The good news was the Dallas Mavericks made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs. That's an improvement over two-straight first round defeats. And, Dallas again won 50 games, the ninth year in a row they have reached that plateau.
But this is about all one can expect out of this Maverick’s roster, and you have to know that is not good enough for Mark Cuban, or for Dallas fans. Dallas’ playoffs ended after five games with the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night, 124-110.
Dallas has a roster living in a no man’s land of good but not elite. The fact is, this is an older team that will not get better next season simply through maturity. The vanquished Portland Trailblazers will — they are going to take a big step forward next year. Denver might, they have gained considerable confidence in these playoffs that might carry over.The Lakers still have tons of talent and their core is not old, if anything Andrew Bynum is going to get better, making them better.
Cuban is not a man who lives comfortably in that good-but-not-great no man’s land. He really has two options —blow it up and start rebuilding, or find another key player and some depth, then try to keep everyone and make one more big run at an NBA title.
The latter is the better option, and not just because we all want to see the look on David Stern’s face as he hands Cuban the Larry O’Brien trophy (although that will be priceless). But because this team has an elite star in Dirk Nowitizki and is just a couple players away, and it’s too hard to get to this level to just dynamite the thing and go back to square one.
That starts with resigning Jason Kidd — he is an unrestricted free agent, he can walk if the Maverick’s don’t make a reasonable offer. Certainly today’s Kidd is not the dominant Kidd of nine years ago (although his jumper is much better), but he is still an above average NBA point guard, and while Jose Barea may take another step forward next year, he is just average. Kidd can no longer carry a team, but he can be a solid and smart leader. If they can get him in a short-term deal (he will be 36 next season) at a reasonable price (say $6-7 million per year), he’d still be their best option.
They also need to lock up Brandon Bass — good interior players coming off the bench are not easy to come by and all the elite teams have one.
But what about that other piece? It’s impossible to say who will come available this summer (especially in this economy, when an owner may need to jettison a good player for financial reasons). But there will be options, good ones.
The Mavericks need a couple specific things. One is another pure scorer, someone who can take the offensive load off Dirk. Another is a good defender, maybe somebody who could protect the rim on penetration, or a wing defender who can stop that penetration in the first place. If that scorer and defender could come in the same package, all the better.
One rumor was that Cuban would make a move to bring in Shaquille O’Neal. It makes some sense — Shaq would provide the missing inside presence that would take some pressure of Nowitzki. The Big Whatever showed this year he still has something in the tank, especially when motivated to get in shape. He can still defend and rebound, not like the Shaq of 2000 but still well. This kind of trade might cost the Mavericks Josh Howard, but some Dallas fans would be happy to see him leave town. Although how much you can get for a guy going under the knife in the off-season remains to be seen.
The bigger problem is that all this might not be enough, the West is stacked. The Lakers and Portland are going to be tough to move past, and one of these years the Big Three of the Spurs are all bound to be healthy for the playoffs.
But for the Mavericks and their fans, doing what it takes to make one more run makes a lot more sense than throwing in the towel. And that’s not Cuban’s way, anyway.