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Mavericks May Quickly Learn That Wright is RIght

Christmas may have come early for the Dallas Mavericks, with them receiving a six-foot-ten present of energy in the form of Brandon Wright.

And not a moment too soon, in their minds. Going into Wednesday’s game against Memphis, the Maverics still stand at just a few games over .500 at 14-10, which currently hast them holding the eighth spot in the West and seven games behind front-running San Antonio.

It’s essentially the same story as before: The Mavs have played decently. But decent is not good enough in the Western Conference. They might be a top four team in the East, but they remain barely in the playoff window in their actual conference.

Still, Dallas has managed to tread water and stay in that window, despite playing the most back-to-backs of anyone in the league for the first six weeks or so, along with the same issue as last year – injuries.

But the latter of those is being solved much sooner than last year, and fortunately never was as serious. While the Mavs spent the first two months of 2012-13 without Dirk Nowitzki and at least another month with him struggling to get back into shape, they have simply had to deal with the absence of Wright and Devin Harris. Important pieces for sure, but not devastating losses.

However, it was this past Saturday that they saw how big one of those can be when Wright finally got on the court this year

The result: Nineteen points in 19 minutes, allowing Dallas to beat Milwaukee rather easily despite Dirk and Coach Carlisle being out with illnesses.

I said even during the off-season that Wright would be one of the most important pieces for the Mavericks, perhaps giving them what they have sorely lacked for the last two years on the inside.

The center position has evolved over the past few years for sure. The days of Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon are simply no longer in a time when zone defenses combined with the shot clock greatly reduce a center’s offensive effectiveness. This has put even more of a premium on the big man who simply provides defense and energy.

Unfortunately, that is a lot harder to find that one would like. When big men finally reach the NBA level, many are unable to accept that they simply can’t dominate at this level like they may have in high school or even college (although the dominance of centers in college was dropping before it was in the pros). Too often then, they become unmotivated and lackluster, like Brendan Heywood or Shawn Bradley – or Samuel Dalembert.

That more than anything is why Mavs fans can be disappointed their team could not hold on to Tyson Chandler, who, despite concerns for much of his career, became the emotional spark and defensive presence that Dallas had needed for so long.

But Wright could be just the guy the Mavs need to fill that hole in the middle, if he gets the minutes and proves he can give that effort on a consistent basis.

The next two weeks could be crucial to seeing how well this Mavericks team can really play, even as they still await Harris’ return. With Dalembert likely to be in Carlisle’s doghouse for some time, it’s Wright and Dejuan Blair’s job to hold the middle for Dallas now.

Whether or not they can do it is an unknown factor for sure. But it’s still a much better prospect than what they had a year ago.

Mavericks: Team Tank? No Thanks

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Two games into their three-game trip to the West Coast, most would be thrilled that the Mavericks would be 1-1 in them. They just didn’t expect the one win to be in the first game.

But thanks to Monta Ellis’ heroics, the Mavs got out of Portland with perhaps the biggest statement of a win they’ve had this season. Of course, I’m writing this just minutes after they followed that with a disappointing performance in Sacramento.

Despite that, and despite having to play more back-to-backs in the first month than any other team, the Mavericks have managed to stay above .500 at 13-9 and just a couple of games from going from the seventh spot in the west to the top four.

Not bad for a team that some people wanted to forfeit all integrity and tank this season for a top draft pick that would guarantee to single-handedly transform them from a lottery team to champions overnight.

And how are those top draft picks that those other teams SUPPOSEDLY tanked for doing?

Three of the top five picks in the last draft are currently averaging less than three points per game. That includes Anthony Bennett, who may already be challenging for the worst number one draft pick in NBA history, as he has yet to start a game for the Cavaliers and just recently bumped his scoring average up to 2.1 points per game. Alex Len is doing even worse than that at 1.8 ppg.

Now maybe it isn’t fair to include Otto Porter, since he was just recently activated after starting the season injured. But we’re still talking about the third overall pick, who didn’t score a point in his first two games with the Wizards.

And he’s already guaranteed to have played more games than Nerlens Noel, who was supposed to have been the number one pick before his ACL tear at Kentucky dropped him all the way down to sixth. The 76ers will have to wait until 2014 to see if he was worth getting in a trade from New Orleans.

Not good when Victor Oladipo, the second overall pick for the Magic, is currently the leading scorer among the top five at a whopping 13.6 points per game. Surely he has already made the people in Orlando forget all about Dwight Howard.

