The Mavs themselves huddled together in a Friday practice, one that could be this group's last together. Meanwhile, a simmering Mavs fanbase huddles together, too, some insisting that it all coulda been different had the practice-court huddle still included Tyson Chandler. A peek inside the two huddles:
There’s a growing sentiment in MavsLand today. It’s been simmering all season and has now reached the boiling point. It goes something like this:
‘Not resigning Tyson Chandler and the rest was a mistake. This was the perfect season to bring the old crew back and make another run. If the championship team was resigned, then the Dallas Mavericks wouldn’t be facing the first sweep in franchise history.’
The problem with conspiracy theories like these is they’re almost impossible to disprove. We can’t know what their impact on this series would be because Chandler, Barea, Stevenson, and Butler were not retained and so the results of that path can never be known.
It also illustrates the difficulty with multi-season, slow-developing plans in this instant-analysis, knee jerk sports culture in which we live. Long-term plans are eschewed by fans and media in favor of quick results. The Rangers underwent a lengthy rebuild of their own recently and are now reaping the fruits of their diligence. However, such projects are easier to endure when your team starts out at the bottom instead of the pinnacle of its league.
Meanwhile, and ironically, while some of us trash the Mavs, the Mavs are quite complimentary back at us. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle at practice today noted the energy at the AAC this week.
We couldn't have had a better crowd,'' he said of the Game 3 audience. "It was awesome. And to keep them into it, we've gotta continue to play with the same intensity (Saturday, 6:30 tip)."
Of course, it's not Carlisle who is getting the brunt of the anger. Or Donnie. Or Dirk. (Even though they all understand exactly what the course of the plan was last fall.) Today it is owner Mark Cuban who is being roundly ripped for "gutting a championship team,'' and maybe some of the criticism is deserved. Maybe nine times out of 10 across the sporting map, dismantling a group that achieved the highest level of success so quickly is the wrong move. But the rules of this game changed with the new CBA. The Mavericks of last year were never going to be a dynasty, even if they all returned. (Or, at least that is the view of management.) They would still be old and largely overpaid – a death sentence under the new NBA.
Assuming all of those free agents got multi-year contracts (and under the fan-endorsed plan they would've, because they wouldn't re-up otherwise), in a few years the Mavericks would be in basketball purgatory with a team full of overpaid, untradeable players who could only muster their way across a treadmill of mediocrity.
In other words, it would be this year all over again. ... only worse. Maybe no No. 7 seed. Maybe no playoffs.
However, instead of one year of pain, it would be many and the twilight of Dirk’s career would largely resemble Kevin Garnett’s last days in Minnesota.
With that looming specter in mind, the Mavs Brain Trust made a largely unpopular move towards long-term financial flexibility, and competitiveness. I was in favor of "Pay The Man'' when it came to Chandler, but even I can see how it can be the right move. But like strong medicine, it was hard to swallow. ... and, at 0-3 in the OKC series, IS hard to swallow.
Yes, today, it feels even harder. This first round flop against Oklahoma City only emphasizes the short term pain of Cuban and Donnie’s chosen path and it’s become popular to use the Mavericks’ struggles against the younger, more talented Thunder as a referendum on the strategy the front office adopted back in December.
However, that’s a straw man. The decision not to offer last year’s free agents wasn’t made with this season in mind. Would Dallas be better with Butler and Stevenson helping guard Westbrook, Durant and Harden and with Chandler helping cover everyone’s mistakes at the rim? Absolutely. Would the Mavericks be staring down the business end of a 3-0 series deficit? Probably not. Would Dallas be back-to-back champs? Most would bet against it. Would Dallas be favored to repeat as champions? Not likely.
Further, what would the Mavericks look like two or three years from now? (Hint: look at the Knicks now – hamstrung by big contracts and not good enough to win it all, but unable to do much about it.) But, hey, they sure got the fan base excited there for a minute, eh?
Earlier this season I urged Mavericks Nation to judge this team, and its front office’s strategy, slowly. I’ll echo that sentiment now.
Instead of knee-jerking and what-if’ing about what might have been if things had worked out differently, realize the merits of the plan. Yes, it carries significant risk, but also significant potential rewards, namely to remain competitive beyond the one to two years this franchise could remain elite with everyone resigned.
Short-term pain for long-term gain. That was the plan. Big-time help for Dirk Nowitzki. That was the plan. Now if Deron Williams or some other A-list free agent isn’t persuaded to sign here and the long-term gain never materializes, then you can be angry. At that point, the plan will have failed and Chandler/Barea/Butler/Stevenson will have been lost for nothing.
Indeed, our own Mike Fisher is threatening to go beyond "anger.'' He's contemplating a future without Deron as a lead into suicide, something about "strangling myself with Don Carter's ponytail.''
Until then, I think patience is approrpiate. You are preparing to watch Saturday's Game 4. They are preparing to participate in it. We all do so with a Larry O’Brien stuffed in our metaphoric back pockets, and therefore the Mavs have earned themselves a little slack.
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