Photo by Danny Bollinger

When I think about my trip to the USA earlier in the year, of all the NBA games that I saw, one stands out very clearly in my mind. This one. Of all the teams I watched around the country during that month-long adventure, the most fun I had – apart from watching my own beloved Pistons of course – was at American Airlines Center watching Dirk and Terry and Puerto Rican Guy completely destroy a helpless Jazz team. The Mavs simply kicked ass and were in the middle of a killer ass-kicking streak, and I seriously thought they could have damaged a few teams come playoff time. If it wasn’t for this complete utter f**k up it could well have been Dallas playing the Lakers in the WCFs. I honestly believe that.

There’s plenty of other reasons to like the Mavs. For Aussies, Nathan Jawai is one. Puerto Rican Guy is another. Shawn Marion another. So when it came to nominating a team to preview for the 2009 NBA Blog Previews, apart from Detroit (which have enough excellent blogs to themselves) the Mavericks seemed like a good choice. Don’t just hear it from me though. Check out the Mavs previews (soon to be posted) at Mavs Moneyball and The Two Man Game – if you’re a Mavs fan these blogs should be part of your daily reading.

Team Name: Dallas Mavericks
Last Year’s Record: 50-32
Key Losses: Brandon Bass, Devean George, Antoine Wright
Key Additions: Nathan Jawaii, Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

The Maverick’s off-season activity bemused me at times. They did the right thing by signing Marcin Gortat to a five-year $33 million offer sheet (I seriously did not think the Magic would match that), but in the process let Brandon Bass walk out the door… to Orlando. This is like going out with your best mate on a double-date with two hot girls, only to find out at the end of the night that the girl’s wanted to swap dates, only your mate’s girl never came knocking on your door, and instead, he nailed both of them. This analogy obviously breaks down as Gortat and Bass are not hot women, but apart from that I think its quite accurate.

The exciting news for Mavs fans was obviously the sign-and-trade that landed them Shawn Marion, and far more importantly, the big Aussie Nathan Jawai (ok, there may be some bias in there). Marion gives the Mavs a versatile forward to fit alongside the versatile Josh Howard, and of course Dirk Nowitzki (who is versatile). I’d love to say they traded for Jawai with the intent of giving him minutes, but in reality this isn’t the case. In the off-season Dallas also signed Drew Gooden (who you’d think will back up Damp) and Tim Thomas, almost completely erasing any chance Jawai had of making the rotation (that’s not to say he won’t pop back into the side later). I love the Drew Gooden signing because as regular readers of this site will know, I love Drew Gooden. As a 28-year old player I still think he has a lot to offer, and getting him for a one-year $4.5 million deal is a great catch. He will give the Mavs a buzz off the bench and go a long way to replacing anything they lost with Bass’ departure.

The other compelling story here is the possible moves the Mavs could undertake this coming season.  Erick Dampier will make $13 million this season but none of it is guaranteed, and you know what that means – a possible Kwame-esque cap-dumping deal that will save one team lots of cash and get Dallas a very good player. In addition, only $1.9 million of Gooden’s contract is guaranteed, which could also lead to an enticing trade for cash-strapped teams.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The three-headed forward line of  Nowitzki-Howard-Marion gives the Mavericks a heap of fire power, flexibility, and the potential to cause a lot of match up nightmares. The challenge is obviously going to be fitting all their minutes in, and I suspect they’ll do this by sliding Josh to the two-guard a lot more. I also expect the Mavericks transition game to pick up in leaps and bounds. Marion still loves to run the floor and gets a lot of his points on opportunistic plays, and Jason Kidd, while old, can still run the floor with the best of them. I’ve read some stuff saying the Mavs are too old, and while some of their key players certainly are, I don’t see it slowing their game down one bit. Barea plays at light speed and Terry is never afraid to fire away early in the possession. It all adds up to an already exciting team to watch possibly becoming even more exciting.

