Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From Post-season to Pot-season

Amidst the backdrop of a Sergei Zubov game-tying goal at the AAC, the Dallas Mavericks could be found 520 miles east letting their season, and all the warm memories of the past decade, fade into the backdrop of a raucous arena in New Orleans. And to think, the Mavs almost had me believing it could happen.

When Dirk launched his 3-pointer from the corner with half a minute to play, the ball carried with it the hopes of the 2007-08 season, the hopes of retaining the head coach, and the hopes of the remnants of the highest-achieving team in franchise history. Back rim. Ball game.

The Mavs lost 99-94 in a game that Dallas tightened down the stretch, but in the end poor shooting prevailed and just plain stupidity prevailed.

There's a lot to be frustrated with today. Stackhouse deciding it would be a good idea to hack the ball out of Chris Paul's arm with play stopped and under 2 minutes left in the game. Stack got a bone-headed 2nd technical foul in the one game in which he actually showed up this postseason.

The Hornets outshot the Mavericks, 48.7% to 42.7%.

And I honestly don't know where to begin with Josh Howard. I'd like to think that perhaps he mental meltdown started this season, but sadly there were flashes of this when the Mavs went to the finals two years ago. Remember the timeout he called in critical Game 5 of the Miami series that cost the Mavs a chance to advance the ball to mid-court for a chance to win the game? (video)

In light of radio comments about his offseason high times and his horrendous performance in the postseason, Howard has lost a significant amount of trade value. He's also lost a great amount of respect from the franchise and the city in which he plays.

Now instead of calling timeouts, he's throwing parties. In a development today, as reported by several sources, Avery Johnson wanted Josh Howard to cancel a party he was throwing after Game 4. The Mavs got crushed at home that night, Howard and others on the team opted for a night on the town regardless of the coach's order, so Avery cancelled practice the next day out of frustration. And why not? If the team wouldn't listen to him anyway to at least focus in on the playoffs for - hell - just two more days, why would they possibly be all that interested in practicing all that hard.'s Marc Stein wrote:

Sources say Johnson's well-chronicled cancellation of Monday's practice was an angry response to discovering that Josh Howard did not cancel a birthday party previously scheduled in his honor at a Dallas night club Sunday night after the Mavs' heavy Game 4 defeat.

In-house frustration with Howard was already at its limit, courtesy of the former All-Star's miserable shooting in this series (which continued in Game 5 with a 2-for-10 finish after a 4-for-4 start) and multiple interviews Howard granted -- one of them hours before Game 3 -- detailing his offseason marijuana use. So you can understand why an exasperated Johnson, also apparently convinced that Howard was not the only Mav out on the town after such a damaging loss, kicked the whole team out of the gym. The team then responded with a players-only meeting and a players-only practice, which their coach applauded at the morning shootaround.

"We had some of our leaders step up, which I've always wanted," Johnson said.

But Johnson also hinted at the depth of his discontent, prefacing his compliment by saying: "We came in [Monday] with the intention to practice. And then something changed." (entire article)

The Mavs leader and the only consistent Dallas player in the playoffs Dirk Nowitzki even got fed up with the distractions his teammates were causing, according to Mavs blogger Tim MacMahon.

"Yeah," Dirk said. "Obviously, very disappointing what happened in the playoffs -- bad timing. I think in the playoffs it's really time to focus on basketball and not let distractions come up. So I'm very, very disappointed with the timing of the whole thing, but I still try to keep them all together, try to make everybody play as hard as they can. But it wasn't good enough."

We can expect major changes this offseason. And while there are less than a handful of Mavericks worth keeping, I do think it's going to be sad to see Avery go. Not because he's been out-coached by Pat Riley and Don Nelson (who are the 3rd- and 2nd-most winningest coaches of all time) in consecutive seasons. Not because he couldn't devise a way to stop Chris Paul (I'll wait to criticize him for that if Greg Poppovich or Phil Jackson figure out a solution to CP3). No, it'll be sad to see Avery go because I think the players are more responsible for this year's shortcomings.

Ultimately it is up to the coach to motivate his team, but when some of the players are either not physically able to get the job done (Stackhouse) or simply uninterested in getting the job done (Josh Howard), the task is a difficult one for any coach. Just because players may not be currently responding to a coach doesn't mean they won't ever.

Case and point: the Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson seem to be doing quite well as the top seed in the Western Conference, but it was the same Kobe Bryant that ran Jackson (and Shaquille O'Neal) out of LA just a few years earlier. The Lakers tried bringing in Rudy Tomjanovich, who left his post halfway through the year, and eventually the Zen Master returned to the bench in LA to lead this team back to the top.

So while Avery Johnson will probably be fired, don't think there is some magician-coach out there who can simply step in and right this franchise. The players here aren't talented enough to get it done. Two years ago, they were. But 2006 seems decades removed from the team that walked off the court last night.

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