Sixth in a 15-part series ranking the Mavericks' 2011-12 roster in importance of bringing back next season.
The curious case of Kelenna Azubuike as a member of the Dallas Mavericks started March 22 when the club released athletic big man Sean Williams, who had spent most of the season with the D-League Texas Legends.
A week earlier, the San Antonio Spurs had traded for Stephen Jackson and were closing in on signing Boris Diaw to bolster their roster for a deep playoff run. What were the defending champion Mavericks up to in releasing Williams and opening a spot on the 15-man roster? Who was on their radar that could provide an immediate jolt one month from the true start of their title defense?
Last year, Dalllas signed veteran sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and the move paid off handsomely. At this point in the season, they could use someone like him. Three-point shooting -- heck, shooting in general --- had taken a significant dip throughout the truncated schedule and the Mavs would need firepower down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Could 3-point specialist Jason Kapono, recently released by the Lakers, be on his way? Maybe the 6-foot-7 Andres Nocioni? Sure, he was down on his luck, but still he was a 37.3 percent 3-point shooter throughout his career.
Turns out Kapono wasn't coming and neither was Nociono.
Who'd the Mavs have up their sleeve?
Azubuike, an intriguing shooting guard, oh, about three seasons ago before a torn patellar tendon put his career on indefinite hold.
And the Countdown ticks down to No. 10 ...
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 215
Experience: 5 years
Age: 28 (Dec. 16, 1983)
2011-12 stats: Played total of 18 minutes in three games
Contract status: Team option for next season
2011-12 salary: $280,192
2012-13 salary: $992,680
His story: The Mavs signed the 6-foot-5 London native March 23. This was not a shot-in-the-arm acquisition like the S-Jax trade or the Diaw signing the Spurs pulled off (and are now reaping the benefits). Azubuike was starting to make a name for himself in 2008-09 with the Golden State Warriors when the formerly undrafted free agent averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 rebounds and knocked down 3-pointers at a 44.8-percent clip. He was a heck of an athlete built for an up-and-down game. Then came the devastating patellar tendon injury nine games into the 2009-10 season. The impatient Warriors traded him to the New York Knicks, who waived him Feb. 28, 2011. On March 23, 2012, Azubuike got another chance in the NBA, thanks to the Mavs, who knew he wouldn't be helping them to defend the title. So what were the Mavs' hopes in signing him? An inexpensive option with hopeful upside at shooting guard and/or small forward for next season? Perhaps. After all, Jason Terry will likely be moving on and so could be Shawn Marion, maybe even Rodrigue Beaubois and Vince Carter, too, depending on various factors in Dallas' venture into free agency. Interestingly, Azubuike, after playing just three regular-season games with Dallas, was on the active roster in the first round against Oklahoma City, taking the spot of second-year guard and 2010 first-round draft pick Dominique Jones.
His outlook: The Mavs believe they have the best head athletic trainer in the game today in Casey Smith and an elite orthopedic crew headed by team doc T.O. Souryal. Azubuike will be three years removed from the horrific knee injury that put his burgeoning career in jeopardy and one that remains terribly difficult to watch on YouTube. But here's the hope for Azubuike: A second surgery in March 2011 was performed to fix the first surgery that wasn't done properly. Azubuike confirmed that fact on Twitter in March 2011, saying: "The 1st surgery in '09 wasn’t done right. Gettin it done right this time!” The Mavs' medical and training staffs have a track record with patellar tendon injuries after Caron Butler's awful injury on Jan. 1, 2011, in Milwaukee, which happens to be where Azubuike also blew up his knee. There's no guarantee that the the former Kentucky Wildcat will ever regain his explosiveness, but watching Butler this season with the Los Angeles Clippers has to be encouraging that he can at least be a productive player. At less than $1 million next season, Azubuike is low-risk and if he turns out to be high-reward, the Mavs will have made a shrewd move at a time when many were scratching their heads at the timing of the signing.