Mavs Donuts: A Season-Opened Barroom Brawl
With two games in the books and still so many storylines to chose from with the Dallas Mavericks, what are the biggest themes you are watching this year?
MDug: I suppose we should take under advisement Tyson's comments to ESPN New York, in which he says of the 0-2 start, "Honestly, I'd kind of seen it coming because when you put a team in a situation and you say, ‘You're the defending champions and we're not necessarily trying to repeat.' When I say that, I'm not saying that they don't have the pieces there. I obviously think very highly of those guys. But I say that because they offered everybody one-year deals so they knew nobody was going to necessarily accept that. So you're basically telling all the players in the locker room we're playing for free agency next year after a championship.
"You've got veteran guys in the locker room. The type of guys that they've got at this time in their career, it's tough to face that so I think they're just going through a little lull right now. But I'm hoping for those guys that it turns around because there's truly good guys in the locker room."
That is a story worth chasing.
DLord: For the season itself, I'm interested to see the effect of the compressed schedule - something we've seen with the b2b losses. And I'm wondering how changes will affect the teams in Dallas, New York, and LA. Off the court, I'll be closely watching the D12 and DWill sweepstakes, and the Mavs' possible role in either or both. We're starting to get a clearer picture of what Orlando wants for Dwight, and I want in.
Chuck: To me, it will be all about Carlisle finding the right balance amongst many forces: assimilating the new guys, finding time for Roddy B and DoJo, limiting the minutes of veterans like Kidd and Dirk while getting everyone focused and participating on defense. Oh, and winning games would be nice, too.
Focus and defense and winning? Dallas is oh-fer there.
Piellucci: My top three: 1. How will the old legs respond to the giant grind of a schedule? 2. Will the new arrivals gel with the existing core, or will someone like Vince Carter, who is used to being an integral part of an offense, struggle with a reduced role? 3. Can Dirk put together a full-season MVP run after being in the early-season mix for the past two years?
Brolan: I'll be most interested in seeing how this team gels on the fly to defend its championship. With TY gone, the best opportunity to make up for the difference he made is through the versatility of Lamar Odom. Rick Carlisle knows that, but it takes time and preseason games in order to find the perfect way to utilize the talents of players like Odom.
Fish: I think it's all about center play. Is Big Wood really the "damn good starting center in this league'' that Rick claims he is? Will Haywood be more focused and energetic now that he's the clear No. 1 guy? Will Dallas end up having to be "cute'' by using Dirk and Odom as center-ish tools? Um ... Greg Ostertag?!
Speaking of the center position, what are the biggest potential pitfalls for the Mavs this season?
Piellucci: Interior D. Even with the Triangle of Trust bolstering the perimeter defense, a lot will be riding on how Big Wood protects the rim and how Ian Mahinmi progresses in just his second season of any real playing time. You have to go back to Jordan's Bulls to find a team that won a title without a really good defensive center.
MDug: A slow start. Kidd cautioned against it, and Dallas will be underdogs Thursday in OKC. An 0-3 start in a 66-game season is fairly slow.
DLord: The rotation in the middle. On one hand, they are somewhat thin at the position, and Haywood certainly has to prove he can meet the challenge. In the worst-case scenario, the mental block that has him unable to make free throws in Dallas, when he was at 60%+ in the past, completely erodes his entire ability to contribute. But the addition of Odom, and the potential to play the threesome of Dirk-Marion-Odom as the primary front line against teams without a traditional center, offers intriguing possibilities; and if Haywood can be solid against the traditional centers, the possibilities are limitless. Carlisle certainly has the ability to put all his coaching skills to work in figuring out the best way to play this hand. That Sean Williams electricity might be needed.
Chuck: Amen, boys, and as Fish mentioned, its all about Center play. If Haywood can be 85% the rim defender that Chandler was, the Mavs wings can be that much more aggressive jumping passing lanes, knowing that Big Wood has their back should they lapse. On offense, Haywood doesn't have to shoot FT's at a Dirk-level 90%, but he can't be the guy he was last year. If he can't convert FT's, he risks inviting the Hack-a-Wood strategy that could stymie a Mavs' rally or allow another team to climb back into the game.
Fish: Beyond the center issue, there is always The Fish Rule of Defending A Championship: There is a reason mountain climbers don't re-do Mount Everest after having conquered it once. It takes everything you have to give to do it once; once you've given everything you have to give, how do you then give more?
I fear that The Fish Rule of Defending A Championship is why the Mavs are "old and slow and out-of-shape,'' to quote Dirk ... and why they are 0-2.
Brolan: When people talked about "the Mavs are different this year" during last year's playoff run, the main difference was a new-found toughness on defense. Much of that toughness could be pinned directly on two players who no longer call Dallas home: Chandler and DeShawn. It's been well documented here on DB.com how many sacrifices would've had to go into the decision of keeping Chandler, but Stevenson seemed like a cheap, proven piece that would've been very useful on this team.
I fear the stingy defense that carried the Mavs during their huge comebacks in the playoffs may be a thing of the past. One way Dallas can avoid a big defensive drop off is by having one of their younger guards step up into a two-way role. Two games in, younger guards aren't getting a chance.
Which team do you fear most in the Western Conference?
Fish: OKC, Memphis and the Clippers. They are all positioned to consider the Mavs, Lakers and Spurs to be "yesterday's champions.'' And they all have their rivalries or their bonds to the respective ex-champs. The Clips and Lakers. The Grizz having overcome the Spurs last year. And the Thunder and Mavs developing a Red River Rivalry.
DLord: The Clippers. They have the pieces to put on a Dunk-fest every night.
