HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With The Finals in the books (and in case you missed anything, check out our nifty recap above), it’s never too soon to start analyzing the participants. We’re not ones to wait, so here’s our quick post-Finals take on the state of the Heat and Mavs and what’s next for each of them. Here’s our look at the newly-crowned NBA champs, the Mavericks.
A quick look back: It began like a lot of other seasons with the Mavericks zooming out of the starting gate and on their way to piling up a ton of wins. If only the world had known it was a glimpse of the future when they whipped the visiting Heat 106-95 on Nov. 24 in the game most remembered for LeBron James’ bumping incident with Erik Spoelstra and Miami’s postgame meeting. They were 12-4 after that game and ran their blazing start to 24-5 with a win at Oklahoma City on Dec. 27.
That game also saw Dirk Nowitzki go down with a sprained right knee after landing awkwardly and was the start of a rough stretch that many thought might be the unraveling of the season. Nowitzki’s bad knee forced him out for nine games. But the loss of Caron Butler on Jan. 1 with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee took him out for the season and seemed to take away Dallas’ momentum.
From Dec. 28 through Jan. 20 the Mavs labored through a month of anguish, losing 10 of 13 games and sinking back into the middle of the Western Conference standings. But according to the players, it was that difficult stretch when coach Rick Carlisle drove them to make a deeper commitment to their long-term goal and actually found that inner strength that drove them through the playoffs.
The Mavs entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed and carrying the same dose of skepticism from the outside world that had marked recent failures. Then they blew a 23-point fourth quarter lead at Portland in Game 4 of the first round and the belief was that they were the same old Mavs. But from that point on, nothing was ever the same. They won two straight to close out the Blazers, thoroughly embarrassed the two-time defending champs in sweeping the Lakers, swatted down the challenge from the young Thunder and then stood up in the face of the bombast from the Heat to claim the first championship in franchise history.
Who’s still around?: The core of Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion are locked into contracts. Now that he’s won a title, the 38-year-old Kidd says he wants to keep playing. Marion’s price tag of $25 million for the next three years might be a little high, but his versatility and defense shined in the playoffs.
Who’s leaving town?: Now that they’ve won a championship with him on the sidelines, the Mavs have to decide if they want to overspend to bring back a rehabilitating Butler. They have key free agents in Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, all of whom were at times as vital as Dirk and Terry in the title drive. And let’s not forget “The Custodian,” Brian Cardinal, who brought his mop and pail to do plenty of the dirty work against the Heat. Roddy Beaubois was big in the Mavs’ future plans before missing the season with a foot injury. But the emergence of Barea means there’s a choice to be made. Peja Stojakovic will likely ride off into the sunset with his championship ring.
Problem areas to address?: When you win a championship, don’t you usually just clean up after the party and bring everyone back? After finally getting themselves an active center that can guard the rim, get rebounds and score around the basket off the pick-and-roll, the first challenge will be to get Chandler re-signed. The Celtics are reportedly already sniffing around him and the just-defeated Heat would like nothing better than to get Chandler to switch uniforms. There’s little doubt that Nowitzki’s drive won’t slow down after winning a championship, but they have to wonder how much longer the aging Kidd can stop fooling the calendar.
Is this the start of a Dallas dynasty?: Nowitzki turns 33 years old on June 19 and that’s usually when superstars are starting to show frayed edges, not move up another level. That said, Dirk works hard, stays in great shape and shows no sign of slowing down. Terry will be 34 before next season and Kidd 39 when the 2012 playoffs start. You wouldn’t want to bet on a Dallas “three-peat.” But having finally broken through the glass ceiling to win it all, you shouldn’t be completely shocked if the Mavs are back in the mix next June.