Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki is quite possibly the most respected player in the NBA. Like Kobe Bryant, the German could have received a huge contract from owner Mark Cuban worth at least $20 million per season. Instead, he elected to cut his salary significantly to $25 million over three years. The reason why he did not go with a large contract is because he knows by doing so, he will have little chance of competing for a championship again. Now, in the aftermath of his discounted contract, the Dallas Mavericks have quietly put together one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, after becoming a shell of its former championship-self.
One of the keys to the Mavericks, ever since Nowitzki arrived on the roster, has been unselfish play. Whether it was Don Nelson, Avery Johnson, or currently Rick Carlisle helming the sidelines, egos have always been brushed aside. Because of this, Dallas has been a team that has always taken advantage of playing team ball. This is why the idea of Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James landing in Dallas, simply put, was never a possibility as much as Cuban flirted with it.
Truth be told, one of the biggest vulnerabilities in Dallas has always, with the exception of one season, been the center position. Shawn Bradley, Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood, and most recently Samuel Dalembert have all shown promise, only to become inefficient and, ultimately, becoming a weakness on Dallas during each of their runs on the team. The only exception to this rule was Tyson Chandler, who essentially filled that missing piece that catapulted the Mavericks to a championship during the 2010-2011 season. Unfortunately, Cuban, who was cutting costs at the time, was unwilling to pay Chandler substantially during the offseason that year and, instead, the center left to the New York Knicks. Whether it was a hidden admission of regret or not, days prior to the draft, Cuban traded back for Chandler in the first of many moves for the Mavericks this offseason. While bringing Chandler back to the Mavericks may seem like the right move, the big question is whether it is too late and if the often-injured big man can return back to his 2011 form. If he can, Chandler can once again become that piece that brings the Mavericks back in the form of a championship contender.
Along with Chandler, the Mavericks received Raymond Felton from the Knicks. While it may have appeared that the point guard regressed last season compared to his breakthrough 2012-2013 campaign, where he averaged 13.9 ppg, 5.5 apg and 1.4 spg, he by no means had a terrible season in New York during 2013-2014. His ppg dipped to 9.7, but his assist and steal numbers remained intact at 5.6 apg and 1.2 spg. By comparison, Jose Calderon, who was dispatched along with Samuel Dalembert in the trade, put up 11.4 ppg, 4.7 apg and .9 spg. Certainly Calderon is a better shooter, but his production is not drastically better than Felton. In fact, Felton last season was a better distributor, which essentially is the primary function Dallas needs at the point guard position.
Dallas increased its depth at the point guard position last year when they acquired former point guard Devin Harris, who had spent his first three and a half seasons with the Mavericks. While he put up career numbers in New Jersey after Dallas traded him away, he had little to show for it on a team where he essentially was their number one option when he was in the game. Ever since he left Texas, he has been a liability due to a plethora of injuries. His injury troubles continued this past season in Dallas when he missed 42 games and only averaged 7.9 ppg and 4.5 apg. However, in a close seven-game series with the champion San Antonio Spurs, Harris proved his worth again by averaging 11.4 ppg and 3.9 apg. As a result of his miraculous turnaround this past season, the Mavericks re-signed the point guard, which has now resulted in increased depth at the point guard position.
Another player who proved himself in the playoffs was none other than Rashard Lewis, who served as one of the few key assets on the Miami Heat’s bench during their playoff run. While the three-point shooting big man’s stats do not jump off the stat sheet with an average of 5.3 ppg and 2.1 rpg in the playoffs, he came to play when his number was called, particularly in the last three games of the season. It was during these last three games in the finals that he averaged 12.6 ppg. Instead of Lewis returning to a Miami Heat squad that does not include LeBron James, the Mavericks signed him to a two-year contract that gives Dallas something they have needed for a long time — a backup for Dirk Nowitzki.
One of the more reliable players on the Mavericks last year came off the bench in that of the 36-year-old Vince Carter. No longer was Carter an All-Star who could plow through guys with ease to the rim. Instead, Carter settled into a consistent shooter off the bench, accented by his Game Three buzzer-beating three that put Dallas ahead of the Spurs 2-1 in their first round series. However, when Carter elected to go to the blossoming Memphis Grizzlies in a contract of $12 million over three years, the Mavericks had to do something. As a quick response, they added veteran wingman Richard Jefferson who averaged 10.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg while shooting 45 percent from the field and a remarkable 41 percent from the three-point line last season in Utah. Jefferson, who is a few years behind Carter in age, fits like a glove in the Mavericks’ rotation as a veteran forward who has matured into a role player off the bench. Additionally, he will serve as a knowledgeable player who has been to the Finals twice with the New Jersey Nets.
Jefferson, essentially in turn, will be placed as the direct backup of the Mavericks’ top free agency signing of the summer in Chandler Parsons. The former Rocket, who was a restricted free agent after Houston elected to turn down their team option on the forward, will now serve as the third option for Dallas. The small forward was an integral part of a Houston Rockets team last year that was rumored to be a championship contender, despite making a first round exit. In his three seasons with the Rockets, Parsons blossomed from a 9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.2 spg man into a 16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4 apg and 1.2 spg forward. He has, in turn, fit into the Mavericks rotation as a guy who can do a bit of everything, while upholding Dallas’ unselfish play.
While free agency is not done yet, the Mavericks look to be one of the better teams in the NBA. Their starting lineup alone is solid from top to bottom, between Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and most likely Devin Harris playing the point guard. Their depth continues to shine with Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Rashard Lewis, and Brandan Wright off the bench, which allows the Mavericks to go nine-men deep. If there is one glaring piece missing, it is that Chandler, who is injury-prone, truly does not have a reliable backup center. If Dallas can find someone who can fill the center position and relieve the pressure off Chandler, they will have two full units for Rick Carlisle to play with.
In the seasons removed from their championship run, it appeared as though Dirk Nowtzki and his Mavericks would never contend again for a championship. However, in a matter of a few years and a highly active 2014 offseason, saying the Dallas Mavericks are quietly becoming one of the best teams in the NBA, with one of the deepest rosters in the league, is an understatement. They may not have the depth of San Antonio or the star power of Oklahoma City and Houston, but the Dallas Mavericks may have a chance at a real run at a championship if everyone stays healthy. No megastars are needed to compliment Nowitzki, who can only strengthen his legacy with one last run.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey