Morning-After Mavs Donuts: Some 2013-14 Truth
DONUT 1: The rise and fall of the tides ...
With it: one is susceptible to profound disappointment, a brand of hurt saved for those who open their hearts knowing they'll often find an indifferent parade of stealing hands in response.
Without it: the heart is kept safe, the bruise quarantined to the surface, and there seems to be solely the possibility of a net gain or, at worst, a return to the start … unless something changes along the way.
Expectations are not as predictable or as reliable as the tides. They may rise and fall, but care not for the supposedly preordained, for planning, for some arbitrarily imposed schedule.
With the 119-96 final in Game 7 of the 2014 playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks' season came to an end, and expectations arrived at the destination most assumed they would, a first-round exit, beyond where many others believed: in the playoffs. Yet, this expected outcome belies the emotional meanderings that delivered us all here.
The rise and fall of the tides? That's how we put it.
"We got hit by a tidal wave.'' That's how Mavs coach Rick Carlisle put it.
Rick says he is "proud'' of his Mavs. That grants us permission to feel the same.
DONUT 2: From the ashes ...
From the ashes of a final regular-season-game loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, rose the hopes born from thee games, a 2-1 series lead, a sudden shedding of the doubt carried by a nightmarish on-paper matchup with the Spurs. We wrote then, as we will now: this is what it's about. This is why our affair with sport, with fandom, progresses on and on, despite the inherent pain.
In hindsight, it's easy to dismiss that hope as a ruse or a tease, but that belittles the experience, denies the joy, however fleeting, and ignores the significance of the trip.
And for a few days, Fish's point about the rising bar of expectations is dead-on. The tease was real. The chance was real. The chance lost should be understood as just as real.
DONUT 3: Much was given ...
But look at what we did receive.
We were given one more year of Dirk Nowitzki, a pleasure our memories will drag well beyond his years on the court ... Devin Harris and DeJuan Blair forcefully digging their footprints into the series, not to mention Blair's kick to Tiago Splitter's head ... the occasional outbursts of scoring from Jose Calderon ... Monta Ellis getting his first taste of the playoffs with the Mavs ... Samuel Dalembert's whimsical forays between brilliance and irrelevance ... and Vince Carter's game winner.
DONUT 4: 'Trix farewell? ...
While there are certain to be some that will never again have "Mavs" scrawled across the front of their jerseys, perhaps none rings with such resonance as Shawn Marion. Was this our goodbye to The Matrix?
There will be plenty of time to discuss the offseason, plenty of time to ponder over what comes next, to search every nook and cranny of what the immediate future will bring (and we at DB.com have for 14 years done this with great energy and focus), along with the separate brand of hope that may be lurking there. We'll get there … whether we want to or not, tomorrow is already on its way. (Start here with our early primer on the $31 million Dallas might have to spend in free agency.)
Marion's name is already up in the rafters of the AAC once, sharing the border of the championship banner with 14 teammates, resting comfortably at the bottom-right corner … if five seasons is deemed enough, his ability to conform to whatever it is the Mavs needed of him, most notably at the defensive end, where he has been asked to take on everything from Chris Paul to Tony Parker to LeBron James to Kevin Durant to Tim Duncan to LaMarcus Aldridge, but also on offense, where he's sacrificed numbers to fill the necessary niches.
DONUT 5: Separating emotion ...
If these five seasons, 399 games, 346 starts (including playoffs) are enough, maybe we'll see Marion's name in echo in the rafters above his number 0.
But that doesn't mean he's on this club next year.
On an emotional level, we hope this isn't goodbye to 'Trix, even as we acknowledge that the cold embrace of the business may insist it be.
DONUT 6: Our Monta ...
Much like Marion's time with Dallas, this season arrived with mixed expectations. From the moment it was announced, the pairing of Calderon and Ellis as the starting backcourt was a defensive concern, to put it nicely. Ellis, much like Marion five seasons ago, came with some level of baggage -- before joining Dallas, Marion was coming off of consecutive midseason trades, with some rumblings of a "me-first" mentality and sinking numbers.
And, much like Marion, Ellis has quickly distanced himself from much of the reputation he arrived with, as a me-first-shot-hunter and inefficient-volume scorer in Ellis's case.
