October 22, 2008
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Dallas Mavericks
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Mavericks

I feel like they're on the downside. They haven't made the kind of moves this summer to turn things around and get back to the NBA Finals.

A lot was hinging on Jason Kidd. It's hard to make a team-changing trade like that in midseason. But I also think the Kidd we think of from previous years is not the same Kidd we see today. How much is left in him? I'm sure it's possible for him to lead them for one more year, but it's not going to be easy. He's 35, and that's pretty old for a point guard. He'll be chasing around a lot of young, quick kids, and there are not many other options -- I mean, Jason Terry isn't going to chase them around.

I was surprised by the trade for Kidd because last year I thought that Devin Harris was making some strides. So now they've totally changed their direction, and all of a sudden they've become relatively old. Erick Dampier [34] is old and Jerry Stackhouse [turns 34 on Nov. 5] is old and Dirk Nowitzki [30] isn't young anymore. And you've got Kidd, who has to try to defend younger players in an era when you're no longer allowed to grab and hold defensively. It doesn't help Kidd that his shooting is not a strength. What is going to be their style? Obviously, you want to see Kidd pushing it up the floor, but are his legs going to be able to keep up all year long?

The big move was getting Rick Carlisle, and I do think he is going to get the most out of them. Rick will try to reach out to Josh Howard first. This is a guy who looked like he was going to be a cornerstone for the franchise, a building block. He's had a lot of negative PR, so Rick will want to get him going early to try to turn that around. He could be a big help as a good young player on this roster, but last year it didn't seem like he was involved as much or even that he had a lot of energy.

I imagine Rick will use a lot of the same stuff to create shots for Dirk that Dallas has used in the past. He's still going to be a big perimeter threat, obviously. Dirk has showed signs of being able to take fouls, to be more physical and to make defenders guard him more. I don't see a whole lot of change coming in those terms. What they might decide is to continually go to him play after play after play. Rick's way is to simplify things for his players, and once he sees how the defense has adapted, he tries to simplify it from there again.

But there are a couple of problems. If they're playing in the half court, that means the defense will help off Kidd and he'll be forced to spot up -- and that's not necessarily the best thing to have Kidd shooting from the perimeter. The other thing I wonder about is whether Nowitzki has lost a little bit of his motivation over the last year. He doesn't seem to have that force of personality that you usually see in a championship leader. Maybe they were looking for Kidd to deliver some of that. But Nowitzki doesn't inspire his team defensively, and even worse, he and his team appear to have lost some of their fight offensively. In the old days, they could be down 15 to 18 points and still be a threat to come back. Now they have more of a clinical approach. There's not a lot that a coach can do to improve that; it depends on the personnel you have on the floor, and the way your players engage each other as a team. When it's going well, they've got that chemistry and everybody's feeding off each other and enjoying it. But that's not who the Mavericks are anymore. When you see them on the schedule, you don't say, 'Oh, no, we've got Dallas.' Now you think, We've got a chance to beat these guys. Because they're not going to score a burst of easy points like they used to.

Terry is one of the guys the new coaching staff isn't going to worry about. He is one of their reliable performers, still a big threat from the three-point line and probably one of the leaders of the team as far as his character and his upbeat, optimistic personality.

It was a good move for them to bring back DeSagana Diop at center, where he helps offset Dampier's age. But center has never been an important position for Dallas offensively. All they're asked to do is to catch it and finish, and you don't want to go to Diop or Dampier anyway.

Brandon Bass was a great find for them as a guy they can go to in the post whether he comes off the bench or starts. He's a strong athlete who can get to where he wants to go. He has pretty good touch with his turnaround jump shot and he can shoot from the elbow.

Stackhouse has lost something, which is understandable at his age. His defense is still OK, but he's not going to tear you up getting to the basket, which means you can play him a little bit more straight up. His shot was always streaky, and he still can shoot it. But the older you get, the harder it becomes to get those shots up when your legs aren't giving you the same lift.

If Howard struggles early and the fans are getting on him, he could be somebody they look to move in midseason. I would be surprised if they shopped Nowitzki for a blockbuster move, because what are you going to get back in return? I guess I just don't know what to make of their team, other than to say that I don't anticipate them being in contention. This could be the beginning of the end.


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