Mike Monroe: Mavs taking circuitous route to success

DALLAS — The Spurs this season will suit up four players from their 2003 NBA title team, and that’s one more than the Mavericks retained from the outfit that overachieved its way to the 2011 championship.

Even allowing that Stephen Jackson played for five teams before Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford brought him back in March, the Spurs’ commitment to continuity stands in contrast to what the Mavericks have done in 16-plus months since winning their first title.

The only Mavericks who remain from the 2011 title run: Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Roddy Beaubois.

This doesn’t mean the Mavericks are any less committed to winning another title, just maybe not this year.

“Winning the championship that year, it was kind of tough to bring the boys back,” Nowitzki said at Mavs media day Friday. “We had a bunch of guys who were free agents. We decided to keep our salary cap open for the first time in my career.

“Unfortunately, last year we had some big fish available, and we didn’t get them. So you can do one of two things: Blow the whole thing up and start over, or keep signing guys to short contracts to stay a player in the free-agent market the following year. That’s the route we took.”

It’s the smart course but doesn’t sit well with all those Mavs Fans For Life. As he greeted eight new players with guaranteed contracts, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle cited the high expectations they were about to discover.

“My feeling is people know what we’re about as an organization and what our city is about,” he said on media day. “You show up, and you’re playing for a title, regardless of what people may or may not think about your roster or how many new guys you have. We don’t care about that.”

As jarring as the dismantling of the Mavericks’ roster has been, it makes sense long-term. Clearly, Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson knew their team had overachieved in 2011, catching fire at just the right moment. Didn’t Nowitzki and Jason Terry hit every clutch shot in the playoffs?

It’s tempting to say that J.J. Barea had a once-in-a-lifetime performance when he averaged 16 points in the last two games of the Finals. Then again, he was also dating Miss Universe at the time. Safe to say, he was at the very top of his game. But could the Mavericks depend on that type of performance with a multi-year contract?

Letting Tyson Chandler leave in free agency also made sense, especially with the expectation that Dwight Howard would be available in the summer of 2012.

The Mavericks looked at the rosters of the Heat, Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, Thunder and Celtics and realized they would again have to overachieve to keep up with those elites. Was that realistic long-term?

Freeing up enough salary-cap space for Howard and Deron Williams in the summer of 2012 was a gamble worth taking. It was a gamble that lost but for the right reasons. Now they have Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Darren Collison and cap flexibility aplenty next summer.

With a team built on the fly, the Mavericks will likely compete for nothing more than first-round home-court advantage this season.

But it is understandable that they dare to dream. They overachieved once; why not again?


Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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