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NBA season 2012 predictions: A Mavs roundtable

Shawn Marion will be the only rotation player in the 2011 Finals on the court Tuesday. What should we make of the new faces and what should expectations be in Dallas?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Willie Funk, Andy Tobolowsky and Ian Boyd are all members in good standing of the SB Nation Dallas news team. Aaron McGuire (@docrostov) writes for the excellent NBA blog, Gothic Ginobili.

1) Should Jason Kidd and Jason Terry's jerseys be retired in the AAC?

Funk: Nope. Kidd was instrumental in the title run, but he was so far past useful last year it wasn't funny. The first stint in Dallas was underwhelming and he was a long way from elite when he got back. Terry is close for me, because he was such a key cog on so many of those Dallas teams and was so consistent in the clutch. I wouldn't be upset at all if he was, but I think they're both so far overshadowed by Dirk during the glory years that they get a little lost. Terry's a maybe; Kidd's a no for me.

Tobo: I suppose so. I think Kidd is a HOF who played for the Mavericks, but not a HOF for the Mavericks. Got a lot of affection for the whole championship team, but Kidd was in Dallas for 5 years (second stint), and there were 3 losses in the first round and 1 in the second. The Jet, on the other hand, has been a fixture in the heart of Mavs fans for 8 years. He and Dirk were the lonely warriors, the sole 2006 players who won in 2011. He was never quite enough as an offensive player, God knows, but it wasn't his fault the Mavs never found a 2nd option for him to be 3rd to. You had to love his heart, and unlike Kidd, he would never have turned down an equal offer to go to another team. So I say yes to both, but definitely to Terry.

2) Over the last 20 years, how many players would you take before Dirk if you were starting a franchise?

McGuire: Not a whole lot of them, assuming we're just keeping to players drafted in that duration. Somewhat absurd hypothetical, but in all 20 draft classes you've laid out, I'd only take Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James over Dirk. Those four, though, are basically it. Knowing what we know now, I might consider Kevin Garnett, depending on the quality of the front-office on my team -- he was never very good at dragging refuse to the promised land, not nearly as good as those big five. If I knew I had a front office and a market that could put serious talent around my star consistently, I'd consider Garnett more. But he's on the fringes.

Also on the fringes: Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. I don't think Wade or Paul would bring the franchise any more accolades or titles than Dirk, by themselves, and Kevin Durant is so young that any choice of him is relying on an uncertain future. Dirk is brilliant, durable, and versatile. He has everything you really want in a franchise guy, and absolutely among the best players of his generation.

Tobo: You know, you might take Shaq, you might take Tim Duncan, but neither's personality works as well for me as Dirk. I certainly couldn't see Shaq going through the hard times we've had around here with the dignity of Dirk. Of Dirk's generation, the three best players are Dirk, Duncan and Kobe, and for all my respect for Kobe as a competitor, he's another guy I couldn't love in the way I love Dirk: a humble, happy superstar.

I also happen to think Dirk's vastly underrated. As a scorer, he's the equal of anyone in the league. Kobe scores more, but he takes a lot more shots. Dirk in his prime was great, but Dirk two years ago was better-because of the confluence of how Dirk scores, his basketball intelligence, and his efficiency, there just literally isn't anyone who can affect the game on the offensive end as well as Dirk can. There isn't anyone short of Shaq who can impose their will on a given possession the way Dirk can. The Mavs have won a ridiculous percentage of their close games over the last decade, especially the last five or six years, and it's because there's no one in the league who can make the thing they want to happen on the offensive end happen as often as Dirk. There are more well-rounded players. But there's no one I'd trade this for.

3) How will Dallas fare without Dirk for 6 weeks?

Boyd: Not good. They are lacking in offensive players that can command a double team. Their hope for the season, and it's not a terrible one, is that Rick Carlisle can assemble these veterans into a strong defensive team and an intelligent offensive club. However, without Dirk playing at a high level on offense, there aren't a ton of threats for opposing defenses to account for. They may have some catching up to do when he returns to the lineup, unless they find some offensive firepower from an unexpected source.

McGuire: I don't think they're going to do all that terribly. Dirk is scheduled to come back in 6 weeks, against the Detroit Pistons. They will have some trouble spots -- they should get roundly thrashed by the Lakers and the Jazz in their unforgiving two-day back to back trip to begin the season, for sure. But after that, their schedule is a bit home-heavy and not fraught with incredible peril. There's only one other back-to-back outside of their opening road trip, which sort of sucks because it would've been nice for Dirk to be present for one of the least back-to-back heavy stretches of their season. But otherwise, it's not an awful schedule. Only two western playoff team contenders (UTA and LAL, x2) among the teams. They face Golden State and Minnesota, but it's entirely possible neither of those teams will have their stars either -- Love and Bogut are on questionable timelines as well. So those should be fine.

