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.
Dec 9, 2013, 9:31 AM EST
The Knicks suffered their worst loss of the season on Sunday, losing by 41 points to a Celtics team that shouldn’t beat anybody by that much. And they did so wearing their alternate orange uniforms. Whether the 12 noon tip time or the orange color scheme is messing with the Knicks on these weekend games…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
J.J. Redick is out with a broken hand. Matt Barnes is out following surgery to repair a retinal tear in his left eye. Reggie Bullock is out with a sprained ankle. All this has left the Los Angeles Clippers short bodies on the wing, so they may bring in veteran Stephen Jackson to fill the…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
LOS ANGELES — Make no mistake, this was first and foremost about money. And future flexibility. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri made a smart trade sending Rudy Gay out of town in a deal that sets his team up for the future by removing up to $12.4 million from the books next season. This summer Andrea…
Dec 9, 2013, 2:17 AM EST
LOS ANGELES — Kobe passed the first challenge he has set before himself. Eight months of never-ending therapy sessions and workouts to return to the court paid off — Kobe is back. He was introduced with Darth Vader’s theme music and Staples Center was buzzing like it was a playoff game. Kobe was on the court…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:29 AM EST
Kobe Bryant returned, Rudy Gay was traded, and the Knicks were crushed. Grading a busy Sunday of NBA action: Toronto Raptors: What the Toronto Raptors have not had in recent years is a GM with a plan and financial flexibility. With this and previous trades you get a sense that GM Masai Ujiri has a plan. First, get the…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:40 PM EST
It’s hard to explain to people outside Los Angeles the buzz in the city around Kobe Bryant and his return to the Lakers. The Lakers radio home in the city ran promos that just used pronouns —”You’ve been waiting for HIM” and “HE is back” — and everyone just knew what that meant. So what…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:10 PM EST
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant is back — he was walking around the Lakers’ locker room pregame in uniform ready to go — and he is going to try to score. It’s what he does. But don’t be surprised if on his return Sunday night against Toronto you see a lot of the dishing, facilitating…
Dec 8, 2013, 7:42 PM EST
The Toronto Raptors are trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for multiple players, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Toronto began the season with the goal of making the playoffs, but it’s become clear after 18 games that even in the dismal Eastern Conference, that’s not going to…
Dec 8, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
The Nets have had their season derailed by injuries thus far, and while having a first-year head coach in Jason Kidd probably isn’t helping given the situation, the fact is that without the team’s full complement of players, it’s impossible to know just how much fault can be placed there. But the clock will be…
Dec 8, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Kobe Bryant will make his return Sunday night at home against the Raptors, his first on-court appearance since suffering a torn Achilles near the end of last season. While we don’t expect the same kind of heroics Bryant displayed in last season’s epic victory over Toronto, it’ll simply be good to see one of the…
Dec 8, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The Knicks snapped their nine-game losing streak on Thursday with a 30-point win over the Nets, and followed it up with a 38-point victory over the Magic at home the very next night. Any belief that the Knicks problems were on the verge of being solved, however, was delusional at worst, and short-lived at best.…
Dec 8, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
The NBA changed the way they categorize players for All-Star voting purposes last season, eliminating the center position (and all others) from the ballot entirely and replacing those with either a frontcourt or backcourt player distinction. While it won’t affect superstar big men like Roy Hibbert making the All-Star roster, it will change the way…
Dec 8, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
When Ray Allen chose to leave Boston as a free agent and join Eastern Conference rival Miami following the 2012 season, it didn’t sit well at all with two of the Celtics’ biggest stars. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were upset by Allen’s decision, even though he wasn’t guaranteed a thing in Boston and was…
Dec 8, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The reports surrounding the status of Rockets big man Omer Asik will continue their steady stream until the inevitable trade happens. Houston wanted to make it work with Asik playing alongside Dwight Howard, but that experiment failed and with Asik being disgruntled in his situation and constantly requesting to be traded, the Rockets seem determined…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
Coming into Saturday night’s game against Dallas, the Blazers had used the top-ranked offense in the league to get out to a 17-3 start to the season, best in the Western Conference. Portland’s defense is ranked just 20th, however, and playing against a Mavericks team whose offense is ranked fourth and can score almost as…
Dec 8, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
The Nets are going through an especially rough time right now, and even mentioning as much seems like a gross understatement of the facts. Brooklyn has lost several of its key players due to injury, including Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and Jason Terry. Head coach Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant Lawrence Frank…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are simply devastating together when the Heat get out in transition, and this highlight from Miami’s easy win over a Timberwolves team playing without Kevin Love is a perfect example. Now of course, a two-on-none fast break will always result in points. But LeBron and Wade often make a spectacle…
Dec 7, 2013, 9:30 PM EST
Remember last season when an idiot fan in Cleveland ran into the court during live game action? Apparently, there are plenty more like him in that lovely city. During the second quarter of Saturday’s contest between the Cavaliers and the Clippers, we once again had a fan walk onto the court while the game was…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:00 PM EST
Luol Deng missed Saturday night’s game against the Pistons with a sore left Achilles, head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed before tip-off. Deng’s status is listed as day-to-day, and it’s not believed to be anything serious. After averaging 48.5 minutes per game over the last two contests thanks to logging 56 minutes in a triple-overtime loss…
Dec 7, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
So, I had this whole thing written and ready about how Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn’t believe that Michael Carter-Williams is injury-prone, despite the fact that after sitting out Saturday, the rookie will have missed six of his team’s first 21 games. But then the news broke that Carter-Williams had been hospitalized with a bacterial…
- The Extra Pass: Raptors’ salary dump trade could mean a few more wins, too; plus Sunday recaps 0
- Kobe is back but loss to Raptors shows Lakers still have a lot of work to do 4
- Sunday night NBA Grades: Rudy Gay traded to Kings, Kobe returns for Lakers 2
- Expect to see facilitator Kobe in his return to Lakers 6
- Raptors trade Rudy Gay to Sacramento for multiple players 25
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (65)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (52)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (47)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (44)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (43)