I’d say the Mavs “bench” is a strength, but when I think about it, I really mean Jason Terry. I can’t say enough about this guy, and despite winning the 6th Man of the Year I think he was still, somehow, underrated. To put it simply, there were a lot of Mavs games last season (and I certainly didn’t watch all of them) where Jet was their best player, hands-down. Where it was his spark off the bench and clutch play that got Dallas over the line. Not Dirk Nowitzki, but Jason Terry. He was so good last season that I honestly don’t see how he can match it in 09-10. So while he is definitely a secret weapon for the Mavs, he could also be the reason they drop off slightly.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

As I wrote back in May after the Mavs were knocked out of the playoffs, I thought there were times late in the season where they looked like one of the best teams in the league. We all knew they could score with the best of them, and the notion they were soft and weak in rebounding and interior defense was wearing off – in fact,  they ended up the 5th best rebounding team in the league. The additions of Marion and Gooden only serve to bolster the Mavs defense and rebounding. After all, for a “power forward” Brandon Bass was pulling down a pretty measly 4.5 boards per game.

So if I was a Mavs fan, what would I be worrying about? For me, it’s the center position. Dampier is past it, and Gooden is not a true center. Ryan Hollins was a guy I thought could play significantly more minutes this coming season (I always seemed to like him way more than most Dallas fans), but obviously the Mavs didn’t agree and let him walk. While we love Nathan Jawai, he’s not ready to be an NBA center. Ideally he’s suited to minutes at PF alongside another big body, but with Dirk in the line up that just isn’t going to happen. The Mavs know the center position is their weakness and signed Jake Voskuhl a couple of weeks ago (another blow to Jawai’s hopes), who lets be honest, isn’t going to contribute much. But the Mavs don’t need contributions here – just big bodies to throw at Gasol, Bynum, Howard and Shaq. If Dampier can put up similar numbers to last year and the Mavs have success playing small ball, then this won’t be a problem for most of the season – just in the playoffs against those elite teams.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The Mavericks will be telling themselves their goal is an NBA Championship – even though most of the basketball world doesn’t give them a chance in hell. I saw enough glimpses of them last year to make me believe they can go deep in the playoffs, but let’s not forget how bumpy the road was before they got there. The Mavs were brilliant over the final 10% of the season, but pretty woeful over the first 90%. Put some of that down to adjusting to Jason Kidd if you want, and there’s no doubt a new point guard requires the longest period of adjustment of all positions. But now we’re seeing even more shuffling of the line up, and I expect this team to take a little while before we see their best. Of course, if things don’t go according to plan, the Mavs might have a mid-season trade up their sleeves to catapult them amongst the title-favorites. Nothing about this team smells of “building for the future” or “developing youth”. It’s about getting a championship, now, before this Kidd-Dirk window closes.

5a). What will happen to Nathan Jawai?

As I’ve alluded to, don’t expect Jawai to be part of the Mavs rotation come regular season. Gooden, Humphries, Voskuhl and Thomas (when he returns from injury) will get the nod ahead of him. He didn’t even get any burn in the Mavs pre-season game against Orlando yesterday. It’s likely he could end up in the D-League, or perhaps kept as a bench warmer until Thomas returns from injury. But I will say this – the Mavs are very fragile at the center position. It would only take one injury to Dampier or Gooden and Jawai could see his name being called. It’s also likely that if the Mavs pull a big mid-season trade involving Dampier’s contract, that Jawai could be packaged as part of the deal to compensate the other team dealing away their big man. Above all though, we just hope big Nathan can remain healthy, and that there are no re-occurrences of that heart condition that gave him trouble earlier in the year.

5b) Can Puerto Rican Guy possibly get any better this season?

Do you remember the days when you’d say “Jose Juan Barea” and people would look at you weird and say “Who?”. I do, and it wasn’t that long ago. Seems strange, considering he’s now a household name, certainly in my house. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, check the tape.

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He didn’t get his face in our logo for nothing. I particularly liked the part where he made Baron Davis look like a statue. So the question is, can Jose possibly step it up to another level? I know what you’re thinking. “Rob, that’s impossible… there’s no ‘other level’ when you’re already at the top”. Damn straight.

Projected Finish: 54 wins, 4th in the West, and a second-round exit. This is the last roll of the dice for a championship for three All-Star veterans (technically four). Those players know that. The Mavs aren’t in the class of the Lakers, Cavs, Magic and Celtics, but I put them close to the front of the rest of the pack.

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