Mavericks Bench Dictates Fate


Back in 2010-2011 when all of our most magical dreams were realized and the Dallas Mavericks took hold of their first championship, knocking off the Portland Trail Blazers, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers and ending that variance of a Laker dynasty in convincing fashion. The youthful Oklahoma City Thunder served as the final stepping stone until Dallas, lead by a superstar and power in numbers knocked off the Miami Heat big three, who seemed shocked to fall to a team that only had one of their “kind,” that being a perennial all-star.

That Mavericks team, as well as all of the Mavericks teams the past decade and more, have only been as strong as their full unit.

Units lead by different names over the years. Antawn Jamison, Eddie Najera, Jerry Stackhouse, then finally Jason the “JET” Terry, Dallas Mavericks basketball has been a product of its whole parts as much as any team over the past dozen seasons. The Spurs similarly build deep benches to compliment their bigger names. However, outside Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks have never really found a superstar late in the draft with their good-teams-pick late selections  like San Antonio did to pair with “Dat Dood.”

Where they weren’t finding potential star material, the front office was still working the trade market time and time and time and time again, until in 2011 they had compiled a talented group with a legitimate starting five, still led by Dirk, Jason Kidd and surprising newcomer Tyson Chandler.

Another name in that mix was the versatile Caron Butler, who unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury just after the calendar flipped to 2011 and left the Mavericks with a gaping hole in their first unit that they did not want to deplete their elite second unit to compromise.

Dec 6, 2012; Miami FL, USA; New York Knicks point guard Jason Kidd (left) talks with center Tyson Chandler (right) during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But the Mavericks insane depth on the bench allowed for Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and also Brian Cardinal to stay true to their roles.

In Butler’s absence the Mavericks tried a few short-term prospects, waiving not-relevant-yet Steve Novak to see if Sasha Pavlovic could be an answer. Exactly two weeks later the team decided a much more sophisticated route.

They dealt cash, a 2nd rounder and reserve big man Alexis Ajinca to the Raptors to create a roster spot to sign Peja Stojakovic, longtime Mavs killer who was recently bought out by the Sacramento Kings. But what the man truly called Pedrag a viable answer in Butler’s absence?

Peja was a role player, a sharp-shooter and bench weapon good for pretty much the one thing Brian Cardinal didn’t give you, consistent offense.

The market for a Caron Butler type replacement is tough to gauge in a trade market where your big trade asset is Rodrigue Beaubois, who despite being very seldom used was still a coveted piece by management. So the Mavericks went to the buyout route again, stemming from a different trade that they didn’t participate in.

In the big Carmelo Anthony trade between Denver and New York, Minnesota was also involved to help match some salaries and contribute some fitting draft selections. The Wolves were shipping off the latest draft bust for minimal cost and the Knicks too did not want Corey Brewer. They bought him out and the lanky defensive-minded small forward drew interest from about a dozen clubs. He chose us and he was rewarded.

Brewer and Stojakovic added even more depth to one of the league’s elite benches, and while Caron Butler was not replaced with a body, instead multiple bodies with different skill sets formed a complimenting rotation among the big rotation used by Head Coach Rick Carlisle and it was seen through all the way to Game 6 in Miami, Florida when the Dallas Mavericks had at last had their deserved justice against the Miami Heat, but more importantly had climbed to the top of the basketball world.

Feb 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle talks with guard Vince Carter (25) during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Mavericks defeated the Sixers 124-112. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The story about how things went after the 2011 title is regrettable. Barea, Chandler, Stevenson, Brewer, Butler, Cardinal and Peja all were gone before 2012’s lockout-shortened season began. Kidd, Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Roddy B, Dominique Jones and “JET” were only around for one season more and all that remains from the magical, magical group that won it all are Dirk and Shawn Marion.

But it’s still such a huge anomaly, stuck right in the faces of the NBA world, the world, and the world’s world that a team like the Dallas Mavericks, led by Dirk and Kidd and a 6th Man who’s jersey better be put up in the rafters one day, were able to defy the superstar-centric logic and win the NBA’s Larry O’Brien trophy.

The foundation of that team was it’s endless supply of capable bodies ready to come in and lay it on the line for their cause. Defying the league’s systematic protocol and roster foundations of champion’s past to make the 2011 Championship completely their own.

Terry, Barea, Haywood, Brewer, Peja, Mahinmi. It was a second unit that the league didn’t seem ready for, and it was all so beautifully constructed.

This year the Mavericks are back in the playoff race after taking a year off from 12 straight appearances, nearly encompassing the whole of Dirk’s career. The main reason is that Dirk is healthy but also he actually has a capable supporting cast again. Then there’s the Dallas bench, which is as strong as it’s been since the 2011 “One and Done Boys” turned into champions.

Dirk Nowitzki is, however, three years and two knee surgeries older, and he needs a bit more help this time. At 35, Nowitzki is still absolutely capable and is the best player on the team, but like 2011 he can’t do it alone, but unlike 2011 he sometimes seemed like he damn well could do it on his own.

The starting lineup is not as experienced as 2011, but if it’s something it’s…faster? You don’t replace Jason Kidd and you haven’t replaced Tyson Chandler, but Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert are astronomical upgrades from the 2012 and 2013 clubs. Shawn Marion isn’t the same but he’s still the team’s most consistent rebounder and you never have to worry about effort, heart, passion and the will to win with the “Matrix.”

The bench has been fortified with new bodies but the “captain” of this group is 37-year old Vince Carter. He didn’t ask for Jason Terry’s former 6th Man weapon role but he demanded it for himself, taking pride and the initiative to be the leader of the second group for the Mavs. He’s shown flashes of his old self, but the attributes that the team needs more than ‘ol flying VC is his steady ability to knock down 3’s. Like most of the squad he is a bit of defensive liability, something that absolutely wasn’t the case with the 2011 squad, anchored by Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.

Nov 27, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis (11) and point guard Jose Calderon (8) watch the game against the Golden State Warriors from the bench during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Vince does have experience though in the league, and plenty of it, but he’s craving a title just as much if not more than Kevin Durant is. Talent levels are a bit separated at this point, though. The rest of the bench, sans Devin Harris, lacks much experience at all for the grind that the Mavericks are hoping to embark on in April-June.

Brandan Wright is very likable, an active body around the basket with scoring abilities usually not seen in players his size. The mentioned Devin Harris is a needed offensive spark off the bench if the team wants to hang around while Jose Calderon isn’t playing. Harris also defends on a whole nother level than Calderon and his fellow backcourt starter Monta Ellis.

The worry for this hopefully playoff-bound 2014 Mavericks team is that the bench is not as deep or as experienced or as talented as the bench that helped the franchise notch their first NBA title. That’s very worrisome because the starting 5 is also not what the 2011 squad was. Suffice to say there needs to be some signs of improvement from everyone not named Dirk to give fans hope of anything more than a quick pit stop amidst another team’s 2014 NBA Playoff run.