The 2011-12 Dallas Mavericks will try to repeat as NBA champions this season despite the loss of two key pieces from their title run, including the team’s most valuable defender. Tyson Chandler, the 7-foot anchor of the Mavericks’ defense last season, was traded to the New York Knicks in a three-team trade, while precocious scoring guard Jose Juan (J.J.) Barea signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves as a free agent.
Chandler scored 10 points and grabbed around 10 rebounds per game in 2010-11, but his impact stretched far beyond statistics. Chandler brought a tough, defensive identity to a team often labeled as soft due to multiple playoff failures and early exits. Dating back to the early 2000s when superstar Dirk Nowitzki paired with Steve Nash, the Mavericks have always been a talented, offensive oriented finesse team that lacked the grit to consistently challenge for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Nowitzki was named NBA MVP in 2007 after leading Dallas to the number one overall seed, but that team collapsed and lost to the 8th-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round. And after jumping to a 2-0 series lead over the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals, the Dallas defense buckled as Dwayne Wade scored at will to lead Miami to the championship in six games. With Chandler last season, Dallas had an intimidating force in the middle to ward off athletic slashers like Wade, and that funneled to the rest of the team. The Mavericks finally had a tall shot-blocker and a physical identity, a major reason they won the 2011 championship.
In addition to losing Chandler, the Puerto Rican Barea’s departure is also big news. Barea scored 23 points off the bench to help thump the L.A. Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals last season, and provided 15 in the clinching Game 6 over the Miami Heat in the championship. The dwarfish point became a scoring machine in the 2011 playoffs, stroking threes, bouncing into the lane, and pouring in points from a series of odd angles and awkward lay-ups.
The Mavericks attempted to patch those holes with a trade for Lamar Odom and the signing of veteran shooting guard Vince Carter. Odom is one of the most versatile forwards in the league and fits into Dallas’ offensive style. He averages around 15 points per game with nine rebounds and six assists in his career. Odom won’t fill the defensive void left by Chandler, but he will provide one of the most talented bench options of any team in the NBA. Carter is getting old and has lost much of his explosiveness, but he’s still a big ticket draw and is capable of scoring around 12-15 points per game.
And of course, Dallas still has Nowitzki, one of the most impossible players to guard in NBA history. The 7-footer with a repertoire of one-legged fadeways and range like Larry Bird will still average roughly 25 points per game for the next few years, and he improved his passing and defensive ability greatly over the 2011 season. As long as Nowitzki stays healthy, Dallas can also squeeze at least one more good season out of veteran point guard Jason Kidd, a valuable leader, distributor, and motivator on the Mavericks’ run last season. Jason Terry will continue to provide a scoring boost, and newly blonde Shawn Marion has successfully re-invented his game with the decline of the hops that earned him “The Matrix” as a nickname.
Dallas still has loads of talent and will contend for another NBA championship as long as Dirk is in uniform, but without the defensive identity Tyson Chandler provided, they will not repeat as champions.