By Dennis Berry
One of the worst title defenses in NBA history came to a close Saturday night in Dallas.
The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Dallas Mavericks 103-97. The Thunder trailed by 13 points with 9:44 to play in the game, and were lead by James Hardin’s career best 29 points – 15 in the fourth quarter – to come back to win. The victory gave the Thunder a four sweep of the defending champions.
It brought an end to a year in which the Mavericks never seemed fully engaged in defending their title. Not to say that players like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, or Jason Kidd did not care about winning. There were just too many factors that caused them not to be in a position to repeat.
The first factor that caused the Mavericks to not repeat is the lockout. The first two months of the season were lost due to the lockout. This just gave the Mavericks more time to enjoy their title. Everyone in the franchise had longer to enjoy the unexpected title run. Wherever owner Mark Cuban went, he usually had the trophy with him.
Then when the season finally started the Mavericks were not the same team they were last year. Gone were key pieces to the championship team. Tyson Chandler was allowed to walk away and sign with the New York Knicks. JJ Barea would leave to sign with Minnesota Timberwolves.
The biggest loss would be Chandler. He would go on to be named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year this past season and be the anchor for one of the better defenses in the league. The Mavericks really missed the toughness and inside presence he brought to the team.
To replace those pieces the Mavericks brought in veterans Vince Carter and Lamar Odom. While Carter did have his moments this past season, it is clear that his best basketball is behind him. He is no longer the explosive player he once was and is more like a role player now.
The Lamar Odom experiment failed miserably in Dallas. Odom never meshed with the Mavericks and did not play at the level expected of him. He only averaged 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists during his time in Dallas. The end for Odom in Dallas came when there was a confrontation between Odom and Cuban.
Some of the fault comes down on Cuban. Usually he is always looking for ways to improve the team during the season. He has never been shy to make a deal. This year though he never made a move, other than placing Odom on the inactive list. He was content with the Mavericks’ roster the way it was.
Scheduling even worked against Dallas this year. Because of the lockout the NBA was forced to cram 66 games into a little over 4 months. Teams were forced to play more games a week and even more back to back games. That takes a lot more out of a team, especially an older team like Dallas.
Dallas thought that as long as they made the playoffs, they could make another run. They did not plan on being a seventh seed and playing the team that many had picked to win the Western Conference this season in the first round. While they put up a tough fight in the series, they were no match for the Thunder.
So Dallas now joins a list of some the worst title defenses in NBA History. A list that would include the 1999 Chicago Bulls (13-37), 1970 Boston Celtics (34-48), 2007 Miami Heat (also swept in first round), 1981 Los Angeles Lakers (lost first round to sixth seeded Houston in playoffs), and 1984 Philadelphia 76ers (lost first round to New Jersey).
Now the question becomes what will the Mavericks do next?
They have players who become free agents. The key names on that list being Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Even Head Coach Rick Carlisle's contract is up and it is unknown if he will return next year.
The Mavericks should become big players this summer. It is known that they will try and bring in Deron Williams as a free agent. They were also planning on making a run at Dwight Howard, but who knows if that will happen after the All-Star Center suffered a season ending back injury before the playoffs.
Dallas will have to rebuild around Nowitzki. They have plenty of cap space to be able to go out and make deals. Given the way the Mavericks went out in the playoffs, Mark Cuban will not be idle this offseason.