The Dallas Mavericks took the San Antonio Spurs to seven games, which was no small accomplishment considering the Spurs crushed everyone else en route to another title.
Then, the Mavs almost completely changed the complexion of their roster.
"Well, we've got to do better, because we haven't won a championship in the last three years," head coach Rick Carlisle said. "When you don't win it all, you're one of 29 tied for last. That's how we look at things around here, and we want to change that."
Changes came in the form of both trades and major activity in free agency.
Tyson Chandler, the defensive anchor of the title team from 2011, was re- acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks. Raymond Felton came as well in exchange for Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert.
Then, the Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons from rivals, the Houston Rockets. Houston declined to match Dallas' three-year, $46 million offer.
Jameer Nelson's time in Orlando was up and the Mavericks bet he still has something left.
The Mavs even populated the roster with solid grunt guys like Greg Smith, Al- Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson.
"Having Tyson back is huge, to get Al-Farouq is big, and the two point guards [Felton and Nelson] are little guys but they're tough guys," said Carlisle. "And so toughness and grit and those kinds of things are so important to the whole equation."
At the heart of it all remains Dirk Nowitzki. The veteran and future Hall of Famer reclaimed some previous glory last season with another All-Star appearance and 20-plus scoring average.
The other key returning contributor will be Monta Ellis. He was branded as selfish in stops with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, but in Dallas, he worked beautifully as a play-maker.
Other than those two, and with the exception of some bench pieces, this roster is totally different. Luckily, Carlisle is brilliant, so he can mold this team into a winner quickly.
Offensively, the Mavs should be loaded. Nowitzki and Parsons are both elite shooters and with their size, it's almost impossible to stop them. (Nowitzki also admitted he worked on quickening his release this offseason.)
Defensively, which is where the Mavs struggled during the 2013-14 campaign, Chandler is an equalizer. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award and was a difference maker for the Dallas title team in 2011.
The bench is strong, the leadership is great, and, they even helped make their closest competition, the Rockets, weaker.
After being spurned by several high-profile free agents in recent summers - Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony all come to mind - the Mavs took a simpler approach.
They returned to what won in the past (Chandler) and enhanced their strengths (shooting). The veteran presence is still strong and Nowitzki is still a top-20 player in the league.
It's not all roses for the Mavericks. Shawn Marion and Vince Carter bolted. Parsons is significantly better than Marion offensively and significantly worse defensively. Carter was such an underrated part of the Mavs' bench on top of finishing close games.
But the Mavs improved considerably. That's a fact, at least judging age and talent.
"We're obviously very excited about this team," Carlisle said. "Coming into this year, we know that we're going to be a better team than we were last year just based on the analytics. Last year's team was not a great defensive team on paper, and unfortunately we performed that way a majority of the time. This year, we're slightly better on paper. And with Tyson back in the mix, he's promised me that he's going to will us to become a really good defensive team. And we should be good offensively again."
2013-14 Results: 49-33, 4th in Southwest; Lost in West Quarterfinals to San Antonio
ADDITIONS: C Tyson Chandler, F Chandler Parsons, G Jameer Nelson, G Raymond Felton, F Richard Jefferson, F Al-Farouq Aminu, C Greg Smith, C Ivan Johnson
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Jameer Nelson SG- Monta Ellis SF- Chandler Parsons PF- Dirk Nowitzki C- Tyson Chandler
KEY RESERVES: G Devin Harris, G Raymond Felton, F Al-Farouq Aminu, F Richard Jefferson, C Greg Smith, F Brandan Wright, F Ivan Johnson, G Ricky Ledo, C Bernard James, F Jae Crowder, G Gal Mekel
FRONTCOURT: It was so easy to count Nowitzki out last season. He played only 53 games in 2012-13 and averaged 17.3 ppg, which was the second-worst average of his career.
Then he came back in 2013-14 with 21.7 ppg, 39.8 3-point shooting percentage and 49 percent from the field. Nowitzki made the All-Star team, finished a respectable 14th in MVP voting and his impact was clear. This team came in at .500 two seasons ago when he was hurt early on, then were 16 games over .500 when he missed only two games.
Nowitzki has great basketball left in him. It'll be interesting to see if he allows Parsons to take some of the offensive load off his shoulders to remain fresh for the playoffs.
