Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Howard

I’m skipping all the questions about the trade deadline this week.

I simply don’t see the Mavs pulling off a deal of any significance. Maybe they surprise me, but all I could offer at this point is speculation, and I’ve already done plenty of that.

Plus, the Mavs have won five in a row for the first time in two years. Let’s talk about a team that’s given some reason for optimism.

Of the top 4 seeds in the West (OKC, SA, POR, and LAC) which playoff matchup would be the best for the Mavs? -- Michael (Aubrey)

We can include the Rockets in this mix, too, and from a media standpoint, that would be the most interesting series. You know Mark Cuban would have some interesting things to say about Dwight Howard and he might just be able to get in the mentally fragile big man’s head.

Mavericks Defense
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Mavs' last meeting with Portland didn't go well, but would the Blazers be the best playoff matchup for Dallas?
The Mavs split the season series with the Rockets, but it’s certainly worth noting that Houston didn’t have James Harden in one of their losses.

We know the Mavs want no part of the Thunder or Spurs, two teams that have dominated Dallas since the lockout.

If I had to pick a team based on the Mavs’ chances to advance, I’d go with the Portland Trail Blazers. Yes, I’m well aware that the Blazers blew out the Mavs during their last stop in Dallas, but the Mavs won at the buzzer in Portland. Really, it’s about styles. Portland is also a poor defensive team. I’d give the Mavs at least a puncher’s chance to win a series that would be a bunch of wild West shootouts.

What do you think of the Mavs' chances to climb to the fifth or sixth seed in the Western Conference? -- TSC_HookEm on Twitter

Maybe sixth. And that’s much more optimistic than I was a week ago. That has as much to do with the Golden State Warriors’ struggles as it does the Mavs taking advantage of a soft stretch of schedule. I thought the Warriors would be fighting for home-court advantage in the first round, but for whatever reasons, they haven’t been nearly as good offensively as I anticipated.

That gives the Mavs and Suns a shot at the sixth seed. I can’t see them catching the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers, especially after the Clippers kept the ship sailing while Chris Paul was sidelined.

Has Devin Harris been as big of a boost as it seems or is this winning streak more about Dirk's dominance and consistent play from Samuel Dalembert? -- Parker (Dallas)

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What is the best potential playoff matchup for the Mavericks?

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Harris has been a big boost, but he’s been the third best player on the bench during this winning streak. Vince Carter and Brandan Wright have been outstanding. In fact, they have the best plus-minuses on the team over the last five games. Harris helps them by giving the bench a proven, versatile guard.

Nowitzki’s dominance makes life easier for everybody offensively, but he’s been playing at an All-Star level all season, save for the occasional off night. When Dalembert plays with the kind of energy and intensity he has recently, the Mavs are a different team, as anyone in that locker room will tell you.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that none of the teams the Mavs have beaten during this streak would be in the playoffs if the season ended now, and only Memphis has a winning record. But the Mavs aren’t just squeaking by bad teams. They’re dominating inferior competition.

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DALLAS -- Usually one of the league's premier bricklayers on free throws, Dwight Howard boasted that he "looked like Reggie Miller from the line" after knocking down 9 of 11 Wednesday night.

Nevertheless, an angry, sarcastic Rick Carlisle claimed he was happy he employed the Hack-a-Dwight strategy late in his Dallas Mavericks' shootout setback against the Houston Rockets.

[+] EnlargeCarlisle
AP Photo/LM OteroMavs coach Rick Carlisle was in a bit of a sarcastic mood after watching his team play porous defense in a close loss to the Rockets.
"I don't know how many times they blew by us, but I'm glad we started fouling Howard, because I was starting to get the chills over there from all the blow-bys," Carlisle said after the Mavs' too-little, too-late rally fell short in a 117-115 loss at the American Airlines Center. "It saved our guys the embarrassment of getting blown by two or three times in a row."

If Dallas' players have any sort of defensive pride, those comments from Carlisle will sting.

Carlisle, who also mentioned he didn't think the Mavs played hard until they faced a double-digit deficit in the final few minutes, wasn't the only one who questioned the team's will to defend. Dirk Nowitzki also broached the subject without prompting after his 38-point, 17-rebound performance went to waste.

The Rockets had seven scorers in double figures, shot 55.4 percent from the field and had 56 points in the paint. Just imagine how bad it would have been had Rockets star James Harden suited up instead of sitting out because of a sore thumb.

This was ridiculous even by the sinking defensive standards of a Dallas squad that allows the most points per possession of any NBA team with a winning record this season.

"The defense was horrible all night," Nowitzki said. "I mean, every time down somebody was in the paint laying the ball up. On transition, on drives, pick-and-roll plays. If you give up 117 at the house, you're gonna lose."

Is the issue effort? Execution? Ability?

All of the above.

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OT: No easy solutions to Mavs' star search

January, 29, 2014
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DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks’ grand rebuilding plan is still in place.

The Dallas front office remains determined to acquire an in-his-prime superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs’ brass is confident that will happen while the big German is still an elite player.

