It's like the Mavericks' 2008-09 season is still in motion.
Theirs was a finish of great momentum, an encouraging end to the regular season that built into a successful first round that built into a commendable second round closer than the official listing as a 4-1 loss. We now know that was no elimination in the conference semifinals. That was six weeks as a catapult.
There is a statement in Dallas' early offseason moves: The Mavs believe they've got something special in a veteran team that was only three games from missing the playoffs. How else to explain three years for the 36-year-old Kidd? Only a team in win-now mode makes that investment.
"It's hard to say what we would have done [if the finish had not been as encouraging]," owner
Cuban will spend to an extreme, just not foolishly. He'll hold back for a 10th-seeded team and go to work on a recovery plan, but give him a real shot at 50-something victories and a playoff run and just try prying away the checkbook. In this case, the big finish showed Cuban and Co. what could be. That's the only explanation for the spending spree.
The Mavs won seven of their final nine regular-season games in a home-heavy stretch, including victories over the Rockets, Jazz and Hornets, key moments that helped them climb over New Orleans and Utah in the conference standings and avoid a dreaded first-round matchup with the Lakers. Dallas got to No. 6 and the most fortuitous opener, the crumbling Spurs. Doing what good teams do, the Mavs capitalized on the San Antonio injuries to win in five. In the conference semifinals, they lost 4-1 to the Nuggets, but were in most of the games.
Dallas could have sat out this July, built the war chest for next summer or for investing in a point guard with a better chance to still strike fear in a couple of years, and it would have been reasonable. It would have been atypical for a Cuban operation to slow-play a hand, but understandable. The Mavs aren't title contenders. There's no reason to defiantly spend another season running head first into the Lakers/Nuggets/Spurs wall just to reach the second round.
Unless they feel like this isn't that.
Give the Mavs a healthy
It could have turned out a lot worse. The Rockets got one productive season out of Artest -- defense, three-point range and an edgy attitude for a locker room of nice guys, offsetting horrid shooting -- before the messy breakup of broken promises and his decision to sign with the rival Lakers. But there was no real damage done along the way, and that makes it a successful relationship in the Artest chronicles.
Though the departure was a particular hit coming within days of the news that
Jackson was an expiring contract who wouldn't have been a Rocket for long either way. Greene was the 28th pick in '08, and the 28th pick in any draft rarely makes an impact. The '09 first-rounder turned out to be No. 23 (
• Nice image recovery for
• The real potential Artest issue for the Lakers may have nothing to do with personality. He is a capable ball-handler, but also a notorious ball-stopper who can dribble the offense into submission; let's see how that goes over with