Two Teams Looking For Their Identity

Two different franchises both searching to figure out exactly who they are met at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night. Though both are in a state of flux, their current situations aren’t necessarily due to the same circumstances.

The Dallas Mavericks are still attempting to stay afloat while they wait on the return of superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki. The frustrating thing for the Mavericks is that the identity they’re looking for can’t possibly be found until Nowitzki starts playing again. OJ Mayo has been tremendous while averaging 22.2 points per game on 50% shooting and Darren Collison has had his moments with 14 points per game complemented with 6.5 assists. The latter of those two has had the spotlight on him recently, as the Mavs’ success is almost directly tied to him playing well.

“When he’s aggressive, we’re a great team,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said of Collison before tipoff on Saturday night. “He doesn’t realize how good of a scorer he is.”

Still, the continuity they want will only come from consistent performances from those players alongside Nowitzki. Obviously, that won’t be possible for at least another few weeks, as Nowitzki announced his return won’t come until well into December

On the other hand, there’s the Los Angeles Lakers. The always well-documented Lakers made waves early this season when they fired Coach Mike Brown after only five games and a 1-4 start. Much was made of Brown’s Princeton offense not fitting his superstar personnel, so Mike D’Antoni of ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ Phoenix Suns fame was brought in. Similarly to the Mavs, the Lakers have the built-in injury excuse as Steve Nash recovers from a fractured leg suffered in the first couple games of the season. Once he returns, the hope is that eventually reuniting D’Antoni with Nash will ignite an offense that includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace.

That being said, their offense didn’t appear to be a problem tonight.

Coming into Dallas without a win on the road this season, the Lakers were poised to end that streak. Despite missing their top two point guards, the Lakers had their way with the Mavericks. Los Angeles had their season high in points for a half by dropping 65 in the first two quarters on Saturday. World Peace started the game by making six straight shots to set the tone for how the night would go.

After a few laughable defensive performances from the Mavericks, Rick Carlisle has been more vocal recently about tightening up that end of the floor. The message was not received by his team as they basically allowed the Lakers to do whatever they wanted. After giving up 115 to the Lakers tonight, allowing them to cruise to a 115-89 victory, the Mavericks have allowed 226 total points to their opponents over the last two games. It’s a safe bet that Carlisle will again be quite vocal about defense over the next few days.

Dirk Nowitzki’s eventual return will fix a lot of things for the Mavs. Giving up 113 points per game on the defensive end isn’t one of them. There is quite a bit of work to be done in Dallas if the Mavs plan on making the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference.

New Face Off Against Old In Dallas

In Dallas on Wednesday night, it would’ve been a fair argument for some Dallas Mavericks fans to say they recognized more faces on the opposing team than they did on the Mavs. After a second consecutive offseason overhaul, Dirk Nowitzki currently sidelined after knee surgery, and Shawn Marion remaining as the only key player from the 2011 Championship team, no one would blame Dallas-ites for feeling more familiarity with a New York Knicks roster that now includes Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd.

The well-documented story of Chandler’s departure is still a heavily debated, open wound in Dallas-Fort Worth. From the Mavs’ end, the basics surrounding Chandler not returning to Dallas after the Championship revolve around the front office not wanting to commit four years and $58 million to a non-scoring center. The merit of the simplicity of that argument is up for debate, but it’s simply the deciding factor from their end.

Things are a bit murkier with Kidd’s Maverick exit. This past offseason, amidst the craziness and disappointment surrounding the Deron Williams free agency decision, Dallas and Kidd supposedly had a three year deal in place. Long story short, Kidd eventually bolted for New York and, at the time, left the Mavs in the dust with massive amounts of uncertainty clouding the franchise.

And Mavs owner Mark Cuban was not happy about it. As a matter of fact, he felt so misled that he eventually ranted his thoughts about retiring Kidd’s number in the American Airlines Center.

“I was more than upset,” Cuban told the Ben and Skin show in August on 103.3, ESPN Radio Dallas. “I thought he was coming (back). I was pissed. J-Kidd’s a big boy, he can do whatever he wants, but you don’t change your mind like that. I’m sure I’ll get over it at some point, but as of right now, I wouldn’t put J-Kidd’s number in the rafters.”

Though seemingly a pretty rash opinion from Cuban, what eventually played out during the offseason may have been best for both sides. Dallas went on to trade center Ian Mahinmi to the Indiana Pacers for young point guard Darren Collison, giving the Mavericks a speedy option at the position that they haven’t had since Devin Harris in 2008. Ironically enough, Harris left town in the trade that acquired Kidd from the New Jersey Nets.

Conversely, Kidd couldn’t have found himself in a better position. The Knicks, loaded with talent and led by Carmelo Anthony, were in need of the veteran leadership that Kidd oozes. Loaded with guards, coach Mike Woodson can pick his spots with Kidd, who is averaging his least minutes per game in, um, ever. Had Kidd stayed in Dallas, he would be playing too many minutes each night and that would limit his effectiveness. Just like the circumstances surrounding Jason Terry’s departure from Dallas, Kidd still had use, but it was just time for a change.

In the end of the day, all parties have moved on from what was in Dallas. The championship happened, it was glorious, and now it’s in the past. As are Kidd and Chandler’s Maverick playing days. The Mavericks chose to go a younger route, which is the exact opposite path the Knicks are currently on, as they have an average age of nearly 33 years and a 35 year old rookie.

The new Mavericks actually pulled off an upset by beating the old Mavericks, I mean the Knicks, Wednesday night 114-111. Kidd had 17 points and 5 assists in 36 minutes and Chandler was his usual solid self with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Would Dallas have been the favorites if Kidd and Chandler were in Mavericks uniforms? Maybe, but the Knicks’ window is now. The Mavericks are willing to sacrifice overall success now to hopefully prop their window open as long as they can.

The ultimate payoff to the decisions made in support of that strategy will only be known with time.

Draft Diamond in Dallas

Things are dull for the Dallas Mavericks right now. There have been some good wins so far in this young season, coupled with some franchise-first losses. OJ Mayo, Darren Collison, and Chris Kaman have lit it up some nights, only to lay eggs in a few recent games. All in all, the beginning of the 2012-2013 season has been about as low-key as any Mavericks season start in over a decade. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but just comes with the territory of playing in a football-crazed area of the country without your star player for the first six weeks of the year. Even considering the circumstances, there have been some pretty terrible periods of basketball played by a franchise that has raised their expectations. For the Mavericks, that means they’re now flying under the radar in Dallas.

Despite all that, one Maverick that isn’t going unnoticed is rookie forward Jae Crowder. Looking back though, there was never a chance that Crowder would keep a low profile.

“We knew coming out of Marquette he was ready to play a man’s game because of how they’re coached in that program,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s a four year guy, played in a lot of big games and was Big-East Player of the Year. That’s a big deal.”

With his dreadlocks-for-days hair that he ties into a ponytail and endless energy, Crowder was born to be a fan-favorite. Nine games into his career, he is scoring 7.4 points per game with a surprising 39% shooting percentage from beyond the arc. His stats aren’t world beating, but that’s not why he is getting so much individual attention in Dallas right now. In the same way that high expectations for a team’s results affect fan reaction to certain situations, low expectations for a team’s drafting will draw excitement from a fan base when an exciting prospect, any exciting prospect, appears in their midst.

Though 2009 pick Roddy Beaubois is currently contributing to this Mavs team, Dallas hasn’t seen a legitimate All Star caliber player come up through the draft since the Mavs acquired Josh Howard in the now famous and fabled 2003 draft. For a franchise that has seen the likes of Maurice Ager, Nick Fezekas, Shan Foster, and Dominique Jones come through the Mavs’ system in recent years, even the slightest glimpse of potential, like that shown by Crowder so far this season, creates a buzz amongst Mavs fans.

With that being said, what is to be expected from Jae Crowder? When Beaubois showed flashes his rookie year, most notably in the 2010 Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs, reason was thrown to the wind. Maverick officials and fans alike claimed Beaubois was finally the ‘Robin’ Dallas was waiting for the place next to Dirk Nowitzki’s ‘Batman’. Fair or not, expectations skyrocketed for Beaubois and needless to say, it hasn’t worked out as expected.

So, again, how should the expectations for the 34th overall pick in the 2013 be handled? Despite his useful play so far, the tag as a second rounder should make it easier on Crowder. As it stands now, with the injury problems Dallas is currently suffering through, Crowder is a part time starter at small or power forward who has a high-energy motor and can hit three pointers with regularity. As the season progresses, he will turn into the backup for Shawn Marion at the three.

Is playing 12-15 minutes at the three spot on a solid NBA team good production for a rookie second rounder? Of course.

Can Crowder fill that role for these Mavericks? Definitely.

That’s how simple it can and should be for Jae Crowder this year. Expectations can become a burden when they get out of control and fans lose perspective. Taking Crowder for what he is now, without looking down the road and applying those hopes to this year, will keep Mavs fans in a happy place with the rookie.

As for other aspects of the seasos, well… no promises.