[+] EnlargeHoward
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesThe Mavs' pursuit of superstars such as Dwight Howard to pair with Dirk Nowitzki has proved fruitless thus far.
It’s a lot easier said than done, as we’re reminded by Dwight Howard’s Wednesday night appearance at the American Airlines Center in a Houston Rockets uniform. The plan started with three firm targets -- Chris Paul, Howard and Deron Williams -- and Dallas struck out over the past two summers.

How can the Mavs pull off such an optimistic plan at this point? Heck if they know. Not right now, at least.

“Superstars win in this league,” said Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, although he’s pleased with the performance of summer consolation prizes such as Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. “That’s not lost on us. ... This summer, I can’t sit here and tell you a hard-and-fast game plan, because we won’t know until we hit the battlefield, so to speak.”

That’s primarily because nobody knows whether this will be a bumper crop of free agency or if there will be slim pickings when it comes to superstars on the market this summer.

The Mavs will be positioned to offer a max contract again this summer, when Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter come off the books, with Nowitzki vowing to re-sign at a significantly reduced salary. The question is whether there will be anybody worth offering a max deal.

Several marquee players have the right to opt out of their contracts, a list that includes LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, among others. If the stars don’t test the market -- or simply decide to re-sign with their current teams, as Nowitzki has vowed to do in Dallas -- then Luol Deng could be the biggest name available among unrestricted free agents.

No disrespect to Deng, a two-time All-Star small forward whose ability to score and defend would make him a good fit in Dallas at a reasonable price, but adding him to the Mavs wouldn’t make Nowitzki the second-best player on the roster.

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Opening Tip: Should Dirk be an All-Star?

January, 28, 2014
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DALLAS -- A midseason trip to relax on a Mexican beach isn’t a bad option.

Dirk Nowitzki won’t hold a grudge if the coaches' vote sends him to stick his toes in the sand for a second straight year, a break from the big German's routine after making 11 consecutive All-Star appearances. However, Nowitzki would be honored to represent the Dallas Mavericks in the All-Star Game for perhaps the final time and believes his performance merits such recognition.

"It always means something to be among the best 12, 13 players in the West," Nowitzki said. "It's always been an honor, and I've always had fun going there and representing the Mavericks the right way. But I did have some fun at the beach last year. I got away a little bit.

"Either way, either way. I'd be happy to go, obviously, and always represent the Mavericks. If not, then I'll find something else to do."

The coaches' votes are due Tuesday. The All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday, and an addition or two to the West roster could be made later depending on the health of starter Kobe Bryant and probable reserve Chris Paul.

There's no question that Nowitzki's numbers justify sending him to New Orleans.

This is a better, healthier version of Nowitzki than we've seen the past two years. He ranks ninth in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating and is the primary reason the Mavs are in the playoff picture. Nowitzki, No. 13 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, also ranks 13th among the league's scorers this season with 21.1 points per game.

There have been only five players in NBA history who averaged at least 21 points per game at age 35 or older. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Alex English and Michael Jordan were All-Stars in each of those seasons.

But it's not a matter of determining whether Dirk is deserving of being an All-Star again. The conference's coaches must decide which deserving West frontcourt players will be snubbed.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Minnesota's Kevin Love and the Clippers' Blake Griffin were voted in as the starters by fans. Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Houston's Dwight Howard are basically locks for two of the frontcourt reserve spots. That leaves Nowitzki, New Orleans' Anthony Davis, San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins as the top candidates for the last frontcourt bid and likely one of the two wild-card spots.

Nowitzki would be honest if he didn't think he deserved to be selected, as he was before the coaches essentially voted to give him a lifetime achievement All-Star bid two years ago during the lockout season. He's confident he has a strong case, although he understands that puts him with a lot of company in the deep West.

"This year, I'm right up there," Nowitzki said. "We understand that there's always going to be guys that deserve it and don't make it, so that's just the nature of the game. The power forward spot in the West has always been loaded, and somebody is going to feel like they got snubbed, but it's just part of the game.”

Of this crop of candidates, Cousins is the most likely to be snubbed despite having the biggest numbers of the bunch, averaging 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds. His red flags are the Kings' 15-29 record and a reputation for immaturity.

Davis' Pelicans are seven games under .500, but he’d be the unibrowed face of All-Star Weekend as the lone rep from the host town. Plus, he's on pace to be the first 20-point, 10-rebound, three-block guy since 1999-2000 -- and the youngest player ever to put up that average line for a season.

Duncan’s numbers are down a bit (14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks). However, the 14-time All-Star could get the same kind of career achievement credits as Nowitzki, and there will be strong sentiment for the 33-11 Spurs to be represented by two players, Duncan and Tony Parker.

The decision won't be quite as difficult for Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. He's not allowed to vote for Nowitzki, but he believes the majority of the coaches in the conference will.

"I've looked at it pretty close and he'll make it,” Carlisle said. “I just have a feeling that he will. And if he doesn't, it's great because he'll have rest. But I do think, if you look at his stats and the load he's carrying, the production and minutes -- if he was playing the minutes some of those guys are playing, he'd be a 25-point scorer. So, we'll see."

We might see Nowitzki wearing an All-Star uniform, perhaps for the last time. If not, we'll probably see him with a suntan after the break.

Neither scenario sounds bad to Nowitzki.
Nobody got what they wanted from the Deron Williams sweepstakes in the summer of 2012.

