So: let’s believe that death waits somewhere far away and that holding our breath will do no harm and that we can’t and won’t die today, just as an exercise. Do this, and the exhilarating, terrible freedom that results will probably manifest itself sometime between the thin moment in which Brandan Wright releases a basketball towards an open hoop and sometime after Rick Carlisle has frowned in approval, his angry bald head nodding along with the essentially dunked ball. That’s when it’ll come.
This year’s Dallas Mavericks will lose to the Spurs in somewhere between four to six games, depending on which major site you peruse. That is to say: these Dallas Mavericks won’t mean much to anybody in a month. These Dallas Mavericks are good but not great at anything, really, although they did help prove some point about dignity and futility along the way. The 2014 Dallas Mavericks are, more objectively, fairly old as NBA teams go, and full of past failure and contemporary weakness. The 2014 Dallas Mavericks are ripe for repetition and little else.
So let’s accept all that and also posit this: the 2014 Dallas Mavericks are a beautiful work of basketball art painted on a tapestry of blue silver destined to fade.
But that’s not really true, not as much as all the other things belonging to a much longer paragraph, one that details very concrete, very real structural problems with great ease -- age, lack of sufficiently stiff defensive spine, all manner of mediocrity at center and inconsistent guard play. There are, also, a few strengths -- a brilliant offense of limited means, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion’s wing defense, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dirk Nowitzki. What this adds up to will be the sum of the Mavericks’ season, and it won’t.
The flaws of an aesthetically pleasing basketball team matter much more than their genesis does. Boring sausage just kind of gets made, and Upton Sinclair regrets to inform you that he no longer will deign a few words to its manufacture. Everyone knows what it is, and they either eat or don’t eat with that in mind. Mavericks lose, lose a few more times, maybe in order, and the inferiority spurs no remarks or surprise.
But let’s make a few here, since time’s running so short. In a couple weeks, the good things about Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki and Brandan Wright and the rest of this flawed, fun crew won’t mean what they might’ve meant otherwise, in a world outside Adam Silver’s comprehension, one that valued stilted life and death more than the serialized narrative. Before they’re gone, let’s consider the possibility that these Mavericks are perfect.
There was a writer over at the now defunct Two Man Game who wrote quite a morose piece of nihilistic pining just a few months ago. This was before the season began, after the Mavericks’ larger pursuits of players like Deron Williams and the since-disappeared Andrew Bynum had failed, after a duly diligent pursuit from the somewhat absent Mark Cuban and the present GM Donnie Nelson.
This all happened after things had settled into a state of unremarkable panic. This was at a moment of unsure future-gazing, the long look that defines so much of the contemporary basketball fan’s spyglass-view of the league. The potential champions are very much in focus at the moment, which means we squint, and look further out, then further than that.
Anyway, this resulted in some bluster and an eventual arrival at a predictably tepid outlook. The Mavericks would play some fine offensive basketball in the future, perhaps something better than that seen in the recently receding lights of frantic Darren Collison drives and Chris Kaman’s astonishing Chris Kaman impression. But nothing too special, nothing worth reviving beyond the lifespan of a hurrying bug. The future was Dirk fading, with nothing to do beyond catching another Jose Calderon kickout and sending it on up, one more time, for old time’s sake.
None of that post-Asimov consternation proved to be particularly misguided. This Mavericks’ team is almost certainly incapable of the sort of greatness that involves trophies. The franchise’s initial overarching plan failed. The window for this team remains short and dependent on various speculative mid-decade additions. It hangs on only by the string of Dirk’s famed jersey, the age-lined hands of Devin Harris and Jose Calderon, and Monta Ellis’ mid-life commitment to the pick-and-roll and continued acceptance of his new, smaller, better-fitting role.
This is a lot of contingency, and there is no obvious payoff in sight. But also: that commitment, and all the surprise, all the terrific moments it has already wrought. The season could end tomorrow, or more accurately in a few days, and it would all still be so much.
What are the things you remember? More specifically, what do you remember about basketball? Speak to people out there in the world, or read their thoughts on various noisy platforms, or just whisper things about Robert Sacre to potted plants, and you might get some different answers. But let’s say what matters to you -- actually let’s skip you for right now, as I’m talking about me -- let’s say what matters to me is the story, and the way it grows and grows over the course of the season, how it creeps up on us and then overcomes us.
Let’s say I apply this love to the potential of Monta Ellis’ narrative shot arc, the ideal of a thoroughly fun player who has been hated-- or anyway sports-hated -- by multiple fan bases and various cocksure statheads, from the West Coast to the Midwest to the Old West.
Let’s say I want him to somehow achieve something, anything, despite all the evidence suggesting he shouldn’t. A reasonable construction, then, if also one dependent on stretching the underdog concept until it fits what I want. Let’s say that, and move on to why it might matter.
It matters, if it does, because Carlisle has already said all this. His furrowed concern does not participate directly with the life of the narrative, but he’s said it all the same. He’s said it in the ideals of the Mavericks’ offense, one that welcomed the skills of Ellis like a morning support group meeting.
So hi, Monta. Brandan’s sort of new here, too. This is Dirk. He’ll be leading the meeting. He’s from Germany, and he’s the best. Myself, I just want us to play the best basketball possible. Grab a donut. Vince has asked to lead us today. But introduce yourself first.
The whole team is built like this. Their higher power is an affirming belief in the pick-and-roll. All of this is on purpose, and everyone is doing the best they can.
It’s difficult to imagine a crueler or fairer world than that of the NBA playoffs. Truly surprising runs are rare, and top seeds regularly handle early round opponents with ease. A seven-game series has no time for Gordon Hayward heaves or dying fallen angels made of rimmed clay. Tim Duncan will break you into a cacophony of fossil rocks, one backboard beat at a time. It all works out or more less as it’s supposed to ensue.
There is absolutely no reason to believe the Mavericks will win a solitary playoff series, or even a few games. Try to believe any of many possible stories in which Devin Harris and Jose Calderon outduel Tony Parker, or Brandan Wright, in all his magnificent shot-making glory, defeats Tim Duncan in equal combat. Anyway, this isn’t a war. It’s a basketball game between basketball teams, and one is much better than the other.
It’s a game dependent on fine-tuned analytical outcomes, on trajectories chartered through talent and strategy. As such, Dallas and its three-point heaving poetics are doomed to fail. No one gets to say “king me” to Kasparov.
So: what matters? Maybe it’s the future -- your team and its hopes, your sport and its path, your Explorer and its parking place. Maybe it’s the past, the history of the game. Maybe it’s something not mentioned yet. It probably is. We all want different things.
But for all that, these 2014 Dallas Mavericks belong to neither the future nor the past, right now. They are not yet the thing they might someday be, and they are not quite finished being this thing they are, either. And in the interim they’re shining so fucking bright, if you tilt your head just the right way. Do that. Look, before the eclipse takes them somewhere far away. What else is there to watch?