The Dallas Mavericks got blown apart in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and they will get blown apart in free agency just a couple of months from now. We have witnessed the first two stages of the dismantling of the 2011 NBA Champions, and we have one more left. Here's how we got here, where we're going and how we're going to get there.
When the Mavericks triumphed over the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals, they did so with some critical free agents, none more important than Tyson Chandler. Most expected Dallas to spend large in order to keep Chandler, who was and is an elite defender, good pick-and-roll finisher and a fine teammate who hadn't hit 30. But very early in the courtship, Chandler indicated that he didn't feel that the Mavericks were willing to play ball. A whirlwind post-lockout free agency tour landed him, stunningly, with the New York Knicks. It was at that point that some analysts began straight-up questioning the Mavericks, and some began to question the Mavericks' motives. What were Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson thinking?
It wasn't just Chandler: J.J. Barea, the firespit guard who so thoroughly seared the L.A. Lakers' backcourt in the playoffs, took off without protest from Dallas. DeShawn Stevenson left, too. The three players who had left as free agents has each played in all 21 postseason games for the Mavericks, averaging a combined 66 minutes per game in the playoffs. And Dallas just let them all take off without making any real effort to keep them.
This all led to the next dismantling of the Mavericks, which happened throughout and to end the 2011-12 season. At no point this season did any reasonable analyst based outside of Dallas legitimately believe that the Mavericks had a plausible claim on the 2012 title. Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion have looked more than a year older and slower. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't himself until roughly midseason, and even then he never even scraped the version that carried Dallas through the 2011 postseason. Lamar Odom, who was meant to provide a shot of rejuvenated energy, instead sucked life from the team with unending drama and an eventual exile. Jason Terry, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones never really took off. Brendan Haywood -- who re-replaced Chandler, who had taken his starting job a year prior -- had exactly one impact on the NBA this year: he broke Dwight Howard.
There was no chance that Dallas would repeat its magical run, and it was clear that the Oklahoma City Thunder had no residual respect for a broken team. The series began and ended with close games, but the Game 3 smackdown that OKC delivered said it all: we're done here. The Thunder completed the sweep as James Harden killed in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
And just like that, the Thunder had dismantled the defending champs, making the Mavs the first team eliminated in the 2012 playoffs.
Now, Dallas finishes the job in Dallas.
Jason Terry and Jason Kidd are free agents. The former is 34, the latter is 38. Neither will likely return, shoved out like Chandler and Barea a year ago. There have been consistent suggestions that the Mavericks will look to unload Marion, owed $17.4 million over the next two seasons, to free up cap space. (After this season, good luck.) Haywood is the league's No. 2 amnesty candidate this summer, as Dallas can use its waiver to wipe $27 million over three years off of the books. (Candidate No. 1: Andray Blatche.) Ian Mahinmi, who actually began to play up to expectations this season, is a free agent. So is Delonte West. The Mavericks can save a bit of room by dropping Vince Carter. Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones remain under contract, but could be used as sweetener in any Marion trade.
The Mavericks are looking to woo Deron Williams, a move that would (in theory) set up the Mavericks for the future. The New Jersey Nets' results last season and Nowitzki's climb toward the age of rapidly diminished production makes me skeptical, but it's better D-Will than Kidd and Terry again. To get where the Mavericks want to go, they need to cut ties with almost everyone who helped Dirk and Cuban and Nelson get that title. All of the little brilliant moves that worked now become anchors threatening the drag the team aground in the next leg of the journey. By the team we open the 2012-13 season, the only players remaining in Dallas from the championship squad might be Nowitzki, Beaubois and Jones (neither of whom played in the 2011 playoffs) and Brian Cardinal, the ersatz mascot Brian Cardinal, who himself is a free agent. It's completely possible that only Nowitzki will remain.
Cuban and Nelson got what they wanted: a title in the Nowitzki era. Now they are happy to let their free agents get what they want: more money. It all helps get the Mavericks closer to a clean slate as the franchise exits the Nowitzki and enters the ________ era. It all helps the team move on toward that next championship, in whatever form it might manifest.
The champs aren't crying too hard over a sweep on Sunday. Hell, the brooms just might help get this mess cleaned up more quickly.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.