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The Dallas Mavericks are damaged goods. End of story. Seriously, has this team won a single truly important game since Game 2 of the 2006 Finals? From that moment on, the Mavs’ collective psyche has been forced to endure one beating after another, to the point where it’s difficult to see them even participating in an emotional, gutty, leave-it-all on the floor type of series (think 2006 Western Conference Finals vs. the Spurs) again, let alone actually winning one. Between blowing a near 3-0 NBA Finals lead in 2006 against the Miami Heat, to steamrolling through the 2006-07 regular season, only to get humiliated by the 8th seeded Golden State Warriors, to falling all the way to #7 in West and getting absolutely disemboweled by Chris Paul to start this postseason, on their to falling behind the New Orleans Hornets 3-1, how can this team have any emotional fuel left?
It time to face facts- the Dallas Mavericks, as currently comprised, are NOT going to win a championship. As hard is this may be for Mark Cuban to come to grips with, it is undeniably true. Although Dirk Nowitzki is still a top-flight talent, he’s no longer one of the league’s 10 best players (even disregarding age, would you take Dirk over Kobe, LeBron, CP3, KG, Amare, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, A.I., Pau or Chauncey Billups? Me either)- he’s a fantastic player and potentially an all-time great #2 guy on a championship team, but fact is that he missed his window to evolve into a true superstar, the heart-and-soul of a top team.
Sad as it may be, it’s time for Cuban and the Mavs to blow this thing up and start over. Assuming the Hornets are successful in handing the Mavs their second consecutive beating, head coach Avery Johnson is unlikely to be back for another year, but the overhaul can't stop there- this team needs to revamp its identity. As things stand now, the Mavericks have become the NBA team most synonymous with disappointment and underachievement. Fortunately, the team is not without talent or tradable assets, so the next step for the Mavericks should be one of reinvention rather than rebuilding, considering that:
- Next year, Jason “I am definitely no longer a” Kidd (and his expiring $21.3 million contract) will be among the league’s most coveted bargaining chips, and will have the Mavs on the short list of possible destinations for any big-money stars that happen to be on the trading block any time before next season’s trade deadline.
- In addition to having Jason Kidd ’s massive expiring contract coming off the books after next season, the Mavs have some significant cap relief coming to them, with the $18.6 million paid to Michael Finley (yup, they’re still paying him!), and an additional $7.5 million paid to the duo of Devean George and Shawn Bradley, coming off the books for 2008-09 (Shawn Marion???).
- Josh Howard, an extremely talented and athletic 27-year old with a “not insane” contract (Base Year Compensation of $9 million in 2007-08; just under $21 million over the next two seasons, with a team option for a third at $11.8 million), gives the Mavs an asset that will provide them with the opportunity to add a quality contributor (maybe two?) at a very manageable price.
- Finally, it’s time to think the unthinkable- if the Mavs are successful in dealing Jason Kidd’s expiring uber-deal for a legitimate top-flight talent, then maybe, just maybe, it’s time to at least listen to offers for Dirk Nowitzki. While a team with Dirk as its most talented player could certainly contend for a title, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the personality and identity of a championship team cannot have Dirk as its cornerstone. While the situation in Dallas may not yet be dire enough to warrant this drastic a move, we’ve all got to admit that the notion of dealing Dirk is less insane with every new letdown for this franchise.
Bottom line: there is little-to-no chance of the Mavericks’ current squad regaining their dominance of 2005-06 and the 2006-07 regular season, so why not capitalize on the variety of assets at their disposal and usher in a new era for the Mavs? The most important things to realize are that 1) this team peaked in June 2006, and has been unable to conjure up the strength to regain its status as a legitimate title contender, and 2) if handled properly, the retooling of the Mavericks does not have to be a painful, loss-filled rebuilding process. It may be difficult to accept, but the winds of change look ready to sweep through Dallas.