Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The 2012-13 edition of the Dallas Mavericks was a sad shell of a team, with a beaten down superstar in Dirk Nowitzki surrounded by aging former stars, unproductive young players, and veterans on one-year deals. Owner Mark Cuban again loaded up his roster with expiring contracts with the hope that his ownership, a 34-year old Dirk, the city of Dallas, and an income tax-free state would lure top free agents to his club, even after his push for Deron Williams failed in the previous off-season.
This time around, the target was Dwight Howard. To ensure that he would have space under the cap to make Howard a max contract, players like Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo were brought in on one-year deals, and Darren Collison and his expiring contract was acquired from the Indiana Pacers.
Truth be told, Cuban assembled a skeleton crew (after being shunned by Williams and others) that he hoped would get to the playoffs and possibly get lucky and have a decent showing once it got there, and then have ample cap space to make a run at Howard. Of course, the ceiling of the ragtag Mavs was never better than a 7 or 8 seed and a first round exit, but the risk and possible reward of a Dwight Howard acquisition was worth the modest dive.
The biggest issue for last year’s Mavs, however, was the fact that Nowitzki only played in 53 games while dealing with a variety of injuries, the most serious of which was a knee issue that didn’t allow him to play his first game of the season until December 23. Collison was somewhat of a disappointment, and the only other consistent players on the team were the ancient wing duo of Vince Carter and Shawn Marion.
The Kaman acquisition proved to be largely fruitless, and the only stopgap that looked like he might outplay his one-year deal was Mayo, who started the season red-hot but finished the last few weeks in miserable fashion as the Mavs failed to gain any ground down the stretch and stumbled to a 41-41 finish.
Of course, the Mavericks lost out to in-state foe Houston for Howard’s services, and the Mavs were again forced to settle for an array of consolation prizes. Except this time around, Dallas didn’t have a future off-season that they were saving cap space for. Cuban couldn’t help himself, and threw an awful lot of guaranteed money to a pair of mediocre (at best) players.
Former Golden State and Milwaukee guard Monta Ellis received a three-year deal worth over $25 million (the third year is a player option), despite not actually having been a productive player since the 2007-08 season. His shockingly inefficient offensive game and nonexistent defense will be counted upon to support Nowitzki in navigating the rough and tumble Western Conference….not exactly an encouraging thought for Mavs fans.
While the fit of a high-usage, poor-shooting guard and a highly-efficient, below-average rebounding and defending big man is…not a fit at all, the Mavericks followed it up by inking veteran guard Jose Calderon to a four-year, $29 million contract. I’m a huge Calderon fan, and he was easily the best player on the Raptors last season until his trade to Detroit, but he is what he is: a fantastically efficient offensive player (46.1% on threes and 90% from the line last year, with a 61.6 TS% and 59.4 eFG%), but an absolute liability on the defensive end of the floor.
And on top of his sieve-like defense, he is entering his age-32 season. Not exactly the type of player that teams should rush to throw 29 million guaranteed dollars at. He’s a very good player, but a horrible fit next to the high-usage Ellis, who is also a defensive sieve. And here’s hoping that coach Rick Carlisle understands just how imperative it will be that defensive bigs like Brandon Wright see as much floor time as possible to help protect the paint behind the matador defense of Ellis and Calderon.
Defensively, it will be a struggle for the aging and disinterested Mavs. Some nights, offense will come impressively easily for this team, but on off nights for Ellis and others from the outside, Nowitzki will be asked to carry the entire load. It’s likely going to be a frustrating year for Mavs fans that may have been expecting a big off-season.
Best Case Scenario
Nowitzki stays on the court for 75+ games, Ellis understands the need to defer to Dirk offensively, and Calderon plays exactly how he did in 2012-13 for Toronto and Detroit. If Carter and Marion can stave off Father Time for one more season, this team could best their 41 wins from a year ago. Even still, it’s tough to see the Mavs winning more than 41-44 games in the West.
Worst Case Scenario
Nowitzki, Carter, and Marion age as players in their mid-thirties are supposed to do, and health issues crop up as they did last year. The big man rotation is not nearly as deep as it has been in recent years for Dallas, and there isn’t much in the way of defensive-minded players on the current roster. It isn’t too difficult to see this year’s Mavs only managing 30-33 wins.
Most Likely Outcome
Obviously, Dallas will have some issues due to age and the lack of defense and depth in the front court. But if healthy, a 35-year old Dirk Nowitzki is still a star, and Calderon should mesh well with Dirk’s skills. Factor in the difficulty of the Western Conference and the aforementioned shortcomings of the roster, however, and 33-36 wins and a finish well short of the playoffs seems likely.
|Toronto Raptors (22)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Orlando Magic (27)|
|Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Sacramento Kings (25)|
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|