The Dallas Mavericks are still hoping to acquire a bona fide superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki during the big German’s golden years.

Deron Williams
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesChronic ankle problems have limited Deron Williams to 24 games this season, and he's averaging only 13.4 points and 6.8 assists for arguably the most disappointing team in the NBA.
The Brooklyn Nets are stuck paying a superstar price for a player who hasn’t been able to perform at that level since signing a max deal.

Williams’ numbers dipped to 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game last season, when his streak of five consecutive All-Star appearances ended and he dealt with nagging ankle pain. Those chronic ankle problems have limited Williams to 24 games this season, and he’s averaging only 13.4 points and 6.8 assists for arguably the most disappointing team in the NBA.

That’s far from the production Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov planned on getting when Williams signed a five-year, $98.8 million deal to be the face of the franchise as it moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

The Mavs attempted to sign Williams to a max deal despite owner Mark Cuban’s reservations. As Williams noted last fall, maybe he would have signed with his hometown team had Cuban bothered to meet with him face to face instead of filming “Shark Tank” on the opposite coast.

Those comments were in response to Cuban claiming the Mavs were better off without Williams, a remark that came across as sour grapes and spin and looked especially silly when Nowitzki’s .500 beard made him look like a “Duck Dynasty” reject.

More than a year later, a case could be made that the Mavs ended up being better off after having settled for a pair of mid-tier free agents (Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis) to make up their backcourt, given Williams’ injury issues. But the reality remains that the Mavs have no chance of competing for a championship as long as the 35-year-old Nowitzki is by far the best player on the roster.

Williams wasn’t the ideal option in the Mavs’ grand rebuilding plan. When they made their post-lockout move to create financial flexibility, a phrase that prompts eye rolls from Mavs fans, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard were the prime targets with Williams an attractive fallback plan.

But Paul and Howard didn’t opt out of their contracts that summer, making Williams the lone big fish in the market. He ended up being strike one for the Mavs. Dallas didn’t even get a chance to swing at CP3 last summer and whiffed when Howard opted to head to Houston.

Maybe the Mavs are better off without Williams, but they’ll be stuck on the mediocrity treadmill as long as the in-his-prime superstar void exists on their roster. Brooklyn is in worse shape with its bloated payroll, but that doesn’t do anything to help the Mavs' title hopes.

Al-Farouq Aminu (who?) dominates Dallas

January, 10, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS -- Let’s play a little game of One of These Guys Doesn’t Belong Here.

The list of players who have had multiple 15-point, 20-rebound performances against the Mavericks: Al-Farouq Aminu, Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Al-Farouq Aminu?! How does that happen?

“I was guarding him,” Dirk Nowitzki deadpanned, offering an honest explanation for how a role player for the Pelicans has had the two best games of his career in New Orleans’ last two meetings with the Mavericks. “They were saying I got him multiple contract extensions already by guarding him.”

Aminu, a 6-foot-9 small forward who has averaged 6.4 points and 5.4 rebounds during his four NBA seasons, has only 14 double-doubles in his career. Four of those have come against the Mavericks, including a 16-point, 20-rebound outing on April 17 and another 16-20 line Dec. 4.

“He’s really been a thorn in our side for the simple fact that he’s very aggressive,” Vince Carter said. “They don’t run many plays for him, so that’s how he makes his living, and he’s doing a darn good job when he sees the Mavericks.”

The Mavs shouldn’t have to have Nowitzki defend Aminu in Friday night’s game. That matchup was the result of needing to use Shawn Marion to guard perimeter-threat power forward Ryan Anderson, but both Marion (shoulder/ribs) and Anderson (back) are out due to injuries.

Regardless of the matchups, Aminu has Dallas’ full attention. The Mavs might be the only team who worries about Aminu as much as blossoming Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

Buzz: Mavs want more FTs for Monta

December, 23, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Monta Ellis attacks the basket more than any NBA player, but his free throw attempts have dwindled in December.

That’s a source of some consternation for his bosses.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has mentioned on at least a couple of occasions his concern over Ellis not getting enough whistles. Coach Rick Carlisle added his voice to the chorus after Monday night’s win against the Houston Rockets.

“It’s frustrating when you go in there and there’s contact and you feel like you should be getting some whistles in your favor,” Carlisle said. “But, hey, the second half, he just kept going, kept attacking.”

Ellis actually shot 10 free throws against the Rockets, but he was only 4-of-16 from the floor during his 18-point performance. Ellis is averaging only 4.3 free throw attempts per game in December, dropping his average for the season to 5.7 free throws per game.

For the most part, Ellis will let the owner and coach address the subject for him.

“Most of the time, I try to,” said Ellis, who has a league-high 290 drives this season, according to SportVU player tracking data. “But, you know, in the course of the game, it’s emotion. At the same time, I’ve just got to keep playing.”

Sammy D starts: Center Samuel Dalembert was in the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 3, given the unenviable assignment of banging with Dwight Howard.

Carlisle praised Dalembert’s defense despite the fact Howard had 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Dalembert had eight points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes, his most since the Mavs’ Nov. 20 win over the Rockets.

“It’s always a readjustment,” Dalembert said of starting again. “It’s a different thing when you’re starting and then when you’re coming in with the bench. Either way, I just manage myself to get ready. Then when I do get a call, I just go out there and give my best.”

