Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to Fix the Mavs (Plus, How to Fix the Nuggets!)

Right about now, when teams start advancing in the playoffs, we have to start talking about ways to fix those squads that lost. We're wondering how Toronto will finally sort out their point guard mess. Whether the Rockets have some Miracle Grow for Yao's bones. And, this year, what on earth the Mavs and Nuggets are supposed to do with their train wreck rosters.

Look, I know that the goal in the NBA is to win a title. But sometimes the goal is to get younger. Or to achieve cap flexibility. Or to remain competitive and entertaining while riding out an era.

That last situation is where both Dallas and Denver find themselves.

In the case of Dallas, I think we can admit that Mark Cuban's gamble did not work out. His decision to stay with Dirk through thick and thin is admirable, but it won't net a title unless they get insanely lucky sometime in the next few years. They had their best shot in 2006 and just missed. That's life. But the Kidd trade has made things worse and they now have this half-breed team that features a defensive-minded coach and an offensive-minded star. Dallas can't fix things with minor tweaks, they have to do something major. And that means trading Dirk or changing the makeup of the team. I vote for the latter, since dealing a top five player is never a good idea.

As for Denver, these guys are actually really close to being good. The problem lies squarely with Carmelo Anthony. He's a putrid defensive player that provides no value at that end (Allen Iverson, the other defensively-challenged star of the Nuggets, still plays the passing lanes well and can turn defense into offense with steals) and on offense, he tends to stray from the basket and wait too long to make decisions. The Nuggets have a few pieces in place - Iverson, Martin, Camby, Kleiza - to be an outstanding running team. But Melo doesn't do the proper things on offense or defense that lead to a good running game. The Nuggets play fast, but they don't actually run well. So Anthony has to go.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I believe these two teams can just trade with each other and get the whole thing over with. Here's the deal, provided it works under the cap:

Dallas sends Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to Dallas for Josh Howard and Jason Terry.

The Mavericks would be able to roll out one of the most potent offensive teams in the league - a squad that could run like crazy, run two stud forwards in the post, and create mismatches all over the floor. The Mavs would need to jettison all their creaky veterans and replace them with young, active role players, but I really like the idea of the following starting lineup:

PG Jason Kidd
SG J.R. Smith
SF Carmelo Anthony
PF Dirk Nowitzki
C Brandon Bass
6th Jerry Stackhouse
B Erick Dampier

This lineup would allow them to play small and fast (Bass would give up size to opposing centers, but could outrun them at the other end), get Dirk and Smith bombing threes in transition, and put Melo in good positions to score. There would be no illusions of defense at all, but so long as they handed the reigns to an offensive-minded guy (maybe just move Paul Westphal over a seat?, those could be glorious. Dallas could score 115 points a game, remain in the playoff hunt, and ride out the rest of Kidd's contract in entertaining fashion. I see nothing wrong with that.

As for Denver, the Nuggets could solve oh so many issues here. They can sell high on Smith and get value back for a guy that will never quite fit with their roster (he needs to play shooting guard, but so does Iverson). They can replace some of Melo's scoring in a way that is more conducive to the pace they want to play. And they can dramatically improve both their perimeter defense and their point guard play. Their lineup would look like this:

PG Jason Terry
SG Allen Iverson
SF Josh Howard
PF Kenyon Martin
C Marcus Camby
6th Linas Kleiza
B Nene
B Eduardo Najera
B Chucky Atkins

The only problem with Denver's starting lineup is that they lack a guy who can operate on the low block, but they have Nene coming off the bench, so that problem is mitigated. Plus, it is worth it to lose Melo's post presence in order to move forward with a fast, sleek roster that can trap and press aggressively and move the ball on offense. Think: Philadelphia 76ers, but better.

Anyway, I doubt this will ever happen because making these trades will feel too much like waving the white flag, but it is high time both these franchises realized that they need to lower expectations in order to meet them. By making this deal they can start fresh, employ a new approach, remain competitive, and put on a good show while hoping to catch that miraculous break that allows them to challenge for a title.

It's better than what they've got now.

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