Things change fast in sports. Champs yesterday carry no guarantees of extending their winning runs to the next season as well. Football clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, having swapped places in La Liga standings since last year, would both testify to this. As would the Dallas Mavericks, who having won their first NBA title last season, were the first team to crash out of the 2012 NBA postseason.
To be honest, the Mavs’ problems this season stemmed from their own decisions and possibly an unexpected drop in Dirk Nowitzki’s form. In the 2011 offseason, following their maiden title win, the team let go of Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler and JJ Barea, to create cap space and plan for the future. In turn, the Mavericks brought in Vince Carter, Delonte West and Lamar Odom to plug in the gap left by those players. But did all those changes really work?
Chandler, who played for the Knicks this season, and ended up as the Defensive Player of the Year, was a big part of the Mavericks’ championship roster from last season. Remember his 13 points and 16 rebounds in Game 4 of the 2011 NBA finals, which helped the Mavs level the series 2-2 when Dirk Nowitzki was running a 101-degree fever? Where Chandler gave the Mavs 8.0 PPG and 9.2 RPG in last year’s playoffs, Brendan Haywood, the Mavs’ starting center this season, never quite created that impact as he averaged just 3.3 PPG and 3.3 RPG against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 0-4 drubbing. Even Ian Mahinmi, Haywood’s replacement in the Dallas’ reserves did a better job with his 7.3 PPG and 4.5 RPG, but even he couldn’t measure up to the standards set by Chandler.
Stevenson, Butler and Barea, similarly, proved irreplaceable. With Lamar Odom listed as inactive for every game following a clash with owner Mark Cuban on April 7, Dallas never quite had the depth to defend their title this season. In last year’s finals between the Heat and the Mavericks, one of the seminal moments in that six-game series was when Coach Rick Carlisle replaced Stevenson with Barea in the starting line-up before Game 4. With Stevenson coming off the bench, the Mavs’ reserves outscored the Heat’s supporting cast by a whopping 103-75 in the final three games of that series. Here, the Thunder’s supporting cast, led by spurned All-Star candidate, James Harden, outscored the Mavs’ reserves 132-122 in four games.
We must also turn our attention to Nowitzki. Through the 62 games that the Dallas All-Star played in the curtailed regular season, Nowitzki averaged 21.6 PPG and shot 45.7 percent from the field. Those numbers are very good indeed, but were the lowest Dirk has averaged since his debut season in the league when he shot just 40.5 percent and averaged 17.5 PPG in the 1999-2000 season. Them, compared to last year’s playoffs where Dirk averaged 27.7 PPG and shot 48.5 percent from the field, the German suffered a slight dip as he managed 26.8 PPG while going at 44.2 percent in the shooting department. But the biggest difference was Dirk’s 3-point shooting woes against OKC. He managed just 1-for-6 (0.167) in four games from behind the 3-point arc as against 23-for-50 (0.460) in last year’s postseason.
There is a silver lining for the Mavs though. With all the salary cap created by the exit of Tyson Chandler and co., the Mavs can make a serious splash in the free agency market of the 2012 post season and get Nowitzki, who will turn 34 in June, some serious, younger All-Star help. Mavs’ GM, Donnie Nelson, even agreed to this following Dallas’ exit from the playoffs saying, “That's an important piece. I think you saw during the course of the playoffs that (Nowitzki) was fighting tooth and nail, and he needs help. He needs help and we plan to get it for him.”
The problem, however, for the Mavs is that with Dwight Howard opting to stay put in Orlando for at least one more season, Deron Williams, All-Star point-guard of the New Jersey Nets, is the only marquee name who will be available to Dallas in the coming offseason. But with Williams originally hailing from Dallas, there is a good chance of him teaming up with Nowitzi and lending more bite to the Mavericks’ roster next season.
Like I said, things change really fast in sport.
All stats are after games played on May 8, 2012 (IST)