by Ben Collins

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This internal dialogue has happened to Dallas Mavericks fans twice over the past five months:

“Looks like we have a pretty good team going in. Oh cute, they’re winning. MATT BARNES!? REALLY!? Phew. At least it wasn’t Matt Barnes again. My God, Avery, will you switch it up? Please? No, don’t go older! Isn’t that just going to take more shots away from Dirk? Wait, what? He’s going on vacation? Kill me. Kill me now. I cannot wait until someone kills me.”

The above thought processes first happened over the course of two weeks, when the Mavericks were eliminated in six games by a Warriors team all hyped up on speed and horrified by Stephen Jackson’s moving, .44-wielding locker room speech (“WE WILL ADVANCE OR KELENNA AZUBUIKE IS NEXT! You think I’m kidding? Have you seen Dajuan Wagner lately?).

The dialogue was repeated when Mavs fans had to sit through the team’s offseason. After flirting with such mid-level exception disaster scenarios (Matt Barnes, Chris Webber, PJ Brown, Matt Barnes, Matt Barnes) that would make Jared Jeffries look like he’s picking up food stamps, the Mavs calmed down, collected themselves and did the smart thing: nothing. They sat on their hands and waited out the entire major free-agency period.

Small problem: they forgot they had to make some sort of move.

Well, I’m sure they didn’t forget – I think Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban go on the RealGM trade machine to trade Erick Dampier for Gilbert Arenas, giggle and share stories about their crushes while they eat popcorn about 15 times a day – but they were too selective.

What Dallas needed in the offseason was a backup power forward who could score in the post and play a more physical game than Dirk Nowitzki. The interchangeable white power forward conglomerate from the past two years (Keith Van Horn, Austin Croshere) combined with hustle-players well-past their prime (Alan Henderson, Eduardo Najera, Danny Fortson) to backup the MVP clearly needed to stop. The offense would carry on like Dirk was still on the court but, alas, that was Keith Van Horn taking a 30-footer with a hand in his face — not Dirk Nowitzki — so the results just made you very angry at Keith Van Horn.

Now, the backups to Dirk are Juwan “Herpasaurus Rex” Howard and Brandon Bass, who has played in 50 games since going undrafted in 2005. Too old. Too young. Too bad.

The team also has thirty shooting guards, but minutes for only one or two. Dallas picked up Trenton Hassell, a solid wing defender who could provide some Kobe-stopper minutes when necessary, and somehow ducked out of Greg Buckner’s albatross contract in the process. But will Eddie Jones be of any help when Jason Terry and Devean George are playing minutes at the two this year? Plus, won’t riding around in that Jazzy scooter that he got free in his Medicaid package be a negative influence? Did they cut DJ M’Benga because he was jealous? These are all questions that need to be answered.

Plus, there was that argument that this team needed to be shaken up. Marc Stein, the Benjamin Franklin of the whole thesis, says that any team that goes through such a devastating, history-making loss in the postseason needs to make a big splash and blow up their roster. He’s been on the Kobe-to-Dallas bandwagon all along.

And, you know what? It might work. Kobe might come here, tear up the West with Dirk and we won’t be writing about Brandon Bass for the rest of this season. But here’s an important thing to remember:

This Dallas Mavericks team won 67 games last year. And we haven’t even brought that up yet.

Because, absurdity aside, there’s a point to all of this. Avery Johnson strayed from his season-long starting lineup in that tumultuous series against the Golden State Warriors last year because Erick Dampier was so hurt that he’ll miss the start of this season. Not because of incompetence. This was deliberately kept below-the-radar.

League MVP Dirk Nowitzki looked spacey during the final games of that series last year in part because of his Dad, whom he would call during half-time to get updates on the surgery that he had during the series. He recently went on vacation to clear his head. This was deliberately kept below-the-radar.

Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson watched the Celtics and Rockets take enormous steps forward, even ahead of the Mavericks in some power rankings, and the Mavericks did essentially nothing. Reasons why are probably deliberately kept-below-the-radar.

But it’s easy to guess those reasons: when a 67-win team does nothing in the offseason but get a little more experienced, a little better, and somehow pressure is removed from them, then there is nothing more dangerous.

Especially since they didn’t sign that Matt Barnes guy. That would’ve been a complete disaster.

Estimated Record: 61-21. First in the West; first in the Southwest.

PG – Devin Harris/Jason Terry/Jose Juan Barea
SG – Jerry Stackhouse/Eddie Jones/Trenton Hassell/Mo Ager
SF – Josh Howard/Devean George
PF – Dirk Nowitzki/Juwan Howard/Brandon Bass/Nick Fazekas
C – Erick Dampier/DeSagana Diop