Reporting David Elfin
So what lessons can the Washington Wizards take from the Dallas Mavericks’ run through the playoffs which ended with last night’s stunning championship over the haughty Heat in Miami?
Hmm. The Mavs’ three top players were: playoff MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who’ll be 33 on Sunday; shooting guard Jason Terry, 34 in September; and playmaker Jason Kidd, 38. That trio is just one third of the nine players on Dallas’ 15-man roster who’ve celebrated 30th birthdays.
It’s hard to envision Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Flip Saunders turning their team mega-old (in hoops terms) overnight in the quest for a title.
And of course, they used to have Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson – who all won rings last night – before two ugly years and the franchise’s acquisition by Leonsis prompted a virtually total housecleaning.
It’s also not like the Mavs have been a beacon of stability. Other than longtime mainstays Nowitzki and Terry, Kidd and flashy backup guard Jose Barea are the only players who were in Dallas before last season as owner Mark Cuban, GM Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle kept wheeling and dealing to find the right pieces to fit around the graceful Nowitzki and produce the franchise’s first title.
Maybe Nowitzki offers the best lesson for Leonsis’ other franchise, the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
After four straight springs where the favored Caps haven’t advanced beyond the second round – losing three Game 7s at home and being swept this year – superstar Russian Alex Ovechkin and his fellow skilled European forwards Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have been criticized for not having the fortitude that it takes to win in the playoffs.
But look at Nowitzki, the 7-foot German who was ridiculously accused of being as soft as his feathery jumpers after Dallas had split 16 playoff series during his 12 seasons, reaching the finals only in 2006 when it lost to Miami. Suddenly this year, Nowitzki and Co. had the heart to rally from huge deficits to win games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and finally, the Heat. He averaged 27.7 points and 8.1 points in the finals, outshining both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
When Nowitzki was Ovechkin’s age (25), he had a 4-3 playoff record, but now he’s on top of the world. Maybe 20-year-old John Wall is the Wizards’ Nowitzki. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another dozen years to discover whether that’s the case or not.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.