When we last visited with the guys at the Mavericks site Mavs Moneyball, Dirk Nowitzki was injured, the season was a big question mark, and the team's future uncertain. With the Thunder heading up I-35 tonight to face the Mavs, we once again turn to MMB's Kirk Henderson to see what lies ahead for Dirk and the gang.
If you would like to read my responses to Kirk's questions, go here.
If you would like to check out our pre-season Q&A exchange, you can find that here.
1. Dirk is back. While that's a good thing for both your team and the NBA, what does it mean for your team's chances?
He's back! It's been nice because for the past 5-6 games he's actually resembled himself. But I think it's too little, too late. The Mavs have won four straight games, but Carlisle called the wins "fools gold" and he's probably right. The first team was the Kings, and Dallas needed a 17 point come back and a DeMarcus Cousins ejection to win that one, followed by three straight wins against teams on the second night of a back to back. The reality is that the team is much better than the record, I mean heck, they've lost SEVEN overtime games. But at this point in the season, it's really hard to start gaining ground. I'd love to see Dallas make the playoffs and keep the streak alive, but I don't really see any soft spots in the remaining schedule for Dallas to go on a run. They're on a four game win streak at the moment and remained 12th in the west the entire time.
2. The "Bank of Cuban" is now open for business. Could you kindly tell us what that means?
More than anything it's an attempt by Cuban to change the narrative. Since letting Tyson Chandler walk, Cuban has been asked constantly if it was the right decision. Maybe it was the right financial decision but pairing Dirk with Tyson worked in a way that simply cannot be duplicated, and Cuban has never admitted anything to that effect. The locals have seen a ridiculous 12 years of playoff appearances and it's becoming clear making that run extend to 13 years is going to take a bit of luck. Additionally, it means Cuban has changed his stance about taking on salary. The goal of all this cap space was to sign Deron Williams, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard. That is not happening. And I think Cuban knows that now, even if he can't say it publicly Dirk's not pleased with the way it's all gone down (I could riff for 45 minutes about Dirk's teammates compared to those of his contemporaries like Kobe, KG, Paul Pierce, etc. Dirk has had it rough comparably) and Cuban probably would like to see the team improve right now. I expect the Mavericks to make a deal. I have no idea what that deal will be and we all won't know about it until the moment it happens. The Dallas front office is one of the league best at keeping things in house.
3. Are the playoffs realistic, and if so, how do you feel about the prospect of facing OKC in the first round again?
I don't think the playoffs are realistic. My colleagues hate this from me, but I don't believe in unicorns or Oz, so I don't really buy in to Dallas making the playoffs either. Obviously, I'd love to be wrong, but as I wrote in a "pro-tanking" article a few weeks back, getting into the first round and losing is worth nothing. Losing and getting a draft pick that can either be used on a player or an asset allows the team to actually improve instead of slowly crumbling. This got me killed in the comments as people came up with hilarious arguments like "players only want to come to winning teams!" and other nonsense. That all ignores what Cuban has built in Dallas over the last decade plus.
As to the hilarious prospect of playing OKC, again... well I don't like it. I remember in the 4-1 Western Conference Finals of 2011 thinking that it was great that Dallas won, because next year it wasn't going to be that easy. OKC dismantles Dallas 9 times out of 10. Shawn Marion might be one of the best KD defenders in the league, which is to say Marion can hold him to 25 instead of 35. Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka are two of the best Dirk defenders in the league (Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, and Shawn Marion are the others). The match up's across the board don't work in the favor of Dallas anywhere. Sweeeeep.
4. Your team seems to be either really old or really young. How well is your team blending those talents and experiences together? Who is standing out that gives you hope for the future?
Great question. The return of Dirk really required that everyone throw out any previous notions of players because how they play off the team's star really determines their value. It's been a challenge to see which players fit together and I don't think there are any definitive answers yet (which makes the Bank of Cuban comments interesting, I think). Two players really stand out thus far, even if they are obvious selections: Obviously, O.J. Mayo has been the main stand out this season. Seeing him put his considerable basketball talents to use as he learns how to play a more cerebral game has been fantastic. Carlisle is incredibly hard on him, mainly because he's got so much potential. As the year has progressed Mayo has gone from shooter, to scorer, to distributor, to turnover machine, to all around solid player. If you check out his box scores from the last 4-5 games, he's finally putting together complete basketball games instead of just excelling in one area.
Darren Collison is a puzzle. He's been fantastic in 2013 but he has these lapses in judgement where Carlisle loses all faith in him and it hurts the team. His natural inclination to run, run, run has really helped the Dallas offense lately. He'll never be a pin point passer, but he's also improved working with Dirk and Brand. He and Mayo also have excellent chemistry and really feed off each other's success.
Many thanks to Kirk, and be sure to check out Mavs Moneyball to prepare for tonight's game.