Four June’s ago, the Dallas Mavericks completed one of the most stunning upsets in NBA Finals history. They knocked off the newly formed Miami Heat in six games despite dropping the first game of the series and trailing in the series twice. While the superstar at that time for Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki, played fantastic, the pieces around him played just as big of a role. A lot of the players were already there from the previous year, but one move was made to give them that little extra push. With several moves made by them this offseason, can the Los Angeles Clippers draw any comparisons to the Dallas Mavericks on their run to a championship?
Despite their regular season success, and they had a lot of it, most people just took the Mavericks for granted and looked at them as nothing more than a playoff regular who had no shot at winning it all. That all changed in 2010-11 when they acquired Tyson Chandler in a trade from the Charlotte Bobcats. Chandler turned their entire team around with his tough, defense-first mindset and ability to alter games on that end of the floor. Dallas marched through the regular season, despite injuries, and ultimately bested Miami’s “Big Three” in six games.
There were other instruments at play throughout the course of that season but their entire demeanor and mindset was altered by the arrival of Chandler. He gave them what they were lacking; an identity. In some sense, that might be what has transpired with the Clippers this offseason. The team was lacking something. It’s hard to say what it really was because they did have some sort of identity. But something still felt amiss. Then the DeAndre Jordan drama happened and a “team bonding” moment ensued that included a participant who wasn’t around last season. That member is, was, and happens to be Paul Pierce. He might be a little long in the tooth but it appears he might be giving the Clippers something they’ve definitely lacked the last few years; killer instinct.
Enough has already been written on here and elsewhere about what transpired, or didn’t transpire, between DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Dallas Mavericks. But one of the interesting things during that entire ordeal, at least in this writer’s eyes, was Pierce. It wasn’t the clipart emoji he tweeted out or the hilarious picture article he wrote on The Player’s Tribune. It was much more than that. He was there. With the team. For all of it. He didn’t hold Jordan gunpoint and make him sign the contract. That’s not what the “killer instinct” thing is about. It’s about the drive to succeed. Chandler brought that with intensity and a defensive grittiness that the Mavericks were lacking during those prior years. Pierce might be bringing the fire the Clippers have needed to spark them.
It isn’t just Pierce that the Clippers brought in, though. They also traded for Lance Stephenson and happened to sign Josh Smith. To some degree, all three guys are veterans. Pierce and Smith are definitely veterans while Stephenson is still young but has a few seasons under his belt. Each guy can give the Clippers something different and unique that they have not had in either of the last several years. Pierce can rip the opponent’s heart out in the bat of an eyelash with his sharpshooting nature and tough last-second shots. Stephenson can be a jack-of-all-trades and ignitor off the bench with his ball-handling and gritty nature. Smith can be the athletic and defensive dynamo who allows the Clippers to play small and feverish. As a whole, they can be something more.
Think back to that Dallas team just prior to winning the title. They spent four years searching for something, anything, to spark them. Then Tyson Chandler came along and gave it to them. The team had won 68 percent of their regular season games preceding their title run. The Clippers, over the last four years, have won 67 percent of their regular season contests. While the Mavericks win percentage is buoyed by their 67-win season that ultimately ended in a disastrous first round exit, they still were a model franchise back then in terms of winning. The Clippers have the NBA’s second best winning percentage over the last three seasons and the third best over the last four seasons. Perhaps this is the time for the Clippers to truly strike.
There are obviously a lot of factors that go into play each year when a team is on the march towards a championship. A lot of the breaks you receive, you make on your own. Some you get from the basketball gods. Dallas got theirs in the form of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and DeShawn Stevenson being knockdown shooters during the postseason run. Yes, Dirk was awesome. But the complimentary pieces and supporting cast rose up and answered the call. Shawn Marion’s defensive prowess, combined with Tyson Chandler’s backline defense, changed the course of that Finals series against Miami. Marion flustered LeBron James into bad night after bad night and used Chandler’s presence behind him as even more of a deterrence. Guess what? The Clippers now might have their Marion and their Chandler.
Josh Smith is a lot of things but one of the good things he is, is that he’s a really capable and versatile defender. He’s a wing defender that can step out and defend guards if needed or even handle big men down low in the post. Hyperactive, versatile, and scrappy. That’s what the Clippers were missing and is something that Shawn Marion gave Dallas. The Chandler-Jordan comparison has been bludgeoned over and over so there’s no need to rehash any of that. We can do the player-for-player breakdowns another time but these are just several of the things these two teams have in common. An eccentric owner? Check. A head coach trying to mold the team into what he wants? Check. A veteran superstar hoping to win a championship before his career winds down? Check. Possible roleplayers ready to step up? Check. It’s all there. Clippers just need to put the round pegs into the round holes.
The Clippers are on the cusp. The Mavericks know exactly how the Clippers feel right now. In an offseason that has seen the two sides intertwined in madness, Los Angeles can look at Dallas and realize that there is hope and valuable knowledge to gain from what transpired just four years ago. Things broke in favor of Dallas and they rode off into the sunset as champions. The Chandler trade started the tune and the supporting cast kept the song playing. Perhaps the signing of Pierce, the trade for Stephenson, and the signing of Smith can be the start of a new tune for the Clippers. And perhaps that’s what’s needed to revitalize the team and give it that killer instinct it’s lacked lately. It’s up to the rest of the squad to keep playing that fresh new jam.
Dallas went on to win 57 games in the year they finally won the first title in franchise history. The Clippers are currently in search of not only their first title in franchise history, but their first ever Western Conference Finals appearance. After coming so close to achieving that goal this past season, the moves that have been made this offseason might finally put them into that stratosphere. A title might seem so far away now but the pieces are definitely there and do, at least a little bit, make you reminisce about how the Mavericks were finally able to put it all together. Sometimes it takes a big chance – which, let’s face it, the Clippers are taking on Stephenson and Smith – to unlock your true potential. It worked for the Mavericks, so who’s to say it can’t work for the Clippers?