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.
Aug 3, 2015, 12:01 AM EDT
Orlando keeps backup center on minimum contract
Aug 2, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
I think the movie is coming, people.
Aug 2, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
Saunders has a versatile front line, but does he have enough shooting to give them room to operate?
Aug 2, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
Jordan will gloat about this to Butler for years.
Aug 2, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The game in Africa felt like an exhibition.
Aug 2, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
It’s a standard rookie contract for a first-round pick.
Aug 2, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
He will be one of the favorites to win ROY.
Aug 2, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
He was a star with the Buffalo Braves (the franchise that is now the L.A. Clippers).
Aug 2, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
“Dude, what are you talking about? You’re only a year older than me!” — Giannis Antetokounmpo on Anthony Davis calling him “kid.”
Aug 2, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Okafor is getting acquainted with his young fans in Philadelphia.
Aug 2, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
Davis is in talks to re-sign with the Clippers.
Aug 1, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Hamilton played 14 games with the Clippers last season.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Rose played in the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Championships.
Aug 1, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
That would be good news for the Spurs and bad news for the rest of the Western Conference.
Aug 1, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Noah spent most of last season limited by knee surgery.
Aug 1, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
His $4.7 million salary for next season is unguaranteed.
Aug 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Paul is still in the running for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Will this lead to all 30 teams getting their own affiliates?
Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo make surprise appearances for Team Africa in NBA exhibition game (VIDEO)
Aug 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Team Africa faced off against Team World in Johannesburg.
Aug 1, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal with the Kings in July.
- Jahlil Okafor: “Rookie of the Year is one of the goals I set for myself” 13
- Report: Derrick Rose undecided about attending Team USA minicamp 8
- Report: Pacers planning to purchase D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants 3
- Report: Hawks’ Mike Scott told police after arrest all drugs in car were his 17
- NBA lands in Africa trying to put down roots, which is all about youth programs, infrastructure 1
- Report: Kings expected to hire Nancy Lieberman as assistant coach 9
- Report: Hawks’ Mike Scott arrested for felony drug possession 16
- Gilbert Arenas on LeBron James: “James isn’t a #1 option..and yes I (didn’t stutter)” 50