Five Things To Watch: Dallas Mavericks

220px-Rick_CarlisleAfter the high of winning the 2011 NBA championship, it didn’t take the Dallas Mavericks long to tumble back down.

Between the much-publicized decision to let most of the championship team go, and the subsequent failure to obtain a top-tier free agent, Dallas is treading water – not quite ready to go under but with no real rescue in sight.

This offseason, the Mavericks rolled the dice and brought in an eclectic combination of players through free agency that left much of the league shaking its heads in confusion. But as the end of Dirk Nowitzki’s career grows visible, it was clear Dallas had to take a chance on some guys and pray that it works.

Here are five key things to watch to see whether or not the Mavericks’ gambling will pay off.

1. Will Dirk Nowitzki bounce back? The upcoming training camp will be the first in which Nowitzki fully participates in since the championship, unhindered by his knee injury or the lockout. His past two seasons have been mediocre – at least by his lofty standards – but this season he is primed to look more like the man who took home an NBA Finals MVP.

Dirk turned 35 in June, but a turnaround at this stage of his career is hardly unprecedented. With a game based around skill and smarts rather than athleticism and a full offseason of preparation without injuries or commitments, it will be interesting to see just how well Nowitzki can perform.

Without his elite play, the Mavericks aren’t going anywhere.

2. Can Monta Ellis change? In a move that was frowned upon by most of the basketball world, Ellis became a Maverick. It’s no wonder – the eight-year veteran is inefficient volume shooter and very poor defender.

But after a particularly awful season in Milwaukee, Ellis arrives on a team with a go-to scorer and a demanding coach, Monta Ellissomething he has not seen much of throughout his career. If there ever was a team that could emphasize his knack for scoring and underrated passing skills, Dallas seems like the place.

It has been speculated that Ellis might come off the bench as the team’s sixth man, a move that could improve his poor shot selection. Whatever the case, Ellis is a gamble that was necessary at this late stage of Nowitzki’s career as the Mavericks hope to give him one last shot at a championship.

3. Do the Mavericks have any young talent? Ah, the question of the decade. Roddy Beaubois was the rising savior for a season; then injuries struck, and his talent never manifested itself on the court. Dominique Jones turned out to be a Summer League All-Star and NBA bust. And Jared Cunningham was traded a year after being drafted.

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