Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 41-41, No. 4 in Southwest Division, No. 10 in Western Conference
Roster additions: DeJuan Blair, Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Devin Harris, Shane Larkin (Rookie, No. 18 overall), Gal Mekel
Roster subtractions: Rodrigue Beaubois, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Jared Cunningham, Mike James, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Anthony Morrow
You kind of have to feel bad for Dallas Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki, right? Just a few seasons ago, he was hoisting the championship trophy over his head, celebrating an NBA Finals win.
Fast forward to the 2013 preseason, and you can see Mavs owner Mark Cuban is desperately trying to assemble enough talent around the 35-year-old veteran of 15 seasons to remain competitive in a division that includes San Antonio, Houston and an improved New Orleans team.
It's tough to imagine coach Rick Carlisle guiding this roster to better than a fourth-place finish in the Southwest. With the Pelicans adding Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to a roster that already included Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, you might have to consider them likely to finish ahead of the Mavs in the final standings next spring.
That's right, it's not only possible for Dallas to find themselves in last place in their division this season, but it could be considered likely.
The Mavericks dismantled every team in their path during the 2011 playoffs en route to a championship. Now, they're hoping to stay out of the division cellar. What happened?
That 2011 team featured veterans Jose Barea, Corey Brewer, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Not one of those players remains. Instead, the defense is now anchored by an apparently out-of-shape Samuel Dalembert and the starting back court features guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis. Neither player is known for an ability to stay in front of his man.
In short, a defense that gave up almost 102 points a game last season - good for No. 27 in the league - is probably not going to improve much. In fact, there's a good chance that the Mavs defense will be even worse than it was last year. You have to take into account not only Ellis' and Calderon's poor defensive reputations, but also consider Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are all 35 or older and not as spry as they once were.
Unless Dalembert turns back the clock to the mid-2000s - his best defensive years, statistically - the 2013-2014 Mavericks defense should be decent on good nights and a train wreck on bad nights.
Offensively, Dallas packs enough scoring punch to stay with anyone. Nowitzki had a down-year last season, but he was coming off an injury. Now that's he's healthy, he should be back to his normal productive self, consistently draining his trademark unblockable fadeaway that he's perfected over the years.
Ellis, although below-average from outside and mostly inefficient otherwise, finds ways to put the ball in the hoop. Even though he'll need a high volume of shots to get his points, they should be there for the taking if some of the older guys like Marion and Carter are willing to accept a reduced role offensively, almost a given considering Ellis has attempted over 16 field-goal attempts a game over the course of his eight-year career.
The Mavs do have the ability to hit the outside shot. Calderon has really developed his three ball in recent years, shooting 52 percent, 42.9 percent and 46.1 percent his last three seasons, making him an elite marksman from behind the arc. Carter knocked down 40.6 of his three-point attempts last season, and Nowitzki nailed 41.4 percent of his three-point tries. If Ellis can break down the defense and get into the lane, he should be able to kick it out for open looks. Last year, Ellis averaged a career-high six assists per game, so he has the ability to set up teammates; it's just a question of whether or not he's willing to evolve into more of a distributor. For what it's worth, he says he is willing to accept that role if it means more wins for the team.
Dallas has pretty solid bench depth with guards Devin Harris and Wayne Ellington. If Harris stays healthy, he should be a steady, veteran presence off the bench. Ellington is a scorer who can hit the outside shot and play about 20 minutes a game. Young bigs Bernard James and Brandan Wright have shown potential to rebound well in limited minutes. Wright, in particular, could eventually be a solid post-scorer as his per-36 minutes stats last year had him projected at 17 points a game on 59.7 percent shooting from the floor. If Dalembert's play suffers, expect Wright to earn more and more minutes as the season progresses.
Jae Crowder, a rookie small forward last year, showed some potential in limited time but did not shoot very well and is pretty deep on the depth chart. Forward DeJaun Blair was added this offseason, but he saw his role and production dwindle last season for the Spurs. At 24-years-old, though, Blair still has a chance to turn it around if he can see some court time behind Nowitzki and Wright.
This incarnation of the Mavericks could be an improvement on last year's team, but a lot would have to go right for them to make a run toward the playoffs in a talented Western Conference. If Nowitzki gets back to his All-NBA form, Ellis improves his efficiency, the outside shooters hit their shots and the team gets a solid contribution from its young and promising players, the Mavs have enough offensive punch to win on any given night.
On the other hand, Dallas' defense probably won't be pretty and their offense isn't likely to fire on all cylinders every night. It's not unrealistic for Mavericks fans to hope for a low-playoff seed this year, but it also wouldn't be surprising to see them finish in the draft lottery, either.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter