Training camp opened this weekend for a Dallas Mavericks team that bares almost no resemblance to the championship team of 2011 and doesn’t have a lot of holdovers even from last year.
After losing 4 key players to free agency last year, future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and the team’s second most important player over the last decade, Jason Terry, both left for greener pastures as well. The Mavericks also amnestied Brendan Haywood, traded Ian Mahinmi and let benchwarmers Brian Cardinal and Yi Jianlian walk.
While missing out on the “big fish” Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, the Mavs reloaded with veteran former All-Stars and a promising group of younger vets and rookies who look to provide more options on offense and defense than possibly any time in Maverick history.
Dirk Nowitzki will be joined up front by free agent signee former All-Star Chris Kaman who, when healthy, has been as solid as virtually any big man in the league. A versatile scorer and competent defender, he may become the best scoring center in franchise history and that will be a distraction from Dirk that Dirk has never enjoyed.
In addition, Elton Brand, picked up on amnesty waivers, is a perennial All-Star who has started to show his age but is also the backup Dirk has never had and an elite defender. Since Lamar Odom came in and completely failed in that role, Rick Carlisle may for the first time be completely comfortable when Dirk is on the bench.
Rookie Bernard James is a defensive stalwart who played outstanding basketball in the summer league and returning Brandan Wright had a career season last year, leading the team in field goal percentage. If Wright is not asked to defend big centers, he has shown a great presence around the basket and may finally fulfill his potential as a former lottery pick.
Shawn Marion’s scoring is not what it was in Phoenix but he continues to be possibly the most underrated defender in the league. Backing him up should be Vince Carter, who came off an excellent season in a limited role and rookie Jae Crowder, whose game parallels Marion’s to a great degree. Dahntay Jones, brought in with Darren Collison in the trade that sent Ian Mahinmi to the Indiana Pacers, is also a tenacious defender and competent 3-point shooter in the mold of DeShawn Stevenson.
Besides Collison, the only true point guard on the roster, the backcourt situation is unclear with a logjam of talent. Collison’s backup should be Delonte West who has made a solid showing last year on both ends of the court splitting time at the point and shooting guard. New free agent signee O. J. Mayo will start at shooting guard and try to recapture the impact he had as a rookie with Memphis before being relegated to a less effective sixth man role.
Vince Carter should be called upon to try to replace Jason Terry, a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate who left for Boston. Carter has much of Terry’s outside shooting capability and is more effective posting up, so the team could turn a loss into a gain. If Carter spends more time at small forward the Mavs have a collection of talented guards waiting to make their mark including holdovers Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones. Both have shown great potential in different circumstances but have not been able to consistently contribute in regular season NBA competition. They will compete for time with rookie Jared Cunningham.
The Mavericks also brought three additional players to camp: Josh Akognon and Tu Holloway are sharpshooting rookie guards who put up impressive numbers at smaller division I schools. D.J. Mbenga is a 7-footer who started his career with the Mavericks but over the course of 7 NBA seasons has averaged less than 2 points and 2 rebounds per game.
And of course, Dirk comes to camp this year rested and healthy, in shape with no knee problems remaining from last year. Considering after a slow start he returned to form midway through the season there is no reason to expect him to have anything less than a great year and with new offensive weapons on the squad, Rick Carlisle should be able to exploit other teams who will now have to more carefully consider defensive assignments.
Training camp begins with tons of promise and expectations of a substantially different formula when the Mavericks finally hit the court. As things start to settle out we’ll have a much better idea how this crew will compare with expectations of being a dark horse for a longer playoff run.
See updated player profiles at The Smoking Cuban.