NBA Preview: Mavs as weighty as ever

You can probably go ahead and forget about the Dallas Mavericks. They are not, after all, the same team that won the NBA title two seasons ago.

But wait.

Dirk Nowitzki is still there. Same with Shawn Marion. And O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman are in.

And no disrespect to Jason Kidd, but newcomer Darren Collison will now be your starting point guard. At this stage of both players’ careers, you can safely call that an upgrade.

So are the Mavs even better than the team that beat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the fancy Miami Heat in 2011?

Well, no. Probably not.

But they could be as good. Honest. It’s just that no one really seems to believe it.

Interestingly, the Mavs are now in similar position to some of their younger opponents, as this new batch of talent might need some time to get acquainted. But unlike those other teams, the Mavs are a mostly veteran group.

It doesn’t hurt that Nowitzki, the designated team leader, owns a championship ring and Finals MVP award. Around him are true pros such as Marion, Brand, Kaman and Collison. As for Mayo, well, let’s just say he’s on his way and appears ready to break loose.

So the one-time champs actually look just fine. You may not believe it. You may want to forget it. You may ignore. But come May, you might have to pay attention, anyway.

Last season: 36-30, lost to Oklahoma City in first round of playoffs.

Coach: Rick Carlisle (11th year, 479-325)

Top returnees: PF Dirk Nowtizki, SF Shawn Marion, G Delonte West.

Key additions:
SG O.J. Mayo, PF Elton Brand, C Chris Kaman, PG Darren Collison.

X-Factor: Mayo, Brand and Kaman. Yeah, it’s a tie. That’s because Mayo has a little bit of a history of being a knucklehead. But the talent has never been in doubt, and he seemed to mature quite a bit last season. Now, he gets a shot at the starting role he never had in Memphis and he needs to make the best of it. As for Brand and Kaman, they just need to stay healthy (a major issue for Kaman) and seamlessly slide into their new surroundings.

Strengths: Well, Nowtizki is still Nowtizki, the game’s most versatile power forward and one of its all-around greatest scoring threats. With him, the Mavs are true contenders, period. On the other end, Marion remains one of the staunchest stoppers, someone who can make every shot a major pain for opposing swingmen. Collison is typically steady at the point, and capable of erupting himself, despite the fact he never forces a thing.

Weaknesses: More than anything, the Mavs have some players in new positions. Mayo is a starter for the first time. Brand is coming off the bench. Kaman, for the love of Pete, needs to remain injury-free. This is all new, kids. Sometimes, it works out very well. Other times, well, not so much. So if there’s one glaring issue here, it’s that, historically, these types of things take time and experimentation. And aside from Nowitzki, there’s not really a dead-eye (or proven clutch) perimeter shooter in the bunch.

Outlook: The Mavericks had every reason to just start over and accept the beginning stages of collapse when the likes of Kidd and Jason Terry split. Instead, they tried to re-charge, playing the market and locating some important chips. It wasn’t done with the idea that you need to take a step back to improve. Instead, it’s pretty clear they chose to remain relevant.

Prediction: 50-32.

2012-13 schedule: Link

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