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 28, 2014, 12:20 AM EDT
Dexter Pittman, Greg Stiemsma, Daniel Orton, Bobby Brown, Toney Douglas, Ben Hansbrough and Malcolm Lee try out
Aug 27, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
NBA news you definitely didn’t expect to read today
Aug 27, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Rockets guard continues to draw praise after offseason of petty comments
Aug 27, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT
Warriors guard might be bit biased when it comes to rating 3-point shooters
Aug 27, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Jason Kidd at it again
Aug 27, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT
Waiters on the possibility of playing with Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving: ‘I’ve got to destroy my opponent’
Aug 27, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Dallas owner goes out of his way to compare his rival Daryl Morey’s
Aug 27, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
Miami is now taking Knicks rejects
Aug 27, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Former No. 2 remains unsigned after disappointing season with Heat
Aug 27, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
New contract with Clippers makes Rivers the NBA’s highest-paid coach
Aug 27, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
Kulagin, 22, went undrafted and is now an unrestricted free agent
Aug 27, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Williams went 0-9, and stopped shooting.
Aug 27, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Go back to July 1 and consider the possibility of LeBron James and Kevin Love playing for Cleveland this season
Aug 27, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
Embiid may have jumped the gun.
Aug 27, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
Minnesota’s owner tried to point out some of Love’s flaws once the deal was done.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer calls keeping Rivers ‘one of my top priorities’
Aug 27, 2014, 11:46 AM EDT
Donald Sterling will try to embarrass the league going forward, but he will not ever own the Clippers again.
Aug 27, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT
Goes against public perception.
Aug 27, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Shumpert and other Knicks will love an offense with player and ball movement… if ‘Melo shares the rock.
Aug 27, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT
Sixers value a pick in next year’s draft more than they do Bennett at this time.
- Cavaliers sold Kyrie Irving on contract extension with LeBron James-Kevin Love plan 32
- Kevin Love says Timberwolves owner should focus on his own team following trade to Cavaliers 32
- Iman Shumpert excited to play in triangle offense because he won’t just have to stand in the corner 6
- Timberwolves owner: Kevin Love might regret trade because he’ll be third banana with Cavaliers 48
- Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead Team USA in final World Cup tune-up 20
- Thunder trade Hasheem Thabeet to 76ers 37
- From late-arriving to a LeBron James favorite, Kevin Love comes full circle 17
- Clippers trade Jared Dudley and first rounder to Bucks for Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica 23