How the mighty have fallen.
For the last several years, your Dallas Mavericks have been automatic playoff contenders vying for the title, but with the second consecutive first-round playoff exit just five months ago, many are wondering if the Mavs can simply win 50 games (something, by the way, they've done each year since the 2000-2001 season).
People will say that there are two main reasons why the Mavs will struggle: they're not as good, and the league is that much better. Don't drink the Kool-Aid yet. They've still got a pretty good core and are capable of doing extraordinary things. It's not far-fetched to say that the talent within the league (specifically the Mavericks' own conference and division) is unprecedented. As far as the Southwest goes, New Orleans and Houston (with its own set of problems) easily outmatch the Mavs. The Spurs have the same issues the Mavs do, namely age and depth. The Grizz are, well, the Grizz.
In spite of all this, my gut tells me the Mavs will still reach fifty. Here's why.
1) New coach.
This one's pretty obvious. Avery's system was running stale in the halls of the AAC and it was time for new blood. Rick Carlisle's system isn't likely to be the cause for any dominance on the hardwood; it's simply that he's got roundball know-how and since he's not Avery, he'll bring less drama to the table than the Little General did. Whether we want to admit it or not, this team is nothing like the one we had two years ago, or even at the start of last season, and having a new coach means we upend the tea tables and start from the very beginning. Just what these Mavericks need.
2) Lowered expectations.
The Mavs have always been at their best when they're the scrappy underdogs or simply playing basketball with no goal other than to get on the floor and give it their best. Think back to the misfit days when we had a goofy 7-foot German named Dirk taking passes from a Canadian named Steve, one of the only Latinos in the league named Eduardo, and a clutch loose-cannon named Van Exel, who you might guess was Dutch, but one look at his droopy wall-eyes and it's likelier that he's from whatever planet Admiral Akbar hailed. But I digress. It's true we've got people like J-Ho and Shawne who likely have personal crusades to clean up their reps, and this will probably be Kidd's best last chance at a ring, but as long as all of sports media isn't calling them contenders, they can quietly rack up wins and start adhering as a team.
3) It's a contract year for Erick Dampier.
OK, not really, but it will be in three years. Can you believe he got a seven-year contract? SEVEN YEARS??? I can't even get a seven-year contract with AT&T. They laughed at me and told me to invest my money with a bail bondsman.
4) Good (enough) offseason moves.
Give the Mavs' front-office credit. They did what they could with what was available without making major financial mistakes. Gerald Green was a decent free-agent grab, reacquiring Diop (who's younger than you'd think) fills a needed shot-blocking gap, and the trade for Shawne Williams has minimal risk and makes us younger at the same time. The only questionable move was finally getting on one knee and popping the question to J.J. Barea. He has flashes of brilliance but not much else. And by flashes I mean "that one game against Sacramento almost a year ago".
5) Brandon Bass.
He'll be better than he was last year, and that's saying something.
6) Added youth.
This is a bit of an extension of what I've already said, but with Jamaal Magloire and Juwan Howard no longer under the employ of the Mavs' organization, and Eddie Jones on his way to Indiana to not play for the Pacers, a younger team is exactly what the Mavs need. There's a pretty big caveat here: our core is older, and the youth is largely untested. But if we've got veterans in our starting five, then I'd rather supplement them with unchecked young athleticism than boring and aging fundamentals.
7a) The rest of the NBA is not as good as you've been made to believe, and...
While it's true the Lakers and Hornets are the cream of the NBA's crop, it's rarely countered with the fact that former powerhouse teams such as the Suns and Spurs have their work cut out for them. So the Mavs will have their hands full with the Houston and Utah, it's true, but Shaq and Grant Hill won't overmatch the Mavs and the Spurs did even less in the offseason than the Mavs did. Baron Davis's Clippers could win a game or two against these Dallas Mavericks but the Warriors won't be a problem, with or without Monta.
7b) ...The East got better, mostly at the expense of the West.
It started last year when KG and Ray Allen made their way to Beantown and continued when Marion went to Miami. Now with Elton Brand giving Philly a well-needed boost and two Eastern Conference teams landing rookie talent from Rose and Beasley, the East looks ready to excuse themselves from the kids' table. The talent is slowly siphoning out of the West to teams the Mavs have to play no more than twice a year.
So there you have it. We likely won't have a solid idea what to expect from these Mavs until the new year, but if you're wondering if they can even win fifty games, know that there's at least one believer out there.