Chandler, like most defensive studs, is a guy whose importance can't be measured in the box score. Although, he did have some very good years in New York, including a Defensive Player of the Year, two of only four seasons in his career scoring double figures a game, and outrageous shooting percentages.
But, Chandler was brought back as a mea culpa from Mark Cuban in some sense. He let Chandler leave via free agency after the Mavs won the title and the team was never the same. Defensively they struggled with Dalembert in the middle. That won't happen with the much tougher Chandler. He has a tall order. None of the projected starters in Dallas ahead of him are good defenders, but he enjoys the chance to relive his time in Big D.
"To be able to come back now and have the opportunity to contend again, I'm gonna give them everything I've got again," Chandler said.
Parsons is such an interesting player to watch this season. He averaged 16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 4.0 apg while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 37 percent from long range last season with the Houston Rockets. Was that kind of production, which is very strong, the result of playing with James Harden and Dwight Howard, or is Parsons that good a player?
Time will tell. He should get plenty of minutes and plenty of shots. When teams double Nowitzki or Ellis, Parsons should be ready to shoot. He's solid off the ball as well and Parsons is ready for a bigger role.
"When I'd have a big game, you know, they'd talk about me, but I'm ready for that next step in my career," said Parsons. "I'm ready to come here and have a bigger role and be more of a leader. And that's why I came here."
BACKCOURT: Ellis' scoring numbers dipped a bit last season, but he was a huge piece of what got Dallas into the playoffs. In the postseason, Ellis' scoring numbers improved. His shooting percentages, both from the floor and 3-point range, went up in Dallas.
Ellis can always be counted on for heavy minutes and maximum effort. His shot attempts declined with the Mavericks and that was the knock on him throughout his career. He seems to have bought into what Carlisle, Nowitzki and the Mavs do, so he should continue to play at a high level.
At 32, Nelson is clearly on the back nine of his career. Orlando was rebuilding and had no more use for Nelson. The Mavs shouldn't expect too much from the former All-Star. He still scores in the low teens and his assist numbers were both career highs the last two seasons.
With Felton behind him, Nelson won't need to play 32 minutes a night like he did last season with the Magic. Nelson fits in with the veteran theme of the Mavericks, but expectations should be tempered. In fact, with Nelson and Felton, Harris could be the one playing crunchtime minutes.
BENCH: Harris missed half of the season and only played 20 minutes a game. He didn't shoot the ball well, or score all that great, but a fully healthy Harris, which hasn't existed since 2010-11, could be a huge contributor. He will be the primary scorer off the bench for Dallas.
Felton is a mystery. He's played well at times, but no team that has him seems to want him. He started every game in his second tenure with the Knicks and posted decent numbers. It'll be fascinating to see how he adapts to a role off the bench. Could go either way.
Aminu is a wonderful second-unit defender and energy guy.
Wright is a really nice backup big man. He's athletic and scored 9.1 ppg in just 18.6 minutes. He will get plenty of time behind Nowitzki and Chandler.
If Nelson is on the end of the rope, then Jefferson is holding on to the knot at the other end. Jefferson can still make an open 3-pointer.
Crowder is athletic and will play some nights and not play some nights.
Smith was moderately productive with the Rockets, playing 70 games in 2012-13. His role is undefined, but he's a solid body to have around.
There is a lot of decent reserves on this roster, but few who will be real impact guys. Harris, Felton, Aminu and Wright are a slightly above-average core.
COACHING: Carlisle is 170 games over .500 in his regular-season career. He's two over in the playoffs, but he has a ring. Truthfully, Carlisle is a top five coach in the NBA right now.
Most coaches would have a hard time adapting all of these players and personalities, but since most are veterans, Carlisle will get their respect. He will try and make them a more proficient defensive team, which will be hard, but Chandler's presence will help.
OUTLOOK: The Mavs are one of the most improved teams this season.
They did it in a simple way, which was to bring in solid veterans who fit needs. The fact that the Mavericks made the playoffs and were 16 games over .500 make one believe they could finish much higher, which means a home playoff series is possible.
Dallas is going to make the postseason, that's for sure. They should finish in the four-six range, seeding-wise. They could win a round, especially with a favorable draw.
In my mind, they are the best non-championship contender in the league. The Mavericks aren't in the San Antonio, Cleveland, Chicago, Oklahoma City, or Los Angeles Clippers league, but they are close.