Denver’s 124-110 series clincher over Dallas on Wednesday night should officially mark the end of the Mavs as we know them. Dallas isn’t going anywhere or getting any better as currently constructed, and the Mavs could be in store for a very busy off-season, perhaps the most interesting throughout the league when you consider owner Mark Cuban presides over all activity. The Mavs have several holes to fill if they want to continue being a mainstay in the playoffs and get back to championship contender status. When you look at that roster, Dirk Nowitzki seems to be the Mavs’ only building block. Sixth Man Award winner Jason Terry is great at his role but was disappointing in the playoffs and is now entering into vastly overpaid territory with $32 million remaining over the final three years of his contract. Josh Howard, Dallas’ second best player, is still one of the most underrated players in the league, but injuries set him back this year and it’s starting to look like his off-the-court issues have taken a toll on him mentally. Howard has one more year left on his contract and a team option for 2010-11, but the Mavs have to decide if he’s really worth moving forward with, if his increasing distractions are worth his decreasing production. And then there’s point guard Jason Kidd, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Kidd had a solid season, and even though he makes the Mavs better I’d be shocked if the Mavs brought him back considering he’s 36, can no longer keep up with the upper echelon point guards in the game today and might want more money than he’s worth at this point. Of course, there are differing opinions on the matter. As an aside, I couldn’t help but consider Kidd the NBA’s version of Brett Favre while watching Wednesday night’s Game 6. Many of the sweet passes Kidd once made that made us drop our jaws have now turned into turnovers. Kidd averaged a career-low 2.28 turnovers this year, but his five giveaways Wednesday night, many in the first half, proved he no longer can be the up-and-down, innovative playmaker he once was. He should stop trying to be. Here are Dallas’ needs in order of importance: a (young) point guard, better individual defenders, a bench, a low-post scorer and a rebounder. The best the Mavs could come with off the bench was Brandon Bass and J.J. Barea. Toss in Terry when coach Rick Carlisle didn’t decide to start him and that’s still way too little. Defensively the Mavs have issues. Erick Dampier’s days as an anchor in the middle are long gone and, at 34 in July, you have wonder how much more effective he can be while he is on the court. Howard, Bass and Antoine Wright are solid defenders, but Bass is a free agent and Wright got exposed against the Nuggets. But more than anything, the Mavs need some toughness and a leader. It’s been the same story throughout this decade, through three coaches, nine straight 50-win seasons and one trip to the NBA Finals…
You have to think Denver is playing the best ball of the remaining teams in the playoffs. Sure, they’ve lost two games and the Cleveland Cavaliers still have an unblemished postseason record. But the Cavs ran through an overmatched and reeling team in Detroit and an overmatched and content team in Atlanta. The Nuggets had two formidable opponents in New Orleans and Denver — both with their respective flaws — and made them look pedestrian. With Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza, the Nuggets have too many offensive weapons for most teams. And with Kenyon Martin, Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen, they have enough defenders to make them a tough team on both ends of the floor. That said, I still think the Nuggets are the third best team in the playoffs. The Nuggets are becoming the darlings of the postseason, but in a seven game series against L.A. or Cleveland I’m not yet sold on their ability to secure four wins………..Back to Carmelo, he has arrived, folks. The man raised his level of play from the regular season to the first round and took it up two more notches from the first round to the second. I’ve hoped for the Lakers to meet the Cavs in the NBA Finals all season. It can’t get any better than Kobe Bryant v. LeBron James, the two best players in the game today going head-to-head in a seven game series for all the marbles. But while watching Melo on Wednesday night, a part of me suddenly wanted to see Denver advance past L.A. (presumably) so that Melo could go up against LeBron. The two have been linked since entering the league together back in 2003. LeBron, however, has separated himself through individual accomplishments (three more All-Star appearances, a scoring title and an MVP trophy) and team success (an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and a league-best 66 wins this season). But what would winning a title before LeBron then do for Melo?
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