Heck, the Mavs have yet to get much of anything from the guy they ultimately got out of the draft, as Shane Larkin is only averaging 2.9 points in 12.2 minutes. Yet here the Mavs are with a better record than any of those teams with a top five pick.

Of course, maybe the past draft was just a bad year. The belief that the college ranks currently have one of their best crops of freshmen talent in history will surely lead to people claiming next year’s draft class will be much better.

To which I will steal a line from WWE star The Miz and say, “Really? REALLY?”

We’re really going to just believe that this class of freshmen coming out to the NBA after just one year is going to be the group that takes the league to the next level?

Because here’s the real truth: In today’s draft, you’re much more likely to get a dud than a stud. And it will continue to be like that, possibly getting worse, as long as players go straight from college to the big leagues well before they’re ready.

The problem isn’t the talent level; it’s the fact that too many wet-eared kids are so eager to legally get paid that they jump into the fire too soon and their team owners/coaches won’t have the patience to put them on a D-League team where they need to start.

This is all getting into territory for a different column that I should put together at some point in the future, so I should probably pull back for now.

The main point is, the performances of the class of 2013, even at this early stage, shows the Mavs did the right thing in not packing it in to conclude last season just to get a better pick. And tanking again this year would have not given them any better of a chance.

Instead, they went and did what Donnie Nelson usually does best; look for shrewd trades and other acquisitions. Not deterred from the fact that last year didn’t work out (and an injury to one Mr. Nowitzki had quite a bit to do with that), they tried again. And so far, despite again getting hit with injuries to the likes of Devin Harris and Brandon Wright, the group of Monta and Company has managed to keep the Mavericks in the playoff picture for at least the first six weeks of the season.

But more than that, they’ve maintained their integrity by refusing to tank. And that for their fan base is invaluable.

Rangers Have Other Options to Sign Besides Just McCann

Two years later, many Mavericks fans are still pining over the loss of Tyson Chandler.

Samuel Dalembert’s 8.5 points and 7.3 rebounds through four games, while at least solid for the Mavs’ system, still probably isn’t quelling those gripes. Not until a Dalembert-led Mavs team is hoisting the same trophy that Chandler’s team did.

So what does this have to do with the Rangers and their off-season plans?

If there is one position in baseball that might be as important as a center in basketball, it just might be catcher. Some would argue about an ace pitcher, but given that you can only throw those out there every five days, few can impact a game more than a backstop that can handle a pitching staff, shut down or at least limit an opponent’s running game and possibly contribute with the bat.

The Rangers are still suffering from a revolving door at catcher ever since they let go of Pudge Rodriguez back in 2002. (That revolving door even involved bringing Pudge back for two months in 2009.) It’s actually impressive that they won consecutive pennants with two different catchers.

Which is why letting go of Mike Napoli was definitely one of Jon Daniels’ bigger mistakes. Seeing Nap celebrate in a Red Sox uniform this year (albeit playing at first base much of the time) didn’t help matters at all.

But hey, it’s all going to work out right? I mean, this is the year when the Rangers are finally going to open the purse strings and shell out all the money in the world to lure Brian McCann away from Atlanta, and then everything will be fine, right.

Hold the phone there.

McCann may be the most coveted free agent by Rangerville since, well, since they thought giving half a billion dollars to Alex Rodriguez was a good idea.

How well did that work out again?

It’s the same old lesson that virtually no one learns every year – signing big free agents to gluttonous contracts is NOT the path to success. After all, just how much of a threat have the Angels been the last two years in the games that count after winning the supposed January war each year? Arte Moreno is running his club into the ground with his reckless ways, and don’t think he’s learned anything. Odds are the Halos will overpay again for either McCann or Robinson Cano (another guy some think the Rangers actually have a shot at).

The Rangers’ best solution, instead, may instead be to inflict turnabout on the Red Sox by poaching their catcher. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, since being dumped by the Rangers in 2010, proved himself to be a serviceable backstop by playing more than 100 games with Boston each of the last three years. There is also the Phillies’ Carlos Ruiz out there, with an All-Star appearance as recently as 2012.

That isn’t to say there might not be some concerns about both. It could be a red flag that Salty had career highs in at-bats, batting average, hits and RBI in his free agent year. And Ruiz, who the Rockies are reportedly pursuing heavily, has rumors of a negative attitude.