DeJuan Blair, who had started the past seven games, didn’t get off the bench. Carlisle said his decision on the starting center would “probably” be made on a game-to-game basis and influenced by matchups for the foreseeable future.

Merry Christmas: The Mavericks did not want to spend their holidays stewing over a losing streak. They avoided that by coming out strong in the second half, which they opened with a 15-1 run.

“You don’t ever want to sit on two days at Christmas with a three-game losing streak,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We definitely wanted to have this one, and I think we showed it defensively there in the third quarter. We competed. Everyone was out there playing hard. If we play hard and compete on the boards and on defense, I like our chances.”
DALLAS – It’s one thing for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a man known for his trash-talking prowess, to throw a few verbal jabs at Dwight Howard.

But for Vince Carter to get in on the act?

That’s what happened during a timeout in the second quarter Wednesday. Carter interrupted Howard’s one-sided discussion with an official to loudly and repeatedly tell the Rockets center that he was “the biggest crybaby I know.”

Carter, an Orlando resident who has played countless summer pickup games with Howard and spent a season and change as his teammate with the Magic, said after the game that they’re buddies. But Carter certainly didn’t back off his comment.

“All the time,” Carter said of Howard’s whining to officials. “He always talks about how I’m a crybaby. I was like, ‘Yo, you’re the biggest crybaby I know.’ And then later, he’s like, ‘Yo, why’d you say that to me?’ But I know Dwight. It’s all good, but he is [a crybaby].

“I mean, he takes a lot of punishment, but I’m like, ‘Yo, c’mon Dwight, c’mon. You elbowed, you’re sitting in the paint the entire time. What are you whining about?’ He told me to stop crying. I was like, ‘What? Are you serious?’”

Locker Room Buzz: Mavs scramble for W

November, 21, 2013
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DALLAS – For three quarters against the Houston Rockets, it didn’t seem like the Dallas Mavericks could spell “STOP” if you spotted them the S.

Coach Rick Carlisle referred to it as a “defensive pillow fight.” Then, suddenly, the Mavs started throwing some real defensive haymakers.

The Mavs’ offensive numbers, especially from Monta Ellis (37 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (35), were awesome. But Dallas didn’t look like it had a chance to beat the Rockets until the Mavs buckled down defensively.

Once the smoke cleared, the scoreboard read Mavs 123, Rockets 120.

How the heck did the Mavs hold the Rockets to 19 points in the fourth quarter, less than half of Houston’s total from the first quarter? How did a Houston team that shot 64.9 percent in the first 36 minutes go 5-of-19 from the floor in the final frame?

“Really what won us the game in the fourth quarter was our scrambling mentality on defense,” Nowitzki said. “We trapped James [Harden] off the pick-and-roll, we trapped Dwight [Howard] on the block and just had to scramble out of there. That actually gave us some life, some momentum, some energy, and then we carried it through to the win.”

The Mavs had no answers for Howard (33 points, 12-16 FG), Harden (23 points, 6-14 FG, eight assists) or Chandler Parsons (21 points, 7-10 FG, 11 assists) for most of the game. That changed when coach Rick Carlisle went to a zone defense with the Mavs trailing by 14 points to start the fourth quarter.

The Mavs held Houston, which was playing the second game of a back-to-back, to three points for a span that lasted more than five minutes. That allowed Dallas to put itself in position to pull off the comeback.

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Defending D12 not hard part for Dalembert

November, 20, 2013
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DALLAS – It’d be easy to hype up the matchup of the big man the Mavericks offered a max deal against the center they settled for at a fraction of the price.

But banging with Dwight Howard won’t even be the most difficult aspect of Samuel Dalembert’s job when the Mavs meet the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard and Samuel Dalembert
AP Photo/Bob LeveyPlaying Dwight Howard one-on-one isn't the biggest concern for Samuel Dalembert.
“It’s not as tough to guard him,” Dalembert said. “It’s just that as a big, when you have a pick-and-roll and there’s guys like Harden who penetrate so good with the ball, your focus is first on the penetration. So when you roll down, always a small is going to pick him up. That’s when the problem comes down. One-on-one guarding him is not as tough.

“The post-up game is not really something you see. I don’t see them throw the ball on the post for him to go one-on-one. It’s just wall down in the middle of the paint and throw the ball high to him. That’s pretty hard to stop, especially when you have a small on the back end trying to grab you and defend you. It’s pretty easy. You just foul him and send him to the free throw line.”

The payoff of playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale, one of the best back-to-the-basket players in NBA history, hasn’t happened yet for Howard.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Howard is averaging only 5.5 points per game on post-up plays this season, slightly less than he averaged last season in Los Angeles and a steep drop from the double digits he averaged on post-ups in Orlando. He’s also averaging only 0.59 points per post-up play, the fourth-worst rate among the 39 players with at least 30 post-up opportunities this season.

Howard’s presence isn’t the primary reason the Rockets rank second in the league in scoring offense with 108.8 points per game. In fact, Howard ranks third among the Rockets in scoring, behind James Harden and Jeremy Lin and just ahead of Chandler Parsons. The Mavs’ defensive game plan begins with trying to limit the damage by Harden and Lin with dribble penetration.

