We have a couple of Q&A's going on with Dallas Mavericks sources today as the Blazers and Mavericks face off in early NBA season action. Below are the responses of SBNation-Dallas regional site editor Jonathan Tjarks to a series of questions posed by Blazer's Edge. You can read the other half of the interview--our responses to the SBNation-Dallas questions--after they're posted at the SBNation Dallas Site.
On to the questions!
Blazer'sEdge: The Mavs have had more turnover this summer than a McDonald's run by Emperor Nero. After years of stability with the only change being whatever aging small forward Mark Cuban decided to overpay that year, what's the mood entering this season? Thrill? Fear? Loss? Is anybody buying Cuban's assertion that the team is on track?
Jonathan Tjarks: I'd say the best word for the mood around the franchise is ambivalence, which, in its own way, is worse than any purely negative emotion. Dallas, is, and will always be, a football town, and baseball, especially with how great the Rangers have been in the last 3 years, is probably ahead of basketball too. Dirk is still beloved and people like being able to go to Mavs games downtown, but expectations are very low right now. It's hard to explain to a casual fan tearing apart a championship team that everyone fell in love and not even giving them a chance for a legitimate title defense.
Texas is also a very conservative place and the whole Lamar Odom situation, unfortunately, reinforced a lot of negative stereotypes people have about the NBA. I understand that Odom was going through a lot off-the-court, and he wasn't a great X's and O's fit in Dallas, but one of your most high-profile players essentially quitting his job, a job playing a children's game for upwards of $10 million a year, in the middle of the worst recession in people's lifetime -- it was not appreciated. At all.
All that being said, Dallas, because it has so many transplants from all over the country, is a quintessentially front-running town, so if the Mavs can get out to a fast start, everyone will hop back on the bandwagon. However, do people believe that this team is on the right track right now? In a word, no.
BE: Which of the newcomers are you most glad to see? Who's really going to help this team and why?
JT: I'd say probably a tie between Darren Collison and Elton Brand. Collison, for all his flaws, gets buckets pretty easily, especially against weak defensive PG's. He's super fast and he's got a great outside jumper. His one-man fast breaks, where he can get a quick basket with a pull-up 20-footer, are great. Brand, meanwhile, isn't a flashy or incredibly effective player, but he's durable, smart and versatile and he can eat minutes at the 4/5 positions, which is incredibly useful for a team that's missing Dirk and Kaman.
BE: What's up with Dirk? Can he get healthy? When he does, is he still capable of taking this team to the Finals?
JT: Dirk didn't really look like himself for most of last season, which I thought was mainly the result of coming in camp out of shape and the preposterous lockout schedule, which couldn't have been in a worse situation for a team as old as Dallas was last season. That's what makes this latest knee situation so worrisome, but for now, all Mavs fans can dpo is hope for the best.
In terms of him taking a team to the Finals, the only players who can do that by themselves are, my opinion, LeBron and Dwight Howard. And with the new super-team era upon us, I doubt you'll see another ‘07 Cavs or ‘09 Magic for awhile. However, if you can get a center who can dominate defensively and a PG who can control the pace of the game, than I think Dirk can still be the featured offensive player on a title team. He's a 7'0 spot-up shooter with a devastating low-post game; when healthy, he's probably the most indefensible 1-on-1 player in the NBA, and as a tall shooter, his game should translate well as he ages.
BE: Is Brandan Wright ready to break out? If not, what do you expect out of that mish-mash of Dallas centers? Curry? Kaman? Really?
[Note: Question posed prior to Friday's roster moves.]
JT: You're not going to find a bigger Brandan Wright fan than me. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the NBA. That being said, his rebounding issues probably make him most effective as a 4, which will make it difficult for him to co-exist with Dirk. More importantly though, he had a 21.6 PER last season, which I think is a fairly accurate depiction of how effective he was: he's got great touch anywhere within 12 feet of the basket and he's so long and athletic that he can shoot over the top of basically anyone in the NBA. He consistently plays above the rim, which is just a tremendously useful thing to do.
As for centers, Eddy Curry got his walking papers on Friday and I don't really know what Kaman will give them this year, but we shall see. One guy to keep an eye on is Bernard James, the Mavs second round pick out of Florida State. He's got an NBA-caliber body at 6'10 240 and he's very athletic and, as a 27-year old former Air Force vet who played for Leonard Hamilton in college, he should be more prepared for defending an NBA paint than your average rookie. From watching him at Florida State, I think he could be a rich man's Joel Anthony, which I swear is a compliment.
BE: Where do the Mavs finish in the West this year? Against what playoff team would they match up best and who do you really fear?
JT: There's no real way to answer that question until we get a better idea of when Dirk will come back, how effective he will be and how all these new players will co-exist with him. I'm cautiously optimistic, but almost nothing within a very wide range of possible outcomes would surprise me right now.
As for who Dallas matches up with, like everyone else, they're going to want no part of the Thunder and the Lakers. The one middle-of-the-pack team they probably don't want to see is Memphis, who has the size and skill to just brutalize them upfront. Regardless, if the Mavs can sneak in somewhere between the #3-6 range, I think you'd have to call it a successful season.