ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Dallas Mavericks

8 Comments

Last season: Dallas was one of the surprise teams in the league last year. A lot of people (myself included) questioned how Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki would pair, particularly with Jose Calderon at the point. Turns out very well — Ellis and Nowitzki made a killer pick-and-pop tandem. And the Mavs could shoot — as a team they hit 38.4 percent from three (second best in the league behind the Spurs). That led to the third best offense in the league pushed them to 49 wins and the playoffs (despite a 22nd ranked defense). Once again in the playoffs the Mavs were written off as just a warmup round for the Spurs, but instead Dallas pushed them to seven games, trying to trap and be more aggressive on defense (Spurs players said at the Finals what Dallas did helped prepare them for Miami’s style). Basically all season long Dallas exceeded expectations… except for Mark Cuban’s, of course.

Signature highlight from last season: Dallas came closer than anyone else to knocking off the Spurs in the playoffs, in part because Vince Carter was clutch in Game 3.

Key player changes: Dallas shook up the roster this off-season. I think they got better but there are a lot of changes, which leads to questions. Gone are guys who played key minutes last season: Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin (Dalembert, Larkin and Calderon were traded to New York).

In their place come Tyson Chandler (from that trade with the Knicks), Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, also Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson.

Also key, Dirk Nowitzki re-signed for 3 years, $25 million — about the most team-friendly deal of any superstar. That signing cleared the way for the Chandler Parsons free agent signing.

Keys to the Mavericks season:

Can Tyson Chandler lift this defense up to top half of the league at least? Dallas doesn’t win the 2011 NBA title without Tyson Chandler playing elite defense in the paint as a rim protector. Last season the Mavericks had Dalembert in the paint and the 22nd best defense in the NBA. Chandler is going to be expected to clean up a lot of messes and improve that number. The question is can he still — last season he lacked the same quickness and fluidity on defense, but remember he missed the start of the season with a fractured fibula. Is he all the way back now? He also seemed to check out mentally in New York, I’d expect him to be more focused now (he’s fantastic at talking and quarterbacking a defense). Of course, Chandler in the paint can’t be the only defensive improvement, Dallas is going to have to show improved perimeter defense as well. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Monta Ellis are not exactly stoppers, but Parsons will help, he’s solid out on the wing. Dallas doesn’t need to be the 2004 Pistons, but they need to at least be in the top half of the league and more ideally the top 10 to really reach their goals. They have a lot of work to do on that end of the court.

Can Chandler Parsons be worth everything he just got paid? It’s easy to see on paper how Parsons can thrive offensively in Dallas — he stays on the weak side while the Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll happens on the other side of the floor. Parsons can cut to the basket, get a pass and finish at the rim or he can space the floor where he is dangerous both on the catch-and-shoot and off the bounce. At age 25 Parsons has gotten paid like a top option player in the NBA, he has the talent to do it, but now he’s going to have to show it on the court. Nightly.

Who will step up off the bench? Last season the Mavericks had a quality bench — Vince Carter got votes for sixth man of the year, they had DeJuan Blair and others that contributed solid play. This season the bench looks consists of Devin Harris, Doran Lamb, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson (plus Brandan Wright up front). And Felton, I guess. Dallas should have a strong starting five but they are going to need quality bench production and that means some of those guys are going to have to step up their game.

Why you should watch the Mavericks: The easy answer here is Dirk Nowitzki — the best shooting big man in the history of the game, a guy with one of the iconic shots in the history of the game (that one-legged fade-away). He is worth the price of admission. Frankly, with all the offensive weapons this season the Mavericks are going to be fun. But if you’re a basketball junkie, you should tune in to see the adjustments and plays from coach Rick Carlisle — he’s as good an Xs and Os coach as there is in the league. He constantly puts guys in great positions to take advantage of their skill set.

Prediction: 53-29, and I think they have a real shot at being a little better and getting the four seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs. This is a better Mavericks team than a year ago. Around the Mavs they seem to think they have another contender on their hands (I’m looking at you, Cuban), I don’t see that. But this team is in the second tier in the West and making the second round of the playoffs is a real possibility. However that’s as far as it goes.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

Getty Images
2 Comments

Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
3 Comments

This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.