We're almost there, people. We're so, so close to putting the preseason behind us and getting to see actual basketball that counts in the standings. It feels like this offseason has taken forever, yes? Which is weird since obviously it's been way shorter than last year's. Anyhow: BASKETBALL. The sport that nourishes our mortal souls is back in a matter of hours.
What we hope is a triumphant new area in Lakerdom kicks off Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and to get ready for this matchup I've been trading Q's and A's with Kirk Henderson of our excellent sister site Mavs Moneyball. My responses to Kirk's inquiries will be up on Tuesday over there. (Update: voila. In the meantime you can read Kirk's game preview here, and below are his responses to a few questions of mine about the state of the Dallas franchise.
1. Lakers fans haven't really thought hard about the Mavs since May of 2011, when Dallas swept L.A. out of the second round and killed the three-peat dream. Obviously a great deal has changed for both organizations since then, with both dragging themselves through mediocre campaigns last year. Generally speaking, fill us in on how the Mavs' identity has changed since they slaughtered the Lakers in the 2011 playoffs and won the title.
Last year was step one in a long-term gamble by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson in hoping some big potential free agents would make it to market and choose Dallas. Letting Chandler walk, who was arguably co-MVP of the playoffs along with Dirk, was a big risk, though getting Lamar Odom from the Lakers with the trade exception was an interesting consolation prize. After the playoffs last year, the organization decided to not re-sign Jason Terry, saw Jason Kidd walk back on a handshake agreement with Cuban to sign in New York, and then saw a free agent pitch to Deron Williams fall through. While there was briefly panic in Mavs land, GM Donnie Nelson rebounded by getting Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for center Ian Mahinmi. O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman were signed and Elton Brand was snagged off of the waiver wire. As to the team's identity, right now there isn't one. With Dirk out for most of the preseason its been a challenge to make any assumptions about what sort of team Dallas might have. Personally, I think we might be looking at a throw back to the pre-2006 Mavs, who were all offense with a middling defense.
2. As you mention, one man who's passed through the lives of Lakers and Mavs followers recently is Lamar Odom. The Lakers shocked and confused their fanbase by dumping him to Dallas for almost nothing right before last season started, and he proceeded to have one of the biggest year-on-year performance declines of any player in NBA history. What was the Lamar Odom experience like last season from the Dallas perspective?
To call it a series of unfortunate events is a mild understatement. A quick start to the season with a player who was out of shape and probably didn't want to be in Dallas was rough. Fans were hopeful, though, because he was such a talented player. For the first half of the season Lamar would underwhelm most games and show just enough promise for us to hold on. But right before the All-Star Break he missed a series of games for a "family matter." While it was claimed it was to tend to his father for an illness, his father was seen on TMZ saying he was just fine. Both to fans and his teammates the whole situation looked bad. His show on E!, Khloe and Lamar, had been on detailing just how unhappy and ungrateful he was in Dallas, further turning fans against him. The last straw came in a game in April; Odom was unhappy with his situation and had an argument with Cuban. Cuban and Nelson decided to put Odom on the inactive list and his teammates voted that he should not receive a share of the playoff money the players were due.
Though his mental state was a big factor in his play last year, I also believe Odom's athleticism had eroded enough to make him question his game. As you'll recall, in the 2011 playoff games against Dallas Peja Stojakovic of all people managed to effectively defend Odom for stretches. Last year he managed to shoot an astoundingly low 35% from the field.
We wanted to believe in him, but the situation with Lamar never got better and only seemed to get worse. I can appreciate the challenges he may have been going through personally, but when Dallas had another player in Delonte West openly battling his demons, Lamar gave off an air of being pampered and spoiled. That his teammates gave up on him in the end should speak volumes as to how poor his behavior was.
3. The Mavs' new backcourt has a very L.A. flavor. We remember watching Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo go at it in college when they were at UCLA and USC, respectively. Are Mavs fans excited about this combo? How good do you think these guys will be together?
Absolutely. While I think fans valued J.J. Barea in general during the title run, last year it was painfully obvious just how important his penetration was to the Dallas offense. Neither Kidd nor Terry could get into the lane or finish with any sort of regularity. While Collison had a hard year last year in Indiana, his rookie season and college pedigree have fans excited for a guard who can run the offense, get to the rim and hit an outside shot. Mayo represents untapped potential. His time in Memphis produced mixed results; I don't think he's the kind of player who is best coming off the bench. In Dallas he's going to start and have plenty of minutes to prove his worth, particularly with Dirk out for the first few weeks. Both players have had up and down preseasons, but with consistent minutes I think both guys will establish an effective role in the Dallas lineup.
4. Finally, let's talk about retirements. Here in Lakerdom we're slowly coming to terms with the possibility of Kobe Bryant retiring in a couple years. Kobe and Dirk are almost exactly the same age. Is Dirk's retirement a thought that's started to creep into the consciousness of Mavs' fans? How many more years do you think Dirk will play, and is there a possibility - any possibility at all - that he'll someday play for another team?
Yes; Dirk's mortality has been put in focus this last month as he's missed extended time due to surgery for the first time ever. I think Dirk will play until he feels he's not of value to a team anymore. His style of play, which is based off of his size, patience, and ability to shoot the ball, will not change much, no matter how much he slows down. But I think he wants to remain effective and I think he wants to be able to feel good while playing (as in not have to deal with nagging injuries every night).
As to your last question... yes. I don't think it will actually happen, because he will have to ask for a trade (he and Kobe are the only two guys with a no-trade clause in their contracts) or he'll have to decline an offer from Dallas to go play elsewhere. At the moment I don't see either as really likely. But things can change so quickly in sports. With Harden getting traded last night to Houston, it's looking less and less likely there will be a rising superstar to pair Dirk with during his twilight years. But since he won a championship in convincing fashion, I don't think he'll leave to be a ring chaser elsewhere.