“That’s a tough thing when you have that,” said Dalembert, who will also have his hands full keeping the league's leading rebounder off the offensive glass. “As we work on the defensive scheme, I’m just going to have to limit the penetration from Harden and at the same time run back fast enough to get to Dwight. It’s going to be a long night for me.”

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3 Points: Mavs better off without Howard?

November, 20, 2013
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Dwight Howard Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty ImagesWould depth have had to be sacrificed if the Mavericks landed Dwight Howard over the summer?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

Mark Cuban claimed the Mavericks ended up putting together a better roster for this season than they would have been able to had they signed Dwight Howard. Is he right?

Gutierrez: It's obviously going to be hard to suggest that not getting the superstar is better. The Mavs would have been front-loaded with Dwight Howard. They probably could have still gotten Jose Calderon, but I don't think they would necessarily have the depth that they have at the moment. Monta Ellis already has proven that he can be an impact player for the team. With Ellis and depth, the other side of the coin isn't looking so wrong.

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Are the Mavericks better off without Dwight Howard?

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Taylor: I don't think there's much question about that. If the Mavs had Howard, he would be great -- but they wouldn't have an explosive scorer such as Ellis, who makes Dirk Nowitzki better with his ability to run the pick-and-roll and get him easy shots. They also wouldn't have Jose Calderon, who also makes Dirk's job easier. No doubt, Howard is easily the better player, but his game wouldn't necessarily make Dirk's life easier or the Mavs a better overall team. Besides, Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair are averaging a combined 16.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in 38 minutes. The Mavericks are doing just fine at center without Howard.

MacMahon: I get what Cuban was trying to say -- as clumsily as it came out, from a PR perspective -- and Ellis' early impact with the Mavs makes this a more interesting discussion than anticipated. Would the Mavs be better off with Howard in the middle instead of Calderon and Ellis in the backcourt? Maybe they would have shipped Shawn Marion off in a salary-dump deal and still signed Calderon, but Ellis would not have been in Dallas if Howard accepted the Mavs' max offer. The Mavs would be a much better defensive team, but they'd be counting on 35-year-old Nowitzki to carry the offense every night. Either way, the Mavs would have been one of several teams fighting for one of the last few playoff spots in the West.

Rick Carlisle referred to the Mavs' big three as Nowitzki, Ellis and Vince Carter. What do you make of Carter being included in that group?

[+] EnlargeVince Carter
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsVince Carter is averaging 11.4 points off the bench for the Mavs.
Gutierrez: I look at it as them classifying him as a leader of the team. Marion is a Swiss army knife of a player, but he's not necessarily a Type-A leader. That's not to say Ellis is, but he's shown more than most probably expected. Carter is considered to be a warrior and the leader of that second unit. If Carlisle is saying that in terms of expecting more results from Carter, that's a recipe for danger. It's hard to expect more from a player who will turn 37 in early 2014.

Taylor: Carter still has his moments, but he's scored more than 20 points just twice this season and his game is so perimeter-based these days that his offense can be inconsistent. I'd lean more toward Marion with his all-around game being more important to the entire team than Carter. Marion can impact a game with offense, defense or rebounding. He's the best all-around player on the team, which is different than being the best player. Carter only impacts the Mavs on offense.

MacMahon: It's an awfully optimistic projection, considering that it's been five years and three teams since Carter last averaged 20 points per game. To his credit, Carter has embraced the role of a sixth man who plays about 25 minutes per night in his golden years. It's probably a stretch to include him in Sixth Man of the Year discussions, but not too much of one. It's certainly a stretch to still call him a star, although he's still capable of the occasional scoring spree.

Should Shane Larkin jump ahead of Gal Mekel on the depth chart, now that the first-round pick is cleared to play?

[+] EnlargeShane Larkin
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesShane Larkin made his NBA debut against the 76ers on Monday.
Gutierrez: He likely will, but I see Devin Harris as the one who could truly be on the outside looking in. Carlisle likes options and versatility within the specific positions. Calderon is the pure point guard and Mekel provides some of the same at a lower level. Harris and Larkin are the speed and athleticism options. Having both of them roll would seem to be redundant. Whoever works better out of Harris and Larkin will get their share of minutes, as will Mekel.

Taylor: Larkin's play will determine how many minutes he gets. Carlisle demands accountability, which is why he's one of my all-time favorite coaches. If Larkin plays better than Mekel, then he'll get minutes. If he doesn't, he won't. But he must earn those minutes in practice and then play well, when given an opportunity. Mekel has done a solid job overall in limited playing time. It's up to Larkin to demand more minutes with his performance.

MacMahon: Let's find out how good Larkin can be right now. His electrifying quickness and explosiveness can change games. Mekel doesn't have those traits. I'd love to see Larkin get a legitimate shot to prove he can be productive in J.J. Barea's old role. (Disclaimer: I'll be hesitant to criticize the way Carlisle handles the rookie guards regardless of their roles. Call it the Roddy B. Reflex.)

Mavs light it up, Monta Ellis in attack mode

November, 6, 2013
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DALLAS -- Maybe the Dallas Mavericks did actually sign a co-star for Dirk Nowitzki this summer.

