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A self-effacing Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban giggled as he told the story the other day of rehabbing from his hip-replacement surgery and doing so alongside a fellow patient -- a woman in her mid-70's -- who was moving with way more speed, comfort and grace than he was. He asked her how long she'd been rehabbing, assuming she was at the end of a many-months climb to health.
"Oh, about four weeks,'' she said, crushing Cuban -- who was lagging behind while working on the exact same time frame.
Of course, the journey can't be judged by the beginning, or by a month in, whether it's hip-replacement rehab or basketball. But for the 2014-15 Mavs, who start training camp today? I contend that a good get-off start is critical to the journey because without it, the positive vibes that presently exist inside and outside this team will have been wasted.
Chuck Cooperstein and I touch on a handful of topics here, including Bob Ortegel's "Boomerang Theory'' of fandom ...
And don't you agree? The feel-good around here continues from the Mavs' elimination by the Spurs in Game 7 of last spring's Round 1, a nice trick of positivity. It continues from the TY trade, from Dirk's Deep Discount, and from a free-agency bonanza that delivered every possible non-LeBron wish, featuring the winning of a Houston tug-of-war over Chandler Parsons.
“We think this team can be special,” says coach Rick Carlisle, his words both cautious (because that's the way Rick rolls) and buoyant (because that's the way the AAC vibe is).
This is naturally a time of anticipation and optimism, and that goes for the Mavs and every other team in the NBA, too. But not every year is there a "buzz on the streets'' for the Mavs as there presently is. This is reminiscent, in a sense, of the summer of 2006, when you just knew wonderful things were still within Dallas' grasp. (And 67 regular-season wins was wonderful, you know, until Golden State interfered.) It's reminiscent of the immediate afterglow of the 2011 championship season ... an afterglow that came completely unplugged with labor strife and then a CBA that Cuban believed dictated the decision to not retain free-agent-to-be Tyson Chandler.
I'm not saying this team is winning the title or going to The Finals. I am saying that a top-four seed is a realistic goal, and that the planks in the platform -- including the warm-and-fuzzy "fix'' of what got broken with Chandler -- are being nailed into place.
And it sure helps to have Rick Carlisle swinging the hammer.
It was Carlisle who engineered the out-dueling of the Lakers in playoff series that sent Phil Jackson into Montana retirement, it was Carlisle who made sure Dallas didn't get out-coached on its second visit to The Finals, it was Carlisle who cemented together a solid club last season by pushing it to play the last 21 games as if they were "21 Super Bowls'' and it was Carlisle who orchestrated Dallas' work in giving the Spurs their most challenging playoff test, a seven-game series in which the three games at the AAC were decided by a total of six points -- helping turn Dallas' home building into a brick-and-mortar advantage.
But now it seems like more than just AAC brick-and-mortar and Rick smoke-and-mirrors at play. The finest offseason in franchise history seems to have given the Mavs ... the horses.
They've reunited with Tyson Chandler from the Knicks (with so many branches on this story tree). It cost them locker-room favorite Jose Calderon but gives them a locker-room giant. They stole a key piece from Houston, thus giving themselves in Parsons the first young "star-caliber'' player they've had in forever while also weakening Houston's arsenal. They've pinpointed needs and filled them, with veteran point guard Jameer Nelson (a tough guy who can shoot from the perimeter and feed receivers' pet spots), the raw Al-Farouq Aminu (who Dallas thinks is the finest rebounding small forward in the NBA and might be a Trix Starter Kit) and a young big in Greg Smith, a "traditional'' center who might blossom as he ages.
"Shared sacrifice'' was an offseason theme when it came to fitting all the talent under the cap; it helps when The Uberman takes $8.3 mil instead of three times that. "Shared sacrifice'' works again as the Mavs are about the take the floor, with a Monday Media Day and then Tuesday's official start of training camp.
Says Chandler: "When I first got here I remember coming back late at night to try and get a lift in or work on free throws or this and that, and every single time I got there he (Dirk) was there putting up shot after shot after shot. It just shows he’s never gonna settle … he doesn’t settle, he only wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. A lot was made about what I did and what I accomplished the year I was here, but he’s The Man.''
"When you have the top dog leading that way, you can’t help but fall in line.”
In a sense, if you are MFFL, every edition of the Mavs that Dirk's ever been on is "special'' because ... well, because Dirk was on it. But when you listen to Nowitzki speak, when you listen to TY talk, and maybe most of all when you listen to Carlisle use the word "special,'' it resonates. Rick is not one given to hyperbole. He often says "This organization is about championships,'' but that's a general mindset. Here, he's being very specific with his thoughts on what this team might be able to do, very specific with being public about its tasks (Tuesday's opening practice session will be all about defense), and he and GM Donnie Nelson are on the same page in being very pumped up about the Mavs' prospects.
"We’re going to be better defensively, we’re more talented and we’re smart,'' says Donnie, "which is a good combination. Generally speaking, that wins games in the NBA. ... I'm as excited as I've ever been to get a season going.''
But they must hurry to get it going right. TY explains his reasoning, a reasoning that parallels mine:
"I think this year it’s very important that we start right now,'' Tyson said. "That’s the thing that we really concentrated on the first time around when I was here. It’s not going to happen if we decide to pick up things come the playoffs or after the All-Star break or late in the year. It’s very important that we start ... in the first day of training camp.''
Here's more from Tyson Chandler, from Annabel:
Carlisle himself jumps on the same fast-start theme, by the way.
“We want to get off to a good start in training camp,'' Rick said. "One month from tomorrow, you know, we open the season on the road. With a lot of new guys ... simplicity is big, and we’ve got to develop chemistry in as quick a period of time as we can.”
There will be chances for buzz, optimism and momentum even from the start of the preseason schedule, with an Oct. 7 visit from the Rockets. ... and then, as Carlisle notes, with the regular-season start on Oct. 28 at San Antonio. Those are challenges but they are also opportunities ... and teams that are "special'' usually don't limp their way through opportunities.