But here’s one thing to keep in mind about both those players – nether was tendered a qualifying offer by their teams, meaning the Rangers won’t forfeit draft picks if they sight either one.

Don’t think that’s not important to JD and this organization. The ability to keep stocking that farm system remains every bit as important as the short term, and they don’t want to give up those draft picks easily. Think letting those picks go is no big deal? The number one reason the Angels’ system is so bare is because of all the draft picks they forfeited to give those ginormous albatross contracts to the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Nothing they get this off-season will solve their problem beyond the short run. Above all else, if the Rangers want to stop this revolving door long-term, they need a catcher to come from within, like they had with Pudge.

So, as Norm Hitzges suggested yesterday, they really need just a 2-3 year window before Jorge Alfaro will hopefully be ready for a big league debut. After seeing catcher be one position the Ranger shave failed to develop for years, it would be a welcome sight.

Last off-season, people were definitely miffed that the Rangers settled for C-list talent in the free agent-trade market, and now more than ever they will be demanding A-list. But the truth is, being smart and grabbing B-list.

People keep telling me to trust in JD’s plan, even now that the “baseball guy” Nolan Ryan is no longer present. Well, then, you have to know that plan hasn’t involved always grabbing the best free agents and overspending. So nobody get their hopes up and decide it’s McCann or bust this off-season.

Counting the Mavericks out? They’ve Been There Before

I’ve been through this before, when everyone counted us out.

Let ‘em.

Okay, maybe it’s not the best thing to quote silly family baseball movies from 1994. But the basic premise still applies.

As the next NBA season gets underway and the Mavericks begin their quest to get back to the playoffs, many want to already throw them under the bus and declare them a lottery team.

CBS Sports’ Matt Moore has already declared the Mavs to be “dead meat” and finishing last in the Southwest Division – which, remember, still contains that team from New Orleans, whatever its name currently is.

Just remember two things.

One, most of them are the same people who want to put the Lakers and the Heat in the Finals now because they both won their first game yesterday.

And second… they all counted the Mavericks out in 2011 as well. How did that work out?

The Mavericks are no different than the Rangers in this town in that no one has ever expected them to win anything ever. Perhaps they don’t even want them to win. During my annual season’s rant about the lack of baseball support for this town, some told me the Mavs have it worse. Maybe they’re right.

Ninety percent of those who call themselves MFFLs? Likely didn’t watch a game prior to Game Six of the 2011 Finals.

Before that? Dirk Nowitzki – soft Euro. Jason Kidd – too old, terrible shooter, couldn’t get it done. Jason Terry – thug who was a cancer that wouldn’t play defense.

And it was a guarantee that the Mavs would be bounced in the first round that year.

Instead, they became the NBA and ESPN’s worst nightmare, delaying their crowning of Lebron James and the Miami Heat as the greatest ever and trumpeting their belief that throwing away money and buying talent always beats hard work and building a roster of players who want it more.

I think ESPN is still petitioning the league office to just nullify that Finals result so they can hands down declare the Heat the best team in the last three years.

The main point of this rambling is, go ahead and declare the Mavs a dead franchise and jump on the backs of people wanting another year of “Team Tank.” See how well that’s going to work for the teams that did it last year. Heck, I can’t even remember who the number one draft pick was in June, so it’s not like he’s guaranteed to be the next savior.

The look of the Mavericks franchise certainly took a blow when Gersson Rosas stepped down yesterday as general manager after just three months on the job. Those media guides are certainly going to look awkward now.

On the other side, Mark Cuban already got one major victory a few weeks ago when, after years of battle, beat the SEC (not the sports conference) in their insider trading charge against him, and he naturally had his choice words about them being bullies.

 

Compared to that, the bullies of the press and glass-is-always-half-empty “fans,” are nothing. And we’ll just see who gets to call out who after game 82, not game one.

Mavericks May Be Looking at Fools Gold in Free Agency

I love Mark Cuban as an owner. I always have. I just hope he isn’t turning more and more to the Jerry Jones side – having to constantly prove he’s the smartest guy in the room.

That’s the feeling I got following draft night – well, along with wondering, like so many others, why the NBA has its asinine rule that picks can’t be traded on draft night until after they’re used, leaving us to wait until night’s end for ESPN to announce the moves we already knew about via Twitter.

