Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Countdown: Best-case scenario
By Jeff Caplan
Picture this: A quarter of a million people cram into downtown Dallas. The Mavericks ride through the streets on floats and wave to the screaming masses. Dirk Nowitzki and his teammates emerge onto the balcony overlooking the American Airlines Center's South Plaza and the 7-foot German belts out as best he can, "We are the Champions."
Oh, you've seen this picture before?
Just a few days ago as it became apparent that Tyson Chandler and the rest of the Mavs' free agents -- excluding Brian Cardinal -- were hitting the streets, the doomsayers railed on a lost season to come. The closest the Mavs would come to back-to-back, many thought, was the 20 they'd play during this rapid-fire, 66-game regular season.
Then came a flurry of activity -- Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, Delonte West to spice things up. And suddenly, not only has hope risen for this season's championship hopes, but next summer now promises to be must-see as Dallas will be positioned well below the salary cap and as well as any team to nab one of the big three potential free agents -- Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard.
But let's keep things focused on the here and now. Job No. 1 for the Mavs' front office was to give coach Rick Carlisle another deep team. They've done that. Carlisle has the necessary bodies to navigate through the regular season and, barring injury, he should be able to steer this ship into the playoffs with a roster that's ready to roll.
"It’s going to be really a matter in my mind," Carlisle said, "of the deepest team that can stay healthy and stay together is going to be the team that’s going to have the best chance of coming out of the West."
On paper, there is no team is deeper than the Mavs. Consider that two of the last three NBA sixth men of the year will be coming off the Mavs' bench in the ultra-versatile, 6-foot-10 Odom and gunner Jason Terry. West, a veteran with a needed edginess, will back up Jason Kidd. Shooting guard is loaded with Carter, Terry and a finally healthy Rodrigue Beaubois. Center is the lone question mark, but after Dallas dealt wings Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, it now has roster space to go after depth in the middle.
There's no such thing as paper champions, but just days ago despair had set in among the fandom. Now, the Mavs suddenly look like bona fide contenders in the Western Conference. It's a conference that boasts some dangerous young squads like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the rising Memphis Grizzlies, as well as the old guard in the San Antonio Spurs team that's a year older and made no moves of consequence, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who lost Odom to Dallas, but still can't be counted out simply because of Kobe Bryant (and a Paul deal that's apparently not dead yet).
Still, no dominant team exists to overcome. That only benefits these quickly retooled Mavs who, best-case scenario, will have a June to remember as they repeat.