Training camp '10: Can the Jet take off?

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
7:00
AM CT
The Dallas Mavericks open training camp for the 2010-11 season Tuesday at SMU. This is the second in a five-part series examining key questions regarding the club's roster and its chances of contending in the Western Conference.

"No question. We're coming back."

Those were the words of Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry prior to Game 6 of last season's disappointing first-round series against San Antonio.

Of course, everyone knows how that turned out. Terry was scoreless through three quarters, but he got the call in the fourth quarter over red-hot rookie Roddy Beaubois in that series-ending game. Terry had a decent fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough to save his forgettable postseason or the team's third first-round exit in the last four seasons.

But, Terry said what he said because he is the ultimate optimist and thrill seeker, and he's already been sounding the rallying cry for the Mavs in 2010-11 as well as for his own resurgence after a mediocre season by his standards. Terry has used his Twitter account to announce that he's been gearing up over the offseason to reclaim the Sixth Man of the Year award that he relinquished last season to Jamal Crawford.

To do it, Terry will have to improve upon last season when he averaged 16.6 points, but shot just 43.8 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from 3-point range. Both percentages were his lowest since the 2003-04 season. More disconcerting is Terry's playoff fade in the last two postseasons. In six games last season against the Spurs, Terry averaged 12.7 points and shot 37.7 percent, down from 14.3 points and 38.9 percent in 10 games in 2009.

The question regarding Terry, 33, comes in two parts. The first is: Can Terry regain his regular-season Sixth Man form of two seasons ago when he averaged 19.6 points and shot 46.3 percent? The second, and more important, question is: Can Terry become a feared postseason shooter again?

We won't know the latter until the playoffs roll around. As for the regular season, it should be quite an interesting situation. There's no doubt that Terry is a favorite of coach Rick Carlisle. Terry has done everything asked of him by Carlisle and done it with a smile. But, if Terry struggles, Carlisle will have major choices to make as the Mavs try to become younger, quicker and more dangerous offensively.

Beaubois has been promised a significant role this season. A broken left foot followed by surgery in August will keep him sidelined possibly into November. But, clearly Beaubois will be a regular in the rotation when he returns, whether as a starter or coming off the bench. His 25 to 30 minutes or more will eat into Terry's time. Caron Butler will be the starter at shooting guard as he was upon his arrival in February, at least until Beaubois returns. If Beaubois becomes a starter, Butler is expected to then start at small forward.

Then there's rookie Dominique Jones, who brings a slasher's mentality to the floor on every possession, something the one-dimensional Terry, who also does himself no favors on the defensive end, does not do with any consistency. If Jones can improve his jumper, he could force his way into the lineup, because outside of Beaubois, the Mavs seriously lack any threat to drive to the basket, and consequently don't get to the free throw line nearly enough.

There's also an interesting backdrop to all of this, and that's Terry's contract. The Mavs have become famous for creative contracts and were again with Terry's six-year, $57-million deal. If he doesn't log 1,500 minutes this season, the guaranteed money on the final year of his contract (2011-12) is drastically reduced, which could radically increase his trade value.

To be sure, 1,500 minutes is not a lot, about 18.3 minutes a game over an 82-game regular season. Terry averaged 33 minutes last season and he hasn't averaged fewer than 30 minutes since his rookie season in 1999-2000 (23.3) with Atlanta. It's hard to imagine Terry's minutes being reduced so heavily, but if he's not regularly draining his outside shot, he doesn't do the team a lot of good and Carlisle will have a difficult decision on his hands. And if Carlisle opts to sit Terry more in favor of younger players, it will certainly test Terry's team-oriented, optimistic outlook.

Remember, Carlisle and the Mavs decided early in 2008-09 to move on without Jerry Stackhouse, but he was also bothered by a foot problem that limited his mobility and ability to play -- not to mention an attitue problem.

Terry's situation will be intriguing to watch. From Carlisle's standpoint, he's hoping Terry starts hot and stays hot.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Marion 6.5
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9