“I’m climbing through the wreckage of all my twisted dreams, but this cheap investigation just can’t stifle all my screams, and I’m waiting at the crossroads …” Guns N’ Roses, Coma.
With the championship banner feeling further and further out of reach, the relic of a dream that’s grown cold and spiteful in the eyes of some, tainted as much by regret as joy, we (Dallas Mavericks fans) stand now in the wake of a plan gone horribly awry.
Capping 12 years of fruitless searching, of Shawn Bradley of Wang Zhizhi of Pavel Podkolzin of Erick Dampier of Mbenga of DeSagana Diop of Jamaal Magloire of Ryan Hollins of Drew Gooden and of Brendan Haywood, the 13th year of Dirk’s career brought an answer: Tyson Chandler.
One year, and one championship, later … gone.
This is merely a fact, not an opinion.
Passed another year, after a roster thoroughly Odom’d, there came the first glimpse of redemption: Deron Williams.
A filming of "Shark Tank later,'' after the race narrowed to two, the Mavs finished second. In the moment, perhaps one shark’s eyes wondered to a greater catch, to the dreams of Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. In hindsight, maybe Cuban’s presence at Deron’s pitch makes a difference, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s hard to argue against the notion of rewinding, of going all out, of finding out.
Fast-forward to this summer: Doc opened one wound while closing another. With the addition of Coach Rivers sealing the fate of Chris Paul, the Mavs were denied even a seat at the table, the chance to pitch, and the Clippers retained their star.
After the perfect storm of dominoes fell exactly as all Mavs hopefuls could have dreamt, Dwight Howard hit the open market willing to discard the $30 million in leverage his former team held. Only, like a race car stripped of all that once made it formidable, the Mavs limped to the table, outraced by multiple suitors.
And, here we stand, climbing through the wreckage of all our twisted dreams, spilled from one end of the spectrum to the other in only two years.
So, what comes now?
With a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs are not capable of all-out tanking. Without a mutual desire from Dirk – he has a full no-trade clause -- to end an era unceremoniously in turmoil, there’s likely no thought to parting ways, regardless of whether or not that course may make sense.
Dirk is a once-in-a-generation player. He’s what you hope for when dreams of tanking are accepted. And, he’s still here … at least for a moment more.
Tanking promises only one thing: tanking. There is no assurance of what will come. There is no promise of Kevin Durant over Greg Oden. There is nothing that is certain, except the losing. It can work out, and the cyclical nature of the sport suggests that it will … eventually.
Ask yourself, if the Mavs went into a decade of futility, eight years in, with no end to irrelevance in sight, would you look back and wish for one or two more years of giving everything to build around Dirk and hoping for the best? Would the forfeit be worth it then? Maybe it doesn’t happen that way, but there’s no promise it won’t.
The thought isn’t meant to patronize those that wholeheartedly believe that “Diggin’ for Wiggins” is the way to go. At this point, can any path truly be labeled as wrong … or, more wrong? It’s only to remind of one possible outcome that seems to be slipped over far too casually by #TeamTank, just as the notion of Dirk retiring next summer if some semblance of hope hasn’t returned is.
When at the bottom of the well, it’s a much easier course of action to stay … the hardest is to find a way up and out.
So, if we accept the reality that the Mavs almost certainly won’t tank, we ask again: what now?
Is someone like Samuel Dalembert the answer? What about Greg Oden?
The answer isn’t so cut-and-dry.
I've heard Fish say this on the radio a few times this week following his detailed breakdown of the "Breakfast With Bynum'' gone wrong: "Desperate times call for desperate measures.'' Fitting a guy in simply because he’s “OK” is nearer a step back now than a push forward, unless forward is off the cliff inching closer and closer, taking up more and more of the horizon.
As has been mentioned ad nauseam in the past few days/weeks, assets are the name of the game. (Check out DB.com Archives and you'll see, I think, that we've nailed it -- albeit possibly too late.) And, if the goal is to become more than a team that dances at the edge of the playoffs during the remaining Dirk window, praying for an eighth seed, the escalation of assets cannot take years to build.
Risks must be taken. If they fail, Dallas bottoms out as soon as Dirk leaves, just as they would anyway … without gains far greater than stopgaps like Samuel Dalembert can provide, gains greater than the tradable worth of players having crowned the peak of their potential and beginning the gradual climb down the other side (with Devin Harris and Vince Carter standing as exceptions to this rule due to their very affordable costs), there simply isn’t time.
If assets are the name of the game, and free agency is currently the avenue available to create those assets, the Mavs must gamble on at least one player that holds the potential to quickly exceed their coming/current contract’s value.
So they've rolled the dice that 27-year-old Monta Ellis can be coached, can thrive with a costar like none he’s experienced and lose the moniker of a volume shooter as likely to give up an easy basket as grab a steal. They've bet on the ability of Rick Carlisle to mold him into something more than the player who just fired his agent after a rude awakening from the current market.
As the Charlotte Bobcats have come to an impasse with 25-year-old shooting guard Gerald Henderson and look for possible sign-and-trades (as reported by Yahoo), force your way into the fray and make every attempt to steal a player still climbing towards what he could be, even if it doesn’t completely mesh with a roster suddenly heavy on guards. Get the "best'' available, not the "best fit available.''
Henderson is said to be looking for a deal that starts in the range of $8 million per year. If he can improve upon the 17.8 points he averaged per 36 minutes last season, and continue to be a solid rebounder, defender, and rim attacker, it’s not hard to imagine that salary looking like a bargain to a team looking to unload a superior talent in the near future.
Go a little beyond what’s on the table on the guaranteed dollars to Greg Oden, something that shouldn’t take much considering the cap restrictions of the other two teams (San Antonio and Miami) he’s interested in, at least monetarily.
Consider creating the space and money-whipping Nikola Pekovic, forcing Minnesota and Pekovic to make a decision where there currently is none. Perhaps the outcome is already predetermined, but is it time to say, “screw it” and take a swing. Whether or not it’s that time is a question the Mavs must ask themselves, and answer honestly. Maybe it’s not.
It may be time to come to the realization that ideas that once seemed bad, because they were, must now be considered. If the goal is to become relevant again while keeping Dirk in the fold, time is quickly running out. Their one-hour-away-from-getting-Iggy circumstance hints that they do see that ... though "trying'' doesn't get you points, does it?
The Mavs now stand at a crossroads.
A crossroads between the Dirk Era and what comes next?
A crossroads between hardened cap sensibilities and what may have once been deemed reckless gambling?
A crossroads between relevance and …
The hole has been dug. Either take drastic steps to claw out, or don’t. But, don’t walk the treadmill in that large gray area between the two. Don’t just stand in the intersection of the crossroads and wait.
“Yeah, it’s easy to be hungry when you ain’t got shit to lose …” Guns N Roses, Coma.