A few eastern playoff potentialities (IND, NYK x2, PHI, CHI) but it's overall a reasonable, middling-tier schedule. It's not something this roster should have MASSIVE trouble with, assuming they can gel early. With Carlisle's defensive schemes backing them up, I struggle to see how they go for some ghastly record against competition like that. They'll have trouble scoring, but I'd forsee a 6-10 finish at worst -- more likely, a decent 8-8 or above that sets them up to go on a nice run once Dirk gets healthy again. I had them penciled in for 46-50 wins with Dirk -- I don't think they'll lose more than 3 or 4 wins from the setback, although in the long term it will definitely hurt their chances of getting the 5th or 6th seed (or, even, getting to the playoffs at all).

4) How much longer will Shawn Marion be a starting-caliber player?

McGuire: A season, perhaps two. Marion fell off drastically at the end of last season from his state at the beginning, primarily because Carlisle had no real choice but to play him a ton of minutes. I feel about the same way with Marion as I do with Nash -- he's at a point where his best-case scenario is starting the game and 25 minutes of productivity a night with 5 or 6 minutes of taking in wind that get worse as each season goes on. That's kind of the modus operandi of players that are nearing their career's end. If Carlisle is smart -- and he is -- he'll try desperately to limit Marion's minutes and keep him fresher than he did last season. I don't think Vince Carter will be a particularly effective backup, but the play needs to be to keep Marion's minutes down to extend his career. Dallas' big free agent push needs to be that they can provide an excellent cast to support any and all superstars that may want to migrate. Marion is an extremely important part of that push, and to do that, Carlisle is going to need to keep him as fresh as he possibly can.

Boyd: The 2012 version of Shawn Marion shot below a 50% true shooting percentage last year for the first time in his career, was 34 years old, and wasn't a featured scoring option for the Mavericks. And he was terrific. Evidently veteran deteriorating Shawn Marion is still a brilliant defensive player and strong rebounder, which make for a valuable contributor on any team. Given the, uh, advances in medical science for athletes, I expect he can contribute at his 2011 level for another three seasons.

5) The Mavs starting five, when healthy, is Collison -- Mayo -- Marion -- Dirk -- Kaman. Do you expect any changes to be made by the end of the season?

Funk: No. It's a solid but not spectacular starting 5. I'd like to see what Rodrigue Beaubois could do with Collison's spot at some point, but I'm quite confident Rick Carlisle has exactly zero time for Roddy B. Other than that, if an injury hits Kaman, you could see the resurgence of Eddy Curry! He was signed for a lot of money once upon a time for a reason. He could make a contribution. Half Serious. Seriously.

Tobo: I wouldn't be surprised if Brand is the starting C before long. Hasn't been something Carlisle has seemed real interested in, but Brand played more of his games at C last year than PF and did a superb job defensively. Kaman's not the kind of guy who'll make trouble coming off the bench, and the second unit could certainly use help scoring. I also think the Mavericks will have their eye out for a better distributor than Collison, but we'll see.

Boyd: I think Brand was the best offseason acquisition by the Mavs and he lends toughness to their interior that they struggled to find after they let Tyson Chandler go. Kaman, on the other hand, hasn't managed a 50% true field goal percentage since the 08-09 season and is now 30 years old. I think the team will find a defensively strong lineup of Collison-Mayo-Marion-Nowitzki-Brand to be their best in crunch time with Kaman, Carter, and others providing offensive spark off the bench. Unless Dirk is finished as a premier player, in which case it's all over.

McGuire: While Kaman may get more minutes and better "traditional" stats, I've always been rather low on his game. He's a shot-hogging vortex of awfully inefficient post isolations with little desire to tailor his game in a way that cuts down his statistics and helps his team win. In a contract year, Kaman is a rather predictable player -- he'll chuck like no other center ever does, refuse to pass (even through a double!), and play generally worse-than-anticipated overall defense in pursuit of a bunch of empty blocks by going for every shot.

Brand won't have the "traditional" statistics Kaman will, but he'll be the superior player. He'll rebound a bit worse, but his tip-outs will improve the overall team rebounding. He'll convert a significantly better percentage of the scant offense he gets -- I'd look to see him around 50% to Kaman's 45% or so. And Elton Brand was the best defensive big man on one of the 5 best defenses in the league last year -- Kaman is a bit underrated on the defensive end, but comparing his defense to Brand's is like comparing Lou Williams to Dwyane Wade. Give Carlisle a player like Brand, and good things happen. So long as Brand is healthy by the end of the year, I'd look for him to play more minutes and have a significantly larger impact in the Dallas system than Kaman. They won't be able to score like the championship team did, but I see Carlisle and Brand doing great work together.

6) Which impending free agent will get the bigger contract next summer: Darren Collison or OJ Mayo?

Boyd: As of last season, Mayo is an athletic player who takes terrible shots and doesn't play strong team defense. After some seasoning by Carlisle, he could become a far more efficient scorer who understands how to parlay his athletic skills into strong defensive play. His upside could be high if he's a willing learner in a system that emphasizes teamwork and fundamentals and Dallas may be willing to pay up to keep him as a draw for free agent stars to play with.

Tobo: Mayo. I doubt either are going to fulfill Mavs fans dreams this year, and Collison looks more poised than I expected him to, but Mayo's much more talented and that will always earn him some looks. If nothing else, his three point shot shouldn't desert him, whereas Collison is, at the end of the day, a short guy (for a baller) who doesn't pass too well.

7) What should the plan in Dallas be going forward?

McGuire: If the Mavericks can't snag Chris Paul or Dwight Howard this summer -- and acquiring either seems exceedingly unlikely -- they're sort of stuck. Dirk only has one or two more years as an all-star caliber player, and while I don't think Cuban was wrong for dismantling an unsustainable title model, it's definitely a bit sad to see Dirk spending his last few years toiling away on dismal teams with scant chance at competing for anything. Assuming they strike out this summer, their best bet is most likely to continue their current strategy -- sign players on one to two year contracts and keep their powder dry for 2014, in hopes of enticing Chris Bosh to come home.

It's not a fantastic plan, but at this point, it's probably their only strategy -- Cuban's not dumb enough to do the classic "2009 Dumars move" of throwing massive money on long-year contracts at players who don't actually change his bottom line. Perhaps he tries to get Andre Iguodala to join up or makes a few smart trades. But I see Dallas being a revolving door of players over the next few seasons, until they finally can snag a top-10 player they can place next to Dirk. At some point, the player might be signed too late to really take advantage of Dirk as an All-Star level player. That's an obvious -- and depressing -- risk, but it was the risk when Cuban went on this strategy to begin with. I don't see him deviating from that for an even worse strategy, even if the worst case scenario comes to pass.

Boyd: Dallas has to find another superstar to build their team around. I'm not convinced Dirk can match what he offered in the 2010 playoffs or be the primary contributor on a championship team. What's more, the 2010 championship was largely made possible because of the highly underrated contributions of Tyson Chandler as a defensive anchor and rebounder. With Chandler, Dallas found a frontcourt formula that makes Dirk a highly effective offensive anchor but there aren't many Tyson Chandlers on the free agent list. Dallas should be targeting Chris Paul or James Harden in free agency and look to build around them with Nowitzki as a dangerous role player that doesn't have to carry the offense any longer. If they can find someone like Chandler they should pull the trigger immediately as dominant big men really separate teams in today's NBA. If you have someone that can dominate the area around the rim on either offense or defense you have something most teams don't.

Funk: Dwight Howard. If not that, I suggest drafting better. There has to be a sense of urgency, but there don't seem to be a lot of trade possibilities in the near future with a team full of 1-year contract guys and outside of Howard, free agency may not make it happen for the Mavs.

9) Mavs season prediction:

Boyd: I don't see a lot of offensive firepower on this Mavericks team along with an early Dirk-less season that sets the team up for a difficult path to playoff contention. Then you have a loaded West with great teams in Denver, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles and teams comparable to Dallas in Memphis, Minnesota, Utah, and Houston. I have enough respect for Carlisle to believe an 8th seed is possible but then another quick exit in the playoffs would surely follow. This season for the Mavs is about finding pieces to invest in, developing young players, and putting a competitive product on the court to sell tickets to Dallas basketball fans.

Funk: I think a 5 seed is possible. Things really hinge on how O.J. Mayo plays, especially with Dirk out. He needs to play efficiently while also being assertive. He's been yo-yo-ed into and out of different roles repeatedly already in his young career. Being on a one year deal won't help, but if Carlisle can coach him up and Mayo buys in he could be the breakout wing player the Mavs have needed for some time now. However, he can't get torched by the Kevin Martins of the world as he did in the preseason. If he turns it up, they could even make some noise come playoff time.

Tobo: Wellllll ... it depends a LOT on when Dirk gets back. But the reason I'm buying on a successful season is that it takes more than a team not being great to miss the playoffs, it takes other teams being better and it's not clear to me that anyone but the Spurs, Thunder and Lakers are OBVIOUSLY better. This team will struggle to score in a big way, but it is deep and the defense has been credible. If Dirk comes back pain free, let's say a 4th or 5th seed and somewhere around 50 wins.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.