Buck Harvey: Blowing up baby: Decision in Dallas

DALLAS — The point guard had aged. The superstar was another year closer to the end, too. And when the No. 2 seed lost badly, the reaction was swift.

“All I see,” wrote a newspaper columnist, “is further proof they need to blow this baby up.”

That was a year ago.

In Dallas.

After the Mavericks had lost to the Spurs.

What has happened since doesn’t deter similar reactions in San Antonio and now in Los Angeles. The Spurs and Lakers are home when they should be preparing for a conference showdown, and, given the age of their players, there’s only one conclusion.

“Dr. (Jerry) Buss has a lot of work to do,” Magic Johnson said last week. “He’s probably going to have to blow this team up.”

That’s the operative phrase this time of year, and for good reason. The mental imagery of lighting a fuse and powering Ron Artest to a far-away place appeals to the mob.

But it’s a visceral reaction more than a logical one, and it’s not an altogether accurate description, either. Most of what would be left of a detonated franchise would be blown mostly down.

Then there is the reality of a modern-day NBA payroll. Just as most of the Spurs are under contracts that make trades difficult, so are the Lakers. Eight of their players who are due to return are over the age of 30.

Like the Spurs, the Lakers also don’t have cap room. Their Richard Jefferson is Artest. Does anyone want Ron-Ron with three years and $21.8 million remaining?

Finding a way to trade for a Dwight Howard, of course, is something else entirely. Otherwise, do you give up on someone — such as Tony Parker or Pau Gasol — just to make a change?

Gasol was awful against Dallas. But he also took the Lakers to three Finals, two of which they won. In Game 7 last season, he merely ended with 19 points and 18 rebounds.

But logic doesn’t apply in the moments immediately after failure. The Spurs and Lakers were the two best in the Western Conference in the regular season, yet all it took was a few weeks to determine they are so old, there is nothing worth saving.

A year ago, the Mavericks faced the same. Unlike the Spurs and Lakers, they had never won a title. And when they fell again as a favorite, as a No. 2 seed, they made for blow-up material. The consensus at the time was that only Dirk Nowitzki and the promising young guard, Roddy Beaubois, were salvageable.

“(Nowitzki) had very little help,” the columnist continued then, “and has to be looking at a returning JKidd, Jet and Shawn Marion and wondering: How is this supposed to be better?”

The Mavericks reacted, instead, as both the Spurs and Lakers will try to now. The Mavericks evaluated what they had, and what was possible to change — just as every team does every year.

This time, though, they found the kind of shotblocker the Spurs could have used, Tyson Chandler, and an additional 3-point shooter in Peja Stojakovic. Beaubois watched on the sidelines, too, as JKidd, Jet and Shawn Marion made a few plays.

The Spurs will find this harder to do than the Mavericks and Lakers because of finances. On Sunday, after all, the team with the league’s second-highest payroll swept the team with the highest.

But both the Spurs and the Lakers will take the same approach. They will understand they weren’t the top seeds by accident, and that the playoffs are often about matchups and timing. They will look to see where they can find help, yet with the idea that their core of talent is too valuable to simply discard.

Blow up that baby?

They wish the Mavericks had.


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