Soon we will begin the most uncertain season in recent Mavericks history. Last season turned OUT to be more uncertain, but it seemed pretty good at the beginning, so the point is the world's an uncertain place. But, on the surface, there would certainly seem to be more questions than any time in the Dirk era. So what are those questions?
The most obvious one to me is this:
Will the Mavericks Offense Rebound?
In general, it seems like it should. The Mavericks offense was godawful last year, and they brought in a kind of point guard they haven't had in years (a slashing one), a young star with a world of potential such as they haven't had since they drafted Dirk and traded for Nash, and by far the best offensive center tandem since at least the 80s.
However. While it's true that Terry and Kidd were on their way out one way or another, in point of fact OJ Mayo scored fewer points (12.6) at a lower percentage (.408) than Terry did last year (15.1, 43%). And while there are some guys on this team who can pass, no one can pass like Kidd can pass. Will having a slashing guard open things up for other guys? Absolutely. As much as someone getting the ball to players where they most want it? We'll see.
And as good as Kaman and Brand are compared to Haywood and nobody (or whatever), nobody has ever said, Kaman and Brand, there's your high-powered offense. The Mavericks, who have often lived and died by the three, go into this year with less three-point shooting than at any time in the last decade (Dirk has become more infrequent, OJ Mayo has had a drop-off every year, and they lost two of the top 5 in three point shooting all time, and three of the top 5 in the last two years). Also, Marion can no longer be counted on to score points.
So I don't know. The parts may be there. But it may be a rougher adjustment than people think.
Will the Roster Hold Up?
The Mavericks have been very blessed, when it comes to injury. They've had basically one crucial one in all this time, the Dirk knee injury in that Spurs playoff series all those years ago. Caron Butler is the only "lost for the season", and that one seemed okay. But, with Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, who have had some injuries (especially Kaman), and with other still aging parts on this team (Dirk and Marion especially, and Vince Carter), this might be the year.
While the Mavericks have a lot of guys, that's different from having a lot of answers. Sure, VC, and Dom, and Dahntay and Roddy and Delonte and maybe Jared Cunningham can all play the 2 if something happens to Mayo for example, but if any of those guys is starting for you, you're not beating the Lakers. If something happens to Shawn Marion, Carter and Crowder are not going to get it done. If Kaman goes down -- and he's already been injured -- can Brand and James and Wright get it done? Maybe?
This team is deep, but thin, like Kate Moss. Obviously, if anything happens to Dirk, it's over, but this team isn't made to weather nearly any storm.
Can a good team still compete with a superteam?
On this one, honestly, I'm cautiously optimistic. The thing is efficiency. It's a huge mistake to think that because Kobe can score 27 points on 25 shots, he can score 18 points on a reasonable shot number and leave the rest of the shots to everyone else. He can't. Anyone think that he'll ignore Dwight less than he ignored Bynum? Why? Like Steve Nash is just magically going to be able to change Kobe Culture?
And why did the Mavs hang tough with the Thunder, a team better than them at everything last year? It's because the Mavs were one of the smartest, toughest teams out there. They made up for their lack of talent with execution. They lost because of lack of talent. But they got more this offseason, and again, at any point in the game, when one person is shooting, only that one person is shooting. It's not more true at the end of a game, but it's more important.
Execution. This is a smart team, a veteran team. It's missing a floor general, but OJ Mayo seems like a smart guy, Dirk is an all-time great, Carter and Brand, though up in years, are somewhat near the next tier -- they know how to play the game. And by all accounts, the clubhouse is getting along famously.
Everybody scores 95-100 points. Everybody gets some stops and hits some baskets. With Dirk, the Mavs always have a chance, with some defense, with some role players, with OJ Mayo evolving into something like a second star -- there's no reason why not. It's uphill, but it's always uphill.