After a few offseasons of striking out on big-name free agents, the Dallas Mavericks approached the 2014 summer with an arguably more conservative plan of adding (still very good) players who would not require such involved courtship. The results have been pretty terrific. The Mavericks have obtained center Tyson Chandler (a member of their 2011 title-winning squad) via trade to bolster the defense, signed ex-Houston Rockets wing Chandler Parsons to do a little bit (and often a lot) of everything, and grabbed veteran point guards Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton to make up for the loss of Jose Calderon. The Mavs have a clear identity as a seasoned, intelligent group of passers and shooters, and this summer has only enhanced those strengths while also bringing back a needed defensive linchpin.
Ever-involved Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has surveyed the scene (that he was largely responsible for) and responded with great positivity. In a radio interview with KTCK 1310 in Dallas, Cuban spoke about the Mavs' improvements and why he thinks they're well positioned to contend in the Western Conference. From SportsDayDFW (via PBT):
On his feelings and excitement about the Mavericks’ offseason so far:
Cuban: “Yeah it’s been fun so far. I try never to get too excited, but I’m always excited. Getting Chandler, getting the Chandler brothers is going to be a big step forward for us. I think we’ve gotten younger, I think we’ve got a team that is very flexible; we’ll be able to do a lot of different things. We’ve got a high basketball IQ. I’m really excited about it."
On adding six players this offseason who were starters for other teams last year:
Cuban: “I didn’t even think about it that way, but that’s probable true. We were looking to improve. We were looking to add depth. ... The thing about the NBA is that it’s becoming much smarter. There’s a lot more analytics. The new owners that have come in since I’ve been here are just really smart guys. So rather than always doing it the old-school way, the way it’s always been done, teams have to be a lot smarter and the league evolves a lot more quickly. And I think one of the reasons we were able to give San Antonio such a run is that we had a high basketball IQ and we were able to make adjustments that they didn’t expect. I think if our basketball IQ was a little bit higher, then we should have beat them — we could have beat them, we would have beat them — and that’s what we were looking for this summer: guys with high basketball IQs, guys who can play multiple positions, guys who were unselfish and were willing to move the ball and guys who could hit an open shot. And so we think having a lot of flexibility, being able to switch on defense, moving the ball a lot, we think by adding all these starters from all these other teams, we added guys who had those capabilities and I think hopefully it will take us to the next level.”
Nothing Cuban says here is wrong — the Mavericks have added experienced players with versatile skills and good senses of how to play the game. What's a little curious, though, is that the Mavericks were already one of the highest-IQ teams in the league last season, particularly in that terrific seven-game first-round series against the eventual-champion Spurs. As an eight-seed, the Mavs were able to match the Spurs at their own game, setting up good shots and exploiting matchups to a degree that wasn't really seen by any non-Spurs team for the rest of the postseason. It's difficult to look at that performance and determine that Dallas was somehow lacking anything in basketball intelligence. Plus, given how San Antonio played over the next three series, it's arguable that no amount of hoops IQ could have defeated them. They performed with a rarely seen combination of strategy, execution, and improvisatory talent.
Yet, like any analytics-minded basketball person, Cuban probably knows that the Spurs series was a potential outlier even if it also featured a number of great performances. Heading into that series, the Mavs were considerable underdogs due to a very poor recent history against the Spurs. For that matter, their playoff seeding (in an admittedly very tough conference) and 49 wins fit their level of play — this team was not considered a contender. In other words, it would have made little sense for the Mavericks to rest on their laurels simply because of one highly impressive series. They needed to bolster existing areas of strength while also adding new abilities, and the additions of Chandlers Tyson and Parsons would appear to have done just that.
In the NBA, it can be easy to treat a seven-game series as if it represents the sum total of a team's success or failure, but a matchup with one team repeated many times usually only plays out a limited set of possibilities in various permutations. It's possible that the Mavericks' postseason would have looked very different against a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers. Those alternate outcomes don't diminish whatever they did against the Spurs, but they do suggest that the team's approach to the offseason should not have treated the Spurs series as the basis for an entire offseason. Although Cuban does tie the team's moves to those games, he's really talking about a desire to find players that fit within the team's existing structure and ensure that those qualities will become more consistent strengths. Ultimately, the team isn't concerned with building off the Spurs series, but continuing on the same path that led them to that strong showing in the first place.
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