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.
Mar 16, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
DeMar DeRozan expressed his displeasure over a non-call by kicking the ball away from a referee — a move which guaranteed him a quick whistle in the form of a technical foul.
Mar 16, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT
Midway through the third quarter you had to like how the Rockets were playing against the Heat in Miami. Tied 92-92, the Rockets got what seemed like their 5,347th floater in the lane of the night, this time it was Chandler Parsons over Chris Andersen. The Rockets players did not fear the Heat shot blockers…
Mar 16, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Patrick Beverley leaves LeBron James in the dust, before attacking the rim and throwing down a huge slam on Chris Bosh.
Mar 16, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
LeBron takes a nice pass from Wade and elevates over Dwight Howard for the vicious first quarter slam.
Mar 16, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Jarrett Jack believes custom fitting players with the sleeved jerseys would reduce the complaints. But he still doesn’t like the way they look, regardless of how they do or do not impact performance. “We’re like the Beach Police,” Jack said.
Mar 16, 2014, 2:01 PM EDT
How I wish “Brian” were real. Alas, this is a faux documentary on former NBA player Brian Scalabrine is not real. Still, the trailer is brilliant. An actual documentary following Scalabrine, now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, would be interesting. He’s long been one of the better interviews around the NBA, his…
Mar 16, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Jim Cleamons is currently an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, but he was a member of Phil Jackson’s coaching staff both in Chicago and Los Angeles, and has nine championship rings to show for it. The Bucks happened to be in town to face the Knicks on Saturday, just one day after the news…
Mar 16, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan all recently explained why they’re against the NBA raising its age limit. But there are valid reasons on the argument’s other side.
Mar 16, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
John Wall splits two defenders near mid-court before putting the exclamation point on a win over the Nets with a thunderous slam.
Mar 16, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
The Sixers are currently riding a 20-game losing streak, but for better or for worse, no one inside the Philadelphia organization is deluding themselves as to what’s going on there this season. Call it tanking, or as the NBA’s new commissioner Adam Silver prefers, rebuilding. But either way, there’s going to be a whole lot…
Mar 15, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
There are plenty of players who make exaggerated vocal noise during the course of an NBA game, with Carlos Boozer of the Bulls perhaps heading up that very long list. While it’s accepted to a certain extent, it’s also nice to see a veteran of the game point out just how ridiculous it is. During…
Mar 15, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
How Detroit’s Andre Drummond staggered and went down after this hit, and how he stayed down for several minutes (all the way through the ensuing commercial break not part of the above video), is a little frightening. The medical staff brought out a stretcher but he got up under his own power and was helped…
Mar 15, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Joakim Noah receives a $500K bonus if he’s named to the All-NBA first team. Does he have a shot?
Mar 15, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Carmelo Anthony seems initially pleased with the hiring of Phil Jackson. Mike Woodson, on the other hand, didn’t sound quite as optimistic — for obvious reasons.
Mar 15, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
The Thunder are just a game back of the Spurs for the league’s best record, an achievement that would guarantee home court advantage throughout the playoffs. But they’ll willingly be hurting that effort by resting Russell Westbrook as a precautionary measure in certain back-to-back sets.
Mar 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
We’ve known for a very long time that the Lakers wouldn’t be making the playoffs this season. After Friday night’s loss, it became official.
Mar 15, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The mere presence of Phil Jackson in the Knicks front office will have an immediate impact in terms of big-name free agents looking at New York as a possible destination.
Mar 15, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
After playing out consecutive 10-day contracts, the Nets have signed Jason Collins for the remainder of the season.
Mar 15, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Kenneth Faried showed why the Nuggets would have been crazy to trade him at the deadline, as he helped send the Heat to their fifth loss in six games.
Mar 15, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Ultimately Thomas Wolfe will be proven right, you can’t go home again. Not even Phil Jackson. It’s easy to sit back and list the reasons Jackson’s return to the team that drafted him, taking over basketball operations of the New York Knicks, will not work: James Dolan; Jackson has never had any front office experience before;…
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