Salomon Column: The 2012 Mavericks are still in Coach Carlisle’s laboratory
January 9, 2012 Leave a Comment
The Dallas Mavericks will need more than a breakfast burrito and a gallon of water to cure their championship hangover. The Mavericks look lost while slurring their passes and are still unable to find their keys to victory early this season.
I’ve postponed writing a Mavs article for over a week because I wanted to see how the lineup shook out before offering up more analysis. Unfortunately, Coach Carlisle has yet to find his characteristic steady rotation, and I’m left trying to pick up the pieces for y’all.
It’s no secret the Mavs would need time to gel, having overhauled half of their championship roster and replacing it with cherished castaways such as Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. Still, the core nucleus of Dirk, Kidd, Terry, and Marion remained intact and fans expected at least a 12th consecutive playoff appearance and chance at defending the title.
Here’s the most sense I can make out of what’s going in the lab over at Carlisle’s kitchen at this time of the year :
The Win-Loss Column
Regardless of the recipe or intent from Chef Carlisle, we need to look at the product that’s been put on the floor first. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Thus far, the Mavericks are 4-5 (4-2 at home and 0-3 on the road). Below average no doubt, but not by much. Mediocre. Bill Cosby would not be proud of Dallas’ pudding, but he wouldn’t spit it out either.
In Dallas’ home games, the Mavericks opened with two duds, virtual no shows where the opponents (Miami, then Denver) ran up the score by over 30 points mostly on easy fast-break buckets. Since then, the Mavs are undefeated at home, beating opponents (Toronto, OKC, Phoenix, and New Orleans) handily.
On the road, Dallas is still winless this season. In their opening road game, Dallas lost on a last second 3-pointer by Kevin Durant in arguably the most exciting game in the NBA thus far this season. The Mavs kept it close in Minnesota before letting the Wolves run away with it in the fourth quarter in their second road match. And most recently, the Mavs simply had no answer for an early 3-pointer barrage by the Spurs in San Antonio Thursday night.
Next up is Monday, January 10 against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan where the Mavs look to get their first road win of the year and even up the win-loss column at five apiece.
The acquisition of Yi Jianlian
On Friday, the Mavericks acquired Chinese 7-footer Yi Jianlian via free agency. This is significant because it shows that the Mavericks do not view their current roster as set in any sense and fans can continue to expect changes through March 15, the trading deadline.
Unlike Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, JR Smith, and Kenyon Martin, Yi became the first NBA player playing in China this season to be granted FIBA clearance by the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) because the ban does not apply to Chinese nationals. Sorry Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, but you’ll still have to wait on your superstars.
It is unclear where Yi fits into the Mavericks plans. Carlisle is on record as saying that the Mavs have “the best forward rotation in the league” with Dirk, Odom, and Marion. Add in Brian Cardinal and Vince Carter, who has been playing a lot of SF so far this season, and it’s hard to see where Yi fits into the deepest part of the rotation.
Most were expecting the Mavs to go after centers to fill the void left by Tyson Chandler or true point guards to back up Jason Kidd. The category of 7-foot stretch forward was not one identified as an area for an improvement on a roster that already features Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom.
For now, Yi will start on the Texas Legends, the Maverick’s D-league affiliate in Frisco, TX, 40 miles north of the AAC. There he will be reunited with Del Harris, his coach from the 2004 Chinese National Team that appeared in the Athens Olympics.
The status of Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd was injured early in the first half against the Spurs on Thursday night. Though the nature of his injury is still not known at this point, but Kidd not play in Saturday’s game against the Hornets and will miss at least another 2 games.
Kidd has played at least 80 games in the last six seasons and epitomizes the definition of warrior. Even at 38, I don’t expect Kidd to cut corners. As a fellow Cal alum with yours truly, I know Kidd’s values start and end with intense effort and blind ambition. But I hope for his own sake that Coach Carlisle forces him to be cautious in situations like these.
As the oldest member of the team, Kidd needs rests and even if this is not a serious injury, this is an excellent opportunity to rest him for later in the season and the playoffs. 38-year-olds have no business playing 6 games in 8 nights and it’s no surprise that his body gave out before his heart.
My guess is that this is not a serious injury or it would have been disclosed as such by this point. I have no fear that Kidd will be available when the Mavs need him throughout the season. It just won’t be for 95% of the games as we’re accustomed to, maybe only 80%. But that’s ok, because it allows a true backup PG to emerge in his absence.
Until further notice, expect Kidd to be a starter and play upwards of 30 MPG when he’s healthy, especially in the playoffs. This is just one of many breathers and bye games he’ll be given by Coach Carlisle throughout the season to keep him fresh.
Lamar Odom is playing like the worst player on the team
Jason Kidd’s absence opens up a huge opportunity for Lamar Odom. All of the other guards on the roster play with an “SG first, PG second” mentality. The current roster should be the perfect storm for Odom to assert himself as a valuable player. Arguably the second best point forward in the NBA behind LeBron James, Odom certainly knows how to handle the ball and initiate the offense. Yet in Saturday’s victory with Jason Kidd, he played a rather insignificant role as playmaker, tallying only a modest pair of assists.
Lamar Odom arrived with as much hoopla as any acquired player in Dallas sports since Terrell Owens 5 years ago. With TV show in tow, Lamar embodies the term celebrity. Though his skills on the court earned him a spot in the Olympics, his spouse has earned Odom a permanent spot in the tabloids.
Lamar Odom continues to be a disappointment on the court this season as many Mavs fans are beginning to wonder if he’ll play a meaningful role on the team at all. I’m noticing subtle improvements, less pull-up jump shots and better ball handling, but overall he’s yet to have a breakout performance. On the Lakers last season, Odom was third on the team in minutes played. This season on the Mavericks, he ranks eighth on the team in the same category.
One would never expect the most versatile player on the team to be the odd man out and unable to fit into rotations. A 7-footer that can play every position on the court should theoretically fit into any circumstance. Yet, Odom doesn’t seem to fit into any of Carlisle’s rotations yet. Time will tell where his minutes are best served and who his optimal running mates will be.
Still no solution at Center
As I mentioned in my last article, I do not believe Brendan Haywood is a legitimate starting center, but neither are most in the NBA. Last I wrote I suggested Sean Williams might contend for minutes at the position. Since then, he’s yet to play a single minute and it’s doubtful he’ll crack the rotation in a meaningful way any time soon.
Ian Mahinmi has been excellent off the bench, tallying a team-high 19 points in the Mavs first win against the Raptors. Ian crashes the boards pretty hard, averaging a solid 4.9 RPG in just under 20 MPG. As a backup center, he’s perfect. If Ian wasn’t a fouling machine, he might be able to play more than 20 MPG and contend for the starting job. Until he acquires a bit more discipline defensively, he’ll be relegated to backup center.
Brendan Wright has played a minor role in the mix at backup center, but he’s certainly behind Haywood and Mahinmi.
In retrospect, this season’s center situation might go down as the interim solution between Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard. If the second part of that story materializes, I’m pretty sure all Mavericks fans will excuse what’s going on this year at the center position.