By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The Texas Rangers are in the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys are authoring their annual drama. Texas-OU just captivated the Cotton Bowl. Big Tex is offering up fried beer at the State Fair.
And, hey look, on TV it's a Seinfeld rerun.
I love Jerry, George, Kramer, Elaine and the gang. Ooh, this is the episode where Jerry is fastidious, George gets caught in a lie, Elaine goes on a crappy date and Kramer makes a violent entrance. Come to think of it, that's every Seinfeld episode. Come to think of it, that's every Dallas Mavericks' season.
On any given night over their six-month sojourn Dirk Nowitzki will make a brilliant buzzer-beater, Jason Kidd will make a dazzling no-look pass, Jason Terry will do that cool "The Jet is on the runway!" celebration and Mark Cuban will get pissed at the refs. The familiar, seemingly redundant plot includes the Mavericks teasing us with 50-plus wins in the regular season only to ultimately disappoint with a premature evacuation from the playoffs.
This season might be different. Might. Nowitzki is back and coach Rick Carlisle is focused and Caron Butler lost weight and...what are the Rangers up to again?
While our baseball team grips the metroplex with a playoff run that will likely end in the first round, the Mavericks' prospects of another postseason journey has us—let's face it—complacent, if not altogether bored. It's not fair. But we want more. We deserve more. Amidst all the fall fanfare around town the last couple weeks, the Mavericks opened training camp at SMU.
Helen Keller chasing butterflies in a cotton field caused more buzz.
Of course Cuban won't stand for that. His team may not be immaculate, but it will not be ignored. Whether he's starring in Entourage or having his legal battle with the Securities & Exchange Commission rebooted or coming this close to buying the Rangers, Cuban has a knack for staying in the headlines. For remaining relevant.
And for providing us subtle nudges that basketball is back.
"I think we'll be the deepest team in the NBA," Cuban said recently just before training camp. "Our second unit can keep up with a lot of teams' starters. I'm excited. I think we'll be as good as any team in the West."
Good enough to hang with the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers?
"Oh yeah," Cuban said confidently. "We can beat the Lakers."
Interest piqued yet?
When we last saw the Mavericks they were dejectedly walking off the court April 29 after a Game 6 loss to the Spurs in San Antonio. After losing another series they were favored to win, there were grumblings about Carlisle not giving enough playing time to rookie Roddy Beaubois. About the mid-season acquisition of Butler being a flop. About Kidd being too old and Nowitzki being an eternal choker.
Then bad turned worse. Fans' anger and passion wilted into lethargy and disregard. Having a team on the brink of an NBA championship in 2006 only to then lose in the first round (2007 to the Golden State Warriors), first round (2008 to the New Orleans Hornets), second round (2009 to the Denver Nuggets) and first round (2010 to the Spurs)—those four years would weaken even the most loyal of support groups.
The scars may be stark and the wounds not yet fully scabbed, but regardless, the Mavs returned to the court for their preseason opener last Tuesday against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Center. Their regular-season opener is only three weeks away—October 27 at home against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"I'm excited about this team," Carlisle said at the team's media day last week. "We're deep. We have some versatility. I'm ready."
While the coach sports a new look with an almost-shaved head, his team's style, substance and success should be easily recognizable.
Like it has for the last 12 seasons, the Mavericks' destiny will mostly be in the hands of Nowitzki. There were a few restless days in July when it appeared the giant German might consider leaving Dallas via free agency, but in the end his loyalty and commitment to finally winning a championship for the only team he's ever known made re-signing with the Mavs a no-brainer.
"My heart's here," Nowitzki reiterated last week. "I want to win here. My goal every year from here on out is to win a championship. Nothing else matters to me at this point. I want a championship, and I've probably got four prime years left to get it."
While LeBron James made "The Decision" to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat, the Mavs made only "The Ripple" over the summer. A team that won 55 games last season was merely tinkered with as Dallas traded center Erick Dampier for the more athletic Tyson Chandler and moved up in the draft to select South Florida shooting guard Dominique Jones.
Barring major injury, the starters will be Kidd at point guard, Beaubois (who's recovering from a broken foot and will miss most of the preseason) at shooting guard, Butler at small forward, Nowitzki at power forward and Brendan Heywood at center. Cuban's heralded second unit should include J.J. Barea, Shawn Marion, Jones, Terry and Chandler.