At the end of the night, the Mavericks had turned the 13th pick into U of Miami guard Shane Larkin, who was technically Atlanta’s pick at 18. Sorry, looks like we won’t get to see Britny Greiner alongside Dirk Nowitzki.

Larkin is being touted as possibly a second coming of JJ Barea, someone who can overcome his lack of size with his ability to destroy you on the pick and roll, which is something the Mavs can definitely use in conjunction with Dirk. Dallas may have actually drafted someone who could truly see the floor for the first time in I can’t remember how long.

But we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking this draft was getting about players. It was about freeing up cap space.

Because the guy the Mavs want wasn’t wearing a college uniform last year but a Lakers uniform. And that’s what worries me.

It was just a few hours ago that free agency started, and already Mavs fans can erase one pipe dream. For the first time ever, the Clippers actually made an effort to keep a free agent, and Chris Paul is expected to sign a five year deal on the 10th. Who knows when Donald Sterling got his brain transplant, but Billy Crystal sure is thrilled.

That has left the few true basketball fans drooling at landing uber-talented but ultra-immature Dwight Howard to Dallas. The guy who destroyed two teams and is still going to get the max four-year contract a free agent can get elsewhere.

Not that that’s the only move the Mavs are looking to make. With the Boston Celtics looking to flush away their whole team for a glorious next two decades of lottery picks, the Mavs have their sights on Rajon Rondo, one of the few point guards in this game who actually brings the ball up court thinking pass first. Sounds a lot like the guy who took the Mavs to that championship who will now wear a suit on the sidelines for Brooklyn.

Here’s an idea: Why not go after the point guard and let some other team wreck themselves on Howard?

Pair Rondo with an Al Jefferson, someone who can take the role of Tyson Chandler, and suddenly, bam! You’ve got the combination that actually proved successful just two years ago. And you didn’t throw away 100 million dollars on a guy who’s likely to get your coach fired by New Year’s.

Here’s a wild question: Who so far has beaten David Stern’s favorite team playing at its own game yet?

While so many try to still find a way around the looming luxury tax to stockpile their own superteam to topple the vaunted Miami Heat, it’s ironically the Mavs from 2011 who still stand at how to actually beat them: Build the team around one great player surounded by many other good ones and let depth wear down super talent.

And it almost worked in San Antono as well. Sorry, Tony Parker and Manu Giunobli are really good players but not superstars. And that collection around Tim Duncan was on its way to knocking off Lebron and Co. had Greg Popovich not gotten arrogant or stupid or both in game six.

It’s amazing how, even with history showing the other way has actually succeeded, NBA teams and fans still want to go the volatile “fantasy sports” way, taking talent and attitude over teamwork and chemistry.

The Mavs should be looking at rebuildng a team rather than splurging for the reason the Orlando Magic’s Wikipedia page has a section called “The Dwightmare Saga.”

Rangers Apparently Still Aren’t Good Enough for This Town

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A record start. The most wins in the American League. The signs that this team finally has a true ace pitcher.

All should seem well in Ranger Nation, right?

Not to hear the so-called fans say so.

We’re a third of the way into the season, and already the doom and gloom sayers are making the the preparations for the supposed collapse of the team that to them is preordained. Because these are the Texas Rangers. They HAVE to fail in the end. They MUST fail in the end. Success is not an option, because if they were to actually come out on top, what would we do?

We don’t know how to think positive about this team! It’s IMPOSSIBLE!! We’re supposed to do nothing but complain, complain, complain!!

Yes, this is the image I begin coming to when I hear all the griping and grousing on my Facebook and Twitter posts about how what was a seven-game lead in the American League West isn’t quite so large any more.

But is it correct for me to believe that? Maybe not. At least, upon further review, perhaps it’s not exclusive to their opinions of the RANGERS.

Come to think of it, Dallas sports fans do a LOT of griping about every single team. Rangers, Mavericks, Cowboys – every single loss by every single team is met with cries that the sky is falling. Why?

And this is the conclusion I have come to.

DFW doesn’t want winning. They don’t want championships.

They want DOMINATION.

They want their teams to win every single game by absolute blowout every single time. Nothing close, nothing tense, nothing where they don’t definitely know by halftime or the fourth inning that the game is in the bag.

I still remember a listener poll taken from one of the radio stations here a few years back (don’t ask me what station it was; I truly don’t remember), and the majority hands down voted that they preferred blowout wins to close ones.

Got to have a good reason to head for the car by the seventh inning/fourth quarter, right?

