Tuesday Mavs Donuts: Interpreting 'Change'
DONUT 1: "It's time for change,'' says Dallas Mavericks veteran guard Jason Terry in a statement trite enough to be nothing but platitude yet open-ended enough to be left to wild interpretation. "You can only look at something for so long and you're getting the same result, so at what point are you going to change or are you going to ride it out?''
Changes and choices. To paraphrase my man MDug, for the players, there are the ensuing mental, emotional and physical options: To be paralyzed by anxiety. To avoid risk via retreat. Or to venture forth, the only of the three choices that carries with it some brand of hope.
Rick Carlisle said after Monday's practice that his fellas are unaffected by the swirling rumors and the threat of change.
"Our guys understand the best thing that can help all of their futures is winning,'' the coach says. "That's a constant."
DONUT 2: And for the organization? Well, before we get to the trade-deadline portion of Donuts ... What the defending champions are looking at after this weekend is a Kaleidoscope of Horrors:
*A nine-games-in-12-days stretch that produced just two victories - with five of the seven losses coming against teams that, combined, have only won a third of their games.
*A back-to-back-to-back road series that was lowlighted by losses at Phoenix (which Dallas has previously beaten eight straight times) and at Sacramento (which Dallas had previously beaten 10 straight times).
*A road losing streak that marks the longest such skid in 13 years.
*A 23-20 record that places them near the bottom of this year's playoff race and on the tightrope of owning the fewest ping-pong balls in the Lotto.
DONUT 3: Mavs owner Mark Cuban's oft-stated position in this lockout-marred condensed season is that Dallas simply "needs to get to the playoffs.''
This regular season, the veteran Mavs – so reliant on precision and execution and what coach Rick Carlisle on Friday called "intuition'' – have been robbed of that precious preparation time. (Not to mention having robbed themselves of precious talent in the form of a defensive and leadership centerpiece in Tyson Chandler, allowed to move to the Knicks so Dallas could keep its future powder dry for the Summer of 2012 pursuit of studs like Deron Williams and Dwight Howard to team with Dirk Nowitzki.)
Practice is when you work. Experiment. And bond.
"This regular season,'' Cuban states, "is not going to be any indication of what happens in the post season."
His Mavs, at present, must desperately hope their boss is right.
DONUT 4: Carlisle claims that his Mavs are "not a drama team,'' and if he means that Dallas' roster is traditionally constructed of good soldiers who create a familial vibe while avoiding being listed in local police blotters, he is right. But it is impossible to ignore the "drama'' (forget defining it as "good'' or "bad'') that comes with a team featuring an owner high-profile enough to have starred in two reality TV series, a team that employs a guy who is the eighth or nine man the team who nevertheless has his own reality TV series and is habitually in the "news'' because his wife Khloe Kardashian purchases a sex swing, a team with future Hall-of-Famers Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd and their ever-chronicled moves, and a team that is subject to the scrutiny as any defending titlist must be.
Those are the inherent "dramas.'' The Mavs in recent weeks have added to the potential distractions and arguable results of said distractions with an assortment of soap-operatic incidents. Odom disappeared for 10 days, leaving TMZ to handle the explanations of why and earning a public roasting from his coach. On Monday, after Terry botched a game-deciding possession in a loss to the Thunder, Nowitzki charged at him asking loudly, "What the (bleep) was that?!'' After Thursday's loss at Phoenix, Terry wasn't on the floor in crunch time and protested the move by saying, "I can't check myself in and out of games.'' And Friday in Sacramento, the guy who took Jet's place as the go-to guy in Phoenix, Roddy Beaubois, received an in-game tongue lashing from Carlisle and exhibited a disinterested body language for the rest of the night – a night that ended prematurely for Kidd, who marched off the court well before the final buzzer sounded.
There was something symbolic about that. Then Kidd sat out the Saturday game against his hometown Warriors. Another blowout. More symbolism?
DONUT 5: One nutshell: Dallas' overall effort in Sacramento wobbled somewhere between "indifferent'' and "lifeless.'' Early turnovers put Dallas behind by 20 points soon enough. As a team, Dallas countered by looking like a group willing to accept an inevitable loss, or one having adopted the belief that effort was not a prerequisite to success.
