Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The Best Mavs Team Ever?
I've always been hard on the Mavericks. What people don't realize is, I've always been hard on every NBA team. It's my sport. It's my league. It's my passion. I'm harder on my favorite team, the Spurs, than I am on any team. It's hard for me to watch (Benny) Hill and (Jackie) Mason fire up bricks at crunch time for this once-proud organization. If I did a talk show in San Antonio, people would think I was a Spurs hater--"You grew up in Dallas, go back home you Mavs lover!" is what I would hear. Truth is, I'm not a Spurs hater, or a Mavs hater, or a Lakers hater. I'm a guy who has followed the NBA all of my life. I love everything about the sport and the league. I think I know what makes a good coach, player, and team. It's not my job to be a cheerleader. It's my job to critique teams--to let you know which players and moves I think help lead a team to a title, and which will lead a team down the path to destruction. I consider my thoughts and opinions to be tough NBA love.
So, it may come as some surprise when I say that I love this current Mavs team. Finally, I see a Dallas team that looks like a real basketball team. A real point guard, a real off guard, a real center. No more stupid Nellie ball, or small ball, or teams that more resembled Fat Albert's gang than an NBA contender. This post-trade deadline Mavericks squad is the real deal. Not perfect, but much more of a joy to watch than any recent vintage Mavs squad.
Could they be the best Mavs team ever? Only the next two or three months will tell us the truth. But I think they're in the running. So much so, that I would like to compare this current squad to the two other teams from Mavs' history that I consider to be the best: the 1988 team that lost to the Lakers in the West Finals, and the 2006 team that blew it against Miami in the NBA Finals. This 2010 version of the Mavs has a long way to go before they equal what those other two teams did, but I think they've got a good shot to do so.
Keep in mind, the '88 Mavs won 53 games in a super-competitive era in the NBA--Magic's Lakers, Bird's Celts, the Bad Boy Pistons, Jordan and the Bulls coming into their own, Hakeem's Rockets, Barkley's Sixers, Wilkins' Hawks, Malone's Jazz. Winning 53 and making the conference finals in '88 was hard work.
Meanwhile, the '06 Mavs played in a less-competitive time. LeBron wasn't LeBron yet, Kobe's Lakers were way down, The Pistons stumbled, the Suns played zero defense--there just weren't that many good teams.
Let's take this position by position:
'10: Jason Kidd, '06: Devin Harris, '88: Derek Harper
Kidd is one of the five best point guards ever, and playing at a very high level right now. He is certainly the straw that stirs this Mavs drink. Harris had a good postseason in '06, but was very young and too often made the wrong decision. Harper was terrific--17 ppg and 8 apg, plus solid defense. But the nod goes to the Hall of Famer. ADVANTAGE: 2010
'10: Caron Butler, '06: Jason Terry, '88: Ro Blackman
Butler has been a great addition--he can create his own shot, attacks the rim, and has a smooth jumper. And he's tough-minded. Terry was very good offensively in '06, but a huge defensive liability, and seems better suited to coming off the bench. Blackman was a stud--wonderful mid-range jumper, quick, smart, and clutch. Nobody was bigger in the 4th quarter on that '88 team than Ro. ADVANTAGE: 1988
'10: Shawn Marion, '06: Josh Howard, '88: Mark Aguirre
Marion is not The Matrix anymore, but he's been really good for this squad. He's a very good defender, and has been a good teammate. Everyone knows how I feel about Howard. It's no coincidence that the Mavs started playing great ball the moment Howard left town. He was good in '06--not great, but good. However, he gagged late in games in the Miami series--missing free throws and making stupid plays. No team will ever win anything with Josh Howard getting a lot of minutes. Aguirre was controversial, but there is no denying that he was a game-changer. He averaged 25 ppg in '88, and was one of the most dominant scorers of his era. ADVANTAGE: 1988
'10: Dirk Nowitzki, '06: Dirk Nowitzki, '88: Sam Perkins
'10 Dirk is better than '06 Dirk. I think in the last four years Dirk has improved more than most realize. He's better than he was in '06, and even '07 when he won the MVP. He's more of a post player now. He's a better passer now. He's a better clutch shooter now. He takes fewer wild 3's now. He's better. And he's much better than Perkins, who was a nice player, but no Hall of Famer. ADVANTAGE: 2010
'10: Brendan Haywood, '06: Erick Dampier, '88: James Donaldson
Tough call here. Haywood has been solid--10 & 10 every night, with a lot of energy and solid defense. In other words: a presence. Dampier is the classic NBA underachiever. Donaldson was a giant--a true space eater. He gave you 8 ppg and 10 rpg and some toughness against guys like Kareem. Haywood gets it easy night in and night out compared to the guys Donaldson had to play against (in addition to Kareem, he had to deal with Hakeem, Laimbeer, Parrish, Ewing, and Moses, to name a few). Because of the competition faced, slight edge to Big James. ADVANTAGE: 1988
'10: Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, JJ Barea
'06: Jerry Stackhouse, Gana Diop, Marquis Daniels
'88: Roy Tarpley, Detlef Schrempf, Brad Davis
Wow. Not even close here. Tarpley averaged 13 ppg and 12 rpg OFF THE BENCH! Schrempf was a lethal shooter, and Davis has his number retired! 1988 wins this battle with ease, while 2010 comes up short to 2006 because of Barea. But it's close. ADVANTAGE: 1988
'10: Rick Carlisle, '06: Avery Johnson, '88: John Macleod
Carlisle is good. Really good. But he's never taken a team to the NBA Finals, which both Johnson and Macleod ('76 Suns) did. Avery, though, was in way over his head against Riley in the '06 Finals. Avery has a good basketball brain, but was green then--plus I don't know about his people skills. Macleod did a good job, but I can't say he was a better coach than Carlisle. Can't decide. ADVANTAGE: None.
Add it up. The 1988 team was the best in Mavericks history. They win 4 of the 7 positions. Their depth was tremendous, and they won big in a wildly competitive NBA era.
Next best? Well, they may not make it as far as the '06 team, but I believe that the 2010 Mavs would beat the 2006 Mavs in a seven game series. Notice: the '06 team did not win any of the position battles, and I would take the '10 Mavs starters over the '06 Mavs starters at EVERY position. This year's post-trade Mavs are simply a more complete team than the '06 version. They are a smarter team. Their star player is better, they have a better floor general, and a better big man. Now it's up to them to go out and prove how good they are. A long win streak in March means nothing if you are sitting at home in May.