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.
Paul George leaves USA Basketball Showcase with severe lower leg injury, remainder of scrimmage canceled
Aug 1, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
Gruesome injury suffered by George causes remainder of scrimmage to be canceled.
Aug 1, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Only six NBA players have no-trade clauses, and Parker wasn’t eligible under the circumstances.
Aug 1, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
New uniforms for the national team.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Damian Lillard also wanted Williams back in Portland
Aug 1, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Magic Johnson takes parting shot at Mike D’Antoni
Aug 1, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
Rumor had suggested Brewer could replace Kevin Martin or J.J. Barea in deal
Aug 1, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Chicago added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott this summer
Aug 1, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
New York had only minimum contract available
Aug 1, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
If true, Corey Brewer would be a nice get for the Cavaliers.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
It’s no Heat-Cavaliers, but it’ll do
Aug 1, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Parker’s max extension: three years, $43,335,938
Aug 1, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Aug 1, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Wade is trying to drop pounds to make life easier on his knees. We’ll see how much that helps.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
That will go away in three months
Aug 1, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
“So when I say I felt disrespected, I just felt like the way I played the game of basketball wasn’t appreciated.” —Isaiah Thomas referring to Sacramento management.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Why is the Pacers’ star choosing LeBron James’ team?
Report: Greg Monroe ‘doesn’t really have a great interest in going back and playing with the Pistons’
Aug 1, 2014, 10:29 AM EDT
Pistons have reportedly talked sign-and-trade with Hawks, Suns and Blazers (but Portland is out)
Aug 1, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
Finally, San Antonio basketball fans have a reason to be proud
Aug 1, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Kevin Durant has a couple nice ones.
Aug 1, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Bidding starts at $35,000. Which we all have just lying around.
- Paul George leaves USA Basketball Showcase with severe lower leg injury, remainder of scrimmage canceled 37
- Rumor: Corey Brewer to Cleveland now part of Kevin Love trade talk 20
- Tony Parker signs (another) contract extension with Spurs 10
- Bulls owner issues statement refuting rift between Bulls front office, Derrick Rose 23
- If traded before World Cup starts could Kevin Love still play for USA? Colangelo said it’s possible. 2
- Anthony Davis steps into spotlight, is Team USA’s lynchpin 18
- Referee Violet Palmer comes out publicly as gay 49
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 89