The NBA Lockout is over, finished, done… after a couple crossed T’s and dotted lower case j’s of course.
Believe it or not, we’re nearly at a point where we can actually begin seeing transactions, free agency, and training camp again. Every franchise will be affected by the specifics of the new CBA in their own particular way, but new wrinkles that have developed simply from the lockout’s length like less training camp, fewer games and a shortened season will have quite an effect their selves.
Look no further than the defending champion Dallas Mavericks to see how the dragging on of this lockout can have both positive and negative influences on one team.
One obvious observation of this Mavericks team is that the collective age of most of the impactful players is quite high… again. Jumping to a quick conclusion, the logic is that a veteran team can adjust to a different schedule on the fly while welcoming 16 less games with open arms.
While there are certainly more factors that will affect Dallas’ season, you can confidently bet that many of the players on the roster with more wear and tear on their tires had no issue with taking an extra month off.
Speaking of tires wearing down, the most interesting Mavericks case study of how the lockout fallout will influence players will be with 18-year veteran point guard Jason Kidd. In a season that will require the perfect pace of pushing it and laying off at the right times, one of the most important tools the Mavs have will be the Savant-like basketball IQ of Kidd leading the way. He will absolutely know what buttons to push in order to get the most out of his team with the big picture in mind.
His individual case is a different story, though. On one hand, is there anyone in the league who benefitted more from the extra rest than Kidd? His name didn’t come up for any charity games or events for a reason: He knows his body and was resting. Not everyone can be as spry as Kevin Durant these days.
You won’t hear any complaints from Jason about only having to play 66 regular season games. With that in mind, Kidd will definitely feel it in his legs when he encounters his first back-to-back-to-back games since the 1999 lockout shortened season, as the league has announce they planned to do 1-3 times for each team this year.
Also, during last year’s playoff run, the Mavs had 10 days off before the Conference Finals and nearly seven more before the Finals. No one benefited more from that rest than Kidd, who had to chase around Russell Westbrook and Durant, then Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in those respective series.
This year, the league has also announced they plan to play at least one back-to-back in each 2nd round series. That doesn’t exactly lend itself to the Mavs’ plan of having Kidd well rested for the biggest games of the season. Will less in-season rest and an unlucky schedule take too much of a toll on him? Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson and Co. may have a big decision on their hands as products of the lockout come to fruition: Do they rest Jason Kidd in necessary spots and relatively throw seeding/50-win seasons to the wind? Or make as big a push as they can in the regular season and hope the schedule unfolds somewhat similarly the way it did last year? If the former becomes the priority, then the re-signing of JJ Barea (or the signing of a competent replacement) becomes even more vital than it already is.
Glancing at the rest of the roster, much of the Mavericks’ success during the 2011-12 campaign will depend on their moves during free agency and whether or not their vaunted depth will remain a team strength. As stated, a capable backup point guard is a high priority after the Mavs saw how effective a rested Kidd can be down the stretch and throughout the playoffs.
Furthermore, the ability to have a guard who can complement Kidd with a drive/kick and pick & roll game the way Barea did can be devastating for opponents.
At shooting guard, Jason Terry will still get his high minute total while coming off the bench in his 6th man role. The hope at the SG spot is that Rodrigue Beaubois will come into this season matured and ready to take on a bigger role. Ideally, he will be prepared to ease the scoring load on Terry and perhaps even force Coach Carlisle’s hand into giving him more minutes as he begins to tap into his vast talent. As of now, that cannot at all be counted on, so the Rudy Fernandez trade and potential resigning of DeShawn Stevenson will be options to shore up the position, although it remains unclear if Stevenson can be re-signed until the CBA is in place.
The two forward spots are a little clearer. Small forward is Shawn Marion’s spot, but he’s another Maverick who is getting up there in years and can be injury-prone. If Caron Butler finds greener pastures, Corey Brewer or a free agent must be able to come in and give quality minutes in order for Marion to be in top form come playoffs.
Last year, Marion was in the argument as the second best player for Dallas during the full course of the playoffs with his exceptional defense and underrated ability to post up smaller defenders. He is another perfect example of how this team can jump to another level when their key players are rested late in the season.
How is it possible that we’re this far into the article and we’re yet to mention reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki? Mainly, because we’ve been discussing how the lockout maybe change the look of the Mavs this upcoming year and Nowitzki has been the most consistent force in the league for the last decade. He may be 33, but he remains in his prime and looks to stay that way into the foreseeable future with his clockwork offensive game and unprecedented rest this summer after some international duty for Germany. Dirk may see his minutes and averages drop a tick again this year, but his efficiency will be through the roof whether there are 66, 82, 10, or 1,000 games.
The center position ended up being the catalyst last year in Dallas’ push for their first championship. How the terms of the new CBA and the following free agency period change the Mavericks center situation may very well decide this season in the same way. One of the reasons Dallas took a flier on Tyson Chandler last year was because he was an expiring contract and therefore allowed them to remain flexible roster-wise. Well, long story short, he helped spark the Mavs toward the ultimate prize, so re-signing him instantly became their top priority.
Additionally, Brendan Haywood had one of his worst statistical seasons as a pro, but provided the defense and size needed to be a top backup center in the league.
The simple solution seems to be re-signing Tyson in order to keep their championship caliber two-headed monster at center together for years to come. Ah, but there is a problem. The terms of the new CBA may not allow the Mavericks the necessary cap room or exceptions in order to re-sign their starting center, but it does allow for an amnesty clause which will allow a team to release a player without their salary counting against the salary cap. The problem? With his hefty contract, the player who most warrants an amnesty cut is Haywood.
Potentially, the only way to re-sign Chandler (and maybe Barea, as well) may be to severely reduce their depth of big men. This opens a whole new can of worms involving answering questions of team depth vs. future cap flexibility vs. opening the Dirk Nowitzki window for as long as it can. Only time and the revelation of new CBA details will tell.
Schedule-wise, the Mavericks (and the rest of the Southwest Division for the matter) may find themselves on the short end of the stick if certain scheduling rumors are true. It sounds like the league is leaning towards a schedule that includes 48 in-conference games and 18 out of conference games. While the details of that schedule remain unclear, there has also been talk of a more simple, but potentially unfair scheduling idea. Mathematically, the league gave itself a decent scheduling option as 66 games will perfectly equal 4 games against each division opponent (16 games) and 2 games each against the rest of the league (50 games). It makes sense from a numbers perspective and geographic sense, but teams in tougher divisions can’t be too excited about meeting those opponents for almost a quarter of their schedule.
Looking into it even further than just a Mavericks’ perspective, how are the Houston Rockets supposed to feel about playing the defending champs (Dallas), a team that was a Game 7 loss from the Conference Finals (Memphis), a supposedly healthy Chris Paul (New Orleans), oh, and the Western Conference’s 1-seed from a year ago (San Antonio) for a 25% chunk of their season?
Due to the lockout extending so far into the season, strength of schedule may go a long way toward deciding what the playoff seeding landscape will look like.
Again, this seems to be an unlikely scheduling option at this point, but could ultimately prove to be a road block for the Mavericks.
It’s an exciting time for the defending champs with a ring ceremony and banner raising awaiting on opening night, but it’s also somewhat of an uneasy period as such big pieces to the championship puzzle remain question marks. As is the case with any recent championship team’s front office though, DFW currently has complete faith in the Nelson, Carlisle, and Mark Cuban trifecta to make the necessary moves within the new CBA to keep the Mavs in the championship picture.
There is simply no way Cuban let’s this euphoric feeling surrounding his franchise disappear so quickly and easily.
Plus, no terms of any CBA can take away that Nowitzki jump shot.