2010 has not been kind to the Mavericks. After a great start to the year, things seem to be coming apart. The All-Star break is a good time to evaluate a team--plus we're close to the trade deadline, which could shake things up, for better or for worse. Here are, in my opinion, the biggest problems facing the Mavs right now:
When Jason Terry was inserted into the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago, it gave Dallas five starters who were all over the age of 30. That's not good. Terry (32), Kidd (36), Dampier (34), Dirk (32) and Marion (31) comprise the oldest starting five in the NBA. I think this is the biggest reason for their recent defensive woes. Rick Carlisle has played these guys a lot of minutes. When you try to milk minutes out of old legs, they get tired. The first place that shows is on the defensive end, especially in players who aren't good defenders to begin with (like Jet and Dirk).
This is a problem that will not get any better, as these players only get older by the day and deeper into the season. When April rolls around, and the intensity gets cranked up a notch or two, the age of this starting five will be even more exposed. A trade to bring in young legs would help.
Following he collapse in Miami, I thought the Mavs needed to take a serious look at their core players. Something was clearly not right. But they stayed the course. Then, after the collapse the next season against Golden State, they REALLY needed to do something to shake things up. They didn't, until midway through the following season when they traded Harris for Kidd. This helped, but you were still left with Dirk, Damp, Josh, Stack, and Jet. There is no way they could take the court each night, look at each other, and not think about Miami and Golden State. They had let each other down in huge ways. The core needed to be busted up. Keep Dirk if you like, but it was time to surround him with fresh faces.
Today, the Mavs still have Dirk, Josh, Jet and Damp. Key figures in their recent playoff failures. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have held on to an ultimately unsuccessful core for too long. Which brings us to...
As I've said before, nobody has done more to bring down the Mavs franchise on and off the court in the last four years than Josh Howard. His play has now fallen off so much that the only reason another team would want him is because of the team option on his contract for next season. Cuban and Nelson should have moved him three years ago. If not at that time, then certainly two years ago after the New Orleans playoff debacle. In that series, Howard let the world know that he and every NBA player smokes pot. He defied the head coach by passing out birthday party invitations in the locker room after a LOSS. He shot 25% from the field in that series, and was so bad that the Hornets didn't even guard him when he had the ball. They were BEGGING him to shoot. Not sure I've ever seen an "all-star" treated like that in a playoff series. Ever.
Unbelievably, Cuban and Nelson could have traded Howard a year and a half ago for Ron Artest. Yes, Artest is a nut-job, too. But at least he's a nut-job that can play defense, rebound, and bring a tough-minded attitude to a team. Artest is a good enough player for the World Champion Lakers to acquire, but in the eyes of the Mavs he wasn't good enough to trade Josh Howard for? I still can't get my mind around that.
So, Mavs fans are left with a guy who used to be good, but who is killing them now. He doesn't rebound anymore (used to average 6 rpg, now down to 3 rpg). He occasionally plays defense, but not like he used to. He's always getting hurt. He's a brick layer. He hardly ever attacks the rim. He has, by a mile, the lowest basketball IQ on the team.
Everyone should have seen it coming. Most importantly Cuban and Nelson.
Josh slid in the draft because there were questions about his mental makeup. In the early days, he was always losing his cool. Throwing his headband or mouthpiece. Getting an untimely technical foul. Then we had the New Orleans series. Then we had the You Tube National Anthem comments. Then we had the drag racing. All the while, the bone-headed moments on the court kept mounting--inexplicable passes, dribbling the ball out of bounds, ugly shots. He has been a major drain on this team for years. Fingers crossed that before the trade deadline he becomes someone else's problem.
KEEPING DIRK HAPPY--AND IN DALLAS
In the last couple of weeks, Dirk has looked discouraged to me. He was late for shootaround the other day, was benched, and the Mavs proceeded to lose at home to the T-Wolves. A real low point in the season. Two days before that low moment, Cuban said that his team "sucked" and that he was thinking about making changes.
Dirk has an option at the end of this season. He can leave Dallas if he wants to. He has always maintained that he wants to end his career in Big D, but he also wants to win a title. Cuban has a huge decision to make: does he try to pull of a huge move this month to better the team for the rest of this season, or does he wait until the summer and try to bring LeBron (.001 percent chance), Wade, or Bosh to put alongside Dirk? Play for this season, or hold your cards for much talked about summer of 2010? It's the biggest decision Cuban has faced in a long time.
A P1 emailed me with a good point the other day. He said the Mavs look like Minnesota looked about two years before they traded Garnett. A mess around their superstar. KG kept playing hard, like Dirk, because that's what the greats do. But you could tell that KG was frustrated, and you can tell that Dirk is frustrated. You hear it in his post-game comments. You see it in his body language. You can see him thinking "this sucks", just like Cuban, and just like most Mavs fans.