Happy New Year! The Washington Wizards meet the Dallas Mavericks tonight as both teams try to start 2013 off the right way. Here's everything you need to know about tonight's game, featuring a cameo from Mavs Moneyball's Kirk Henderson.
Where and When? Tip off is at 6 p.m. EST at the Verizon Center. Yes, you read that correctly, 6 p.m.
Who's Out? Dallas is completely healthy, although Dirk Nowitzki hasn't looked quite right since coming back from an injury. Shelvin Mack and Jordan Crawford are day-to-day for the Wizards, while Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker, John Wall and A.J. Price are out for Washington.
Why Should I Care? This is actually a pretty tough sell. I have no statistics to back this up or anything, but for my money, Dallas has always been one of the league's more boring teams to watch (seriously, the last time I went to a Mavericks game, a friend of mine fell asleep ... in the second quarter.). It's not that they're bad or have obnoxious fans or anything like that, they just take and make a lot of jumpers and it gets a little repetitive. I guess the flip side of this is that, if you're a fan of 18-foot jumpers, this is a game you'll want to record and archive.
Is Dallas Any Good? No one really knows for sure yet. Dirk has only been back for four games and the Mavericks are, as always, built around him. While they've struggled to a 12-19 record, Dallas has traditionally been really bad when Dirk's been out with injuries and surprisingly good when he's healthy. Remember that year they won the title? They were an elite team during the regular season when Dirk was healthy, but their offense fell off a cliff when he went out with an injury, and it's possible we see a similar improvement now that he's back.
1. It seems like the Mavericks have always made pretty smart personnel moves. Is there anything in particular that the organization always seems to look for in free agency and the trading market?
Ask our fans this question and you might get yelled at. As part of the previous CBA, the front office made all sorts of moves and money was never an option. It was a simple question of whether the team would be better as a result or not. That's why for most of the last decade Dallas always seemed to make a move at the trade deadline to take on salary but also some pretty decent players. The Maverick salary always came close to, and sometimes went over, the $100 million dollar mark.
Given the penalties established by the new CBA, after 2011 Cuban instructed the front office to go in a wildly different direction. Not because he was concerned about the financial penalties, but because he correctly believed staying under the cap allowed for roster flexibility. Right now, all Dallas is looking for is to shed salary, but they only have two layers on the roster signed beyond this season: Dirk and Shawn Marion. I suppose if someone incredible came on the market, they'd have to consider a trade, but for now I'd say they aren't looking for anything.
2. How has Dirk looked since coming back? Will he be good enough to lead Dallas back into the playoffs?
Not great. He's shooting just over 32 percent. His game is based on timing and patience and it's going to take some time for him to get back into the shape he needs to be in to put up numbers. Long term I'm not worried about Dirk at all.
As to the latter part of that question... I say no. It's not that he isn't good enough, but that the team this year is simply much worse than any Dallas has seen in the last decade. The pieces all look good on paper but together they're terrible. The Mavs have lost nine of 10, including six in a row. This game against the Wizards is hugely important for their confidence.
3. How much longer do you think the Mavericks can keep their window open?
Honestly it feels like the window has been shut since winning the title. If Dallas was to somehow sign Dwight Howard away from LA I'd revisit this opinion, but the new CBA changes every thing. Dallas has not had a good draft since 2003 (excluding 2012) and the long term effects of expensive free agent signings paired with zero young player development have caused Dallas lots of problems this year.
At some point, Dallas is going to have to hit a reset button. Of course, telling anyone this in the Mavericks organization or even in most of the Dallas media elicited scoffs of disdain. All of the problems Dallas has had this year (rebounding, turnovers, being bad at basketball) have been crystal clear since the second preseason game. So they can keep the window open maybe two more years if they sign some players better suited to playing under Rick Carlisle, but they aren't moving up the chain at all.
4. A lot of Wizards fans were disappointed when the team passed on Jae Crowder early in the second round of the 2012 draft. How has he worked out for Dallas, and how good do you think he'll be in a year or two?
Long term he's going to be a great pick up. I don't know if he's ever going to be a starter in the NBA, but his energy and basketball smarts should lead to a 10-year career where he's part of a rotation. Thus far, it's been an up and down season, which makes sense because he's a rookie. He really needs to improve on his shot selection and decision making on offense. Defensively he's already an excellent help defender but it's going to take time for him to pick up the tricks he needs to survive in man to man against all of the excellent NBA small forwards.
I don't know how good he'll be in two years, though I do think he will be the starting Dallas small forward in 2014-2015. He works hard and wants to get better and that dedication will be rewarded.
5. There was a bit of a kerfluffle between Mark Cuban and the Wages of Wins people a few months ago. Basically, Cuban says that Kaman wasn't a very good player, but Dallas can use him in a way so that he becomes effective. Have you noticed anything different in terms of how Dallas is using Kaman versus how his previous teams used him? And how would you grade his performance so far this year?
Listen, I love my owner. Wouldn't trade him for the world. But he always finds a way to rationalize every decision that the Mavericks make as being the right one.
With Dirk being out so long, Kaman was the only effective back to the basket player on the Dallas roster. He became a go-to guy right along with Mayo. For a while early in the season he was shooting something absurd like 80 percent from the field. But he's simply not very good. He settles for jumpers, turns the ball over a lot, and can't rebound consistently (he's had two double doubles this year on a team starved for rebounding). He's been the player everyone else assumed he would be.
I'd give him a C+. To some degree he's been asked to do more than he's capable of. He and Dirk can't be on the floor together, in my opinion. It's been nice to have an offensive center, but there have been times I missed having Brendan Haywood (I know right?) guarding the rim.