Why not be ready?
I feel so strongly about this that I had to spend the last ten minutes deleting comments that would've stolen this brief post's thunder. Everything I said yesterday is totally true, but with the Heat and Mavericks there's really no reason they shouldn't be "tone-setters" or potential torch-bearers of legitimacy. Actually, the Heat are like a piss-poor version of the Lakers dynasty: Shaq + guard is as awesome a core as you could possibly muster up, but the microbes around them are a sordid, crappy reflection of the crisp murder ballad that was Fisher, Fox, Shaw, George, etc. Most teams would love to have those two players to build around; unfortunately, Riley's post-Cuban Frankenstein is always going to seem too uneven, too volatile, too suspicious for anyone to truly fear their integrated, symbolic whole. There are just too many thorny individuals on that team for it to ever mean anything in the abstract. They will forever seem vulnerable, the axiomatic power of the Blessed Two constantly having to override the roster's overall goofiness; to say that they follow the same formula as the Lakers is to greatly underestimate Phil's handiwork and/or greatly overestimate what Shaq brings now. On the other hand, the two-man game never really saved the Lakers' ass, making Wade/Shaq or Kobe/Shaq still just the very beginnings of a team concept.
The Mavericks, though, have it all. Clear hierarchy but no shortage of proven occasion-risers, bodies off the bench but nothing resembling clutter or controvery, sparkling mixture of old and new, athleticism and guile, cockiness and humility. Not to mention the COY, who has managed the tactical version of the dreaded rebuilding on the fly: Avery has more or less turned that team's philosophy inside-out without upending the team or choking the chemistry out of it, which is about as amazing as the Suns losing everyone and somehow getting better. Yes, the formula is obvious it barely counts as one—you stay alive by eating, breathing and shitting, which is why no one ever really needs to talk over it—but shouldn't the Mavs ring out as the one true team remaining?
I've become convinced that the problem has been Dirk. As much of a phenom as he is, it's still been difficult to accept him as a resident superstar. Yesterday afternoon, Silverbird confided in me that he "just had trouble thinking of a roving seven foot German enigma as the leader [and centerpiece] of a championship team." His lingering Holocaust resentment aside, the Bird does make an excellent point: Dirk in many ways stands in opposition to most of what we've been taught about what makes a star championship-worthy. He's supposedly soft, doesn't play his height, isn't that expressive, isn't black or explosive, seems inveterately incapable of not playing pretty. Last night, though, changed all that. Anyone who ever had doubts about Dirk's heart or motivation, the relevance of his game to a hard-bitten context, or his ability to rally the team with deeds alone had best stand down forever after his 6/1/06 performance. Granted, it was against the Suns, he played some part in letting Tim Thomas run wild, and he was following up a miserable Game 5. That triumph over adversity, though—that desire to prove people wrong, dominate in a way that meant something, and prove that he understands the balls-out competitive impulse—shows that Dirk's inner voice is as worthy of respect as his game's airy genius.