Ball Don't Lie - NBA

As you'd expect, Shawn Marion(notes) was the hardest piece to place in this offseason's confusing and sometimes wearying puzzle.

It befits Marion. He's an odd player. In NBA terms, he's an odd person.

We have no doubt that, like every free agent out there, he wanted to go where the money is best. But the money was great in Phoenix, and Marion had issues not being the center of attention. I'm not going to tell you that he preferred life with two lottery teams in Miami and Toronto following his trade from Phoenix, but you never heard rumors of him griping, despite the losing, despite constant trade rumors that dogged him in both cities.

The Mavericks landed Marion with a five-year, $40 million contract by working a complicated sign-and-trade that, among other things, sent Devean George(notes) and Antoine Wright(notes) to Toronto, Jerry Stackhouse(notes) to Memphis and Kris Humphries(notes) to Dallas.

Toronto's summer ... it's been questionable. Signing Hedo Turkoglu(notes) to a giant deal that will pay him until he's in his mid-30s seems a poor choice in light of all the players who are in their early-to-mid 20s on Toronto's roster. Those players will be in their prime when Turkoglu is at the end of the bench, barely playing, making eight figures.

I question Dallas, too. This team obviously fancies itself a tinker or two away from rejoining the elite of their conference, two years removed from posting the NBA's best record. With all this money tossed around, will it make a difference?

It should. Bringing in Marcin Gortat(notes), an above-average player who will only get better, is a sweet deal for an average salary. Retaining Jason Kidd(notes) is fine, though he'll be slightly overpaid in the last two years of his three-year, $25 million dollar deal. And Marion can really help this squad.

But is that enough to challenge the Lakers, Nuggets or Spurs?

I think so. Dallas is positioning itself to be in the "they're right there" category. It worked for Orlando last season, who parlayed a Kevin Garnett(notes) injury and a matchup advantage with Cleveland into a Finals trip. Who knows, had Jameer Nelson(notes) been at full strength, the Magic (who beat the Lakers twice in the regular season, with Nelson dominating each contest) may have won a title.

Hell, it worked with Dallas in 2006. Just get to the playoffs, and see what happens.

The problem with the Magic comparison is that Orlando also won heaps of games during the regular season. They established themselves as an elite team by the time Nelson went down with a shoulder injury last February. Would Dallas' core be enough to nearly match the Lakers and Spurs in wins from November on out?

Everything would have to go right. And sometimes, everything goes right.

And the quibble with that is the idea that everything seemed to go right last year, in parts.

Dirk Nowitzki(notes) had a giant year at age 30. Kidd shot the basketball like he's never shot it before, even pulling off a 45 percent mark from long range during the playoffs. Rick Carlisle turned in a fantastic coaching job. Jason Terry(notes) was the Sixth Man of the Year.

Yes, Josh Howard(notes) missed 30 games, but that was about it. If they tell you they missed Stackhouse, too, they're lying. Nobody should have expected Stack to be much of anything with his injury woes.

Expecting a trio of players who are past their primes to have two consecutive turn-back-the-clock seasons? That's tough. That really doesn't happen. And it would have to happen for the team to vault closer to 60 wins.

Dallas' biggest hole? It tossed out the sorriest batch of shooting guards among the 50-win teams. This summer, they've signed Quinton Ross(notes). Starting Marion and shoving Josh Howard down to the backcourt (he has played slim minutes there, effectively; especially defensively) would seem to help, but would Howard (a year older, like the rest) be able to chase anyone around on those gimpy ankles?

You'd think Dallas is aware of this. I can't help but trust the Mavs, even if they still think Kidd is an all-world guy, even if they're essentially replacing Brandon Bass(notes) (who, per-minute, might be just as effective as Marion at this point scoring and rebounding) with a bigger name in Marion.

Because of the team's trade bait. Erick Dampier(notes) has a massive unguaranteed contract for 2010-11. What's to stop the cash-starved Milwaukee Bucks from trading Michael Redd(notes) to Dallas next February for Damp's deal? Redd already flirted with signing with the Mavericks in 2002, why not ask him to take over the off-guard slot? The same idea could also work with Howard, who has a team option for 2010-11.

Until then, even for such a thin team, the depth is there. Dirk might be best in the pivot now, Marion might be best at power forward. You can switch these guys around, up and down, and really spread the floor. If Kidd can come close to last season's shooting exploits, he'll be fine, and Terry has been pulling off this shooting touch for years. I'd be surprised if he falls off.

Big name, big contract, added to a team that is high on star power but low on depth, well short of the Lakers. I should hate it, but I dig the move for Dallas.

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