Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

Can the Dallas Mavericks repeat as NBA champions?

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After a trying, decade-long run that consistently placed them along the title’s periphery, the Dallas Mavericks finally claimed their first ever NBA championship last June. The fact that Dirk and the Mavs are the reigning champs still seems like a hazy dream — a vision almost too similar to a storybook to be real, and an image obscured just enough by the lockout to give it that ethereal glow. But the trophy itself is no fantasy, and the Mavs will set out this season to defend their right to another one just like it with every resource at their disposal.

It won’t be easy. Even with an impressive run of low-cost off-season additions, the Mavs are hardly in a position to repeat as the league’s champions:

Losing the “best offense”

Contrary to their offense-first reputation, the Mavericks were a surprisingly balanced team last year, as they finished the regular season ranked eighth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It was that two-way effectiveness that really pushed Dallas over the top in the NBA Finals; although Dirk Nowitzki was a certifiable terror all throughout the Mavs’ playoff run, it was the team’s defensive flexibility that allowed them to corral LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the title on the line.

Dwane Casey, the former Mavs assistant who now sits at the head of the bench for the Toronto Raptors, was a big part of that. It was Casey’s system that put Dallas’ many defensive elements into their appropriate context, and turned Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler into versatile, switchable, and highly deployable defensive weapons. Dallas just had so much size and mobility across the board, and that positional flexibility gave the Mavs an uncommon success in defending the pick-and-roll.

Things could get slightly tougher without Casey, even though his system has been handed off to assistant coach Monte Mathis. Yet they’re assuredly going to be more difficult without Tyson Chandler, who didn’t receive the long-term security or financial commitment he desired from the Mavs in free agency. Chandler is now a New York Knickerbocker, leaving some combination of Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, and Brandan Wright to fill in minutes as Dallas’ defensive anchor. Haywood is still quite underrated in that regard, but even at his best he’s a few steps below Chandler. He’ll battle opponents in the post, do his best do hedge screens, and generally make the right rotations, but Haywood consistently lags behind Chandler in terms of overall defensive efficacy.

It’s the depth at center that could give Dallas more significant problems, though. As is usually the case, Chandler’s one-time backup is ready to step in and produce. But what of the players behind him? Ian Mahinmi may be the most talented fouler in the NBA. Nowitzki and Odom would give Dallas a virtually unmatchable offensive alignment if they played center, but don’t have the same rotational value as Chandler or Haywood. Wright is athletic, but is undeniably a work in progress. Yet that group will have some huge responsibilities when Haywood is resting or plagued with foul trouble, and it’s hard to imagine them living up to last season’s benchmark.

The never-ending quest for improvement

Even though the Mavs will enter the 2011-2012 season having accomplished their greatest goal the year prior, they still face the same pressure that falls on every defending champ: the burden of being even better. Dallas can’t just be as good as they were last season; in order to counter all the moves that have been made, the development of young players around the league, and the more nuanced understanding opposing coaches now have of how to use their respective rosters, the Mavs will need to find some legitimate means toward actual improvement.

And looking up and down this roster, it’s hard to find compelling reason why Dallas would actually be a better team this season. Chandler’s departure obviously hurts quite a bit, as do the losses of Caron Butler and J.J. Barea. But above all, it was Dallas’ decision to value financial flexibility over all else that’s put them in their current position.

The Mavs have done an incredible job of upgrading their roster under these circumstances; the additions of Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West, and the aforementioned Brandan Wright are downright gaudy considering their minimal financial costs. But how does the shift in personnel impact Dallas’ ability to field competitive lineups? They’ve bolstered their depth virtually across the board, but what have they given up at center in order to make that possible?

I think at best, you’re looking for a Mavs team that would essentially be a wash in terms of overall quality, as they compensate for some defensive slippage with offensive gain. Yet it’s hard to see — even in that best-case scenario — how the defending champs would meet their burden for improvement beyond their performance last season. Dallas’ moves to date have done well to mitigate some of the team’s free agent losses, but aren’t quite robust enough to completely erase them.

If you keep rolling the dice…

On the Mavs’ Media Day, new Maverick Vince Carter may have summed up Dallas’ playoff run best.

“[The Mavs] just made it happen,” Carter said. “It takes a lot of luck and opportunity, and they seized the moment. Could people honestly say they were going to win it at the beginning of the year? No, not really. Not even in the middle of the year. When you put a team like this together that’s committed and when you get a bunch of veteran guys, anything could happen.”

With a team like the one the Mavs had last season, anything could happen. Dallas put itself in a position to succeed time and time again, and rolled the dice. On the ropes against the Portland Trailblazers? Rolled a six. Comeback victory against the Lakers on the road thanks to a favorable call? Rolled a six. Need a knockout punch in Game 4 against the defending champs? Six. A complete blitzkrieg en route to an impossible comeback against Oklahoma City? Another one.

You get the idea, because we all witnessed it: Dallas got every single break they needed in every single series of last year’s postseason, and while that made their championship run one for the ages, it also makes it incredibly difficult to replicate. Dallas is a very good team, but thanks to surges and breaks and explosions at the best possible times, they — if only temporarily — became a truly amazing one. You, I, and the history books will never forget it.

As Carter says, anything could happen. But it’d be silly to expect the same result, even after the Mavs again put themselves in a position to roll the dice with quality regular season performance.

Report: Rockets, Donatas Motiejunas not negotiating contract extension at deadline

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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It looks like Donatas Motiejunas is about to go the route Tristan Thompson did — it worked out for the Cavaliers’ big man.

