Nowitzki had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19 and is getting better, there is still not a set date for his return. With him out, the burden of carrying a team fell to players who had never been in that position except, perhaps, for Elton Brand. But at age 33, Brand’s glory days have passed him by. He scored in double figures only four times in his first 22 games. The player who averaged 20 or more points six times in his career, including a high of 24.7 in 2005-06, is no longer a scoring threat.
O.J. Mayo is – and there’s little doubt that he has been the Mavericks’ most special player with Nowitzki out. The offensive load he’s had to carry also bodes well for Dallas when Nowitzki returns.
After starting his NBA career with two strong years when he averaged 18.5 and 17.5 points, Mayo’s scoring average dropped to 11.32 and 12.6 his last two years in Memphis.
But he is leading Dallas with 20.4 points a game this season, and his confidence has returned. When Nowitzki rejoins the team, he will not only have a reliable second scorer, but also someone capable of having big nights. In a recent victory against the Rockets, Mayo had a season-high 40 points.
The Mavericks also recently signed Derek Fisher to handle starting point guard duties, and that will allow future starter Darren Collison to watch and learn while also playing a valuable role off the bench.
Cuban has structured contracts in such a way that will enable him to re-sign players who have a chance of contributing to a better team while also courting a premium free agent.
But he’s also kept his promise to Dallas fans that while attempting to rebuild a championship team, the Mavericks will also remain competitive.
The record (11-13) may show right now that Dallas is an average team at best, but as former Maverick Jason Terry said when the Mavericks visited Boston last week, “They’re playing as well as you can without one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
The Mavericks have performed reasonably well this season, but if Dirk returns and plays like Dirk always has, this is going to be a pretty good team – not great, but the classic team that no one will want to meet in the playoffs.
(FROM LAST SUNDAY: Hubbard: New Orleans should embrace Pelicans nickname)
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub. For Hubbard’s archive from SheridanHoops.com, click here.