As we like to do from time to time, I turned to one of the editors over at Mavs Moneyball to get some insight on this season's Dallas team. Rebecca Lawson is a SoCal native, who for some reason likes the Mavericks -- what's up with that? Last season she was in town for the first STAPLES meeting and we got to hang out together, which was fun (though I think I liked the ending more than she did). Despite that, she was willing to answer my questions. You should also head over to MMB when you have a chance so you can check out my answers to her questions.
Steve Perrin: Let's just dedicate question one to ownership, shall we? Steve Ballmer and Mark Cuban do seem to have a few things in common. They're billionaires who made their money in the tech industry, basketball fans who fulfilled their wildest fantasies by purchasing NBA teams, and enthusiastic presences on the sidelines of their team's games. So far however, Ballmer has stayed firmly on the sidelines, avoiding Cuban's habit of criticizing the league or meddling with the team. So my question is, what, if any, is the downside to this brand of owner? Does Cuban get old for Mavs' fans?
Rebecca Lawson: Others might disagree, but I think that your owner being a vocal fan -- so long as he or she is a smart and interesting fan -- has very little downside. You look at Cuban, the things he has done as the Mavs owner to better not only the team but the league, and I can see Ballmer getting to that point. A lot of Cuban's outbursts and fines have been purposeful in that respect -- to bring attention to a point of emphasis or rule change that he wants the league to consider more.
Cuban has said that the Mavericks are a different kind of business because he's aware they belong more to the people of Dallas than to him. There is that business aspect, of course, but he feels those highs and lows with us, and probably more than us. And as a result, we know he wants to make the best possible decisions aimed at winning. (Doesn't mean you always agree with those decisions, but the intent is there.)
The biggest downside, I suppose, would be that when your owner is drawn into the media, even if it's unrelated to his ownership of the team, it tends to shine a brighter spotlight on the team. But those instances have been few in Cuban's 15 years of ownership.
My guess would be that as Ballmer learns a little more about the ins and outs of how to channel that fandom into being a more vocal advocate of not only his team and brand, but things that would better the NBA as a whole, he'll grow into some of those other aspects of "owner as fan." That's not a bad thing in my eyes.
SP: Ellis has a usage rate around 29, Dirk is at 27 and Rondo is at 23 with the Mavs. Rondo's usage is lowish because he handles the ball to pass rather than to shoot, but it remains true that he is most effective with the ball in his hands. Add in Chandler Parsons' 20% usage, and that's about 99% usage for four starters, a seemingly impossible number even taking into consideration that they don't all play together all the time. Assuming the Mavs will continue to play with one basketball as per NBA rules, do you foresee a problem getting everyone their touches?
RL: I don't. Certainly that was a concern even before the Rondo trade, with Parsons having been vocal about wanting a bigger role on a team where Monta and Dirk were already the playmakers. But the Mavericks' philosophy as a team is that the win is more important than any individual player, and they actually practice what they preach. It's something you see both on the court and in the locker room on a nightly basis with every player. If Monta is the hot hand, he'll get the ball more; if it's Parsons that night, he'll get it more, and Monta will rack up assists -- etc. It's a wonderful problem to have, and an especially wonderful problem to have as we look at life post-Dirk (SIGH).
There was quite a bit of worry that Rondo and Monta wouldn't be able to co-exist, but happily, that hasn't seemed to be an issue. Carlisle has very little problem getting players to buy into his coaching philosophy, and if a player has a problem with not getting his touches, he's quickly going to find himself on the bench. As Rick so often says, "we need all those guys to stay ready."
SP: Speaking of Parsons, to me his contract certainly looked too big for his production when he signed this summer, but Cuban and the Mavs no doubt saw the new TV deal coming, and he may seem like a bargain eventually. Still, $15M per season for a 16 PER player is a lot, and puts the Mavs in the position of paying him more than anyone else on the roster. Everybody loves Parsons (and PER probably doesn't measure his true value well) -- but do you foresee that deal becoming an issue at some point?
RL: Maybe. The first thing you have to realize with Parsons' contract, is that while it looks like $15M per season, if you combine that with Dirk's contract, it's basically $23M for both Parsons AND Dirk. Essentially, Dirk gave up what he should have been paid so that the Mavs could get Parsons (who they desperately needed after losing Vince Carter and Shawn Marion) and to field a more competitive and younger team. So the contract doesn't look like a bad deal from that perspective, even if Parsons ends up being just as-advertised and not much better.
That said, MMB went postal after a month or two of Parsons not playing up to his potential. He was vocal about wanting to take that next step, to have an increased role from what he had in Houston, and it didn't seem that he was remotely doing that. The contract in a vacuum was an overpay, so it'd be nice if he made Cuban look good. Fortunately, he's looked much better as of late, and even had several games that make you stand up and take notice. I don't know if he'll be able to take the next step he wants to take with so many playmakers on this team, but Dirk won't be around forever, and the Mavericks are going to be someone else's for the taking.
SP: What, if anything, has Dirk lost at age 36? He remains one of the toughest matchups in the league, and seven footers who can shoot never really go out of style. How long can he play?
RL: A couple months ago, I would have said he hasn't lost a step. He was an All-Star last year, he worked all summer with his shooting coach on a quicker release for his jumpers, and at the beginning of the season seemed as good as ever. Of late, he's been really off, missing shots that he typically makes in his sleep. I don't feel like that's going to be a long term thing, though it has been concerning. Anyone who has been around Dirk knows that he eventually works out of his slumps, and I don't think this will be any exception. He remains a hard matchup simply because that threat is still there, even if he's playing decoy for other shooters on the floor.
That said, I think the better question is not how long he can play, but how long does he WANT to play? I get the impression he'd prefer to go out on a high note, rather than take any kind of lesser role on the team. The reasons for all the Mavs' offseason moves were essentially to get Dirk another ring...and they've done a pretty good job of putting themselves in position for that.
His current contract takes him through next season with a player option for a third. Barring injury, and if the Mavericks remain competitive, I think he'll play out this season and next, and see what the team looks like after that. (And before you get any ideas, no, he would not consider playing for another team in any role. Sorry, Daryl Morey.)
Dirk is certainly a once-in-a-generation player, and really we just try to appreciate him every game we can.
SP: Brandan Wright was the first big off the bench before he was sent to Boston in the Rondo trade (he's now been shipped back West to Phoenix). His departure seems to leave the team very thin up front, depending I suppose on your feelings about Charlie Villanueva. Who do you think the Mavs can pick up to help in the front court, and how can they do it? Is it Jermaine O'Neal or bust?
RL: Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson have played fairly well in increased roles, and Charlie Villanueva has been on fire as of late (and has become something of a fan favorite). Al-Farouq Aminu has fallen out of the rotation a bit since Wright's departure but he had been playing well. A lot of us were vocally worried about Wright's departure and how that would affect the bench, but Carlisle is a master of adjusting rotations as he needs to. All that said, Greg Smith isn't the answer, and the Mavs need another big badly. The last game against Detroit proved that, if there were people who didn't already know it.
Jermaine O'Neal -- who lives in Dallas -- seems like the most likely candidate, and rumor has it he's getting himself ready to play. Emeka Okafor is another name that has been tossed around. That's probably the list, unless they can make something happen via trade, but Brandan Wright was really their only good trade asset.
However, the Mavericks front office is notoriously tight-lipped, so I didn't expect the Tyson Chandler or Rondo trades, either. Stay tuned!
Thanks to Becks for sharing her expertise on the Mavs. These two teams played four great games last season and hopefully we're in for another one today.