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Thursday, December 8, 2011
Will new bench meet schedule's demands?

By Jeff Caplan

The Dallas Mavericks delivered an NBA championship with a team-first ethos and tremendous bench contributions all the way from fearless sixth man Jason Terry to fearsome 12th man Brian Cardinal.

"That was the biggest reason for our success," forward Shawn Marion said. "You only go as far as your bench goes."

That was true during an 82-game season spanning 5 1/2 months, and it will be especially so during a 66-game schedule spanning 123 days that will include 20 back-to-backs and one back-to-back-to-back set that closes a seven-games-in-nine-nights stretch. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle knows he's going to need a deep bench and a creative rotation through stretches of the season.

"Everybody’s going to be dealing with it and we’ll have to manage it," Carlisle said Wednesday during his first basketball-related session with the media since the lockout to effect July 1. "As always, depth and bench are going to be really critical this season. They’re important every year, but in a season where you have less spacing between games, your depth is going to be at an all-time premium."

Especially for a team whose point guard, Jason Kidd, turns 39 in March and overall is one of the oldest teams in the league.

Yet, just as Carlisle is preaching bench depth, he is preparing for life possibly without several players he leaned on heavily last season. Center Tyson Chandler could be gone and that would flip reserve Brendan Haywood into a starter. J.J. Barea could be gone and that would leave backup point guard to inexperienced youngsters Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones, both being combo guards at best.

Caron Butler is all but gone, which could hand Corey Brewer a key role behind Marion. DeShawn Stevenson? Possibly gone, leaving the Mavs placing faith in newcomer Rudy Fernandez to play tough minutes at both ends.

"The hope is that we can manage our rotation so that we can keep everybody at reasonable minutes throughout the year and avoid those situations,"  Carlisle said. "But, you never know. Anything’s possible."

Carlisle often went 10-deep last season. Three reserves averaged between 18.5 minutes and 31.3 minutes, and that doesn't include Marion, who came off the bench in 53 games and averaged 26.9 minutes. In the postseason, when coaches typically shorten their bench, Carlisle expanded his.

With changes afoot, will Carlisle be able to count on his bench for key minutes that will allow Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry to be at least semi-fresh at the end of April when the quest for the repeat truly begins?

"That’s why you’ve got to be a resilient, resourceful franchise and that’s why you’ve got to have some youth that’s ready to take a step up if and when you lose guys," Carlisle said. "We’ve got some guys on our roster that bided their time last year and put in a lot of work and there may be more opportunity for them this year. We’ll see."

Soon. Players and sign contracts beginning Friday.