May 4, 2012, 12:09 PM EST
Last June, the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat were the two teams left standing on top of the NBA mountain. They were the two teams that made, it, that advanced to the NBA finals. Dallas, as we all recall, came out on top.
Last July, these two teams started traveling very different paths that lead to where they are right now.
Miami is rolling, up 3-0 in the first round on a Knicks team that was supposed to push them a little. They brought in depth, they’ve modified the system and the players bought into it, and for stretches now they play just suffocating defense. Still, they feel like a Maserati in fourth gear — they could be even more impressive.
Dallas is getting rolled, down 3-0 in the first round to a Thunder team they took out in five games last playoffs. Dallas’ owner Mark Cuban decided to look long term rather than chase a ring with the same cast, and that combined with some bad luck has them on the verge of an embarrassingly quick elimination.
It’s quite a contrast.
And it’s all about decisions made during the summer, while the NBA was locked out and soon after it returned.
Miami’s flaws were exposed in the finals — not enough depth, plus their three big stars — Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — did not fully mesh. LeBron, in particular, was more passive during the finals and nobody could step into those shoes.
Coach Erick Spoelstra spent the summer coming up with a system that better fit his three stars — pressure defense and transition. If you have the best athletes and the best finishers, put them in positions to do what they do best. The Heat pressure and gamble on defense, they force mistakes because of their athleticism, then they turned those into highlight transition dunks. As the season wore on the Heat strayed from that plan, but they still bring it back in spurts and have done more of that in the playoffs. The Knicks have been overwhelmed when they do.
Right now, especially after Derrick Rose’s injury in Chicago, the Heat look like they could steamroll back to the finals.
Dallas will not be facing them.
Mark Cuban made a decision to focus on the long term — he did not bring back Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea. He did not offer contract extensions to others. The result is a good long-term plan — this summer they will have the free agent money to offer a max deal to Deron Williams (or whoever else they choose). If they can move Shawn Marion, they may be able to bring in another big star.
This was not a strip-it-to-the-bone, move, this was trying to rebuild on the fly. It was a calculated risk.
It hasn’t worked out as planned and now they are paying the price. While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are still there, this team does not have the depth or the depth of talent it did last year. Part of that is because of the Lamar Odom meltdown — they made a good gamble they could get the former Laker to come around with them, but he never did. That is a versatile, quality player who could have helped on a lot of fronts.
But it might not have mattered. The Thunder were going to get better. The Lakers have improved, as have the Grizzlies and Clippers. The West was going to be harder to get out of and Dallas took an intentional step back with its eye on the long term. Two years from now we may praise Cuban’s move as visionary — this is the kind of “make a move early rather than late” decision Jerry Buss has been making with the Lakers for years.
But it came with a price — these Mavericks are not as good as last year’s.
They are on an opposite trajectory from the team they knocked off in the finals last year. What a difference one year can make.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:30 PM EST
Whiteside grabbed Len by the legs.
Mar 2, 2015, 9:45 PM EST
Hamilton had no chance.
Mar 2, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
Yes, you read that right.
Mar 2, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
Teletovic is also out for the season.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
We’ll see about that.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:44 PM EST
He will sit out Tuesday vs. Atlanta.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:15 PM EST
Nine total shoes, three colorways each.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Has his extra run and touches since Josh Smith was released changing the dynamic in Detroit?
Mar 2, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Nobody is talking about Dwight Howard as long as the Rockets are winning.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
The Knicks got some wins and move out of the cellar.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Wizards forward has twice been suspended following altercations with Chicago
Mar 2, 2015, 2:28 PM EST
Lakers guard says he can take a joke – just not this one
Mar 2, 2015, 1:45 PM EST
Bulls facing big challenge without their best player
Doc Rivers on DeAndre Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year: ‘If anybody else gets that award, we need to have an investigation’
Mar 2, 2015, 1:18 PM EST
Clippers coach: ‘What he’s doing defensively, if he was doing that offensively, he would be recognized as the MVP’
Mar 2, 2015, 12:38 PM EST
I can’t wait
Mar 2, 2015, 11:59 AM EST
Sleeves notwithstanding, these are good
Mar 2, 2015, 11:21 AM EST
Trail Blazers’ Paul Allen falls to No. 2 among NBA owners
Mar 2, 2015, 10:32 AM EST
Trail Blazers center has moves – or at least a move
Mar 2, 2015, 9:53 AM EST
For some reason, Bulls fans boo this athletic feat
Mar 2, 2015, 9:07 AM EST
LeBron: ‘I have no idea why he would do that’
- League suspends James Harden one game for kick to LeBron James’ groin 17
- PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: Hawks seem to be out of malaise. Maybe. 8
- Report: Jimmy Butler could miss three to four weeks with elbow injury 5
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: James Harden, LeBron James want your MVP vote 11
- Report: Sixers agree to buyout with JaVale McGee; he can sign with contender 36
- Bulls’ Jimmy Butler leaves with elbow injury, does not return (VIDEO) 0
- Adam Silver says data may prove Gregg Popovich right in terms of resting multiple players 18
- Rockets general manager Daryl Morey proposes loosening NBA trade rules 6