Some misunderstood "MontaBasketBall'' from the very first time Ellis uttered the made-up phrase at training camp.
But we now have a special feeling -- our feeling -- for what it means:
After Vince's Game 3 shot, the whisper of confidence expressed by Monta as captured exclusively by DallasBasketball.com deserves to live on:
DONUT 7: Somnambulant Sam ...
Sam Dalembert, in return for a career of inconsistency, came cheap, mixed in among nine new faces. Almost anywhere you turned before the season, opinions were that the Mavs "were improved, but may still miss the playoffs in an equally improved Western Conference."
Dalembert was almost the embodiement of those conservative expectations, expectations lowered when he slept his way through a portion of the year.
But in the end, did Dallas not forge a productive center combination out of "The Three Bears''?
DONUT 8: Ah, that bar ...
The expectations were set: don't be the annoyance of the prior season, a season marred by Nowitzki's injury, a never-could-quite-mesh-with-Dirk OJ Mayo, and far too much Mike James.
Be better. Be fun. Entertain us. Show us tomorrow could matter before Dirk strolls with his uniquely awkward grace into the sunset.
"Make playoff noise,'' Mark Cuban told us last August and as goals go, it sounded pretty acceptable then.
The Mavs did all of that. Sure, there were moments of frustration, of our fears shining through, but the 2013-14 season was a step forward … don't let this truth be lost.
DONUT 9: Two steps back ...
After the championship, as a franchise, Dallas undeniably took multiple steps back through two seasons. That trend has been reversed. In itself, this should be applauded. There is now a core, something that can be added to, rather than cobbled together from scratch.
As the season progressed, with the West being as competitive as it's ever been, the Mavs flirted with the lottery, but always found an answer, always avoided sliding down and out of the playoffs. To the final day, the Mavs never quit, never yielded. In the end, it wasn't enough … but it was a step forward.
DONUT 10: There is a core ...
For all of the disappointment born of Game 7, all the dissatisfaction with the last three seasons, take a moment to smile upon the fact that our expectations were given reason to shift over the last week or so, became fluid enough to allow us that moment to dream of what may come … that brand of hope is a rarity.
In their first season together, this core did more than most thought possible, from making the playoffs to pushing the team with the best record in the league to their very limits. Expectations were met, exceeded, redefined and finally closed with a final walk-off. The final walk-off (as seen below thanks to DB.com's Willie Martin) will lead to anticipation for next year's first walk-on ...
There is reason to hope tomorrow can further build upon what was shown over the final 35 games of the season, beginning Jan. 31st, where the Mavs were 23-12 and tied for the sixth-best winning percentage in the league, a winning percentage that would translate to a 54-win season.
There is reason to hope that Monta Ellis will continue to grow into his new role, to shed bad habits compiled before he arrived in Dallas to be paired with Dirk and Carlisle.
"I think if we keep this team together, we're going to make a lot of noise next year," Monta said.
There is reason to hope that the roster, now including some level or core holdovers, will further improve … perhaps this is also the time to remind that Dallas will finally part ways with the last vestiges of the Lamar Odom disaster, sending their first-rounder to the Thunder and freeing up the Mavs' ability to be competitive in the trade market.
As much disappointment as Game 7 has left us, there is a residue of what we found in the Mavs ability to push, to really push, the Spurs, to force the series to seven games. Lingering is the residue that this team may actually be a step ahead of where we believed them to be … a step closer to where we hope they can get.
None of this is a guarantee, or a promise. It's a reason for hope. A reason to accept that what this roster accomplished was a part of the process, a process that began anew last summer.
It hurts. It's disappointing. It's also progress.
Rick Carlisle may have put it best: "We walk away from this disappointed, certainly, but not dismayed."
DONUT 11: An end ...
Just as the Spurs move on in these playoffs, the Mavs move on to whatever comes next … and perhaps they do so with our hope in tow, far more so than had they not shown the ability to redefine expectations most entered the series with.
Sports are a great procession of endings contradicted by a never-ending progression of continual beginnings.
This is an end, but not the end.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
"The year we won in 2011, that's the standard now," said Nowitzki. We obviously have high expectations. The fan base does, the organization does. We want to get back up there. How ever we need to do it, whatever needs to be done, Mark and Donnie are going to probably do it. We'll see what happens." - Dirk Nowitzki.
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