Mavericks preview: Dirk Nowitzki is all that really matters

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

The Dallas Mavericks rely so heavily on the genius of Dirk Nowitzki that the team's 2012-13 season depends completely on the availability and efficacy of his genius.

If a resident of Earth 2006 saw the Dallas Mavericks' 2012-13 roster and didn't grasp how quickly NBA big men age, said resident would be mighty impressed. Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Shawn Marion -- that's an awesome set of forwards and center ... for 2006. Or 2007. Or 2008. Maybe 2009, but you're stretching it. 2012 and 2013? HMMM ... hmm.

FEATS OF STRENGTH

Dirk, of course, is still amazing (when healthy). He possibly remains the most potent big man scorer (when healthy) and the most deft shooter among 7-footers (when healthy). His mix of scoring and rebounding (when healthy) is a just a huge boon to a team on a nightly basis. He's been consistent throughout his career, and figures to continue that (when healthy) as he ages.

The other three bigs -- Brand, Kaman and Marion -- are solid too, pretty much, sort of. Philadelphia used the amnesty waiver on Brand to free up room for Nick Young (?!) and Spencer Hawes, before trading for Andrew Bynum. Kaman left the Hornets, where he spent one odd season following the Chris Paul trade. Marion was quietly Dallas' second- or third-best player last season, a year after quietly being the NBA champion Mavericks' third- or fourth-best player (depending on how you feel about Jason Terry). The Mavericks are in a weird state of fugue, and I'm really not too sure what the future-looking plan is, but hey, they have some names at forward and center!

They also have a nice little Los Angeles-based college backcourt circa 2007-08, too: O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison. Have I mentioned that this is kind of a weird team? Because it is. But there's talent here, and players who have been through wars. And I suppose that's kind of interesting.

I can't decide if I want to follow the Mavericks closely or avoid them at all costs. Nowitzki's health might be the difference.

AIRING OF GRIEVANCES

Look, Dirk's not healthy. When he wasn't healthy in the first half of last season, Dallas was terrible. The roster around him is a little better, especially on offense (despite the loss of JET and Jason Kidd). But without a healthy Dirk, the Mavericks are not going to be good. So when Dirk has a scope during preseason that will keep him out of action for perhaps all of November, that's just not good. While the early season schedule is soft, that means tougher stretches await. Playoff teams are meant to fatten up against bad teams and play even or better against other decent teams. Dallas needs to fatten up in November, not draw even. Does anyone think the Mavericks without Dirk can fatten up against any sort of schedule that isn't "Bobcats, Bobcats, Magic, Bobcats, Magic, Bobcats, Bobcats"?

Once Dirk is healthy, let's not forget how easily the Thunder overpowered Dallas in the playoffs. And remember: there are two titans in the West now. Getting the No. 7 or 8 seed in the West (assuming OKC and the Lakers land the top two) is a basketball death sentence. It's an extra hurdle, unless the goal is simply to make the playoffs. (That's never the goal in Dallas. Not after all of this success.)

The Mavericks are not equipped to be anything more than a low playoff seed this season. Isn't that sort of a waste of time for a team this old?

FESTIVUS MIRACLES

It will be miraculous if ...

Delonte West has a season without incident.

Corey Maggette doesn't immediately request a trade to the Mavericks upon seeing Elton Brand and Chris Kaman together again.

Dirk Nowitzki doesn't get back into action earlier than diagnosed. German stretching routines for the win.

Rick Carlisle fails to scream out "Where did all of my assistants go?" to no one in particular.

"Man, the Mavs are really going to miss Jason Kidd's speed."

Headline: "How we dearly miss Ian Mahinmi."

THE HUMAN FUND

Let's get sincere.

Team MVP: Dirk Nowitzki

Team X-Factor: O.J. Mayo

Team Finish: 3rd in Southwest | 8th in West

Best Championship Hopes: Time Machine set to 2006

***

The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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