The Mavs' Game 1 loss at Indy -- chronicled here in our game story and here in Mavs Donuts -- put on display yet again the Essence of Dirk.
At 38, some of the athletic grace he once possessed is faded. (Dirk himself would joke that it never existed, but he's being self-effacing. This sequence from the loss to the Pacers shown below is an example of a couple of plays that an 18-year-old Dirk or a 28-year-old Dirk might've made in a more snappy manner ...
But now? Getting stuck in the air leaves fewer options because he's not in the air as long. Bending over to slap a ball backwards doesn't look as clever because ... well, you try being in your 19th NBA season at age 38 and bending over!
And yet Dirk on the clutch 3, Dirk on the trailer 3, Dirk exhibiting clever hands as a defender ... that was all also on display in the game in which he scored 22 and offered up some Vintage Dirk moment.
And yet, as I watched that game, my attention was pulled in a variety of other directions. Jealousy pulled me to Paul George and Myles Turner, the Pacers' Batman and Robin combo, George an in-his-prime MVP candidate and local kid Turner, at age 20, a burgeoning monster.
Ah, "Batman and Robin.'' We have played that game in Dallas, remember?
Monta Ellis was Robin here. On some nights, he was Batman. And while my eyeballs admired Dirk and were captured by Harrison Barnes and flashed jealousy at the Pacers and were disappointed in the finish ... they also sought out Monta Ellis.
In a sense, outside of Dirk, Monta Ellis -- who is an ex-Mav, or maybe to put it more accurately and more strongly, a non-Mav -- may perfectly symbolize what the post-championship Mavs are.
Actually, I take that back. Dirk symbolizes what they were, even as he still labors here. Monta, two years removed from Dallas, still symbolizes where the Mavs are now.
Remember how Dallas acquired Monta in 2013? That was a bargain-bin buy; he was seen as a selfish shoot-first Warriors gunner with no interest in defense or, really, teamwork. Then he disappeared for a year with the Bucks and eventually passed up $13 mil in Milwaukee thinking he'd cash in and instead had to sign here for just over half that.
But he bought in.
He operated Rick Carlisle's way, talked about playing tennis with Dirk, charmed folks at the sponsor golf tournament, and allowed his unique personality to blend nicely into the team game. He gave effort on defense, he became a distributor, he was a go-to guy but also a go-through guy. He led Dallas in scoring. He played through injuries, almost to the point of foolishness. He shared the "spokesman'' load with Nowitzki as a favor to Dirk (who doesn't love that part of the job) and while he was and is and always will be an undersized 2, there was a real chance of him being a long-term building block.
And then came the money issues and the Rondo issues and the pouting issues and in the summer of 2015 Monta was dismissed from Dallas with nary a peep (and absolutely no offer) from management.
He's good but not great. He's a bargain but it's from the lower bin. He can keep self-interest at bay for only so long before the pipes burst and the bonds rip and change is necessary.
This has been the problem post-2011 title, the problem with Dallas' reading of the CBA immediately after that season, the problem with an organizational strategy that is doomed to failure not because "Cuban and Donnie suck!'' but because the system is set up to insist that, generally speaking, if you aren't a true contender with two or three superstars on your team, you pretty much try to tread water until you have a shot at those superstars next year ... or the year after that ... or the year after that.
And "treading water'' means shorter-term contracts on flawed guys. And shorter-term contracts, while they can in theory cause players to strive to prove themselves and use your team as a launching pad, can also have the opposite impact and drain that player's will because he doesn't feel (relatively) valued and loved. Scoff if you want, and remain upset at Monta's sour moods if you want, but gosh, this phenomenon even took down our beloved Jason Terry, who realized that he was an icon one year and a short-termer a few months later ... and while he pouted with a Jet grin rather than a Monta pout ... Terry was still pouting, all year long, throughout the .... season, biding his time until he could find a team that loved him back.
So yes, Jason Terry remains a symbol of all that was good. And maybe Harrison Barnes with his fine line and his clutch 3 is a symbol of what will be good. And obviously, Dirk Nowitzki remains a symbol of all-time. But Monta Ellis, darting around in the wrong colors on Wednesday night in Indianapolis, contributing seven rebounds and seven assists and the 19 points that looked so familiar because that's what he averaged for a Dallas team that ended up not wanting him? Monta Ellis is the truest symbol of the post-championship Dallas Mavericks.