NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 18: O.J. Mayo #32 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots the ball around Chris Kaman #35 of the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on January 18, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
It wasn't Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, but the Mavericks upgraded their roster and could make a run at a top 4 seed in the West.
If you've been paying obsessive attention to the Dallas Mavericks' off-season, as I know you have, you know it isn't quite over. There's some reason we haven't yet heard from Delonte West and Dallas may yet go in another direction with his roster spot.
Neither of those two hang ups, however, are likely to be significant so we can safely talk (probably) about the Mavericks roster next year and what it's likely to do.
The departing Mavericks of note are the Jasons -- Terry and Kidd -- and Brendan Haywood. There were reasons for all of them to go, and none count as devastating losses though there is, and should be, a lot of affection in these parts for both Jasons, especially Terry.
For my money, I don't think there's ever been a player with a less variegated offensive game (at least, by the Jet's later Mavericks years) who scored so consistently. There may never be another "irrational confidence guy", as Bill Simmons calls them, who made more big shots. He drove all of us crazy with some of his choices. No need to remember that now.
The Mavericks additions, meanwhile, are, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, OJ Mayo, and Darren Collison, as well as some lesser parts like Dahntay Jones and three rookies (Cunningham, Crowder and James). None are Deron Williams, but that's a hell of a haul. Given that every one of those contracts is reasonable, too, it's more or less unparalleled in a particularly dramatic offseason.
So, here's the scoop. Dallas is losing two steadying presences, two hallmarks of what they've done for what feels like centuries. OJ Mayo is better than Jason Terry, and has the potential to be a lot better, but will Dirk and OJ have the same 4th quarter chemistry as Dirk and Terry? It hardly seems likely.
Darren Collison will not only put up points to a degree Jason Kidd hasn't in years, he'll do it by dribble penetrating and opening the floor the Mavericks devastating jump-shooters. But, at crucial moments, will Collison make the right pass, like Kidd would? Can he D up and get clutch steals? Kidd, somehow, turned into an amazing defender in the last two minutes of games. If the Mavs have fewer close games thanks to scoring more points, will it matter that Collison isn't going to?
For years, the Mavericks have been winning close games because of superior late-game execution and free throw shooting. Can Collison and Mayo keep it up? Is it enough that they will probably insure fewer close games needing to be won? We'll see.
In the front court, the Mavericks have an unqualified, unrestrained upgrade. It's the best two way center tandem Dallas has had in the last twenty years. Brand can't quite defend the bigger opposing centers, but is a superior defender with a refined offensive game. Kaman is injury prone, and primarily an offensive center, but he is a better defender, at least, than Haywood. Though they're both injury prone, Dallas' interior defense and rebounding takes a huge, huge leap forward.
The Mavericks, offensively and defensively, are better than they were last year, which is very good news. The caveats are that their foundation is 100% different, which will have unforeseeable effects and, again, that none of this team is for keeps. It is not a foundation for the future. It, too, is a will-o-the wisp.
Dallas did not succeed in grabbing a second elite scorer to pair with Dirk, but they did succeed in grabbing one to replace Terry. They didn't succeed in getting a franchise changing center, but they got two who are better than any they had last year. They didn't succeed in getting a replacement for Jason Kidd, but they got a nice, young talent at the position. They are younger, faster, more athletic, and they should score at least as well and defend better.
I would expect this team, as presently constituted, to compete for fourth in the West and it could be even better. If any of the six youngsters (Wright, Beaubois, Jones, Cunningham, Crowder, James) make an impact, the only teams which are obviously more talented than the Mavericks in the West will be the Lakers and the Thunder. And, once again, the Mavericks should be deeper than either.
Shaping up to be a fun season.