For the first time since they won the 2011 NBA title, optimism entering this season is sky-high around the Dallas Mavericks’ headquarters.
That’s because there are Mavericks insiders who believe the team has an excellent chance of getting out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 championship season. There is also the feeling the Mavericks have a good shot at no less than the Western Conference’s No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The positive vibes for the Mavericks derive from having a bona fide rim protector and legitimate offensive threat in the center position in Andrew Bogut. And they have a young, cagey, defensive-minded small forward who they believe has All-Star potential in Harrison Barnes.
As the Mavericks host Media Day on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday, they do so with confidence that this season will end much differently than the past five.
I think it was imperative for us to be younger and a little bit more athletic and defensive minded.
Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations on the additions of Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes
Bogut and Barnes won an NBA title with Golden State in 2015, and were part of the Warriors’ contingent that set a single-season league record with 73 wins last season before ultimately losing to Cleveland in the NBA Finals. The Mavericks signed Barnes to a four-year, $94 million contract in July and acquired Bogut in a trade.
In effect, Bogut will replace Zaza Pachulia and Barnes will replace Chandler Parsons in the Mavericks’ starting lineup. Pachulia (one year, $2.9 million) and Parsons (four years, $94 million) eventually signed free-agent contracts with the Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.
“Zaza and Chandler gave us a real nice presence at the center and small forward positions,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations. “But I think it was imperative for us to be younger and a little bit more athletic and defensive minded, and that’s certainly something that both Harrison and Andrew Bogut bring to the table.”
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, Bogut (7-foot, 260) has career averages of 10.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Nelson believes he compares favorably to Tyson Chandler.
Chandler was a key defensive player at center who helped guide the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title.
“We won a championship with, in my humble opinion, a guy that was Tyson Chandler, who was kind of like a Bill Russell type,” Nelson said. “He was a shot blocker, rebounder, great locker room leader and winner in every sense of the word, but not a conventional low-post kind of offensive threat.
“I think with Andrew it gives us a guy that, yeah, is not afraid to knock you down. He’s got that toughness, he’s long, and he’s a terrific rim protector.”
They’re champions, they’re great players, they’re a part of a championship team, so they know how to play, they know how to win.
The Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki on Bogut and Barnes
The acquisitions of Bogut and Barnes came with the blessings of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ 38-year-old superstar forward.
“They’re champions, they’re great players, they’re a part of a championship team, so they know how to play, they know how to win,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got high hopes for Harrison.”
Not only are the Mavericks impressed with Bogut’s defensive prowess, they also think he can take some of the offensive load off Nowitzki, who led the team in scoring last season with 18.3 points per game.
“I think Andrew has the offensive and defensive presence, and that’s really important,” Nelson said. “But he can also establish the low post offensively, which I think we need because we’ve got to take a little pressure off of Dirk.
“We can’t expect [Nowitzki] to catch the ball every other possession, and in the course of 48 minutes we’ve got to spread the wealth a little bit. ... I think that will be a refreshing change at the center spot that we haven’t experienced here in Dallas in a little bit.”
Barnes (6-8, 225) will also have a refreshing change in that he’ll finally escape the shadows of Warriors’ All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Mavericks are banking on that escape propelling Barnes — who won an Olympic gold medal last month — and his game to a new level.
Nelson said Barnes, 24, will be “given the opportunity” to blossom into supplanting Nowitzki as the Mavericks’ go-to player.
“He obviously was a lottery pick and Dream Team gold medalist and was kind of the third, fourth, fifth, or whatever option up in Golden State,” Nelson said of Barnes. “We feel really strong that he’s got the right combination of athleticism and upside.
“He just needs to be given the opportunity to express himself.”
The returning starters are guards Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews and Nowitzki. Reserves J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Justin Anderson, Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell are also back in the fold. The Mavericks will have seven new faces on their final 15-man roster.
Last season the Mavericks finished 42-40 and were a sixth seed that lost to Oklahoma City in five games in the opening round of the playoffs. Since then, in addition to Parson and Pachulia, the Mavericks parted ways with Raymond Felton, David Lee, Charlie Villanueva, JaVale McGee and Jeremy Evans.
But the Mavericks believe they made a significant upgrade with their newcomers, who also include veteran Seth Curry, rookie second-round pick A.J. Hammons and Mesquite Horn High School and Baylor product Quincy Acy, a 6-7 forward.
“For me to be able to get a chance to go out on the biggest stage and represent this city, that means a lot to me and I don’t take that lightly,” Acy said. “And I will do whatever I have to do to help this team win and get back to the promised land.”