No, they didn’t hook the “big fish” as advertised, the hope the Mavs’ brain trust sold when they made the CBA-influenced decision to strip down the 2011 championship roster instead of pay big money to keep a veteran cast together. Dallas didn’t even get a sit down with Chris Paul and got nothing but the proverbial participation ribbon for their efforts in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave the Mavericks found the right-hand man for Dirk Nowitzki's twilight years in Monta Ellis?
They settled for a marriage of convenience with Monta Ellis, a model of inefficiency with the Milwaukee Bucks the previous year and a half. He slipped through the cracks of free agency and signed a three-year, $25 million deal with Dallas.

If the early returns are any indication, Ellis’ contract could end up being the bargain of the summer.

With Ellis driving relentlessly and Dirk riding shotgun, the Mavs are off to a fantastic start after the first week of the season. Ellis’ dominant performance paced a 123-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, sending the Mavs on the road with a 3-1 record.

Ellis arrived in Dallas with the highest career scoring average (19.5 points per game) of any active player without an All-Star appearance. If he keeps this up, that might change at midseason, as will his reputation as a gunner who isn’t the kind of player who can be a key piece on a winning team.

All Ellis has done during his first week in Dallas is average 25 points -- tied for seventh in the league -- while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and dishing out five assists per night despite playing solely shooting guard. He blew by the Lakers’ lead-footed backcourt on a regular basis Tuesday, lighting up L.A. for 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting with nine assists -- a night so rare it hit a trio of certain statistical landmarks (points, assists, field-goal percentage) not reached in an NBA game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"He was in the guts of our defense all night," said Lakers point guard Steve Nash, one of Nowitzki’s favorite former sidekicks. "He was getting easy buckets and creating easy buckets for his teammates all night."

Perhaps Ellis is proving that the complementary pieces, not him, were the problem on his recent teams. After all, he did average 20.2 points and shoot 53.1 percent from the floor for a 48-win team as a 22-year-old, but those 2007-08 Golden State Warriors were the last plus-.500 team to employ Ellis. His efficiency plummeted in the six seasons since as he relied more and more on long jumpers.

The Mavs have convinced Ellis to use his inconsistent jumper as an off-speed pitch again. Playing in a pick-and-roll-intensive system that plays to Ellis' strengths and surrounds him with shooters, the Mavs are putting Ellis in position to be in attack mode.

"If anything, it made me the player I used to be," Ellis said. "Continue to attack. Don’t settle for the jump shot. At times I do, but coach keeps stressing attack, attack, attack. We’ve been doing that, and it worked for us tonight."

Seven of Ellis’ 11 buckets against the Lakers came on drives. When the defense collapsed, he kicked it out to a shooter for an open look or dumped it to a big man for an easy bucket.

Ellis’ ability to do damage off the dribble adds an element to the Mavs’ offense that’s been missing in recent seasons, arguably since Nash’s departure from Dallas a decade ago. Jason Terry served as a capable sidekick for Nowitzki during the Mavs’ best years, when the franchise made two Finals trips and won the 2011 title; but "Jet" was a jump-shooting assassin.

"He’s just a different kind of weapon," coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis. "His catch-and-go ability, his speed in transition, his ability to change direction and attack the rim is unique in this league."

Carlisle put Ellis in an elite class of active players when it comes to those characteristics, naming Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook off the top of his head. There is no doubt that Ellis, as Dirk declared at the opening of training camp, is the most explosive teammate of Nowitzki’s career.

"He’s so fast to the rim that if the defense makes one little mistake in the pick-and-roll coverage, one fast dribble and he’s right up there at the rim," said Nowitzki, one of seven Mavs to score in double figures against the L.A. "It’s been impressive.

"Obviously, there are some players that are so fast getting to the rim that if they make their [jump] shot, they’re tough to guard. That’s the case with him.

"If that thing is going, he’s tough to stop."

So far, Ellis has been a phenomenal fit for a Dallas team that, frankly, didn’t have much interest in him at the beginning of free agency. Mavs owner Mark Cuban admitted recently that it "did take some warming up" from the analytics-savvy franchise once Ellis’ asking price dropped from eight figures per year into a more Mavs-friendly price range. And it took Devin Harris’ deal being voided due to a flunked physical for the Mavs to offer Ellis as much money as they did.

But the Dallas decision-makers talked themselves into believing Ellis would benefit greatly from playing for a creative coach and alongside a pass-first point guard (fellow free-agent addition Jose Calderon) and a historically elite power forward who would be the focal point for opposing defenses.

It’s hard to argue with the early returns. With Ellis putting up huge numbers and Nowitzki complementing him with 20.3 points per game, the Mavs rank second in the league in scoring (114.3), behind only the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It really starts with Dirk because defenses play him so differently and he spaces so well," Ellis said. "It’s hard for them to even stunt or try to do anything on the back side. We’ve got so many shooters on this team that can get it going any given night and make it tough on defenses."

That makes it easy for Ellis to get in the guts of the defense -- and that gives the Mavs hope they’ve found a suitable sidekick for Nowitzki’s golden years.

How will Howard handle head games?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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Dwight HowardTroy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsIs Mark Cuban just playing head games with Dwight Howard?
HOUSTON -- Mark Cuban's mouth doesn't roar without motivation.

