Commentary

Mavs' chemistry stale without Dirk

Nowitzki's surgery poses risk to new roster's development, postseason tenure

Updated: October 23, 2012, 2:55 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- As Rick Carlisle's good buddy Bill Walton used to say, it can only be minor surgery if the operation is on somebody else's body.

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Joern Pollex/Bongarts/Getty ImagesChris Kaman (right) has at least played on the German national team with Dirk Nowitzki, but the other newcomers had about a week's worth of camp with the Mavs' superstar.
Nevertheless, the scope on Dirk Nowitzki's right knee falls into that category. Sources indicate that the Dallas Mavericks are optimistic that the face of their franchise could be back on the floor by the middle of November.

At that point, the remodeled Mavs will attempt to hit the reset button on their season. If only it were so simple to blend in a rehabbing superstar with an unfamiliar roster.

Forget about how the Mavs might fare against a soft schedule during Nowitzki's absence. The most frightening thing about his knee surgery, as far as this season goes, is the damage it will do to the chemistry development of Nowitzki and his potluck supporting cast.

For the first time since Nowitzki became an All-Star more than a decade ago, the Mavs will enter a season in serious jeopardy of not making the playoffs.

You could argue that was the case before Nowitzki's knee started swelling up again. There's no doubt about it now that Nowitzki's training camp was wiped out.

We all saw last season the importance of training camp with Nowitzki. He was a shadow of himself for the first month of the season after rushing to get ready following the abrupt end of the lockout.

Yeah, Nowitzki's knee had a lot to do with his dreadful start, but he readily acknowledges that he needs the routine of a training camp to be right at the beginning of a season. That was a big part of why 34-year-old was practically giddy that the Mavs had a 31-day camp, including their European odyssey.

[+] EnlargeDarren Collison
Glenn James/Getty ImagesNew Mavs point guard Darren Collison will have to adjust to Dirk Nowitzki on the fly.
The fact that he'd never played a minute with almost half of the Mavs' roster also had a lot to do with the 11-time All-Star's enthusiasm for two-a-days. This is a team that needed as much time together in a gym as it could get.

It turned out that a Dallas roster with eight newcomers, including three starters, basically had a week's worth of practice and one exhibition game with Nowitzki. And big man Chris Kaman was sidelined for most of that time.

"I'd rather just stay away from the Dirk questions," Mavs coach Carlisle said before Monday night's not-so-pretty preseason win over the New Orleans Hornets. "Until he's back, which is going to be I don't know how long, we've got to concentrate on our game [without him], which is a lot different."

At least Kaman, who is Dirk's long-lost Deutschland cousin or something, has played with the Mavs' MVP on the German national team.

How about Darren Collison?

Think about the pressure on the young point guard. Nowitzki has had the good fortune of playing with two of the premier passers in NBA history, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, who knew exactly when and where to get their good buddy the ball.

Collison, whose style much more resembles Devin Harris than the future Hall of Fame point guards who have played in Dallas, will have to figure that out on the fly.

Oh, and in the meantime, Collison must play a key role holding all his new friends together and keeping the Mavs' heads above water without Nowitzki.

It's a good thing the early schedule is so favorable, featuring six teams fresh off lottery berths in the first nine games and eight in the first 12 games. That soft stretch includes dates with a few teams who might not be favored to win the D-League: the Charlotte Bobcats (twice), the Washington Wizards (without John Wall) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio).

Hey, the Mavs will need all the help they can get before the big German gets back.

Then the hard work will really begin. All over again.

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