Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mavs' Mbenga Move Culminates Two-Year Slide

One of these men is in Dallas Mavericks training camp. One is Kenyon Martin. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

D.J. Mbenga is a large man by NBA standards. Juxtaposed with anyone who doesn't play professional basketball, he is downright huge. But size does not translate directly into success, and Mbenga — with his muscular 7-foot stature tipping the scales around 245 pounds — does not have a place in the Association.

That is to say that the center does not have the skills necessary to excel in the NBA, not that he is unemployed. ESPN reported this morning that the Dallas Mavericks are adding Mbenga to the team's training camp roster. Depth is important, but after procuring the frontcourt services of Chris Kaman and Elton Brand in the offseason, and already having 15 guaranteed contracts on the books for 2012-13, this move exemplifies how far removed the Mavs really are from the championship-winning team that felled the Miami Heat just 15 months ago.

A two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Mbenga is a player who is best known for being dunked on (notice there are four links — one of which leads to a compilation), and, in seven seasons, has failed to post even an average Win-Shares per 48 Minutes statistic. As a rookie, his WS/48 was actually -0.029. His closest approach to the league-average mark of .100 came in 2010-11 when he notched .076 with the New Orleans Hornets. In layman's terms, this means that Mbenga's offensive and defensive efforts add very little to team success and sometimes, in the occasion of negative win shares, hinders his team's chances of winning.

True, it is not easy to produce impressive numbers when playing reserve minutes, but plenty of people have made their living as bench-filling stopgaps. Mbenga might be that, barely.

The Mavs' current roster is not devoid of playmakers. There will be at least one as long as Dirk Nowitski is getting meaningful minutes. The ball-handling forward is entering the autumn of his career, though, and Jason Terry is no longer around to bring energy off the bench like he did during the championship run, when he spent more time on the court than any Maverick not named Dirk.

Gone, too, is Tyson Chandler, who cashed in with the Knicks before last season. DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea and a host of other players left Dallas whether due to greener-pastures opportunities elsewhere or front office juggling on the Mavs' behalf. Sometimes both. Not every player jettisoned made major contributions, but those who did were allowed to leave in order to create salary cap space for big-name free agents who never arrived.

The loss that looks worst is Dallas-area native Deron Williams re-upping with the Brooklyn Nets, essentially choosing a franchise that hasn't been relevant for nearly a decade, over his hometown team. There was more money in New York, and the recent addition of oft-overlooked All-Star guard Joe Johnson, but even Nowitski's proven talents and Finals MVP Award from the summer of 2011 could not compensate for the rest of Dallas' shaky squad.

The roster is a shadow of what it once was. Last year saw drops in offensive rating (8th to 22nd) and points allowed per game (10th to 12th).

A 57-25 season that culminated in a Finals victory celebration made the Mavs look like world-beaters, dominating Miami's perceived Goliath triumvirate and showering David in confetti. The just-over-.500, 36-30 follow-up season revealed what Dallas let walk in its gamble to gain another superstar: a formidable cast whose chemistry was more vital to success than having three of the league's best players.

In that series, Miami relied on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to make superstar plays, allowing Chris Bosh to get an occasional touch and letting role players sag on their responsibilities. Nowitski played his tried-and-true game and Terry embraced being a second-fiddle sixth-man, but this left enough room for others to contribute and play a team game.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his front office cohorts sacrificed that rotation with the hope of pairing Dirk with another star. So far, there isn't one. A chance remains that the Los Angeles experiment chafes Dwight Howard and motivates him to look for a headlining role and a max contract elsewhere. Dallas will be able to offer him both next offseason. But for now, Mbenga's coming to training camp.

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