Cuban's public shots at opposing players are never accidental. Cuban, who takes pride in being a master manipulator of the media, always has incentive when he makes inflammatory statements about superstars.

That was true during his long-running verbal sparring matches with Shaquille O'Neal. It was true when Cuban casually mentioned last year that the Los Angeles Lakers ought to consider using the amnesty clause to dump Kobe Bryant. And it was true when he opined that Dwight Howard made an immature mistake by deciding to sign with the Houston Rockets instead of the Dallas Mavericks this summer.

How many millions of dollars' worth of free marketing have Cuban's Mavs received over the years due to the media firestorms he's started with his digs? Heck, he's given Friday night's Mavs-Rockets game some big-time national buzz and stole some attention from Jerry Jones' circus locally.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Cuban's headline-grabbing jabs are good for the Mavs.

The memory of Kobe's "Amnesty THAT" performance -- a 38-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist, one-tweet masterpiece in the aftermath of Cuban's helpful suggestion -- is still fresh in the minds of Mavs fans. (Conspiracy theory: Cuban's primary reason for opening up the "amnesty Kobe" can of worms was to plant seeds of doubt about the Lakers' long-term future in a certain free-agent center's mind.)

It's probably not coincidental that Shaq averaged more points against the Mavs (26.4 per game) than any other team during his career, although Dallas' difficulty finding a decent center surely had something to do with that.

Why would it be any different with Dwight? Well, Howard doesn't exactly have a reputation for extraordinary mental toughness.

Marketing might not have been Cuban's sole motivation in this instance. Maybe he thought he could get into Howard's head, cluttered and confused as it might be.

Or maybe I'm giving Cuban too much credit. Maybe he's just mad that his sales pitch didn't sway Howard. If that's the case, the grapes would really be sour if Howard responds as well as Cuban's most notable previous superstar sparring partners.

Opening Tip: Dirk encouraged by direction

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
9:00
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DALLAS -- The disappointment over failing to land a big fish has passed for Dirk Nowitzki. He's cautiously encouraged about the direction of the Mavericks franchise at this point.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki wanted the Mavs to land a big fish in free agency but he's encouraged by the backup plan so far.
Nowitzki, who publicly questioned owner Mark Cuban's long-term plan in January and said it could be judged as "a mistake or not" after the summer, desperately wanted Chris Paul or Dwight Howard to come to Dallas. That didn't happen, with Paul not even listening to recruiting pitches before re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers and Howard opting to go to the Houston Rockets.

However, Nowitzki was pleased with the Mavs' contingency plan, which consisted of signing a crop of free agents headlined by guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.

"It was tough," Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com about missing out on a proven superstar after Cuban essentially opted to sacrifice wins for salary-cap space. "First, it was Chris Paul. We didn't get him and then obviously went for Dwight. We went all-out. We all flew out there. Cuban put a suit on, so that already showed us how bad we wanted him.

"But hey, it is what it is. We didn't get him. I was frustrated there for a while, not knowing what we were going to do. Are we going to sign nine one-year deals again? But obviously Mark decided to go a different route. The first signing I think was Calderon, who I always liked as a point guard. I think Monta was probably a surprise to everybody. I didn't see that coming. I always thought he wanted a little more money somewhere else. He did. I was fired up to play with him, even though I didn't know how he was going to fit in here, but I was excited about the possibility of playing with him.

"I think as a franchise, we've moved on. We didn't go for the whole cap space deal again, like we did last year, so I was obviously pleased to see that."

The Mavs definitely aren't done with their roster remodeling, but Nowitzki believes the new backcourt can be part of the foundation for the future. Calderon signed a four-year, $29 million deal. Ellis signed for $25 million over three years, although the last season in his contract is a player option.

Nowitzki noted that the Mavs could be active before the trade deadline, especially if the first half of the season doesn't go as well as hoped.

The Mavs are set up to have ample cap space again next summer, when the contracts of Nowitzki ($22.7 million), Shawn Marion ($9.3 million) and Vince Carter ($3.2 million) all expire. Nowitzki has committed to re-sign a two- or three-year deal at a significantly reduced salary to be determined.

"I don't see us as being stuck," Cuban said. "I see us as a team that can and will get better. We're good and we can get a lot better."

Added Nowitzki: "We're still not done building. ... Our goal obviously since 2011 hasn't changed. We're not happy making the playoffs. We want to compete for the championship."

That would have been easier to do with Howard on his side, but as far as Nowitzki is concerned, hope is still alive.

Recruiting video highlights Cuban's missive

August, 3, 2013
8/03/13
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The most entertaining part of Mark Cuban's 3,000-plus-word post on blogmaverick.com might be the Superman Origins-inspired video he shared that was part of the Mavs' Dwight Howard recruiting pitch.

Some other excerpted highlights from Cuban's stream-of-consciousness prose:

On the post-lockout decisions: "All my thoughts on the new CBA have been well chronicled elsewhere, so i won’t revisit them here. But what we have not discussed publicly was our concern of bringing back an older team in a shortened season. We basically saw the 2011-12 season as a throw away no matter who we signed. With out the time to prepare and get their bodies ready, throwing a team with with an older starting lineup right into the fire was going to be tough. Young guys can walk into an NBA game any day of the year. Get to your mid 30s, not so much. So to bring the gang back , we would basically be losing a year. When you look at keeping together an older team and the first year after your championship is a lost year, it’s hard to justify keeping an older team together. But we were the champs. That meant a lot.

