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The Inbounds: Dallas’ Improv High-Wire Act

Jul 24, 2012, 6:00 PM EDT

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) reacts after hitting a three point shot during the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz  in Salt Lake City, Utah Reuters

Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Dallas had the worst offseason. Dallas had the best offseason. Two sides, one coin.

Usually when you whiff on a perennial All-Star with hometown ties to your city then lose your starting point guard and long-time bench scorer, you tend to lick your wounds and return to fight another day. But the Mavericks elected to instead immediately initiate Plan B.

And for a Plan B, it’s not bad.

Here’s a cool little example of how perception, standards, and expectations can shift.

Let’s say the Mavericks didn’t win the title in 2011. Let’s say the Blazers got another few 40-point barrages from Brandon Roy in an even bigger blaze of glory, or the Thunder had gotten their defense together enough to topple Dallas, or the Lakers…. yeah, no, that wasn’t happening. But let’s say either way that Dallas doesn’t win the title. This kind of a retool not only makes sense, it’s likely lauded as a smart initiative to rebuild. Instead of allowing the team to stagnate, Cuban went forward, instead of plugging in long-term, expensive contracts to players past their prime, Cuban and Nelson opted to acquire young players entering their prime on reasonable contracts and taking advantage of the amnesty wire, while developing the talent they have.

The franchise may not be held in as high regard as it is now, but the free agency decisions would have been received better.

Instead? “How could you let Dirk’s last year pass like this?! How could you dismantle a title team in just two years down to rubble?! Why would you downgrade?! Why aren’t you shooting for the title?! Loud noises posed as questions?!”

That’s just how perception shifts after a title. You’re elite, and staying elite is more important than looking out for the future.

This isn’t to say that the Mavs haven’t made mistakes. They had a shot at Deron Williams, setting them up for contention past the end of Dirk’s career, and were beaten because the Nets got Joe Johnson. Johnson is a severely underrated player, but if you can’t convince a player that his better shot at a title is with Dirk Nowitzki than Joe Johnson,then you haven’t done a great pitch job. (Note: I imagine the $25 million Dallas couldn’t offer in the fifth year was part of it, but whatever.) They not only missed out on Steve Nash, but they allowed the Lakers to get him in part thanks to the very trade they made to get Lamar Odom, who did nothing for them. They traded for Lamar Odom and all they got out of it was the Lakers getting Steve Nash. Oops.

But look at the roster they’ve managed to cobble together.

Darren Collison, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Elton Brand, Brandan Wright.

That’s five former All-Stars, three role players with upside, a quality playoff starter, and a quality playoff reserve. That’s not bad for cobbling together something last minute. And it’s not so much about the guys that they got, it’s about the re-sale value of these players and the long-term flexibility. Mayo’s short-term deal, Collison’s contract, Marion, Carter, everything is movable both as an asset and as a short-term contract. It’s not about this year for the Mavericks, and it’s not about next year or any one particular year. It’s about putting the franchise in the best position to compete this year and get better later. That’s a delicate line to walk, and the Mavericks are managing to do it.

Is there any reason to believe this team won’t win 45-50 games, provided that a full offseason helps Nowitzki get back to form?

And they’ll be able to do it and still make moves to improve the team or take a stab at a superstar later. They’ll be in position to make whatever moves they want. They’ve transitioned to a younger team, let the older components go, and maintained cap management that can facilitate a total rebuild in three years.

It’s the same kind of model that both Houston and Denver to a degree have adopted. Consider what Cuban told CBSSports.com over the weekend.

“We’ve always been good at making trades and being willing to take on money,” Cuban said. “Now we can do it again starting next year. We can keep a big chunk of our current team, pay them and be in a position to take someone in a sign-and-trade, where all of the other teams that are supposedly luxury destinations, they can’t.”

“You can draft your Big Three,” Cuban said. “You can trade for youngs and turn them into a Big Three. You can do like Houston’s done and hopefully you have enough cap room and have three come together. But you can’t do the progressive trading like we used to. Those days are gone.”

via While CBA cramps some teams, Cuban learns how to rebuild Mavericks – NBA – CBSSports.com News, Scores, Stats, Fantasy Advice.

It’s becoming more about assembling different cores and then rotating them out. Piece by piece is getting more difficult with shorter deals and stricter rules. So the Mavericks have put themselves in a position to make the playoffs this year and to get a big pickup if one comes available. It’s an example of the misunderstanding of Dallas that has gone on over a decade. They don’t spend recklessly. They don’t just throw money out there. They pay for assets they want and they think they need, and they manipulate what they can manipulate.

The Mavericks aren’t a title team next season. But they’re in a position to keep their success going forward. There may not be contact with the bottom of the well for Dallas. Just constant reconfiguration, constant manipulation, constant maintenance and opportunism.

And as it turns out, improvisation.

  1. dsjcn3 - Jul 24, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    “Dallas the worst offseason. Dallas had the best offseason.”

    The first sentence? Might want to get some editors down here.

    • tk41 - Jul 25, 2012 at 3:37 PM

      …I take it from this that you don’t read much besides blogs? Its a reference to the first line of “A Tale of Two Cities”.

      • dsjcn3 - Jul 27, 2012 at 12:24 AM

        Uh do you not see the typo in that sentence? I guess you don’t read much at all.

        Obviously now he corrected it

  2. thraiderskin - Jul 24, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    …the hell is Dirk doing in that picture?

  3. Kevin S. - Jul 24, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    I think the teams that were being pitched to Deron were a bit more than Dirk or Joe. If Deron agreed to sign with Dallas, the team is him, Dirk, Marion and a whole lot of nothing. Shawn Marion is basically Gerald Wallace except four years older and not quite as injury-prone. Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries are a hell of a lot better than whatever the Mavs best two players after Deron/Dirk/Marion would have been. Dallas doesn’t have the cap room to land Brand, Kaman, Collison or Jones if Deron had signed, as they would have used up all of their cap space and had to renounce Mahimi. The rest of that team is… not good.

  4. imforbigblue - Jul 24, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    That team is crap. Carter is a has been mayo is a never was wright is a never will be and dirk is the only one worth anything

  5. newyorkfootballjets - Jul 24, 2012 at 7:21 PM

    Dirk = very over rated

    • scalfor3 - Jul 25, 2012 at 12:00 AM

      nope

  6. pike573 - Jul 24, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    This post is… Unconvincing. I’m being nice.

  7. d214tx - Jul 24, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow = extremely overrated

  8. misterdreamer119 - Jul 24, 2012 at 11:08 PM

    Mavs are done for a while, they should just trade Dirk the Bulls or or the Jazz.

  9. scalfor3 - Jul 25, 2012 at 12:04 AM

    they will be better this year than last. collison, mayo, brand and kaman are all productive players they’ve added. The only big loss they suffered was jet terry, but mayo can lessen some of that loss

  10. jon623 - Jul 25, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    That is the GREATEST picture of Dirk I have every seen.

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