It’s been 12 years since downtown Dallas was quiet in late April. In normal circumstances, the streets are filled on any given night from April to June with crowds of people, in blue and white No. 41 jerseys. Why the difference? The Dallas Mavericks did not make the playoffs and Mavs fans demand change.
There are five key improvements needed to return to the playoffs in 2013-14:
1. Get Younger
The Mavericks made a fair attempt to address their aging team in the 2012 draft by selecting three players in the first two rounds. After trading Tyler Zeller, the 17th-overall pick, to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they had picks No. 22, 33 and 34. Jared Cunningham, a shooting guard from Oregon State that NBA draft analysts compared to Russell Westbrook, played eight out of 82 games this season. Not very promising so far. Bernard James, the 33rd pick from Florida State and oldest player drafted that night at age 27, showed flashes on defense this season, but did not get much playing time. James started 11 of the 46 games he played in this season, which is a big amount for a rookie center fighting for minutes behind veterans Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Jae Crowder, however, was drafted 34th from Marquette and has been the best find for the Mavs in quite some time. Crowder averaged more than 17 minutes a night and started 16 games. He has proven he can play with Dirk Nowitzki on the court. This is the mindset the Mavericks need to have going through this pivotal offseason You need the young players to provide the energy “X” factor needed for a long NBA season.
2. Sequester Dirk Nowitzki
I say that with a bit of sarcasm, but when the best player in franchise history misses 29 games, your chances of making the playoffs are slim to none. Dirk put off the knee surgery off too long last summer. Not easy to get married in four different locations across the globe, take your team to your hometown in Germany as your team tours Europe, then have surgery and rehab in time to start the season by Halloween. This year, they may want to keep him in Dallas and in a gym this summer.
3. Free Agency
Mark Cuban started this process in 2011 by dismantling a championship team in preparation for the new salary cap restrictions. It’s a move most Mavericks fans have not forgiven him for and is a painful reminder of the best of times. Now Cuban has the chance to finally say, “See, I told you so.”
Two years off scouring the earth for NBA players that are willing to take a one-year deal to play with Dirk Nowitzki has left GM Donnie Nelson with another blank check to build a band of brothers. The mood has changed in the league, as other teams adopt Mark Cuban’s way of thinking two years later. Players are not willing to accept one-year deals in Dallas and the head coach is tired of coaching them. Take O.J. Mayo for an example. Key positions that the Mavericks need to upgrade will be readily available this summer, like point guard and center. The two best options are Chris Paul and Dwight Howard–two players that fans have been waiting on since 2011.
4. Point Guard
The big reason why Nowitzki has played at such a high level for so long is the point guards he has played with. From Steve Nash, Avery Johnson, Devin Harris, Jason Kidd, to now Mike James and Darren Collison. Really!?! The need for point guard is the biggest improvement needed to have any shot at the postseason and needs to be addressed through free agency. You have a three-year window with Dirk, so you need some quick chemistry.
These three are vital players for the leadership needed on the court and the locker room. Both Carter and Marion are will be in the last year of their current contracts, so they will be a part of mid-season trade talks. The Mavs need to keep both for the entire season. Guys like this are hard to replace. Besides Nowitzki, Marion is the only remaining member of the 2011 championship team and knows what it takes to get back. Carter is the veteran that wants a ring before he retires and makes his Hall of Fame speech, similar to Jason Kidd when he joined the Mavericks a second time in 2007. During the last 10 games of the season, these three players kept the team’s minimal playoff hopes alive as long as they could. Carlisle depends on these players too much to trade them, unless it means bringing the superstar player fans want.