What the Mavericks should do when the lockout ends

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Welcome back to an ongoing series here at PBT, in which we examine the post-lockout course of action of every team in the league. Kurt kicked things off yesterday with a look at the Lakers’ preseason plans, and today we’ll dive into the docket sitting in front of the WORLD* CHAMPION Dallas Mavericks. Tomorrow you can enjoy a look into the basement, with an Analysis of the Timberwolves’ projected plans for the summer.

*The world is not flat, the sun doesn’t orbit around the United States, and the NBA is not the world. 

Last season in Dallas: Pretty ho-hum, really. The Mavs just played high-level basketball throughout the regular season, endured a season-ending injury to their second best player, succeeded while their preseason x-factor sat on the bench, added new contributors mid-stride, rallied through yet another costly injury, beat a murderer’s row of playoff opponents in amazing fashion, and capped it all off by hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in franchise history. No big.

Since we last saw the Mavericks: Not much has changed. A million talk show appearances later, this team is more or less where we left it; ready to compete in the coming season (after a few moves in free agency to either preserve the current core or bolster it), but likely still a step removed from the title favorites. Dallas went on a miraculous run to take the 2011 title, but they can likely do no more than put themselves in a position to roll the dice come next year’s playoffs. That was good enough to roll all the way through the Finals in 2011, but it’s no guarantee that they’ll be favorites come next postseason.

A few other notes: Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea are representing their countries (err, country and territory, respectively) in EuroBasket, Tyson Chandler told Henry Abbott of TrueHoop that his preliminary negotiations with the Mavericks didn’t exactly go swimmingly, and Rodrigue Beaubois and Caron Butler have continued working toward healthy seasons in 2011-2012.

When the lockout ends, the Mavericks need to… Choose one of the following paths: (1) re-sign Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, and possibly J.J. Barea in order to maintain their current competitive core, (2) re-sign either Chandler or Butler while covering for the other’s loss with positional depth, or (3) let both Chandler and Butler walk while bracing for a bit of a drop-off. Dallas’ off-season — in whatever form the lockout allows — leans heavily on free agency and the decisions made by all parties within it.

Losing Butler would be a shame, but losing Chandler would legitimately move the franchise down a peg in terms of their immediate competitive worth. Brendan Haywood is a good, starting-caliber center (regardless of what his 2010-2011 production would have you believe), but Chandler is a talent who can elevate a team’s collective defense while augmenting their offensive flow. Players like that don’t come around often, and as the Mavs will find out shortly, they don’t come cheap.

Butler, too, is rather important, and he’ll likely be the best player the Mavs can “add” to their current roster thanks to the limitations of the salary cap. He didn’t play a minute of playoff basketball last season, and thus if Dallas can re-sign him, Butler would bring the added boost of a roster addition with the built-in familiarity of a franchise mainstay. An interesting combination, to be sure. Plus, not only is Butler a flat-out superior scorer to the rotating cast of players the Mavs utilized on the wing, but he also brings a slew of specific skills that allow him to be particularly successful in Dallas: he’s emerged as quite a threat from the corners, can create his own shot more effectively than any Maverick not named Dirk, and is a very effective perimeter defender. Even championship teams need to find ways to improve, and adding Butler back into the rotation is the simplest way for the Mavs to do so.

Regardless of how free agency unfolds for the Mavs, Rick Carlisle must find minutes for the roster’s young talent this season. Carlisle gave Rodrigue Beaubois a legitimate shot after his initial return from injury last season, but Beaubois never found a good rhythm and was eventually shelved with a complication to that same injury. Corey Brewer found limited minutes after being picked up by Dallas mid-season, but he wasn’t familiar enough with the Mavericks’ system to become a regular member of the rotation. Dominique Jones is an interesting prospect, but he, too, didn’t have much of an opportunity in the Mavs’ crowded backcourt. There are still plenty of veterans on the roster that will be worthy of minutes, but Carlisle needs to begin preparing for the next stage of this franchise’s life cycle by carving out playing time for the neophytes. We use words like “veteran,” and “experienced,” to describe Dallas, but it’s all pretty much code for “old.” Dallas’ key contributors are aging, and while there are no budding stars on the roster who demand minutes, Beaubois, Brewer, and Jones are all capable of being long-term contributors for an NBA team. They’ll bring value to the franchise with either their production or their trade value if given the opportunity, but that process begins with seeing the floor.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.