Posted Jul 3 2012 8:28AM
Is it possible to go from winning a championship to being unrecognizable in two years?
The Mavs will always have Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban, too. But if the Mavericks fail to reel in free agent Deron Williams or Dwight Howard to push the reset button on their title aspirations, the unthinkable may be necessary in Dallas. The Mavericks might be pressed to ... rebuild.
Because, without Williams and/or Howard in the mix, there are no quick-fix options left, no viable Plan C. Certainly nothing to put the Mavericks immediately in the company of Oklahoma City, San Antonio, the Lakers or even the Clippers, who represent the upper class in the West.
Therefore, why should they patch together a semi-contender just to lose in the first round, if they make the playoffs at all? Why not keep the salary cap flexible enough to start all over in the summer of 2013 -- which boasts a decent free agent class -- and just write off next season as the price of doing business in the NBA?
Right now they have Nowitzki ... and nobody. That's what they'll look next season if Williams and Howard go elsewhere: the Dallas Dirk-and-nobodies. There's no incoming lottery pick (Dallas' lone rookie is Jared Cunningham, the No. 24 pick), no difference-making free agent, no budding young star on the roster. In short, there's nothing here to suggest the Mavericks will strike fear in anyone in 2012-13 except their fan base.
Who's under contract besides Dirk? Vince Carter has a team option this summer and he's about three years past his prime. Shawn Marion is on the books, but he's over the hill, too. There's Brendan Haywood, the latest in the long tradition of skill-challenged Dallas centers and young-but-frustrating guard Roddy Beaubois. The rest is filler, and that's being kind.
Kobe Bryant and Nowitzki are the last two superstars in the West to sip victory champagne, but now are seriously wondering if their twilight years will be wasted on non-contenders. At least Bryant has an All-Star center in Andrew Bynum, a decent post man in Pau Gasol and trade bait on the roster (Bynum or Gasol) for Howard. At least Bryant knows the Lakers will be in position to go fairly deep in the postseason if everyone stays healthy and they get a break or two.
Nowitzki? He'll need strong legs for all the heavy lifting he'll have to do.
The Mavericks have nothing to swap besides draft picks (whatever they're worth) and money. And when you think about it, there's nothing really to entice a free agent to sign with them besides Nowitzki. The shelves are bare and an argument can be made that even if the Mavericks did get Williams or Howard, they'd still be a player or two short to do anything special next season.
In hindsight, Nowitzki got his ring in the nick of time. Everything fell in place: OKC was too young, the Spurs were too injured and LeBron James didn't know then what he knows now. The Mavericks were good but they were also a bit lucky.
In order to reload and clear cap space for a bid on Williams, who was raised in the Dallas area, the Mavericks conducted a salary purge after the victory parade. They dismantled the championship team, letting Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson walk. There's no need to second-guess ... those were the right moves to make at the time.
It was a solid, calculated gamble by a franchise willing to take a step backward for the chance to recover quickly. That doesn't happen very often in the NBA. Besides, the 2011 championship team was getting up in years with Marion, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd all were struggling to keep from rolling down the hill. The former stars-turned-role players nicely complimented Nowitzki and they all got hot at the right time.
And now Nowitzki is trying to remain an All-Star himself. He turned 34 and last season suffered through his lowest shooting-percentage and scoring-average season since his second season. Nowitzki should be solid for the final two years on his contract, but if he's the Mavericks' best player those two years, something's wrong. That means Dallas didn't strike it rich in free agency or through a trade.
As long as they have Cuban as owner and Rick Carlisle as coach, the Mavericks will be a player-friendly franchise. But two years from now, they'll be caught in a boom-or-bust transition phase. They must sign a franchise free agent this summer, or else.
No Deron Williams and no Dwight Howard means no chance to make the most of Nowtizki while he's still in his prime.
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