Did Mark Cuban save the Mavs season?


Apr 14, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo (32) celebrates after shooting a three point basket during the second half against the Utah Jazz at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated Utah Jazz 103-98. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

A little while back, I entertained writing a post that would feature a very lonely Dirk Nowitzki, who was abruptly left to fend for himself in the upcoming 2012-13 season. I was in full write-off mode with this team. Most of his 2011 Championship friends had skipped town. In addition to Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea leaving last season, now Jason Terry decided to jump ship to the Eastern Conference to join the Celtics, Jason Kidd unexpectedly bolted to the Big Apple and even Brendan Haywood was amnestied. Combine all that with them “spurned” by Deron Williams (and to a lesser degree Dwight Howard) this offseason and really, only a skeleton remained.

That’s until Mark Cuban spun his wheels.

If you pulled up the roster back in early July, it seemed that any players that lingered were either in their  mid-30′s or barely into their 20′s, with not much in between. The source escapes me, but someone Tweeted a joke at the time that went something like this: “If your roster has more than 5 players with the #0, you’re in trouble.”

Although we never heard directly from Dirk on the lack of a full roster, there’s no way he would have been content tolerant with this collection of players, that ultimately represented a limited to non-existent chance to even make it back to the playoffs in the Western Conference next season.

But with a flurry of moves over the past few weeks, did Cuban actually improve the Mavericks enough to save the season and keep them playoff-relevant?

They signed Chris Kaman (1 year, $8 million) to replace Brendan Haywood. Also, they have created a German connection at the 4-5 positions, with Kaman being a close friend of Dirk. On a 1-year deal, Kaman will be working toward that next contact this season, so the risk is pretty low. He’s always been a productive rebounder, solid defender and can score in the post. While he doesn’t exactly lower the average age of the roster (he’s 30), he’s an upgrade from what they had at the center position last season.

Then they acquired Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones in a sign-and-trade from Indiana for free agent center, Ian Mahinmi. Like Kaman, Collison (the signature piece in the deal) is also playing on an expiring contract next season, one of only $2.3 million. After he lost his starting spot to George Hill late last season, he will likely slide into the starting point guard role for the Mavs. I liken Collison to a Jrue Holiday in Philly, a smaller PG who showed some real flashes while stepping in for Chris Paul in New Orleans two seasons ago. Given the playing time available in Dallas now, he makes the Mavericks younger and potentially could give some teams matchup fits while they struggle to guard one of the fastest players in the league. Dahntay Jones simply ran out of playing time in Indiana, but should find some minutes on this roster as a defensive specialist, similar to Thabo Sefolosha in Oklahoma City. So far, I love what Dominique Jones has been doing in Summer League and could be preparing for a breakout season in Big D.

Ah yes, the Elton Brand signing. Great career, classy vet, but declining skills. Considering that the Mavs needed major help in the back court, I wasn’t a big fan of this signing. Although the price tag was extremely reasonable, I don’t see how Brand (who is 33) is going to push this team over the top. They have Dirk and Marion in the forward spots, followed by Brandan Wright and rookie Jae Crowder (who I love) looking for opportunities to prove themselves. He makes them older again and I think if they get 11 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, they’ll be lucky. I’d love to see Brand try to handle Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried on the boards at this point in his career.

Finally, they pin down their starting shooting guard and sign O.J. Mayo  to a 2-year deal. I love this move. I feel like Mayo’s potential got somewhat restricted by having to come off the bench the past two seasons in Memphis. His first two years, he played 163 out of 164 games, averaged 38 minutes per game and put up excellent numbers (18.0 ppg) for a rookie and sophomore, with underrated perimeter defense. In Dallas, where they have penciled him in as the starter, he has a chance to establish himself as a true building block. With little depth in the back court. I expect Mayo to average at least 35 minutes a game again and possibly be featured as the second scoring option. Lord knows, they could use the scoring with the void Jason Terry will leave.

Finally, in late July, they re-signed Delonte West, which may end up being a bigger move than people think. Despite lacking a tremendous primary skill, Delonte is a well rounded guard who is capable of starting or coming off the bench. He has always found a niche as a role player for whatever team he played for. He is key to the depth of the Mavs roster.

The Mavs truly tumbled down the Western Conference ranks with the sudden losses they had a couple of weeks ago. With a roster filled with “#0′s” and the “Trade Dirk!” talks surely around the corner, the playoffs seemed completely out of the question. Now, I think they’re at least in playoff conversations. While I think that “saved the season” may be a bit strong at this point, Cuban certainly improved his roster.  If they do make it, they should only be a borderline playoff team, and unlike last season, there will be no fighting for home court this time around either. I think the Timberwolves make it in this year and the Mavericks will be stuck battling the likes of the Warriors and Jazz for the final couple of playoff spots in the West.

In the end we know two things. Dirk Nowitzki ain’t goin’ out without a fight and Mark Cuban will always be spinning his wheels.