Brian Cardinal quickly established himself as a favorite among his Mavericks teammates.
His story: Last offseason, the Mavs made plays for free-agent power forwards Al Harrington and Udonis Haslem but ended up with The Custodian. Who knew it would be so right? Cardinal arrived at training camp on a make-good contract along with Steve Novak. The one-dimensional Novak wouldn’t make the mid-season cut, but the blue-collar, self-deprecating Cardinal quickly won over coach Rick Carlisle -- and Dirk Nowitzki -- by craving the dirty work and being equally efficient at knocking down a corner 3-pointer, setting an immovable pick or absorbing -- and in some cases inflicting -- a charge (hello, Dwyane Wade). Cardinal filled in nicely whenever called upon during the season, typically during injury situations such as when Nowitzki missed nine games with a sprained knee. But it wasn’t until Carlisle could no longer stick with Peja Stojakovic in the NBA Finals and turned to the more rugged, defensive-minded Cardinal -- who had played in just four playoff games for a total of seven minutes before the Finals -- did he transform into something of an everyman’s cult hero. Thought of highly by his teammates, Cardinal got in on the reading of David Letterman’s Top Ten list and he was one of seven Mavs plus Mark Cuban to attend the ESPYs in Los Angeles.
His outlook: His unexpected -- and necessary -- contributions in the NBA Finals just might have sealed a second season in Dallas for the balding, 34-year-old who jokes that he's 44. It doesn’t hurt that he became fast friends with Nowitzki and that Carlisle absolutely loves fundamental, team-oriented, cerebral players. The Mavs can probably bring back Cardinal, who added a third child to the lineup early last season and moved his family from Indiana to Dallas, for the minimum salary. Last season was the first time in his career that he went into camp without a job guaranteed, and it wasn’t a good feeling. Cardinal has been enjoying this offseason (just follow the guy on Twitter) and whenever the lockout is lifted, Cardinal likely won’t have to go job hunting.