’ve pushed Dallas to the postseason.
Again, Cuban and Donnie Nelson entered free agency poised for big-game hunting. Again (despite their best cartoon pitches), they watched their top targets land elsewhere. And again, Cuban came away arguing that bagging a larger number of smaller pieces could put Dallas in better position to contend for the sport’s biggest prize. I don’t buy that -- Samuel Dalembert’s a nice-enough rebounder and shot-blocker, but not a Dwight Howard/Andre Iguodala-style tonic for a bottom-half D -- but I could see Dallas keeping up that top-10 offensive mark and making a playoff push.
For one thing, the point guard overhaul matters. The free-agent signings of Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and Israeli Super League MVP Gal Mekel, and the drafting of Miami’s Shane Larkin, give Dallas plenty of players who can initiate half-court offense (and enter the ball to Nowitzki in the post), push pace when appropriate (and find Nowitzki as the trailer) and orchestrate in the screen game (and feed Nowitzki a steady diet of pick-and-pop looks). Bringing in one pro long respected for his efficiency and effectiveness, another who can provide relief at both backcourt positions, and two high-upside rookies who seem to have real feel for the position constitutes an upgrade that should keep Dallas’ offense humming.
Controversial addition Monta Ellis, for all his warts, gives Dallas a secondary scorer and better-than-you-think passer to lighten Dirk’s load, one capable of carrying an offense for stretches in a way that other recent Mavs couldn’t. Ellis’ subpar shooting won’t make anyone forget Terry, despite some hopeful comparisons, but his inventiveness, audacity and athleticism, paired with the attention Nowitzki draws and Calderon’s gift for picking the right pass, should give Dallas’ offense a welcome jolt. (Until the next contested 21-footer, at least.)
A lot will be asked of Shawn Marion on the defensive end, as it’s been for the last decade and a half, and Dallas’ frontcourt looks thin, especially with re-signed Brandan Wright still out with a shoulder injury. But I like the toys noted tinkerer Rick Carlisle has to play with this season, headlined by a healthy Nowitzki, who’s shooting 53/38/93 in just under 25 minutes per exhibition game, and who’s about to welcome back an old friend to finish off his preseason prep. Carlisle didn’t get to unwrap that particular toy until two days before Christmas last season; if Dirk can stay on the court, Dallas’ offense should be a gift that keeps on giving.
Honorable mentions: Mekel, who’s gotsomeflash to his game; DeJuan Blair’s attempt to get back to his board-crashing ways given a fresh opportunity; rookie Ricky Ledo, who has skills but hasn’t really played since high school, and whose (likely limited) minutes should intrigue.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
Monta Ellis joins the Mavericks at a point in his career when the vast majority of self-defined enlightened basketball fans view him as a liability. While Ellis has obvious skills — unreal quickness, perhaps the best body control around the basket of anyone in the league, etc. — his poor shot selection and worse defensive fundamentals have made him extremely unpopular with efficiency minded analysts. His name is as much shorthand for a certain kind of player as anything else.
It’s somewhat surprising, then, that the famously analytics-minded Mavericks made him their (admittedly second or third) option in free agency this summer. Yet there’s reason for hope, because Ellis finds himself in what could be his most promising situation since 2008. He’ll be teamed with a star, Dirk Nowitzki for the first time since his career-best season alongside Baron Davis in 2007-08, and Ellis claims that he only has a history of taking so many bad shots because his teammates’ skills required him to.
That last point might be ridiculous on its face, but it speaks to the new reality of both Ellis’s career and his opportunity in Dallas. We now know that he isn’t fit to carry a huge offensive load — several seasons have proven as much. However, if Monta wants to prove that he was a victim of circumstance and not his own bad habits, then he has to adjust his game accordingly and take to his new role as second-in-command scorer. He must show that he can be something more than a high-volume scorer, and maybe even turn into a trusted veteran in the process.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards