DONUT 1: Because we care …
Be it the victim of a gradual seduction or of longing at first sight, we, as fans of sport, lend our hearts to the teams we soon come to think of as our own. Without second thought, the pronoun used in reference to a team slips from "they" to "we." It's not ownership being expressed, but adoption … a version of love. The fact that it's "only a game" is irrelevant. What matters is that we care, we're invested, and as much as we may disdain the power we grant a player or team to influence our emotional state, we surrender to it.
With that in mind, let's take a moment to wade through a few of our hopes and fears for a season that seems to be tortuously far away; whether those fears/hopes are soaked in reason or bleached of it, let's dive in.
DONUT 2: The fear that the sun will set before the day is done …
From the moment Deron Williams crushed our hopes through watching Jason Kidd and Jason Terry head off to roam distant pastures there raised the chorus of sympathy directed towards Dirk Nowitzki
Analytically, this may be viewed as a childish or inappropriate reaction towards a man who remains on a team he's given everything to, who continues to bleed blue … and gets paid $20 million a year to do so. Perhaps this is an argument over semantics, or a poor choice of words, but buried in that sentiment is an intimate fear that should not be ridiculed, belittled or dismissed: the fear that Dirk will be shoved from the game within a personally stoic grace as an afterthought to championship basketball.
With the funeral for Plan A in our past, the fear of watching the greatest player the Dallas Mavericks
have ever known endure a perpetual unfurling of Plan B's is as disconcerting as it is valid.
DONUT 3: The hope that tomorrow can return the glory of yesterday …
While we wait for what is to come, is there solace to be found in the fact that Cuban, Donnie and Carlisle have found their way out of "Window's Closedland" before, carved a path through when so many of us saw only a forest of hopelessness?
From the shadow of Tyson Chandler they plucked Lamar Od … wait, despite the fact that this was a sound basketball decision, let's just hope the penicillin has cleansed the system of the Odom bacteria and speak no more of it.
From the desperation of missing out on Deron, they gathered Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones.
That has to be worth something … right? It's not Deron Williams, but it's more than most believed possible in the very near past.
But, is it reason for hope or …
DONUT 4: The fear of sprinting on a treadmill to stand still …
Should Dwight Howard be dealt to a team he's unlikely to flee via free agency leaving only Chris Paul – hard to imagine circumstances that could entice him to leave the Clippers, take less money and a lesser roster to join Dallas – and perhaps Andrew Bynum as the sole "superstar" 2013 free agents; how do the Mavs react?
Does the fact that 2014 free agency is likely to be devoid of any premier names still in their prime change anything? Sure, there is the possibility of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony … but only if they enforce their early termination options.
And, there's also Kobe Bryant … who will be 35 and likely something less than what we've come to expect.
Are any of those possibilities worth pinning our hopes to, worth a continued strict adherence to "Plan Powder''?
DONUT 5: The hope the climb has begun, only not from the floor …
There were many interesting nuggets to dig out of Mark Cuban's comments when he was interviewed by NBA TV during past Friday's Summer League game. One, in particular, drew our interest.
"We think we've positioned ourselves so that we have a young nucleus," Cuban said. "We can keep these guys, let them jell and play together, build around Dirk and have room for hopefully someone to come or to trade or whatever happens."
Within that response we find terms like "young nucleus" and "keep these guys." Was Mark Cuban referring simply to the three players taken in this year's draft that could likely be retained for several years without their cost becoming prohibitive?
Or, is this a broader statement implying the possibility that Mayo and Collison may be auditioning for a prolonged stay … inviting the sentiment that Dallas may be willing to commit to them with extended contracts if they earn it? Is this the first stab at creating a new core … or just a means of bridging the gap between this free agency period and the next?
DONUT 6: The fear of creating a stable solution from so many unknowns …
Undoubtedly, you'll see countless opinions tossed about declaring how great or horrible this Mavs roster could be. It's fun to discuss … and an argument currently incapable of being lost or won because we simply can't know.
Three of the Mavs five starters will be replaced unless Delonte West is retained and somehow is able to sneak into a starting lineup that seems fairly set at the moment with Collison, Mayo, Marion, Dirk and Kaman. Adding Elton Brand and Dahntay Jones to the mix off the bench will also ensure the rotation beyond the starters will undergo its own makeover.
Enduring this level of change will undoubtedly lead to questions over chemistry. Will this newly constructed group complement each other well, regardless of what any statistics may say? If the pieces do fit, how long does it take them to do so? Can anyone work with Dirk in the two-man-game with the fluidity of Jason Terry? Will someone master the art of getting Dirk the ball in his spots at the crucial moments, something everyone outside of Kidd seemed to struggle with in the past?
Chemistry isn't tangible … until it is. It was hard to watch the 2010-11 Mavs and not notice the strength of the bond that held them all together. This isn't revisionist history glorifying that roster based on what we now know they accomplished. You need only go back and look at the wealth of praise leveled towards the locker-room cohesiveness, towards that not-so-little something that separated them from so many others.
It even led to us wondering aloud if keeping Caron Butler, already out for the season with an injury, in favor of a trade to improve healthy talent wasn't the wisest move possible … as it kept safe the precious chemistry of that unit … kept them whole.
Chemistry is delicate … until it's not. Before the individuals are mixed into a collective, we simply can't predict with complete certainty how that process will conclude … or how quickly it will do so.
DONUT 7: The hope brought by a return to normalcy …
For a moment, ignore all of the flux surrounding Dirk Nowitzki and take a moment to glance back at a drastic shift that has been left behind: the collapsed schedule of the lockout season.
There is little doubt that the constrictions of the compacted training camp, preseason and regular season impacted Dirk's regimented approach, denying him the comfort of his routines, his offseason/preseason rituals. To open the season, we saw clear evidence of this.
Through the first 19 games Dirk's numbers were far below his personal standards: 16.2 points, 43.0 field-goal percentage and 17.8 3-point percentage … all well below his career marks.
Perhaps it was taking his mini-training-sabbatical (though the positive changes took several games after his return to be revealed). Perhaps it was Charles Barkley's now infamous (at least in Dallas) comments on Father Time overtaking Dirk, which happened to coincide perfectly with the reanimation of The Uberman's game. Or, perhaps it was merely the fact that Dirk's body began to catch up with the demands the season had thrust upon it.
From that point on, over the final 43 games, Dirk's numbers: 24.0 points, 46.7 field-goal percentage, 41.9 3-point percentage … numbers that if stretched over a full season would be above his career scoring average, just below his career field-goal percentage, and the second highest 3-point percentage of his career.
The greatest hope this team has may be the fact that they could very well be getting the old Dirk back … not just an old Dirk.
DONUT 8: The fear of a misguided grab for cash …
We've all heard or pondered the extra motivation assumed to be present for athletes in a contract year, when their performance is most directly tied to how large their next contract will be. The logic is simple: play great for one season and get paid.
That's the bright side … the optimistic portrayal, if you will.
The flip side of the same coin is that the drive for a contract can be an entirely individualistic motivation … as stats so often convert to cash.
How does Collison react if Mayo is taking too many shots, or vice versa? How does Brand react if his minutes aren't as abundant as he expects, or if he eats too much into Kaman's ability to stay on the floor and produce? Does resentment grow? Do teammates become competitors striving to drain a finite pool of contract money?
Knowing your commitment to a team is likely not to last more than a single year, could it become difficult to place what's best for the team ahead of the self?
DONUT 9: The hope carried by Rick Carlisle and staff …
The obvious counter to the previous fear is that winning cures all … just ask JJ Barea. Even if your pure numbers aren't elite, if a player shows he is capable of filling a particular role with excellence on a team that wins, there will be a market for them.
Carlisle's "be ready" approach may have ruffled a few feathers from time to time, but he's still been able to get his guys to buy in … something results – the proverbial "skins on the wall" -- have only made easier, just ask Shawn Marion, who went from being rag-dolled to a worthy champion.
This season will ask a lot of Carlisle, who will be in charge of fitting together so many new pieces while managing egos that may whisper motivations in contrast to what's best for the team at times, but there's few we'd be more comfortable with in charge of this task than a coach who has proven he is willing to set aside his own ego for the betterment of the team … and he'll have the benefit of a full training camp/preseason this time around.
DONUT 10: The fear of losing Delonte West …
It's been several days since the Mavs presumably used the rest of their cap space to sign O.J. Mayo, and still Delonte West remains on the open market. Undoubtedly, both sides are continuing to explore their options, with the obvious Dallas offer coming in either the from the veteran minimum or the room-exception.
Does the Mavs reported interest in Joel Przybilla factor into this? Or, is this simply Delonte doing his due diligence to make sure there isn't a better offer out there?
DONUT 11: Fish on Radio ...
All this week, Monday through Friday from 10 to 2, Fish is in for Mark Elfenbein co-hosting "Elf & Slater'' with the lovely Jane Slater on 105.3 The Fan. Mavs, Cowboys, assorted junk ... they're on it. Give the boss a listen, please!
DONUT 12: The hope and fear of the unknown …
As much as it's ever been in the Dirk Era, the Mavs enter the season as an unknown quantity. This brings forth trepidation and a sense of wonder that is both exciting and scary … and we're ready to get it started. After all, we can only play so many games of NBA 2K before we need the real thing.
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