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DONUT 6: We're not a team right now,'' says Terry, and this goes against everything the Mavs have built for themselves in the last 11 years, as the rare team to win 50 games every season, make the playoffs every season, qualify for two NBA Finals in five years, and finally, after 31 seasons of suffering, capture the ultimate prize.
What has changed since then?
DONUT 7: Personnel, certainly. Lockout fallout, certainly. Championship hangover, probably.
What can be changed moving forward?
DONUT 8: If Terry's "It's time for change'' pronouncement is meant to suggest "on-the-court alterations, well, Carlisle is already doing that. Terry himself got jerked from the Phoenix game for not pulling his weight on defense and then maybe snapping at the coach. Defenses have worked to take away Nowitzki as the game-closing option and the Mavs have tried to adjust (without successful results). Three different centers have been giving shots as the backup to center Brendan Haywood, with mixed results.
And on Saturday, hell, he turned the game into one big Blue-and-White JV Scrimmage. Jet and DoJo started in the backcourt. Cardinal played center. I think he considered putting "Rudy'' in at the end to try to sack the Georgia Tech QB.
Change in what Dallas already does? Carlisle "Be Ready'' mantra shows that they're already trying that. Haywood and Wright are about ready to return. West, not quite yet but soon. But those aren't "changes''; those are "returns to normalcy.''
""I'm not worried,'' Dirk assures. "We need some of our warriors back."
DONUT 9: How about "change'' in the form of a deadline trade? The NBA swap meet will pick up this week, with Thursday as the trade deadline. Dallas is traditionally very much in this mix – especially in years when Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson view the club as needing a championship-level boost – and there will certainly be talks.
(For the very best coverage of all the news and all the gossip, with analysis from The 75-Member Staff from inside Mavs HQ, you need to check out "Trade Rumor Traffic.'' You'll be among the most informed groups of fans in the world, year--round, for just pennies a day. )
But short of making one of three bids detailed by DB.com here in pursuit of "Deadline Dwight,'' the Mavs' desire to properly handle Asset Management for next summer lessens the likelihood that they'll be "buyers'' this week.
And if things continue to go south in the standings? How about being "sellers''?
DONUT 10: In an exclusive interview with DallasBasketball.com, Donnie Nelson predicts the Mavs will stay the course, continuing to believe in the pedigree of the roster.
"Let me put it this way,'' Donnie says. "Our approach is that it would be an insult for management to go to any of these players and tell them they can't win. These guys have rings. They CAN win. This is a group of guys who are very devoted to trying to do it again.''
That "devotion,'' though, hasn't been evident on a nightly basis. Despite what Rick says ... Could it be that the Summer of 2012 is starting to poison the minds of present Mavs players who realize they might not be here next year? That doesn't seem evident in the stellar play of Shawn Marion, who will be a key move-out piece if and when the Dwight/Deron opportunity comes. Same with Haywood, injured this week but otherwise having a solid season. And other possible short-timers like Delonte West are so spirited that, in the case of the injured West, he's traveling with the club despite the restrictions of street clothes and the wrap over his surgically-repaired finger.
"Each guy,'' Nelson tells me," is cut from different cloth. Let me tell you something about Delonte West: That hand/finger surgery thing, it's supposed to be three more weeks before he comes back. But the kid is about ready to take a hacksaw to his wrist so he can come back out there and be a Dallas Maverick.
"And somebody thinks I should tell him (the Mavs) can't win?''
DONUT 11: I believe we are seeing the compounded stress of the compacted schedule, the burden of nine games in 12 days, the absence of practice time, the multitude of new pieces, the counterproductive mix of age and minimal rest, the drama around Odom and others, the consistent injuries, and maybe the ghosts of the future to come -- that uncertainty inherent in a roster designed to win now, but with a hungry eye on a path that demands near complete deconstruction tomorrow.
DONUT 12: The middle of March is far too early to say all is lost. The demand of "change'' must come from inside. The thought that "we just need to get to the tournament'' needs to morph from "thought'' to "accomplishment.'' In other words, the defending champs have to actually GET to the tournament.
Network analyst Shaquille O'Neal says that's not too much of a problem.
"Right now, I think (the Mavs) are in post-mode and they just want to wait to get to the playoffs,'' Shaq says. "In the playoffs, they are going to get hot and be ready to defend their title.''
Getting "hot'' and "being ready''? Those are the challenges to be met and -- short of a major step in the direction of 3D -- might be the only real "changes'' the Mavs need.
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