But this would be a huge bet on himself by Motiejunas.

The Lithuanian is headed toward playing this season on a qualifying offer with the Rockets, then becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, according to the latest report from Adrian Wojnarowski and the team at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Last season the Rockets tried to trade Motiejunas to the Pistons (where he would backup Andre Drummond), but Pistons voided the deal, saying he failed his physical. Motiejunas slammed Detroit for the move. This summer Motiejunas was a restricted free agent, but he didn’t land any offers from other squads (teams were convinced the Rockets would just match any reasonable offer).

That gets us to where we are today, where Motiejunas appears headed to signing the qualifying offer, then testing the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent. It all seems a little messier than it had to be, but this is where we are.

Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons suffers fracture in right foot, will miss time

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Sixers cannot catch a break. Or, to be more accurate, they are catching too many.

After center Joel Embiid is finally set to take the court after missing the past two seasons with a foot injury, now Ben Simmons — the recent No. 1 pick and point forward who had created a lot or buzz — has suffered a fracture to his right foot, the team has announced. Simmons will miss time, exactly how much depends on the course of treatment, but with this injury the shortest recovery time is 6-8 weeks.

From the Sixers official press release:

After receiving an X-ray and MRI of the foot and ankle, the images were reviewed by Sixers Head Physician Dr. Christopher Dodson and Sixers Chief Medical Officer and Co-Chief of Sports Medicine Orthopedics at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center Dr. Jonathan Glashow. 

It was determined that Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot.  Further medical evaluation and treatment options are being considered at this time and additional updates will be provided when appropriate. 

The first reports out of practice were Simmons had rolled his ankle. Clearly it was much more than that.

The injury is commonly known as a Jones Fracture, which is what Kevin Durant suffered a couple years back and has hit a number of NBA players in recent years (Cameron Payne, Jodie Meeks and others). The fifth metatarsal is the bone that runs from the base of the little toe up to the ankle on the foot. Even in a serious case surgery can repair it, however, healing can be slow because that is not an area of the foot with great natural blood flow. The Sixers and Simmons have to be patient so this doesn’t become a lingering issue (remember Durant needed multiple surgeries and missed a lot of time).

This just sucks for the Sixers, who see Simmons as the playmaker at the core of their young roster — one they hoped to have fully on the court this season. Now that will at least be delayed a while.

 

Kevin Love says there will always be stories about his fit with Cavs, he doesn’t care

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love gets photographed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
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If anyone in the NBA should have a thick skin when it comes to talk of player conflicts and trade rumors, it should be Kevin Love. Those stories have been like a cartoon cloud following his every step since he landed in Cleveland.

And he doesn’t give a… you know.

The Cavaliers just won a title with Love playing a key role, and yet the cloud still follows him. Love was asked about the stories of his fit with his team after practice Friday (video below, if you’re easily offended by language don’t hit play).

“I love this team. There will always be stories. I don’t think they’ll ever leave. Frankly, I don’t really give a s—.”

It’s amazing what winning can do. If the Cavaliers had not come back from 3-1 down in the Finals, the consensus around the league was that Cleveland would have made significant roster changes last summer and Love likely would have been the big name out the door. In some parallel universe that happened.

But not in this one — Love has a ring. And he’s still a Cavalier. And he doesn’t care what his critics think of that.

Chris Bosh: “I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done.”

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 14:  NBA player Chris Bosh attends the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2016 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 14, 2016 in Westwood, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Pat Riley has said he is not working to bring Chris Bosh back to the Miami Heat roster. After blood work with a preseason physical showed signs of the blood clotting issues that ended Bosh’s last two seasons early, the Heat will not clear him to play.

Bosh wants and intends to play.

His latest video at The Uninterrupted shows Bosh getting the news of what Riley said (at media day) and his reaction to it.

“Got the news. I was in disbelief for a couple seconds, then I threw my phone down and I stormed out the room… But I’m glad I didn’t break my phone. I wanted to break it, but I didn’t….

“I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done. I did not expect that at all…. That does not mean my NBA career is over. There are 29 other teams, it’s a whole league. One team does not make up the opinion of everything.”

Bosh also fired a couple shots at Riley and Heat management.

“I didn’t see my career in Miami ending like this. I didn’t get a call or a test or anything like that…

“I want to tell everyone in Miami this is not how I planned it to be. They don’t want to hear Dwyane (Wade) is gone. They don’t want to hear, ‘oh yea, Chris is never going to play for the Miami Heat again.’ People don’t want to hear that. I just feel for the fans. I wanted to give them more, I wanted to give them something better. Because they deserve better than what they’re getting right now.”

The next question is where the Bosh saga goes from here — there are no easy answers.

The Heat will look to trade Bosh, but that is a longshot. What other team is so desperate as to give up quality assets so they can take on the three-years, $75.8 million remaining on a contract of a player who may never be cleared by the league to play, and if he does play may not be able to finish seasons? Would the NBA even approve a trade if its doctors think some team is ignoring serious medical issues just to land an All-Star level player?

Can the two sides reach a buyout? Only if Bosh agrees to a ridiculously small share of the $75 million he is owed, because that money would still be on the Heat’s books. Miami would love to be able to waive Bosh then in February apply to have his salary wiped off its books. The problem there for the Heat is that if Bosh does come back and plays 25 or more games for any other team over the course of his career, that entire $75 million goes right back on the Heat books and kills their cap space.

Expect the NBA and players union to be part of whatever negotiations may take place here.

About the only things we know for sure is Bosh wants to play again, and that will not happen in Miami. That bridge has been burned.