The Dallas Mavericks have been a model of consistency for the last 15 seasons. Since 2000, Dallas has had a .500 or better record every year, made the playoffs 14 times, been to two NBA Finals and won one NBA championship. But after another first-round playoff exit, a tumultuous offseason and with Dirk Nowitzki another year closer to retirement, the Mavericks could be in for a rough ride in 2015-16.
What Happened Last Year
The 2014-15 season for the Dallas Mavericks will be defined by one player: Rajon Rondo. For the first seven weeks of the season, Dallas was on fire offensively. They put up 110.1 points per game on their way to a 19-8 record. Then on December 19, feeling the need for an upgrade at point guard and playoff experience, the organization decided to trade for Rondo.
While Rondo had his moments in Dallas, to say the trade was a failure would be an understatement. With Jameer Nelson, J.J. Barea or Devin Harris running the point, Dallas went 23-12. With Rondo, they were 27-20. On multiple occasions, Rondo clashed with head coach Rick Carlisle, leaving the former Celtic riding the pine in the fourth quarter more than he was used to in Boston.
Brought in to be the championship boost in the playoffs, Rondo couldn’t even it make through an entire playoff series. The former All-Star point guard’s time in Dallas was over abruptly as he was benched after playing only 10 minutes in a Game 2 loss during Dallas’ first-round series against Houston. He was then ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs with a questionable “back injury.”
While the Rondo trade cast a long shadow over the entire season, it wasn’t all doom and gloom in Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki showed he could still ball at age 36, as he put up 17.3 points per game even while seeing his minutes slip to under 30 per game.
In the summer of 2014, Dallas invested heavily in Chandler Parsons to be one of the key cogs in its future. Despite ending his year on a down note with a knee injury, Parsons showed flashes of living up to the vision the organization saw in him. Averaging 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 three-pointers per 36 minutes, the former Rocket proved to be well worth the contract many initially called overpriced.
Ending the season with 50 wins and the third-best offense in the Association would be classified as successful for many organizations, but not Dallas. As the seventh seed in the West, Dallas found themselves overpowered by the Rockets in their first-round matchup. The Rockets bested their fellow division mates in five games and sent Dallas to another early exit. After the sixth first-round flameout in nine years, Dallas had to think long and hard about what direction to go this offseason.
What Happened This Summer
With Nowitzki returning to Dallas for two more seasons before calling it a career, the organization set out this offseason to reshape the roster with the goal of giving their superstar one more chance at a title before they hang his No. 41 in the rafters.
The first player out the door was Rondo, for obvious reasons. Leading scorer Monta Ellis wasn’t too far behind as he opted out of his contract so he could find a much-needed fresh start. Solid bench players Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson also decided to sign elsewhere this summer. The Mavs were prepared to lose these guys since they had bigger things in mind.
Dallas swung for the fences and tried to land one of the biggest names in free agency, DeAndre Jordan. The intention was to find a superstar to team up with Parsons and the newly-signed Wesley Matthews to give Nowitzki a definite playoff contender. As we all know, after verbally agreeing to join the Mavericks, Jordan reversed course and decided to stay in L.A., leaving Dallas empty-handed.
Jordan’s decision not only left the Mavericks stunned and embarrassed, but the roster was also left with a gigantic hole in the middle. Thinking Jordan was on his way, starting center Tyson Chandler was allowed to walk away and sign with Phoenix. By the time Jordan had reversed course, free agency had dried up. So Dallas was left to scramble to try and fix the broken roster.
Dallas brought in Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee to compete for playing time in the middle. A respectable group in their own right, but not what the Mavericks had in mind.
Having allowed their starting backcourt to wander out the door, Dallas also needed a boost at the point. The Brooklyn Nets decided that after four-and-a-half mediocre seasons of Deron Williams, they finally had enough. Williams was bought out and immediately decided to return to his hometown, Dallas.
With their starting roster shaping up, the Mavs filled out their bench with a couple of low-risk fliers in Jeremy Evans and John Jenkins. Combined with first-round pick Justin Anderson out of Virgina, the trio provide Dallas with some high upside on the wings and the makings of a solid, albeit inexperienced, bench.
With Nowitzki entering his 18th season and looking at reduced minutes in 2015-16 and Ellis’s team-high 18.9 points per game in Indiana, Parsons will get his chance at being the focal point of the Dallas offense. After signing with Dallas as a restricted free agent, Parsons was looking forward to an expanded role that he wasn’t likely to receive in Houston. After one season in Dallas under his belt, Parsons is poised to break out for the Mavericks this year.
Parsons has been the consummate teammate throughout his college and NBA career. As a secondary scoring option in Houston and Dallas, Parsons has a career usage rate of 18.8 percent. Last year marked his career high, but it was still only 20.6 percent. Throughout his four-year career, the small forward has never taken more than 13.3 shot attempts per game. Both will undoubtedly change in 2015-16.
In the 17 games that Parsons took 15 or more shots last year, he put up spectacular numbers. With an average of 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists, Parsons proved capable of handling the load for Dallas. Even more impressive than the stats, the Mavericks were 12-5 in those 17 games with Parsons getting more free reign.
Even as the Mavericks are prepared to rely heavily on Parsons this season, questions remain. Will Parsons be healthy at the start of the year after microfracture knee surgery in May? Will the small forward be able to handle the pressure of being the face of the offense and not just another guy the whole year? How will the 27-year-old perform being defended by the opponents’ best defender?
How well Parsons can handle those challenges will go a long way to the success of the Mavericks in 2015-16.
The Mavericks have opened training camp with relatively moderate expectations. One of the first goals Coach Carlisle set forward on Media Day was excruciatingly low.
Carlisle said, “…we’ve got to move towards solving our health situation…”
Most teams worry about getting healthy in January, not in October after having five-plus months off. But unlike most teams, Dallas enters the 2015-16 season already worrying about injuries. With Parsons and Matthews question marks for the beginning of the season, Williams already banged up, and reserve centers Dalembert and McGee not in game shape yet, Dallas will be reliant more and more on veterans Nowitzki and Devin Harris to run the offense early on.
With all the changes and health worries, this season will be a real test for Carlisle’s offensive system. The Mavericks will be hard-pressed to match the efficiency of the offense the last few seasons, which it’ll need to. The problem is the defense will be much worse this season as top defenders from last season’s unimpressive group, Aminu and Chandler, are long gone. Newcomers Matthews and Pachulia will try to bridge the gap, but Matthews is coming off an Achilles injury and Pachulia isn’t the same rim protector as Chandler.
Rebounding isn’t just going to be a weakness for Dallas, but a real liability. Pachulia is the only player on Dallas’ roster to grab more than six per game, with 6.8 boards per game. A far cry from the 11.5 rebounds per game Chandler posted last season.
Not helping matters is the fact that Dallas finds itself in by far the toughest division in the NBA. Last season, all five members of the Southwest Division (Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas) made the playoffs. With all four of the Mavericks’ division mates projected to finish above .500 and make the playoffs again, a depleted Dallas squad will be overmatched on a consistent basis.
Even if Dallas gets Matthews back in November and Parsons misses little to no time, 41 wins and a .500 season seems out of Dallas’ grasp. Hopefully Nowitzki sticks to his plan and plays another season. It’d be an absolute shame for him to end his Hall of Fame career with the worst team, record-wise, since his rookie year in the league.
2015-16 Record: 39-43, fifth in the Southwest Division