With heads still spinning, gone was Caron Butler (signed by the Los Angeles Clippers) and settling in was the inevitability of JJ Barea leaving (now joining the Minnesota Timberwolves). At the same time, another Dallas team saw its best pitcher stolen by a rival (C.J. Wilson to the Angels) who also happened to sign the man many consider the best in baseball.
It felt like the free agency hits were coming from all directions. What was next? Were the Giants going to somehow convince Emmitt Smith to severe all connections with the Cowboys and walk around Dallas in a new Giants jersey?
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. This wasn’t how Dallas was meant to begin defending their newly seized crown.
Suddenly, things began to change.
The first move didn’t grab any headlines, but at least there was a name coming into town rather than another heading out. Brandan Wright, a 6-10 former lottery pick, was joining the Mavs.
Burying the arrival of Wright came the news that the Lakers were on the verge of acquiring Chris Paul from the Hornets. To put that in perspective, Mavs fans focus on two primary rivals: the Lakers and the Spurs. With emotions already bruised by the farewell to Chandler, Butler and the knowledge that Barea would not return, understand that the depths of this trade were not seen. There was only the headline. Chris Paul was about to join the Lakers.
More than one remote hit a wall.
Chris Paul to the Lakers? Local evaluations of the trade could not be completed without at least one obscenity. With the Larry O’Brien Trophy still wearing the smear of championship kisses, how could the sky be crumbling down?
In unprecedented fashion, what had been an avalanche of bad news paused. For “basketball reasons” Paul was not going to be on the Lakers. The reality all Mavs fans knew would come, a triumvirate of Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard heading to Los Angeles … suddenly wasn’t.
This alone brought the hint of a cautious smile to Mavs’ fans.
Without warning, caught in the whirlwind that followed the mess of the Lakers-Paul situation, the news leaked out. Lamar Odom was heading to the Mavs for nothing more than a trade exception gained when Dallas used a Sign-and-Trade to send the already-lost Chandler to the Knicks. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year was on the way… for nothing, a kindly “thank you” for last season’s sweep.
Well, for or a conditional first round pick, or, essentially nothing… a wink and an empty promise.
Not only were the Lakers not getting Paul, but they were also handing Odom to the Mavs. From free agency heartache to Kardashian dreams in the mere blink of an eye. For Dallas fans it was like showing up to serve a prison term only to be told you’d won the lottery… oh, and just to top that off, your nemesis was going serve your prison term for you.
Caught in the still swirling dust was the news that Vince Carter was on the verge of being signed (officially signed Monday using the mini-MLE) and Brian Cardinal was coming back. To top it off, just as things once again began to calm, there came the news (first broken Monday night by Slam Magazine) that Delonte West was also joining the reigning NBA champions.
Certainly, it’s an odd collection of personalities. Yet, it’s one that serves to bolster a team being pillaged by free agency only days prior. It’s significant additions without the penalty of costs, of deep risks.
In Chandler, the Mavs lost their defensive heart and a prime source of their size. Though this has not directly been replaced, the Mavs have given themselves a formidable trio of forwards that may prove to be as versatile and deadly as any in the league.
Odom joins Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki as well as master of all tasks and premier defender Shawn Marion to complete a core group of forwards that could give any team fits. Dirk may be the deadliest scorer in the NBA, Odom can play any position on the court on offense while being a solid defender, and Marion can defend anything the league can throw his way, not to mention maintaining a deceptive post-up game that the Heat could never quite disrupt.
As a group, they have size, versatility, championship pedigree, more than a solid basketball IQ and enough skills to sneak into the nightmares of opposing coaches who dig to create attacks or defenses to oppose them all.
Imagine if you will, Odom with the ball in his hands leading a break with Marion on one wing diving towards the rim and Dirk on the other. You have two dynamic finishers in Odom and Marion, and perhaps the most adept scorer the game currently knows. What do you do? Do you cut off Odom? Do you sag back to stop Marion, leaving the open jumper to either Odom or Dirk? Or, do you hope a prayer is enough to bury your fear?
Swing to the other end of the court, how do you attack? Obviously, Dirk is the weakest on-man defender of the three, but he’s become extremely underappreciated as a help defender, and he’s got one of the league’s best all-around defensive players at one side in Marion, and another strong presence in Odom at the other.
Beyond these three forwards, the additions of Rudy Fernandez (6-6), Vince Carter (6-6), Brandan Wright (6-10) and Delonte West (6-4) will help to lessen the hurt of the size forfeited when Tyson Chandler exited.
None of them can directly replace all that Chandler provided, but perhaps as a group they can curb the impact, can combine to ease the loss.
It remains to be seen how all these pieces will fit together, particularly with the limitations of an abbreviated period to mesh thanks to the lockout, but there’s no denying Mavs fans have reasons to harbor a hope that seemed to have all but sailed away only days ago.
One thing is certain; the defending champs have guaranteed that they will be interesting again. Coach Rick Carlisle will have his adept hands full to find a format that allows the pieces to fit, to draw the most of each other … and something screams Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson may not be finished just yet. This eclectic mix the Mavs begin the season with seems as likely as not to vary greatly from the one they finish with.
The champs have retooled on the fly. They’ve lost their heart, but they’ve gained a handful of something. Time will tell us what.