Steve Nash's move to the desert not only prodded the Suns' offense, but strengthened the Mavericks defense at the same time.
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Last summer both the Dallas and Phoenix franchises sat at a crossroads.
One season after winning 60 games and playing in the Western Conference finals, Dallas lost 4 games-to-1 in the first round versus Sacramento. With two of their top three players, Michael Finley and Steve Nash, on the wrong side of age 30, the Mavericks' window of opportunity for a championship seemed to be closing.
And a decision was necessary about whether to re-sign Nash.
There are always exceptions, but perimeter players over the age of 30, especially injury-prone players such as Nash, generally have not fared well in the NBA. While Nash directed the most efficient offense in the league last season in Dallas (and one of the most efficient in league history), he probably was also partially responsible for the Mavs' atrocious defense, fourth-worst in the NBA. The Mavericks needed to get younger and better defensively.
Phoenix, on the other hand, had won just 29 games one season after winning 44 and giving San Antonio a scare in the first round of the playoffs. Still, they had a multi-talented star in Shawn Marion to build around, along with up-and-coming young players in Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.
But Stoudemire was turnover-prone and a poor passer, while Johnson had a very low true shooting percentage (counting free throws and 3-pointers). Teams led by these types of players typically have not been very good. Add in the fact that the Suns' point guard, Leandro Barbosa, averaged almost as many turnovers (3.1 per 40 minutes) as assists (4.3 per 40 minutes), and the Suns' poor 2003-04 campaign was not too surprising. Phoenix needed a new system that better utilized their players' talents.
So it should have come as no surprise when Phoenix made an offer to Nash last summer and the Mavericks failed to match it. The fact that the Suns improved by 33 games and the Mavericks improved by six games suggests that both teams probably made the right decisions.
It might seem a stretch to say a team that essentially swapped the league MVP (Nash), an All-Star (Antawn Jamison) and a former All-Star (Antoine Walker) for Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse might have made the right decision. But these moves, along with elevating Avery Johnson to head coach, allowed Dallas to remain one of the league's best offenses while improving its defense from fourth worst to 10th best. In fact, only two remaining playoff teams -- the Spurs and Pistons -- have appreciably better defenses than the Mavericks.
(As an aside, this is not a good year for the defense wins championships mantra. The top four offensive teams -- the Suns, the Sonics, the Heat and the Mavericks -- are still in the playoffs, yet only two of the top seven defensive teams -- the Spurs and Pistons -- are still alive.)