Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Problems with my favorite basketball teams

My two favorite basketball teams are the Texas Longhorns, because I’m a UT graduate and I bleed burnt orange, and the Dallas Mavericks, because I live in Dallas and I really quit caring for my hometown New York Knicks after the Willis Reed era.

Both of my favorites, however, have problems and they’re not easily solvable.

For the Horns, the problem is not how they are playing; in fact, they are performing a lot better than I expected this season — almost well enough for me to silence my pleas to replace coach Rick Barnes. I’m watching them right now and they are demolishing Oklahoma State, 78-55. OK, I know it’s early in the game and the Cowboys are playing without Marcus Smart, suspended for three games, but Texas is also without its leading scorer, Hollis Williams, in this game.

My problem with the Texas basketball program is simply this: Texas vs. Oklahoma State is a game between two top-25 teams and, from what I can gather from watching the game on television, the Erwin Center, Texas’s home court, is, at best, 10 percent full. That’s criminal, especially when the University is known to be sports-obsessed, and there is really no other competition for the sports dollar within 80 miles.

The Erwin Center is that big round building
So why are Texas home basketball games so poorly attended? I’m betting it’s because of the location of the Erwin Center, bounded on the north by Martin Luther King Boulevard., on the south by 15th Street, on the west by Red River Street and on the East by Interstate 35. That is on property owned by UT obviously, but the reality is Texas students consider MLK the southern border of the campus. But the main problem is traffic. I saw a study yesterday of the 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic problems and Austin was No. 8, the only Texas city to make the list. And having spent a lot of time in Austin (my son and granddaughter — my only living blood relatives — live there) and I know firsthand driving around Austin, especially on I-35 between 7 and 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 and 8 p.m. is living hell. To make matters worse, no convenient parking is located near the center.

Austin’s mass transit system is a hit-or-miss situation although it is improving. There is one rail line that runs from Leander along the high tech corridor of Highway 183 to the Austin Convention Center downtown. You could take the bus from three-tenths of a mile from my son’s house in Southwest Austin to within six-tenths of a mile from the Erwin Center in 27 minutes, according to Capital Metro’s website. That’s not all that bad.

Relocating the Erwin Center (hopefully, a new coliseum would bear a different name) is problematic in the already dense area on or near the campus. One possible location would be immediately north of East Dean Keeton between San Jacinto and Red River. There could be room there for a nice arena and surrounding parking and Deen Keeton would make for a convenient access and egress (although accessibility from any direction except to the south would appear to be nearly impossible). And there would still be the problem of the traffic snarls on I35 to get to the site by auto. The only other solution would be to move it way off campus, perhaps east across Manor Road from the recently renovated Morris Williams Golf Course, which once served as the home course for the University of Texas' golf team. But I hate to think of a university team playing way off campus — to me, the current location is already off campus.

The other major solution would be a major reconstruction of I35 through Austin, similar to what transformed Dallas’s North Central Expressway from downtown to McKinney. But, oh, the headaches Austinites would suffer while that reconstruction was taking place.

Now to the Mavericks. There the problem is the way the team is playing. As currently constituted, the Mavericks have absolutely no shot at an NBA title now or at any time in the foreseeable future. Major changes are needed on that roster. (Leave the coaching staff intact. Can’t do much better than Rick Carlisle.)

One thing the Mavericks have proved over the last couple of seasons: They are not going to attract premium free agents. Look at all the players Dallas has talked about going after — from Darren Williams to Dwight Howard — and look how many of them are currently on the Dallas roster. Plus, being mediocre, like the Mavericks are, means you’re not going to sink low enough to nail a good draft pick.

Is it time to trade this guy?
So the only way the Mavs stand a chance to improve is through a trade and it’s now time to think the unthinkable: The only asset the Mavs have to trade is Dirk Nowitzki. It’s time to let the Big German go, the way former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson began fashioning his Super Bowl run in 1989 by trading arguably the team’s No. 1 asset, running back Herschel Walker, to the Minnesota Vikings for players and draft picks that were used to draft such standouts as Emmitt Smith, Alvin Harper and Darren Woodson, among others.

I wouldn’t want to deal Nowitzki to a non-contender in return for multi draft picks. I would rather send him to a good team who, with the addition of Nowitzki could make a title run and have enough young players who could become outstanding members of future Maverick teams, especially on defense. I was looking at two teams in particular: the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.

I would definitely consider a trade with the Warriors that would send small forward Harrison Barnes, power forward David Lee (who would become expendable with the addition of Nowitzki) and a draft choice to the Mavericks. But the trade I would really like to make is to send Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and a first-round draft pick to the Clippers in return for Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes and a No. 1 pick (or J.J. Riddick, in lieu of that pick, but Riddick may be too much for the Clippers to surrender).

Don’t know if either deal would work, but I would like to explore the possibilities.

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