It's not ideal, but Mavs need Sam Dalembert

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS – To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle noted after the first practice of training camp that big man Samuel Dalembert needed to get in better shape.

Dalembert has never quite been known for his offseason training regimen during a 13-year career that has seen six NBA stops, including a different one in each of the last six seasons. Plus, he was out of work the second half of last season after being waived by the New York Knicks in early January.

So any reasonable mind would have expected Dalembert to show up for his second stint in Dallas needing to chip off some rust and shed a few pounds.

“That’s what preseason is for,” Dalembert said with a smile after Tuesday’s 96-86 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the preseason opener. “I’ve never been through preseason and seen somebody come in in shape.”

It’s not exactly ideal that the Mavs are relying so much on a 34-year-old big man who is infamous for being unreliable, but that’s the reality of the Mavs’ center situation.

Zaza Pachulia, who started against the Nuggets, is a consummate pro who can be politely described as limited athletically and needs to have his minutes limited to maximize his production. Nobody knows when JaVale McGee, a phenomenal athlete and renowned flake, will be cleared to play as he continues rehabbing from a stress fracture in his leg that limited him to 28 games over the last two seasons. Salah Mejri, a rookie from Tunisia who the coaching staff has only seen play on the Internet, is also recovering from a broken leg.

So Dalembert will be given every opportunity to contribute to the Mavs, kind of by default. And Dalembert has given some encouraging signs, including his eight-point, five-rebound, two-block outing in 14 minutes against the Nuggets.

“Dalembert’s having a solid camp,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He came in a little bit out of shape. He’s working really hard to get himself where he needs to be. I thought his minutes tonight were positive.”

It’s not just about the work that Dalembert, who arrived in Dallas about a month ago to start working out, is doing when he gets to the gym. The Mavs are optimistic that his home life will help him avoid the nocturnal activities that impacted his sleeping issues during his previous stint in Dallas. His fiancĂ©e and two young daughters are living with Dalembert in Dallas, which wasn’t the case during the 2013-14 season.

“Much better, man,” said Dalembert, a gentle soul who has a reputation for not shying away from the quest for a good time. “Now you see something to walk toward and you’ve got to make change in your life.”

Dalembert’s off-court issues frustrated the Mavs a couple of seasons ago, prompting Carlisle to suspend him for a game after the center overslept and showed up late to shootaround. But the Mavs would gladly take Dalembert’s production from that season, when he averaged 6.8 points and 6.6 rebounds as the primary starting center, helping Dallas win 49 games and push the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

There’s a comfort level for Dalembert in his return to Dallas. He knows the system and the kind of dirty work he must perform to help the Mavs.

“At this point in my career, there’s no ego or nothing,” Dalembert said. “It’s just trying to fit in and see what the team needs.”

The team needs Dalembert to get in good shape, for starters. He’s working on it. Hey, that’s what preseason is for.