Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mavs Out

The inevitable was made certain last night, as the New Orleans Hornets eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in five games, beating them 99-94. It's not as if this was an unexpected result of course. But nothing was sadder than watching this team trudge off the floor last night. Last season's loss to Golden State was more of a shock than anything else, but the loss last night presages fundamental changes in this team leaves one wondering exactly who will be in a uniform and on the bench next season. Mark Cuban, Donn Nelson and Avery Johnson have tinkered with this team the last several seasons, but without question this team has the indelible mark of Don Nelson all over it. That era is in all likelihood over.

There are many, many things wrong with this team and I don't have much to contribute to that discussion. But this morning on the way in to work I heard local sports man Craig Miller at the Ticket, opining that what's fundamentally wrong with this team is that they've never had a true defensive (or offensive for that matter) center, and they have a power forward in Dirk Nowitzki who can't be counted on to stop the other team's power forwards (or anyone else for that matter) and that such a situation has never resulted in an NBA championship for any team (and he listed off several examples of teams with strong defensive power forwards and centers who've won championships, going all the way back to the late 80's...which actually, would be every team that's won a championship going all the way back to the late 80's.) That makes a lot of sense, given that the Mavs have struggled in any incarnation beginning the Finals against the Heat, when they proved incapable of stopping Dwayne Wade from getting to the rim. Such defensive failings are a holdover from the Don Nelson era, but a lot of people (myself included) thought that was merely at attitude that had to be beaten out of the Mavs and that Avery Johnson was just the man to do the beating. And there can be no arguing that he did just that last season; nobody wins 67 games with poor defense. But I think time and age finally caught up to the Mavs, thus making it impossible to disguise their central defensive weakness, which is that other teams can score on the Mavs in the paint, but the Mavs can't score on anybody else in the paint. Of that material, repeated first round exits are made.

That conversation reminded me of a related thought I've had in the past. Dirk took a lot of the blame for the first-round exist last season, but I always thought that blame was misplaced. Yes he struggled somewhat to get the ball into the hands of his teammates when he was double and triple-teamed, but the only reason GS got away with that is because his teammates repeatedly failed to punish Golden State when they had the ball. Dirk was asked to get the Mavs past Golden State on his own, and he couldn't deliver. Which led to an off-season of talk about how Dirk had to learn to distribute the ball, which followed the prior off-season of Dirk learning how to post up, which followed an off-season of Dirk learning how to play better defense. So this post-season Dirk plays respectable defense (as best as a 7-foot power forward probably can) gets to the rim repeatedly, rebounds and distributes the ball effectively...and the Mavs still lose. I think this has led a few people to realize that Dirk is not the problem, and that repeatedly asking him to do things he can't do is not going to take this team to the finals again. Dirk is their superstar players, and this team should be designed around him. Why is he asked time and time again to alter his game, to fit into Avery Johnson's system, or to build a "complete" game? Dirk is what he is; an extremely talented big man who can get to the rim in the right scheme, or who can punish opponents with his outside shooting. He creates hellacious match-up problems for the other team when he's used appropriately (and his teammates can be bothered to score), he's a fantastic rebounder and he's a more than adequate passer of the ball, but he needs a little help on defense. This is what he is, and this team should reflect that or he should be traded to a team that can put him in a position to win. The prime of his career is being wasted on the Mavericks.

Hardly anyone thinks Dirk is going anywhere. But can Cuban put together a team built for his superstar, or is it another off-season of the best short-term fixes they can come up with?

UPDATE: I'm not the only one who feels this way. Here's Mike Fisher of

RE-WIRING: Avery’s attempts to make Dirk “more Duncan-like’’ (a phrase used derisively by Mavs staffers) and to “re-wire’’ Kidd (Kidd’s own words) speak to the coach’s mindset: Mold star athletes around the coach’s style and strengths, rather than molding the coach around the star athletes’ style and strengths.

What this team needs more than anything is a coach who can win with what he's got.

UPDATE II: And here's your condumdrum for the day. Would you rather have Dallas' problems, or Phoenix's?

UPDATE III: And Avery Johnson is gone. Incredible; in the span of less than two years, he goes from coach of the year and the coach of team heading to the finals, to ousted after another first round loss. How different would things be but for Game 3 against the Heat?

UPDATE IV: Players are certain to follow Avery out the door. Who should be the next ran out of town on a rail? I nominate birthday boy Josh Howard.

No comments: