Season preview: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas' window of opportunity to return to the NBA Finals is closing quickly
New coach Rick Carlisle could be a difference-maker, especially with Josh Howard
The Mavs might need a midseason trade to solidify their standing in the West
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Mavericks at a glance
Last season: 51-31; lost in first round of playoffs to Hornets
Notable additions: Shawne Williams (trade with Pacers), DeSagana Diop (FA), Gerald Green (FA)
Notable losses: Tyronn Lue (signed with Bucks), Malik Allen (signed with Bucks)
Coach: Rick Carlisle (first season with Mavs; 281-211 overall in six NBA seasons)
Reasons for hope
1. A new voice. If we are to take Mark Cuban at his word, that more than five players told him directly or through their agents that they wanted out if Avery Johnson returned as coach, then the Mavs had little choice but to start fresh on the bench. Though Carlisle may not be an out-of-the-box choice, he is a smart choice, and not just because of that 281-211 career record and five playoff appearances. In addition to a successful track record, he has tasted the bitter side of the league -- players turning on him in Detroit, players turning on each other in Indiana, unemployment. Those are the type of experiences that should give Carlisle the perspective into the players' minds that he didn't necessarily demonstrate in Detroit. And if any team needs someone it can connect with, it is the Mavs.
The early signs have been encouraging, with Carlisle installing a new offense that emphasizes the transition game and constant motion. "New life," Josh Howard told Mavs reporters about the new regime. And a welcome one at that.
2. Ownership. Yes, Mark Cuban can be overbearing and petulant. He's also one of the most forward-thinking owners in sports. From his use of plush locker rooms as a free-agent recruiting tool, to employing stat heads in player evaluation, to providing a fan experience heavy on entertainment, Cuban has never been afraid to think big, to approach ownership as a participatory endeavor as much as a money-making one. While that attitude has gotten him in trouble with the commissioner's office when he voices his opinion a bit too loudly, it also has made the Mavs one of the league's most aggressive teams in trying to improve the roster.
Clearly, as the empty trophy case in the Mavs' offices attests, this method has its share of risk. It also, however, makes the Mavs a team in play for almost every star who comes on the trade market. That's a lot more than most teams that talk up trades they'll never complete if they can't win the deal outright.
3. Dirk Nowitzki. It's stunning how quickly an MVP can be forgotten. A season after leading the Mavericks to a 67-15 record and winning that coveted award, Nowitzki was nowhere to be found on MVP lists in 2007-08 despite recovering from a slow start to post similar numbers. Such was the damage to his reputation for failing to get Dallas out of the first round in the spring of 2007. Still, the 7-foot forward is one of the few players in the league who can win a game by himself. After nine years in the NBA, the 30-year-old Nowitzki isn't about to become the take-charge leader who wills his teammates to better performances; he is, however, the type of multifaceted threat and matchup nightmare who can bring Dallas home a lot of nights.
Reasons for concern
1. The need for change. The Mavs qualified for the playoffs last season by a mere three games. That doesn't leave a lot of room for slippage, and reacquiring Diop and taking fliers on former first-round picks Green and Williams won't make it any easier to keep up in the Western Conference. Dallas wasn't the only relatively quiet team during the offseason, but none of those other clubs recently added a 35-year-old point guard on the downside of his career to spearhead a Finals run. Acquiring Kidd has squeezed the Mavs' title window a lot tighter than it was just two years ago. That decision called for more than adding a complementary big man and two reclamation projects, though the Mavs still could try to upgrade with a midseason trade.
2. Howard's head. Once the multitalented secret weapon for a championship contender, Howard now faces more scrutiny than he ever has after a string of missteps. In the span of five months, Howard admitted to smoking marijuana in the offseason; scheduled a late-night birthday party during the first-round series against the Hornets (he shot 29.2 percent from the field in the five-game loss); was arrested on drag racing charges; and was caught disrespecting the national anthem in a video that surfaced on YouTube. The increased attention, and Howard's role in last season's playoff disappointment, won't allow the 28-year-old to hide behind Nowitzki or anybody else anymore. If Howard can rediscover his mojo, Dallas should return to the playoffs; if he can't, though, it wouldn't be shocking to see him traded.
3. Not a Kidd anymore. Cuban rolled the dice last season when, with the Mavs at 35-17, he dealt promising young point guard Devin Harris to the Nets for Kidd. After the trade, Dallas went 16-14 in the regular season and 1-4 in the playoffs. Considering the Mavs' postseason problems predated Kidd's arrival, it would be wrong to put all the blame on him, but he wasn't a big enough factor down the stretch. Now, after a summer playing for the U.S. Olympic team, Kidd will be asked to run the Mavs' new up-tempo offense as well as defend the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Baron Davis. Can the aging floor leader keep pace?
Keep an eye on ...
The unproven youngsters. In Green, Williams and Antoine Wright, the Mavs have three former mid-first-round picks who have yet to blossom. Green (drafted 18th in 2005) is with his fourth team since August 2007; Williams (17th in 2006) was dogged by off-court problems in Indiana, which traded him to Dallas on Oct. 10; and Wright (15th in 2005) was considered a throw-in as part of the Kidd trade. If at least one can fulfill his promise, then the Mavs' lack of major offseason activity might not look so bad. Wright already is making an impression on Carlisle, who has started him at shooting guard in some preseason games.
The Mavs outscored opponents in the first quarter by an NBA-high 3.1 points per game last season.
It's a little soon to describe the Mavs as a team in decline, but it's hard to say that they improved much in the offseason. Unless, that is, Dallas responds with a bit more passion to Carlisle than it did to Johnson. The Mavs will remain one of the West's top eight teams, but not by much, which likely will spell a third consecutive first-round playoff exit.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.