The 2015-16 season, sadly, never boasted any illusions.
The team, somewhat famously by the end of the season, boasted a miserable record against the elite of the NBA. Dallas lost 20 of 22 games while working against the top eight seeds of the 16-seed NBA playoff bracket, giving the league all the indication it needed that a surprising April or May turnaround was just not in the cards for this aging bunch.
This isn’t to suggest that there wasn’t a reason to watch. Dirk Nowitzki somehow spun his way toward over 18 points per game in just 31 minutes a contest at age 37, while point guard Deron Williams turned in a competent and relatively healthy season nearly four years to the date in which he spurned the Mavs as a sought-after free agent to stay in Brooklyn.
[The 2016-17 BDL 25: The key storylines to watch this NBA season]
Center Zaza Pachulia, acquired for next-to nothing after Clippers free agent DeAndre Jordan also spurned Dallas following a broken promise and a series of cell phone cartoons, turned into a League Pass favorite with his derring-do (somewhat rare for a veteran center, you’ll agree) on both ends of the court for Dallas early in the campaign. Chandler Parsons gritted through what was clearly a debilitating knee injury before finally submitting it in for the attention it required, while J.J. Barea, yet again, worked his angelic (devilish) game with Dirk Nowitzki offensively (defensively).
The result was yet another winning season, if only barely at 42-40, in what could also be termed yet another year of waiting out an actual NBA basketball term in order to get to the postseason, where transaction help could actually make an appearance in the realm of the tangible. Prior to that, though, the team was summarily dismissed by an Oklahoma City Thunder club that, from Game 1 of its first round series, seemed bent on informing the Mavericks that they weren’t going to make any hay as crafty upset specialists this time around.
As was the case in 2012, during Dallas’ title defense. Which seems ever so long ago.
2015-16 season in 140 characters or less:
Did the summer help at all?
For the fifth summer in the row? Yes, perhaps.
Yet again, the Mavericks were eased out of the running for the best and the brightest of the free agent class, in an offseason that saw a former league MVP and former NBA Finals MVP change teams. The team did not completely swing and miss, it actually added 40 percent of the starting lineup that won 73 regular season games last year in Golden State, but the pull guarantees next to nothing in the still-loaded West.
The Mavs said goodbye to the sometimes-competent reserve guard Raymond Felton, along with Pachulia, David Lee and, well, JaVale McGee. Most tellingly for Memphis fans, the team decided to let the Grizz bid for Chandler Parsons’ services just two summers after Chandler played Tony to Mark Cuban’s George, due to Parsons’ ongoing knee issues.
His replacement, Harrison Barnes, does not come with the full complement of all-around gifts that Parsons provided at his healthiest, and he will cost about as much (four years and around $94 million for both), but the Mavericks are betting that a healthier Barnes will flourish within a system that will ask him to do far, far more than the already-set Golden State Warriors did.
That’s a reasonable hope, and Barnes (at age 24) isn’t far removed from presenting us with the pre-college package that had many considering him the next great NBA swingman, but a lot has to change for Harrison for him to grow used to the idea of consistently taking over games in myriad ways. As his potential and, now, payroll hook suggests.
With Golden State looking to clear space to sign Kevin Durant, the Mavericks also took advantage in dealing for center Andrew Bogut for a song. Bogut quickly recovered from what looked like yet another career-altering injury suffered during last June’s Finals to at times look like the best player on the floor in several Olympics matches this summer, and he somehow flew under the radar as underrated last season in spite of Golden State’s ubiquity. Still, he turns 32 in late November.
The team’s first round pick was sent to Boston in 2005’s ill-fated Rajon Rondo deal. Deron Williams was retained for one year at $10 million. Quincy Acy is the team’s minimum-salaried late-summer pickup. The team’s other two rotation fillers – Summer League legend Jonathan Gibson and D-League standout Seth Curry – will excite those of us that watch far too much NBA TV, but their role in coach Rick Carlisle’s offense has yet to be fully fleshed out in theory.
That’s what the regular season is for. Good thing Carlisle is used to these sorts of summers.
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Potential breakout stud:
The pick is as obvious as they come, but it shouldn’t take away from what he has the potential to bring. Swingman Justin Anderson has nobody but himself to blame if he doesn’t take a massive, massive jump in 2016-17.
(I suppose he could blame Rick Carlisle again, if his minutes come as inconsistently as they did during Anderson’s rookie year, but Carlisle wouldn’t do that to us again … right?)
Anderson’s per-game (3.8 points in just under 12 minutes a contest) and advanced stats underwhelmed during his first NBA go-round (already at age 22), but the man could hardly find a home behind both Wes Matthews (and the Mavs’ attempt to justify the massive four-year, $70 million deal they signed the shooting guard to following his Achilles tear) and Parsons.
The rookie turned in eight starts down the stretch with Parsons out for the season, however, a needed minutes sopper as Dallas attempted to cling to a playoff berth. He was right back on the bench in the postseason as the Mavericks went small against Oklahoma City, but started the team’s final game of the season at small forward in Game 5 – notching 14 points and three steals in the loss.
Dirk Nowitzki has already called Anderson one of the top players in Dallas’ training camp, but with the addition of Harrison Barnes’ $94 million to the payroll the chances for enhanced minutes will still be a struggle unless Carlisle acts quick should Matthews decline even further.
Even with Barnes pegged to play heavy minutes at big forward with Dirk Nowitzki’s ticks raging on; Anderson has to act as more than a 3-and-D guy. If his ability to create a stir develops, even with all eyes on him off of the pine, the confident swingman could be the guy that keeps Dallas in the running for yet another postseason berth.
Even with Dirk Nowitzki twirling just 29 minutes per game, there is more than enough talent here to drive the Mavericks back into the top ten offensively, and push the team past .500 again.
For all the talk about the team’s inability to do much with the cream of each Conference’s bracket, the Mavericks still absolutely took care of business with the other 21 teams on the schedule. Notching a 40-18 record against the disparate teams from No. 9 through No. 30 is nothing to sneeze at, and there is no reason why this crew of professionals, health-willing, won’t be able to pull off as much in 2016-17.
They’ll need to, but with a series of movers like Bogut, Dirk, Barea, D-Will, Seth Curry and potentially Barnes making life hellish on opponents with constant motion, the Mavericks can pile up wins and put themselves in a position to grab a lower-rung seed while the rest of the NBA is focused on a game being broadcast on national TV that night.
If everything falls apart:
If the balance weren’t a big enough concern – and it is a major, major concern even with two rather famous additions – lingering health complaints could scuttle this team’s chances in an instant.
Dirk Nowitkzi, luckily for us, remains famously bulletproof as he enters his 19th season. Still, healthy Dirk at age 38 and at 30 minutes per night can only cover up so many sins. Not only have Bogut and Williams dealt with health issues in the past, but the severity of their injuries make them slow healers (not the fault of the player, but the player’s parts). Wes Matthews may never regain the bounce that made him so frightful post-Achilles tear, he turns 30 during October, while J.J. Barea and Devin Harris are on the wrong side of the NBA’s figurative hill.
Even if our best hopes for Harrison Barnes are realized, and he uses those skills to turn into something fearsome and special, it will still take a stretch for him to acclimate to the idea that he’ll be expected to keep up with the movement every time down court. And, at some point, no amount of Rick Carlisle magic can make up for the fact that this is a thin, aging core.
Albeit one that will provide, yet again, a fantastic watch from afar.
Kelly Dwyer’s Best Guess at a Record:
38-44, tenth in the West.
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2016-17 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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