Piellucci: From a strictly matchup standpoint, Memphis; very few teams have two bigs who can defend Zach and Gasol, and the Mavericks aren't one of them. Overall, OKC, who I think made the right call letting their young team grow a year older together with a few tweaks (a full year of Kendrick and more of Harden running the offense, to name two), has the talent and youth to thrive in the short season.
Brolan: OKC's in dangerous territory as a team with giant expectations heaped upon them despite not actually having ever won anything.
One team no one is talking about is the Clippers… Oh, wait, everyone is talking about them. If healthy, any team CP3 is on must be respected by the Mavs and their fans. There's too much of a history of him absolutely killing Dallas.
Chuck: The Lakers don't make my list, either, especially after they sent Odom to Dallas -- and not just because they also started with losses. Simple math points to OKC for me as well. They have one player no one on the Mavs can guard (Westbrook), one player no one in the league can guard (Durant) and another that seems to be growing every week (Harden).
Including Roddy B and DoJo, which newcomer to the rotation will make the biggest impact?
Piellucci: Rick himself said that he's never asked more of a player than what he will of Odom, who will play the 3 and 4 and occasionally reprise his point forward role at times as well.
MDug: I might agree about Odom. I'd like to see him not shoot 12 percent before committing, though.
Brolan: I think Carlisle may have tipped his hand a bit about what he is thinking when Dominique started at shooting guard in their second preseason game. He's obviously toyed with the idea of starting DoJo next to Kidd in order to take advantage of his lane penetrating skills as well as the potential tough defense he can use on the other team's best guard. So many of this team's potential issues can be instantly solved if DoJo is for real.
Fish: It's gotta be Roddy B. That would be best for the Mavs and best for the Mavs DB.com Store, where there are FREE RODDY B t-shirts to be sold.
DLord: Odom. While he fills a different role and has a different game, he'll be this season's Chandler for Dallas.
Chuck: I'll settle this one. It has to be Odom, not only for the reasons Mike Pie mentioned but also, his arrival makes the Mavs almost impossible to defend when he's paired with Dirk (which I think you'll see a lot) and Marion (which I don't think will happen as much). The 3-Forward Lineup is tantalizing, but it creates problems at center. On the other hand, maybe it's the solution to the Haywood Problem.
Speaking of newcomers, how do you see the new pieces fitting?
DLord: I think with time, we'll see this team as a great coach's dream - and a lousy coach's nightmare. The pieces fit together in ways that allow a coach to think outside the box and do unique things to confound opponents ... but also allows the opportunity to over-think and consequently self destruct. It could devolve into another Year of the Twans (Walker and Jamison) or could turn into a running, shooting, passing clinic every night.
Brolan: Rick earns the benefit of the doubt. Considering that system just won the city of Dallas some hardware, it may be in each player's best interest to buy what he's selling. I think they'll fit, and I think you should give it some time. After last summer, they've at least earned that, no?
Fish: Absolutely, but not only does Odom "fit,'' he fits as arguably the team's second-best player. Delonte fits as at least a functional piece; the Mavs have long searched for a backup PG who could simply be a bus driver and in West, they've got something more than that. The question mark, I think, is Vince. He totally fits in terms of personality; he's a Tar Heel brother of Haywood and Wright (and was probably among their idols as teens) and I've seen him interact socially with everybody from Marion to Cardinal to Kidd. Vince fits that way. But does he "fit'' as a creative wing, as something who can at least do what Caron was prepared to do a year ago? That's the fit that is going to require some time.
Chuck: At times, I believe that Vince still thinks he's ‘Half-Man, Half-Amazing,' which he undoubtedly isn't at this point.
Piellucci: I see reason for concern, not panic. The short season ensures that most everyone on the roster will get minutes at one point or another, and the locker room dynamic is still strong as ever despite the loss of Chandler. All of the new additions have something to prove, which should offer plenty of focus and little complacency.
Then with everything we've discussed, what's a reasonable level of expectation for the Mavs this year?
DLord: This is not the same team as last season, even though they'll nightly be introduced as defending champs. About 40 percent of that team has gone, and will be replaced in a variety of ways. As a result, it will take some time to get everyone on the same page, and to discover how to exploit the strengths while masking the flaws. Expect a top-4 seed and a decent playoff showing. But hope for another title - this team does have the talent, if the pieces gel just right.
Brolan: An appearance in the WCF has to be the goal for this prideful bunch that will, once they get their bearings, defend their championship with all they have. Terry and Marion have already expressed how they don't feel respected as champions.
Piellucci: As of last weekend, I thought the natural expectation is a repeat, but I think the fair expectation is slipping from there.
Chuck: With the personnel losses the Mavs have sustained, I think a step back in expectations is warranted and not as big a step as the national media-types would have you believe. Not that the new guys can't fill the same roles as the guys who are gone, it will just take some time to find the right balance. Further, that might not happen this season.
MDug: It's important to know that the Triangle of Trust is thinking big-picture. This week's struggles lead to next week's successes. If they take a step back in order to take two forward, I'm fine with that.
Fish: I know exactly what THEY think it is: Get to the tournament. They're not overly concerned about seeding (though you'd always like to be in the top tier). They believe that 60-some games from now, all they need – as a veteran team – is to survive that period and then thrive after that.
This is a difficult time for fans -- spoiled as many are -- to accept that. But not losing by 30 to the Nuggets in Game 2 was not the goal. Nor is 0-2 a death knell, no matter what that deep-as-a-fryin'-pan John Trollinger has to say. Get to the tournament. That's the goal.