Nets vs Mavericks, 8:00 p.m. EST, TBG Open Thread

Grade the Game at any time!

The Nets (34-24) return to the Barclays Center tonight to take on the struggling Dallas Mavericks (25-32). The Mavs, who were reportedly interested in signing Dallas-native Deron Williams as a free agent last summer, are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and look increasingly likely to miss the playoffs this spring for the first time in 12 seasons. Brooklyn fans will also get their first look tonight at former-Net Vince Carter, who is having a respectable “twilight of his career” type season, and former Jersey favorite Anthony Morrow, who the Mavericks recently acquired from the Atlanta Hawks at the trade deadline.

Joining us for a little pre-game banter is Kirk Henderson from the Mavericks blog The Two Man Game. Kirk will talk a little bit about the team’s struggles this season, as well as the team’s aborted pursuit of DWill and its relationship from now ex-Nets coach Avery Johnson:

1. Given the Mavs last decade of success, what’s more disappointing: this year’s uncharacteristic losing, or some of the seasons 6-7 years back when the team looked like a contender but fell flat in the postseason?

That’s really hard to answer – if Dallas hadn’t won the championship in 2011, these seasons would be worse by far. All the fans spent years wondering if Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs would ever get there and in 2007 after losing to the Warriors it felt like the window to win was good and truly shut. The despair that a guy as under appreciated as Dirk is by the NBA fan at large would never get his due was maddening. These last two seasons have been really frustrating though, because since Dirk brought home a championship, the front office owes him better teammates than he’s had. It made business sense to let Tyson Chandler walk, but after throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at mediocre centers during the 2000’s, it still feels silly and greedy to let a top 5 NBA center walk with the hope of landing the best center in Dwight Howard. This season the low risk gambles of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo simply haven’t worked out. 

2. Can the team’s problems just be chalked up to too little Dirk/injuries, or is hindsight showing there were inherent flaws in the team’s roster construction?

The Dirk injuries overshadow all other problems the Mavericks have. 27 games without a star who’s game relies on timing and leg strength set the Mavs back in ways that are hard to pinpoint unless you watch every game. He came back to the line up right before the new year, but it’s really only been the last two weeks where Dirk resembled the player we’ve come to know and love. His knee injury meant he couldn’t work out his legs at all so it’s taken the last 8 weeks of so for him to regain confidence in his body. Add in the fact that all of the top rotation players outside of Vince Carter and Shawn Marion were new additions, and it’s just taken too much time to gel.

To revisit an earlier point, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo haven’t worked out, mainly because neither is very good outside of the offensive fast break. Though Collison’s overall numbers look fine, if you check out his game to game stats he experiences the most ridiculous peaks and valleys in his play. A starting point guard needs to be consistent, and Collison is anything but. O.J. Mayo is far more frustrating. He came to Dallas opening talking about wanting to be a better player and he’s shown flashes, but since Dirk’s return he’s been very disappointing. He makes the wrong decisions on offense far too often, settling for jump shots and making really bad turnovers. He also has virtually no defensive awareness. He is not the shooting guard of the future in Dallas.

3. On that note, the Mavs were reportedly very interested in grabbing Deron Williams from the Nets over the summer, but got reportedly gun shy during negotiations. Given some of DWill’s struggles this year, did the Dallas FO play this right, or do you think the team would still be better off long-term with a maxed-out “star” PG?

It’s still too early to tell. Combine Deron’s ankle injuries along with some of the other “drama” related stuff that’s come out in the press it’s hard to say. I believe, when he’s focused, Deron Williams is a top five point guard. The only problem is he hasn’t been focused since leaving Utah. Determining who to give these eight figure contracts to will make or break many NBA teams during the course of this current collective bargaining agreement. Dirk and Deron sound good, but an aging Nowitzki and a frustrated Deron might not look as good on the court as they seemed on paper. Dallas would still be better than they are now, since having a good point guard is a prerequisite now for being a good NBA team, but long term, I think Dallas might be better off having whiffed on Mr. Williams. 

4. Given how the Avery Johnson-era went in Dallas, were you surprised by his ouster in Brooklyn and the reasons behind it (unimaginative offensive system, rubbed vets the wrong way)? Does Johnson end up on his feet again as an NBA head coach? 

That was one of the easiest calls of the last year. During his last year in Dallas, a site sprang up called, after he pulled Jason Kidd in the final seconds of Kidd’s first game back as a Mav against the Spurs. He later claimed that Kidd didn’t know his system yet. These kind of “I know better than everyone else” calls really rubbed the fans and the team the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, he turned Dallas and Dirk into title contenders with his laser focus and insistence on details, but he’s not a coach for a team that isn’t top tier. Had Avery been brought in after the Nets were assembled as is, I believe he’d still be there, but he had worn out his welcome long before this season. It was simply a matter of time.

He will probably land on his feet somewhere at some time. NBA front offices are maddeningly predictable. Hiring the guy who has “been there” before without an regard to what that coach’s tenure was like is a given. He’s a good coach, but I think his focus and drive rubs players the wrong way far too soon (think Doug Collins). He’s probably too high profile at this point to return to being an assistant, but I honestly think that’s where he’d be most effective.