|Dirk will have a new cast of characters playing beside him next season. (Getty Images)|
I. How they finished 2012: A quiet, almost unnoticed elimination at the hands of the eventual Western champ Thunder in a sweep. It was not dignified, it was not worthy of a champion, it was a mercfiul end to a tough year for the reigning champs.
It could have been the lockout impacting offseason workouts and training camp. It could have been the schedule, making the entire season one long, grueling survival adventure. It could have been the injuries. Or age. Or championship champagne hangover. But the Mavericks weren't ready for the season to start, and weren't ready to defend their title. The Thunder were the better team, but from the beginning, 2011-2012 just never went right for the Mavericks.
II. Needs entering the offseason: Getting a star to put next to Dirk Nowitzki and bridge a gap to the future. Barring that, to load up on veterans to make another run. They also needed to re-sign their own guys, with both Jason Kidd and Jason Terry up for a new deal, and really needed an upgrade on the wing.
III. The Draft: Traded down with Cleveland, eventually taking a surprise with Jared Cunningham, then selecting Bernard James and Jae Crowder. It was not considered a strong draft for the Mavs.
IV. Free Agency: Whiffed on Deron Williams. Whiffed on Steve Nash. The Mavericks were forced to go back to the drawing board and come up with a whole new plan for the 2012 offseason.
That situation only got worse when Jason Kidd bounced for New York without speaking to Mark Cuban first (Cuban says Kidd tried to call him but he was at Disney with his kids). Jason Terry wasn't rapidly approached by Dallas and wound up signing with Boston.
So not only did the Mavericks not gain a star, but they lost two pivotal cogs of the 2011 championship team.
What do we do when we fall, Bruce?
The Mavericks swept in and nabbed Elton Brand off the waiver wire, giving them a strong backup big for Dirk Nowizki on the cheap. They landed Chris Kaman in free agency on a sweetheart deal to give themselves a replacament for Brendan Haywood (and later Ian Mahinmi). So they had veteran bigs.
Then the went after the young guys.
Dallas made a surprise move, trading Ian Mahinmi to Indiana for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones. It gives the Mavericks a solid point guard to start, considering Rodrigue Beaubois' up and down development. Collison should work well in the pick and pop with Nowitzki and gives them speed on the perimeter, something they haven't had in a while.
Dallas also signed O.J. Mayo and whether he starts in front of, or comes off the bench behind Vince Carter, that's a pretty good fill-in for Terry. Mayo gives them a better defender than he was three years ago after his time in Memphis, and a bench scorer who can get hot on any given night.
So the Mavericks were able to reconfigure themselves into a playoff team without signing any long-term huge contracts to non-star talent, and recover from missing out on the Deron Sweepstakes.
V. Overall grade and accomplishments: B-
They get docked points for missing out on Williams. He was interested and they couldn't land him. They also lose points for letting Kidd and Terry out, especially when they needed them back to steady the roster.
But what they did after was pretty great. Young energy and veteran experience on short-term deals, keeping their options open should Chris Paul or Dwight Howard become unhappy in their new locales.
The Mavericks managed to turn themselves back into a playoff contender and not waste one of Dirk's last years, without having to put across any poison contracts just to get guys on roster. There's no telling how the pieces will fit, but the model was sound. Dallas, against all odds, had a pretty good offseason.