"It also meant that if we kept everyone together we would have to make do with our existing roster. We would have little room to add new players. In particular we would not be in position to add someone who could come in and be a cornerstone for our future. IMHO we would be stuck with an aging team and not be in a position to make a big impact on our roster."

On sticking with Dirk Nowitzki: "Our culture is one of the reasons I won’t trade Dirk.

"When you turn your team upside down and try to figure out what the culture of the team is, you take the greatest risk a team can take. Dirk sets the tone for our team. He works as hard, if not harder than anyone. He helps our younger players understand what he expects and what they need to do to excel. On the court he is selfless. He would rather not have to score a point if we would win the game any way. He would rather pass the ball and let anyone else score than be forced to take the shot. Until its the time of the game where we need a point. Then he is ready to step up as often as we need it. But he knows, that his impact on a game is far more important than any averages or what appears in the box score. That mindset. That selflessness. His work ethic is something I want to be in place long after he has retired. But to do that we have to transition with him, not in a void.

"It is also the reason I believe that you don’t just blow up a team. Go back the past 10 years and look at all the teams that traded their best player. There aren’t a lot of quick trips to the finals to point to as examples."

On trying to sign Dwight Howard: "We had hoped that Chris Paul may be available He wasn’t. So Dwight Howard was our first target once again.

"Let me address here the inevitable question of Dwight vs Mavs culture. We saw it as somewhat of a risk, but felt like because Dwight by all appearances and checking we did, is a good guy and with our support systems we believed we could make it work. if not, he was obviously a very trade-able asset. But, as everyone knows, we didn’t sign him. He went to the Rockets. I do have to say the meeting with Dwight was very interesting. He is a smart guy. Much smarter than people give him credit for. He is also a very, very good listener. Unlike most people, he spent far more time listening than talking. And he had the best response to an opening question that I have ever heard from a player, or anyone for that matter. When we asked him what his goal was, his response was very specific ” I want to be Epic” . Which was a perfect lead in to the video we created for him"

On the "popular" rebuilding process: "In today’s game it appears that the popular path to build a team is to put together a group of young players that you hope will develop to their full potential and potentially lose a lot of games so you have a chance to pick the next Kevin Durant, John Wall or Kyrie Irving or Blake Griffin et al.

"Then you have to do it again at least one more season , if not more, because any one of those players is not enough to win a championship. They are all great players now, but it takes time for them to develop into great players. THen you have to put the right players around them in order to become a championship contending team. This may be the exact right approach for teams to take to build a championship. You never know until you know.

"What I do know, at least what I think i have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do . Not easier. Harder. It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.

"I see quite a few teams taking what appears to be the same approach to building a team. I can understand why they are taking this approach. In the current CBA the value of a player chosen in the draft can be considerable because of the defined contract terms. And if you put together some great young players, it is very enticing to want to keep those players together for a long period.

"But I also know that even if you have the worst record in the NBA, you may not get the top pick and even if you do, there is a material chance you pick the wrong player , or it just happens to be a draft when there are not any IDENTIFIABLE superstar potential players at the top of the draft.

"In other words , while it may be popular i think the quantity of teams taking the same approach makes it more difficult to build a team in this manner."

On the Mavs' future: "We went out and signed what I think (I know I’m always positive about our players, but this time I’m REALLY POSITIVE [smiley face emoticon] , are a great group of players. We got players that we think fit our culture. That have a skill set that will allow us to be successful , that complement each other, fit well with Rick’s system and can be a good team

"We also feel like we have some players that will be far better on our team than they were on previous teams. I like our ability to work with what i call “fallen angels”. Players who are traded or left unsigned because everyone in the league thinks that they can only be the player they saw in another organization. We have taken players like Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Brandon Wright, Tyson Chandler and you can even say Vince Carter among others that were perceived as having this problem or that problem and had them contribute in new ways that were beyond what the “experts” expected.

"We pay less attention to what they did in their last system than what we believe they will do in our system with our group of players. We are not always successful as last year pointed out, but we have a good track record.

"If we stay healthy, I think we can have a good team. How good ? I don’t make predictions. I do believe that by having a core of players that we can grow and develop with, and cap room in the upcoming season and what we feel is the ability to develop and improve the performance of our players, we are in a good position for this year and for the future. We have been hurt by not having a core of players in place that free agents see as teammates they want to play with. THat shouldn’t be the case next year.

"In addition, because of all the financial restrictions that the new CBA puts on teams, I believe more teams are going to be blown up and the new popular approach will be adopted by more teams. Which in turn will make that approach even more difficult to be successful with. Hopefully this will create opportunities for the Mavs to add new players either via cap room or through trade that get us back in to the Finals and rewards our fans with another ring."

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103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Rick Carlisle

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.

Galloway & Company: Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Mark Cuban talk

Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Marc Stein

Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: The Standoff

Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Ramona Shelburne

ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.

Fitzsimmons and Durrett: Buy or sell

Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Marc Stein

ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Dalembert 6.8
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksS. Dalembert 1.2