May 4, 2012, 12:09 PM EDT
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.
May 4, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
This is the battle we’ve been waiting for since training camp.
May 4, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Nor should he
May 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Look for LeBron to try and post Butler up to draw help.
May 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Neither of these guys is used to being matched up on a big as athletic as they are.
May 4, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Spurs coach echoes Doc Rivers. Can they get the rule changed?
May 4, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT
…after singing Paul’s praises
May 4, 2015, 1:44 PM EDT
What would that rule be?
May 4, 2015, 1:09 PM EDT
Finally! I’d been on the edge of my seat
May 4, 2015, 12:33 PM EDT
Pick and John Wall’s pass led to Otto Porter’s crunch-time layup
May 4, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com casts unintended vote for Russell Westbrook, places Anthony Davis higher than planned
Stephen Curry wins MVP with 100 of 130 first-place votes, but James Harden closest second place in four years
May 4, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
LeBron James finishes third
May 4, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT
Warriors seemed to enjoy Game 1 win over Grizzlies
May 4, 2015, 9:53 AM EDT
San Antonio players went out in Los Angeles after losing to Clippers
One NBA MVP voter switched from James Harden to Stephen Curry after hearing Warriors’ phone campaign
May 4, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Curry will win the award. How much credit does he owe Golden State’s P.R. staff?
May 4, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
It all starts with the answer to this question: How healthy is Chris Paul?
May 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The drop off from Chris Paul to Austin Rivers should scare Clippers fans.
May 4, 2015, 12:10 AM EDT
Wall looked like one of the best point guards and leaders in the game Monday.
May 3, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
Nobody wanted to talk about the future in the wake of an emotional loss.
May 3, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The Grizzlies have some work to do defensively to slow Curry.
May 3, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Harden comes in second in the voting.
- PBT Second-Round Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls 0
- PBT Extra: Can Jimmy Butler have success slowing LeBron James? 1
- PBT Extra: Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan matchup key part of Clippers vs. Rockets 1
- Stephen Curry wins MVP with 100 of 130 first-place votes, but James Harden closest second place in four years 19
- PBT Second Round Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets 10
- Ginobili, Duncan, Popovich dance around questions about Spurs’ future 10
- Reports: Stephen Curry to be named MVP Monday 42
- Hawks start hot, finish cold, Wizards take Game 1 on road 104-98. 8