By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Mavs Hope To Cook Up Another Title Run With A Little More ï¿½Seasoningï¿½
DALLAS — The last time Avery Johnson checked there were no awards or parades for teams that come in second, so ï¿½The Generalï¿½ and the Western Conference Champions Dallas Mavericks retreated after the Finals loss to the Miami Heat.
The Dallas Mavericksï¿½ 2005-06 campaign was a season to remember, and bittersweet to say the least. They took the city of Dallas and the basketball world by storm- shocking the haters and the sports media- when they retired Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the second round and slowed reigning MVP Steve Nash and the Suns in the Conference Finals. Dallas punched their Finals tickets for the first time in franchise history.
It was a chance of a lifetime, but they blew it. The Mavericks had the Miami Heat on their heels when they grabbed a 2-0 lead in Dallas, but something happened.
Basking in the ambiance of South Beach could be a reason, but itï¿½s an excuse; it was too much ï¿½white hot heatï¿½ that caused the Mavs to burst into flames. Making it their primary mission to contain Shaq, they forgot about Dwyane Wade and according him, the Mavericks insulted his shooting abilities and ignited his fire.
D-Wade went street on the Hardwood, leaving the Dallas and- yes Iï¿½m saying it- the officials watching. The Mavericks believed coming home would force a game seven. Instead, they exited, stage right, after game six and minus the Larry Oï¿½Brien trophy.
It certainly fell in line with the commish, as Wade became the perfect marketing piece for the NBA while grabbing the title.
As one of the few media people who roamed the losersï¿½ locker-room, it was an extremely sobering atmosphere. No post game whining: Players, coaches, and staff were stunned, but accepted the fact that Miami deserved to win. The Heat played better, and they had faith in knowing they could win it all.
The Mavericks allowed doubt to creep in and couldnï¿½t bounce back. They believed in their team, but didnï¿½t know until it was too late. But in spite of, players proclaim collectively a determination to make Dallas title-town in 2007.
ANOTHER EXTREME MAKEOVER
Before the series with Miami, Avery Johnson, Darrell Armstrong, and Keith Van Horn were the only players with Finals experience and Johnson was the only ï¿½champion.ï¿½ Armstrong was inactive as a member of the Orlando Magic.
But last year, Dallasï¿½s roster had arguably the best talent with depth from top to bottom, and team chemistry to make another run. And besides, everyone was officially classified as ï¿½having been there before.ï¿½
But, what do I know?
After players exit interviews, we media folks talked with players and Avery Johnson in the halls of the American Airlines Center. A New Orleans native, Johnson compared the Mavericksï¿½ Finals run to a popular recipe, making my stomach growl, while giving a hint that changes were imminent.
Avery Johnson: ï¿½We tasted the Gumbo and it tasted good, but just a little more Creole seasoning, we can get it just right.ï¿½
G Marquis Daniels F Austin Croshere
G Darrell Armstrong G Anthony Johnson
F Josh Powell G Greg Buckner
F Rawle Marshall G/F Devean George
G/F Adrian Griffin G Maurice Ager
F Keith Van Horn F Pops Mensah-Bonsu
C Pavel Podkolzin G Jose Juan Barea
Despite his talents and versatility, it was writing on the wall that Marquis Daniels was out at seasonï¿½s end. He, Darrell Armstrong, Josh Powell and Rawle Marshall were invaluable pieces to the puzzle, but involved in a swap meet for other Indiana Pacers. With a potent offense for three rounds, Dallas was sub par in the Finals. Not only was the shooting skills in question, but the perimeter defense was sorely lacking.
Apparently, there isnï¿½t enough time to wait on the emergence of the Powell and Marshall.
In anticipation of costly streaky shooting in crucial games, Dallas shuffled the deck, again, with Austin Croshere and Anthony Johnson (Indiana), along with free agents Greg Buckner (Denver) and Devean George (Lakers).
Croshere needs to be a solid backup for Dirk and Buckner and/or George will replace Adrian Griffin as quicker defenders, and Avery hopes theyï¿½ll be the showstoppers and contain clutch players- like Wade and Kobe- on the perimeter.
The contributions sound good, but for the sake of the second title run, the new guys need to gel quickly as possible with the key players: Dirk Nowitski, Jason Terry and Josh Howard. With contract extensions and security, the Big 3 reincarnated are looking forward to taking their game to the next level.
Thereï¿½s no question of their roles: Terry was the most consistent shooter throughout the playoffs, Dirk played at MVP status, and Howard improved for his third campaign; Avery insists Howard raise his game another level, improving in the steals and assist department for year four.
Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse will star in one of the premier benches in the NBA. As we saw last season, any one has the ability to be a game changer. Despite the reports on his struggles to shoot, Avery affirms that he wants Harris to focus on penetrating and making plays.
Stackhouse will not shy away from his offensive attacks, probably the toughest player on the team, and the only one with nerve to take on Shaq.
The saying goes, ï¿½you never miss a good thing until itï¿½s gone.ï¿½ I think Erick Dampier is reminiscing about being a starter, so the Centers are involved in ï¿½friendlyï¿½ competition as the starting big man. Criticized for his lethargic attitude, Avery tells us Damp had the best camp;ï¿½ a big body, the fire and consistency from Dampier are a must.
Getting the nod as starter mid season to provide a spark, Sagana Diop hopes to remain and incorporate an offensive portfolio to go with his rebounding. If his numberï¿½s called, donï¿½t underestimate the talents of DJ MBenga.
Barring unwanted injuries or foul trouble, the rookiesï¿½ impacts during the season is limited. However, if opportunity knocks, Johnson wants them ready. Compared to Stackhouse, Maurice Ager (Michigan State) was the Mavericksï¿½ pick at 28. Small forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu (G. Washington) and point guard Jose Berea were signed as undrafted rookie free agents.
Ager is a great athlete Dallas needs with flashes of an all around game, and hard nosed defense. With defensive prowess and the ability to make some things happen on the offense, Pops and Berea add to the depth charts.
NEW SEASON SAME FOCUS
Another saying is that experience is a good teacher. For the Mavericks, there were probably many lessons learned and memorable moments to prevent them from making the same mistake twice.
Jason Terry plans to remind any of his teammates who tend to forget. He still sports a headband with the Finals logo during practice- a ritual heï¿½ll maintain until mission accomplished.
Projected starting lineup: G Jason Terry and Greg Buckner; F Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitski; C Sagana Diop
Mavsï¿½ injuries: DJ MBenga will be sidelined for 2-3 weeks with a strained left tendon in his foot after recently ailing from plantar fascitis. Devean George was hospitalized for the second time, worse than the first when he initially suffered from food poisoning. Currently battling a stomach virus, his return is unknown.