DALLAS — The Mavericks didn’t catch their Big Fish this summer, and the predictions of Dallas doom for 2012-13 that followed Deron Williams’ rebuff sounded loudly across the NBA.
But something funny happened on the way to the lottery. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson didn’t put away their fishing rods. They didn’t dismiss the upcoming season as just another bridge to a free-agency summer.
The Mavericks architects cast a bigger net, bringing in a haul that doesn’t completely make up for Williams but does make things interesting, especially if you look at it from a trade perspective.
Would teams trade Williams for Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and Dahntay Jones? Maybe, maybe not. But if you’re destined to lose Williams that’s a pretty good package to take back.
Miami and Toronto would have taken that fivesome a couple of offseasons ago.
So here the Mavs are, having rebuilt their roster around Dirk Nowitzki while preserving (potential) cap space for 2013. The space doesn’t have to be gobbled up beyond Maverick borders. The franchise isn’t completely committed to jumping into shark-infested waters once this season is done.
Yes, the Mavericks would love to make a run at Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but Mark Cuban has also left open the possibility of keeping the bulk of this lineup intact if it performs up to expectations.
Yes, Collison, Mayo, Brand, Kaman and Jones each are essentially operating under one-year contacts. There’s also no reason, according to the billionaire owner, why those one-year deals can’t become new contracts for years to come.
“It really shocked us how successful we were to go out there and get these guys,” Cuban said at an introductory news conference for the five newcomers.”Now, we’ve managed to rebuild and really get on with it. A lot of people talk about what we want to do in future summers and that’s the exact opposite of the way we planned. Our goal is to have these guys in Mavericks uniforms for a long, long time.”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle would welcome the stability. The team underwent unprecedented change for a defending champion before last season, all but squashing its repeat chances before that Christmas opener against Miami.
Now there’s an appearance of depth and much-needed youth. Carlisle called it a “diverse group” that adds “a little bit of everything.” He’s also well-versed in roster turnover, having once flipped half of it while coaching Detroit. (Remember, the Mavs are adding three rookies – Jared Cunningham, Jae Crowder and Bernard James – to the mix.)
“On Day 1 of training camp, it’s on,” Carlisle said. “It’s always easier for players to integrate in a system when they’re on the court doing, not just talking about it. We’re big on the doing aspect. We’re down on the talking aspect in terms of getting into long dissertations and film sessions. Guys need to do it.
“We’re big into team building and getting guys together and doing things so they can get to know each other. When we get into those situations where it’s a foxhole and it’s two minutes to go in a game, guys have each other’s back.”
Nelson points out that several roster deficiencies were addressed in one July swoop.
“We’ve got a low post presence that we haven’t had in a while with Chris,” Nelson said. “We’ve got some versatility with Elton that can score low and take his guy out. Our backcourt, we’ve added some athleticism (Collison and Mayo) and defensive presence (Jones) that we haven’t had in a while. We literally cannot wait to hit the ground running here in a few weeks with training camp.”
The players share that optimism. To a man, they spoke of their respect for and excitement to play with Nowitzki. Former teammates Brand and Kaman are licking their chops at the prospect of teaming up with the former MVP.
“We’re used to having the best big defender guarding us,” Brand said. “That’s no longer going to happen. They have to be on Dirk and we know that. We’re looking forward to that, exploiting matchups.”
Collison and Mayo have the almost no-win task of replacing Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. The new kids aren’t looking to be the new Jasons. Collison and Mayo hope to forge their own identities and become the Dallas backcourt of the present … and the future.
“We’ve had a plan. We’ve had a plan for the last several years,” Cuban said. “There was a reason why all of our contracts ran out … because we knew at some point we were going to have to get younger, and we were going to have to change. As painful as that is, it was a process we were going to have to go through.
“We took some calculated bets. We took some chances; we went for some things. Sometimes, the best deals are the ones you don’t make and that is what happened this summer. We felt like there would be some strange things happening in the free-agent market, and we wanted to take advantage of it. It was just something that we took a calculated risk.”