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Kirk Henderson of Mavs Moneyball was kind enough to exchange questions and answers with me. Here are the questions I posed to him and his responses.
This really depends on the day you're asking. After 11 years of playoffs and a championship run, lots of us reacted to last year as an aberration. Seeing Tyson Chandler walk was tough and his replacement in Lamar Odom was a disappointment (to be kind). So when "the plan" went up in smoke this summer when Deron Williams resigned with Brooklyn, there was a general state of panic. Donnie Nelson rebounded nicely with the Collison/Jones trade, as well as the signings of Brand, Kaman, and O.J. Mayo. Mayo has panned out the best so far, but this team, as are all Dallas teams, was designed with Dirk as the center piece. Him being out has really made it hard to gauge whether any of these additions are good fits beyond this season. Darren Collison has been on a roller coaster of consistency, to the point that Dallas cut the immortal Troy Murphy to make room for Derek Fisher to serve as a mentor of sorts to the team's young guards. I'll say this, at 11-10, I'm surprised. Dallas has been beaten by double digits six times and by more than 19 points five times. A weak schedule has helped but there's still a lot of concern. The rest of December will be brutal for the Mavs.
2. Speaking of the offseason, one guy that was at or near many Celtics fans' wish lists was OJ Mayo. Seems like he's working out for you. Impressions so far?
He improves every week. At first the numbers showed that his three point shooting was papering over the fact that he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn inside the arc. He was shooting long 2's and not attacking the bucket with authority or success. In the last 10 games, he's really improved how he moves in the flow of the offense and is taking advantage of the fact that Coach Rick Carlisle has given him a green light to shoot. He wants to be coached and it's obvious the talent is there for him to thrive in Dallas. How he fits with Dirk is another story but this is a good problem to look forward to. Mayo still have to clean up his defense, but between his shooting and his growing role as a playmaker I'm really impressed.
3. Considering that your team is playing without Dirk Nowitzki, I'm actually pretty impressed that you are above .500. Aside from Mayo, what's been going right and what do you think could have gone better (all things considered)?
Well as I mentioned earlier Dallas has just been crushed a number of games. Reasons for this are, in no particular order, rebounding, shooting percentages, and turnovers. With Shawn Marion out in addition to Dirk the Mavs have played a number of games where the only guy in last year's rotation was Vince Carter. The result of all these new guys playing together hasn't always been great and when they've been bad, they've been downright terrible. My main complaint with the early season losses was the Dallas defense of the pick and roll. They had been having the center or power forward, usually Kaman or Brand, flash high and show on the screen and then recover if their man slipped or rolled. Now, neither of these guys have any foot speed to speak of. It was a recipe for disaster because often our guards reacted as if they'd never seen a screen before so that plus the slow recovery mean the Mavs were just getting killed by the most basic play in basketball.
4. Two years ago the Mavericks won a championship with veteran stars that peaked at just the right time. I was hoping to see that happen last year for the Celtics but it wasn't meant to be. Now the Celtics seem to be taking a page from the Spurs playbook in infusing young talent with old stars - yet they fizzle in the playoffs each year. Is this just luck of the draw or do you think one strategy is better than the other?
I think it's luck of the draw. I'm delighted that Dallas won that title; it validated Dirk to the casual fan in a way that was otherwise impossible. But that team had some lucky breaks. As much as I liked Caron Butler, he viewed himself as option 1B to Dirk's 1A and I contend had he not gotten hurt the team would not have had that clear offensive pecking order. Then you add in that Peja Stojackovic was able to hold himself together just long enough to be effective against the Lakers and Thunder in the playoffs. Brian Cardinal and DeShawn Stevenson were difference makers (reading that sentence 2 years later... how weird). Personally, I like the Celtics approach. Don't get me wrong, I like veterans on a team, but you generally know what to expect. With young talent, particularly with a guy like Avery Bradley, you don't know what you're going to get, and that's fun. As long as the Celtics stay healthy, there's no reason they won't be right in the mix when the season ends.
5. Eddie Curry, Troy Murphy, Derek Fisher... who's next, KMart? Marbury? I hear Antoine Walker is available - but only if you bring back the silver garbage-bag uniforms. This isn't a question. Sorry, just couldn't resist.
It burns. But at least Fisher has been servicable. He brings the ball up, he moves well, he flops, and he teaches. Curry wasn't bad, believe it or not, he just can't rebound. Troy Murphy... ugh. He's the worst. He's one of those things that makes me crazy about the NBA. He's labeled as a shooter, but he really can't shoot. That's like being a quarterback who can't throw. Oh well, it wasn't boring, having him on the team, I'll say that.
Be sure to check out Mavs Moneyball for more opinion and analysis of the Mavericks.