For the 10th straight year, the Dallas Mavericks won at least 50 games. For the tenth straight year, the Dallas Mavericks did not win the NBA Championship.
In other words, 2009-10 was a classic Dallas Mavericks season. They were a very good team, but they weren't good enough to make a major dent in the playoffs. Their six-game NBA Playoffs loss to the San Antonio Spurs could be classified as an upset, but it wasn't. The Spurs were the better team, with a better point differential, and proved it. With the loss, the Mavericks have won just one playoff series since their run to the NBA Finals in 2006, cementing their status as a good, but not great NBA team.
There were times last year when the Mavericks did look elite. Fueled by a midseason trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood from the Wizards, they ripped off 13 wins in a row during a stretch from late February to early March. They ended the season with 55 wins, good for the second seed in the West, and with their size, many felt they could challenge the Lakers should the two teams meet in the playoffs.
But the Mavericks' record was deceptive all year. They were a remarkable 18-7 in games decided by five points or less, and have somehow won their last 10 games decided by one point. Based on point differential, they should have won only 49 games, which would have made them the eighth seed in the West. There are reasons the Mavericks were outstanding in close games -- they took care of the ball well, and Dirk Nowitzki is very good in late-game situations -- but there's also a good degree of luck involved. Other than taking care of the ball, there's no area of the game that the Mavericks excelled. They were just slightly above-average at everything.
That was true even after the midseason trade for Butler and Haywood. The two players were supposed to bring toughness and provide immediate upgrades for the Mavericks, but neither made a huge difference. Butler, who was having a bad year before the trade, continued to struggle, and Haywood split minutes with the now-departed Erick Dampier. Butler, in particular, couldn't provide the Mavericks with what they needed most -- a second scorer to take the load off Nowitzki. He had his moments, but neither he nor Jason Terry performed well against the Spurs. The end result was that the Spurs let Nowitzki go to work and successfully shut down everyone else.
SB Nation's Mavericks blog Mavs Moneyball believes this will continue to be a weakness for the Mavericks.
The consistent problem that has lingered for the Mavericks is their inability to find a "Robin" to their "Batman" a.k.a. Dirk. You've seen players such as Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Caron Butler try to play the role but they've ultimately shown themselves to be more of an "Alfred" role. Someone needs to emerge as the second star and be able to reduce the workload for Dirk, especially in the playoffs.
Dallas tried to fix this problem by thrusting itself into the LeBron James sweepstakes, hyping up Dampier's large non-guaranteed contract as a major asset, because whoever traded for him could immediately cut him and save money off their payroll. They made a run at Al Jefferson before he headed off to Utah. In the end, nothing worked out, and the Mavericks eventually flipped Dampier's contract for Tyson Chandler's, a modest upgrade.
The Two Man Game summarizes Dallas' offseason as follows:
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban then turned their attention to the trading block, where they found an eligible bachelor in Al Jefferson. His fit with the team may have been a bit awkward, but there's no mistaking Jefferson's talent. Reportedly, the Mavs were but Dampier's contract and a few draft picks away from working out a deal with Minnesota, yet the Mavs balked. Maybe it was the luxury tax implication. Maybe Nelson and Cuban were hoping for an even better return on Dampier's contract. Maybe it was concern over how Nowitzki and Jefferson would play together. Regardless, the Utah Jazz swooped in to collect Jefferson while giving up little more than cap space and a pair of first rounders in return, and the Mavs leave the summer in only a slightly better position than when they entered it.
Without Jefferson or any other significant new pieces, the Mavericks will enter the season much like they left last season. That might be a problem, considering all of their key players -- Nowitzki, Butler, Jason Kidd, Terry, Shawn Marion, Haywood and Chandler -- are at least 29 years old. One potential X-factor, however, is Rodrigue Beaubois, the speedy French young point guard that dazzled in limited minutes last year. Many feel that coach Rick Carlisle's decision not to play him much in the playoffs cost the Mavericks the series. This season, Beaubois must learn to master Carlisle's offense and find a position. If he can, the shot creation weakness may be overcome.
It's Beaubois, and to a lesser extent rookie guard Dominique Jones, that have Mavs Moneyball convinced the age issue isn't a big deal.
Age and productivity are some serious concerns for key players in the main rotation. What happens if Marion's defense slips, Kidd losses his battle against Father Time and Terry's shooting completely falls off the map? Any or all of these scenarios could happen this coming season but I do feel the Mavericks have some resources to help compensate for this potential disasters.
The "Backcourt of the Future" in Beaubois and Jones should get solid minutes over the regular season to help preserve the older players and get more experience for this season and the future. Both players are still relatively unknown but their potential is sky high.
Regardless, unless Beaubois really breaks out, it's hard to see this team improving much. Mavs Moneyball and The Two Man Game predict identical 53-29 records. My guess is they play to their true strength last year and finish 50-32, just barely prolonging the franchise's 50-win streak.