The way the Mavs won the championship in 2011, coming back from down 2 games to 1 and pulling it off despite trailing in the fourth quarter of each of the first five games? Still not good enough. They want results like the Cowboys steamrolling over the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl 27. All the better to brag to everyone when they can put up that big honking score, right?

So yeah, the Rangers leading the AL West with an AL-best 35-21? Still not good enough, because Oakland’s recent surge has brought them to within less than two games. It was supposed to be 12 games by now, so we could just lay back, talk trash and throw our “Don’t Mess With Texas” arrogance.

But now, the Rangers might have to actually… EARN their trip to the postseason? That’s it, it’s over. They’ll be in second place once the Red Sox deliver the sweep here in Fenway that’s guaranteed. If it doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come.

I guess such is the attitude that comes when you win five Super Bowls and only one was by less than two touchdowns.

Sad that the people of this area can’t enjoy the ride instead of worrying and assuming it’s gonna end in a crash.

For Now, Stars’ Future Looks Brighter Than the Mavericks’

The lights are out in the American Airlines Center. And they likely will be out for six to seven weeks total, since unlike Denver, Dallas usually prepares for its teams making playoff runs.

But that’s not happening this year. The AAC will host no playoff games for the first time in its history, as the Mavericks and Stars have both failed to make the postseason for the first time since 1996.

Both teams’ fans and management face the big question: How to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

In either case, coming up with answers is easier than making them work. But upon close inspection, it seems the club in sweaters and skates may be in a better position than the one in tanks and sneakers.

The Mavericks’ hopes of returning to the playoffs, let alone becoming contenders for a title again, appear to once again hinge on breaking the bank on signing some big name free agent for the first time in their franchise’s history.

Top prizes this year: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

At the moment, Paul has to be seen as the most likely option. For now, let’s assume that a division title can’t overcome Donald Sterling’s stinginess and no maximum contract is coming Paul’s way from the Clippers. And why anyone would want to touch Howard after he got one coach fired in Orlando, still forced the Magic to trade him and then got ANOTHER coach fired with the Lakers is beyond me. All that talent plus bad attitude equals fool’s gold.

However, CP3 himself might not be much better. Rumors were circulating out of La La Land that Blake Griffin and other players nearly came to blows with theirq All Star guard even before the playoffs began. And while they amaze viewers with their ability to fill up the bucket themselves without ever dishing the ball off, the team success with score-first point guards is not good.

Still, the Mavs have few other options if they’re going to give Dirk Nowitzki a chance for another ring in what few years he may have left. And this is largely due to the Mavs’ inability to develop young players.

And it can’t just be blamed on picking so low in the draft every year. As much as I dislike the San Antonio Spurs, they do a fantastic job finding playes with their low picks that fit their system. I will say if there is an excuse, it lies in the inability to trust young players nowadays, which I’ll discuss further another day.

But ultimately, getting good young players is why the team with the most likely chance to improve may be the one that plays on the ice.

And yes, I’m saying that despite the Dallas Stars having fired their general manager and coach after missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year.

It’s been at least three straight years that the Stars have just missed out on breaking through that playoff glass ceiling. And clearly the front office moves are Tom Gaglardi’s attempt to find a way to stir interest back up after having fallen so far from the days of rocking Reunion Arena. Trading Brendan Morrow and Jaramir Jagr during the season definitely didn’t help.

But with the likes of Jaime and Geordie Benn, Trevor Daley, Cody Eakins and Brenden Dillon, the Stars are clearly committed to building a full team together from the ground up.

And this my be just my opinion, but that does lead to more optimism. if you stock you rtem with old veterans, you better win immediately, or the losing will be VERY frustrating. (Isn’t it, Anaheim baseball fans?) But with a young roster, there is hope, the belief that even if they’re not winning NOW, you feel like they’re trying and thing can only go up.

The Rangers built their way into a winning position by trusting their development system, as evidenced by having MLB’s best record with all but three pitchers coming from said system. The Stars are clearly looking to do the same, though for now whether it will finally work remains wait-and-see.

But the fact that they have a system to use is the one big advantage they have over their hardwood brethren. The lack of a true development program in the NBA is one more discussion for another time.

What else will happen over these summer months will go a long way in determining just how both teams’ situations and my thoughts on them will change.

But for now, if you’re hoping to see a playoff game at the AAC in 2014, you’re more likely to go to one wearing a black sweater than a blue tank top.