Dallas Mavs In Search of a Firewall

Last summer when DeAndre Jordan went back on his word, leaving Mark Cuban in a bind, the billionaire owner didn’t cry over spilled milk. It was over, it was done with despite the charade at the end. A little bit embarrassed by the melodrama which Cuban hadn’t anticipated, he went to his strength: he dug in. He gave Wesley Matthews an out which he didn’t take. Cuban replaced Jordan with Zaza Pachulia. He signed Deron Williams once he was released by the Nets. He made a deal for JaVale McGhee.

Seven months after the Jordan rejection, the Mavericks find themselves in the Western Conference’s version of no-man’s land. They are closer to being out of the playoff chase than they are to the 5th seed Memphis Grizzlies. Breathing down the proverbial Mavs neck are the Portland Trailblazers who trail them by half a game and have won 9 out of their last 10, including an impressive 30 point beat down of the defending champion Warriors, as Damian Lillard dropped 51. The Houston Rockets trail the Mavericks by 1.0 games. The heat is on.

For the next 26 games, it’s going to be an up and down, roller coaster race where you live and die by the schedule, by back-to-backs and home games against the NBA’s helpless. In Dallas’ favor, they only have 11 road games left, 3 of which are against teams in playoff spots. But then, Dallas isn’t good enough to circle teams with a W because they have a losing record.

The Mavs normal firewall of Dirk Nowitzki can no longer screen disaster from property lines. The Mavs lost to Orlando, a team that just traded one of their best players and are out of the playoff hunt (for now). The Mavs, according to Tim McMahon of ESPN, are interested in David Lee. Yahoo reports it’s pretty much a done deal.

David Lee?

The David Lee who couldn’t make the rotation in Steve Kerr’s offense last year and appeared in a couple of NBA Finals games, was fitted for his ring, and then was traded to Boston? In Boston this year, it was apparent that what Kerr saw in Lee wasn’t a fluke. Lee plays hard but he wasn’t athletic when he was drafted. At the age of 32, soon to be 33, he is a step too slow. He’s a defensive liability against strech fours and explosive power forwards. Two years ago, he averaged 18.1 points a game. This year he is averaging 7.1 as his minutes have been cut in half.

Lee’s PER will be 5th highest on the Mavericks, behind JaVale McGee, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Powell, Zaza Pachulia.

Three Years of David Lee Points FG% Rebounds PER
2013-14, Warriors 18.2 52.3% 9.3 19.1
2014-15, Warriors 7.9 51.1% 5.2 17.8
2015-16, Celtics 7.1 45.3% 4.3 15.6

The rule is, it’s better to be bad in the NBA than mediocre. The Mavs low hanging fruit, if they find a way to usurp magic out of a bottle, can carry them to an 8th or 7th seed and another first round exit. That’s it. Their rostered players don’t have much explosiveness. They don’t have an under-30 All-Star. They are not particularly quick, they play slow. Their offensive skill and defensive skill is average. Eight players on their roster are over 30. It’s a perfect group for Rick Carlisle to coach up but their impact against high offensive spacing teams like the Warriors and Spurs is nil. They have lost to the Warriors and Spurs by 67 points, but they did beat the Warriors at the end of December by 23 points to end the year in an up note. The Mavs are 1-4 against the Warriors and Spurs. They play the Warriors twice more, within a 7 day span. They end the season with a Spurs home game.

The Mavericks don’t have consistent shooters, ranking 23rd in the league in percentage and 22nd in three-point makes, thus no one on the Mavericks draws a double team, creating mismatches. They are last in the league in blocked shots, a Jordan specialty that Cuban could not replace. The guards aren’t quick enough defensively to create steals at a high rate. The Mavs don’t get a lot of easy baskets. You can’t win consistently in the NBA when your best player is 37 years old.

After wining the NBA Finals in 2011, the Mavericks have yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs and a lot of that falls on Cuban and the deals he made and the deals he didn’t make. Currently constructed, the Mavs are incomplete in both the front court and backcourt, absent the explosive athleticism/skill that wins playoff series.

After the DeAndre disaster, Cuban said this:

“We came out way ahead. Different people have different responsibiities and it’s better to find out when they don’t match up before you do a deal. I thought we had a great summer.”

Great is one of those Mark Cuban hyperboles. A good summer is more like it. But, good doesn’t guarantee a NBA playoff berth, not in the West, as the Mavs are finding out eight months later. As they adhere the David Lee band-aid to the wound, they are still searching.


photo via llananba