A lucky 13 years ago, almost to the day, Mark Cuban purchased the Dallas Mavericks. In the seasons since, save for a trip to the lottery a few months after he bought the club, the Mavericks have continually rung the 50-win bell while grabbing one championship out of two NBA Finals appearances. At no point, even during the team’s frustrating Finals defense in 2011-12 or the struggles that met Cuban when he took over during the 1999-00 season, has the team lost six straight. In fact, Cuban’s first week as an NBA owner saw his new squad end a five-game losing streak under Don Nelson.
Under current coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavs had no such luck on Sunday in snapping a five-game swoon. Instead, though the Mavs showed signs of competing, the team was blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in a 111-86 embarrassment. And Carlisle, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko, has had it up to here.
(Points to his forehead.)
“I [have] to be inventive and find ways,” he said. “I don’t have a better answer than that. The last week, I’ve had to literally scream in the face of two guys in practices and shootarounds to get the point across. And I will continue to do that.
“If I have to start suspending guys for not doing things they’re supposed to be doing on the court, I’ll do it. And Mark and I will get into it about that. But somehow, things have got to change and it can’t just be about that it’s a tough schedule. It just can’t.”
The threat of suspension is probably hollow. But the point isn’t. Playing time is about the only weapon a coach has to get a player’s attention. And the Mavericks now have lost eight times this season by 20 points or worse and another time by 19.
Playing time really isn’t an issue, though no player likes to lose out on his minutes. When you suspend a player, you take away a game’s pay. And while one game out of 82 may not force a player into considering sub-compact options for his next car, it’s still a significant chunk to be taken away.
This is also why, of course, the suspensions may not work out. There is the little matter of the Players Association getting involved and demanding to know why, exactly, a player got the demerit. The income-restricting demerit. There is vague and borderline nebulous talk of moral turpitude and conduct clauses in each player’s contract, but teams can’t exactly suspend players for reasons their representatives may deem arbitrary.
You have to, y’know, yell at Sean Elliott or something.
This has been a nasty stretch. The Mavs are stuck at 12-19, and while their strength of schedule is ranked seventh-toughest, it’s hard to find a star in this lot. Dirk Nowitzki’s legs clearly aren’t back, he’s shooting 32 from the field and struggling from both behind the arc and on his long two-pointers. Worse than that – no other Maverick is really distinguishing himself. It’s true that O.J. Mayo started off the year on a tear from long range, but his percentages dipped to a more reasonable 38.9 percent from behind the arc in December. Elton Brand has looked his age. Jae Crowder hasn’t done much to encourage Carlisle to continue to play him almost 19 minutes a night. Darren Collison remains a work in progress.
And this is all for the coach that was supposed to be able to handle such disparate parts.
Dirk Nowitzki hates this game (Getty Images)Throughout his time in Detroit, Indiana and now Dallas Carlisle has done fine work handling ever-changing rotations and rosters that were purposely put together to win during holding patterns between offseasons. To the eye test, the Mavs look fine – there’s a stray play or decision here and there, but the spacing appears to be in place and they look to run in ways (third in Pace Factor this season) that seems to fly in the face of the team’s veteran image.
Good or even average teams don’t get blown out this much, though. The Mavs may have the 21st best record in the NBA, but they only boast the 25th best point differential. Historically, consistent major blowouts are as devastating as the score would indicate. Teams that pile up repeated massive losses never really tend to get over, and even if Dirk starts making half his shots from the field again you have to wonder if the roster surrounding him can push Dallas into the playoffs.
With Minnesota’s return to health, an improving Lakers team, and the expected resurgence of the Utah Jazz, the bottom of the West’s playoff bracket is going to be awfully crowded with several very good teams this April. Right now, a 43-win pace is what you need to grab that eighth seed, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the last participant in the West’s postseason roster might have to sneak in with 45 or 46 wins.
This leaves the Mavericks with a 33 wins or so to go, in 51 tries. That’s a tough haul for any team, a 54-win pace if kept up over an entire season, and these current Mavericks don’t look anything like a 54-win team. And yet, from here until April, they’ll have to act like a 54-win team if they merely want to get to 44 wins.
Toss in possible suspensions, and that’s a tough sell. By the time 2012-13 is through, we might be looking at the first lottery team in Dallas since Mark Cuban took over for an entire season as owner.