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.

NBA, players union working together to look at rapid testing devices for coronavirus

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If the NBA is going to create a “bubble” to restart the season — in Las Vegas or the Bahamas or wherever — there is a cargoship full of challenges, but they all start here:

How does the league test all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, guys who mop the sweat off the floor, camera operators, hotel custodial staff, chefs, and maybe family members who also are inside this bubble? If one person carrying the coronavirus gets inside the bubble the entire plan comes apart.

The NBA and the NBPA (the players’ union) are working to find and check out new coronavirus tests that would be the first step to building the bubble, reports Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

Multiple league sources close to the situation said the league and players union have been looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as “diabetes-like” blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly, and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes…

The league sources stressed that this matter is in the exploratory phase and that there is no clear timetable as to when the efficacy of any such device might be proven.

“Rapid-testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything,” one NBA general manager told ESPN, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Whatever job you have and environment you work in, if you’re interacting with people, we’re all going to have to feel safe doing that. Sports isn’t any different.”

Holmes’ story discusses a test by Abbott Laboratories that is being looked at as an option, but others are being developed as well. However, with the desperate shortage of tests nationwide to assess the health of communities where outbreaks are occurring, how long it would be before there would be enough tests to use on a sporting event remains unclear. Right now there are much higher priorities.

The challenge in finding the right test is not just speed but accuracy — some existing tests have a false negative rate of 30 percent (meaning the test says a person does not have the virus when they are infected). It does the league no good to have a fast test that is not highly accurate.

To complete its season, the league would need to not only create a bubble but also maintain the integrity of the bubble for the two months or more it would take to run mini-training camps for about three weeks then play out a condensed version of maybe the regular season and the playoffs. Creating and maintaining the bubble does not involve only the teams and their staffs, it consists of the hotel staff that cleans the rooms, the cooks that prepare the food, security staffs, and others who likely would come in and out of the bubble. Plus, the league would need to make sure no players or staff decide to go outside the bubble in Las Vegas and play some craps or go to a club.

A rapid, accurate test is necessary to have any shot at making a return of the NBA — even just to televisions — possible. The league and players union are studying it. As they should.

But as Adam Silver said on Monday about the league as a whole, it’s just far too early to know if and when this might come together.

 

 

Adam Silver: No better feel for where NBA season stands than when play was suspended

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In a Twitter interview for #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson of TNT, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked if he has any better feel for where we are.

Silver answered, “The short answer is no.”

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then,” Silver added…

“I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

Johnson asked if there was a date that it would be too late to finish the season and if the league was trying to finish the regular season.

“We haven’t made any decisions. In a perfect world we would try to finish the regular season in some form,” Silver responded. “In the first two weeks (of the hiatus) we were looking at specific scenarios. What I’ve learned is that it’s just too early to make those sorts of projections.”

“There does come a point in the summer where we would impact next season. Player safety and safety for everyone in the NBA family comes first. We may look at playing without fans. How would those games be televised? Would we go to a single site? We’re in listening mode right now. We’ve been contacted by several of those locations (for a single-site). It’s just too early to know anything right now.”

Johnson said he can live with the 2020 NBA season not having a champion if it’s for the greater good. Silver replied to that by saying, “Of course. Safety for everyone comes first. We’d love to be a part of restarting the economy. But it’s a public health matter. Health and safety have to come before the economic impacts.”

Silver finished up the interview saying he’s spent a lot of his downtime thinking about how to improve the NBA fan experience. He also said what’s been keeping him up at night is “the 55,000 jobs the NBA creates.”

Report: NBA teams given guidelines on pre-draft process

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Shams Charania of The Athletic reports NBA teams have been given parameters around the process leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft:

Per the report, teams can host virtual visits with prospects However, teams can’t ask those prospects to do any sort of live-video workout. Teams are also barred from hosting in-person workouts.

Each team is limited to up to four hours of virtual meetings per prospect. Teams are allowed no more than two hours with a single player in a given week.

The NBA Draft is currently scheduled for Thursday, June 25. Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. Nearly 100 players have already declared as Early Entry candidates.

Some Early Entry candidates go through the draft process to find out about their chances of being drafted. This is a regular process, as each year several players will return to school, or overseas, in hopes of improving their draft stock.

Lakers guard Danny Green optimistic NBA season can be saved

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On his podcast “Inside the Green Room,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green expressed optimism the NBA season would resume. Green recorded his latest episode after NBA players had a call with the National Basketball Players Association.

“I think, by any means necessary, we’re going to try and salvage the season,” Green said. “And right now, we’re fighting. Most guys think that for sure we’re going to have a season. It’s just going to start later than we expected. And just trying to get the next season to be pushed back is not going to be as easy as people think it’s going to be. (Resuming this season) is probably going to start in mid-to-late May maybe, that’s what we’re hoping for at the earliest. Or maybe earlier than that, but that’s the earliest we’re looking at, mid-to-late May, and it’ll probably go through August/as late as September I, guess.”

These thoughts from Green are far more positive than recent thoughts given by several others around the NBA.

Broadcasters and league insiders have remained hopeful, but have said the NBA is approaching things with a sense of “realism” about saving the season.

Multiple NBA coaches, from Green’s own coach Frank Vogel to Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer, have said they are continuing to prepare as if the season will resume. The coaches who have spoken recently said they are preparing for both a shortened regular season, as well as going right to the NBA Playoffs. Budenholzer said he’s been spending time scouting both the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, who are likely first-round opponents for the Bucks.