Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Howard

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey referred to Chandler Parsons’ three-year, $46 million deal as “one of the most untradeable” NBA contracts he’s ever seen.

Consider that a kind of twisted compliment to the Mavericks’ front office that signed the restricted free-agent small forward to the offer sheet the Rockets ultimately declined to match, allowing Parsons to leave for Dallas.

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The contract was designed to be as difficult as possible for Houston to match. That’s why it includes a 15-percent trade kicker and a player option for the third season. Had Parsons returned to Houston, which declined a team option to pay him $965,000 next season to make him available in restricted free agency, the Rockets also could not have traded him without his permission this season due to restricted free agency rules.

Houston would not have been able to bid on a star free agent next summer with center Dwight Howard, shooting guard James Harden and Parsons combining to count more than $53 million against the Rockets’ salary cap. Morey opted to replace Parsons with a less expensive option, signing small forward Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal, and maintain the Rockets’ flexibility in the future.

“The Mavericks are a smart organization,” Morey said on SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston. “They obviously wanted to get him. That structure of that [contract] is literally one of the most untradeable structures that I’ve ever seen. That’s why it came down to a bet of Harden, Howard and Parsons being the final piece, because we would have had no ability to do anything after that. And Harden, Howard, Parsons could have been good enough. I think Parsons is a tremendous player and is going to keep getting better.

“The question is, is it better with that core or is it better with Ariza plus the hundreds of moves that might be able to upgrade us in the other scenario. And there’s really no moving -- that core was going to be the core that we had to have, because if we ever wanted to move off and go after the other stars, if we ever wanted to go after a different core, it wasn’t going to be possible. A small-market team that might want a Chandler, he can opt out and leave, so they wouldn’t want him. A big-market team that’s planning for free agency, maybe for the elite free agents coming up in the future, he can opt in. There’s a trade bonus in there. Even if the cap is going to go up likely, we’re just guessing likely significantly in the future, his trade bonus makes his contract go up in lockstep with that.

“I’ve seen some speculation, OK, that we could just do this and just move on to something else if it didn’t work. The reality is that we couldn’t. This would have been our team. That would have been the team that we had and we had to be on bet on. We had to bet on that team or all the multitude of options we could have generated in the other scenario.”

Morey had publicly vowed to match any offer for Parsons before the Mavs called the Rockets' bluff, a big bet that paid off for Dallas.

Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson doesn't know if there's such a thing as an untradeable contract in the NBA, but he isn't trying to prove Morey wrong in this case.

"First of all, we're not looking to trade Chandler Parsons," Nelson said later Monday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. "Flat out, we want him to be here for a long, long time. In terms of the tradeability, e've had some pretty interesting contracts in the past and were able to get off of them, so I think there's no such thing as an untradeable contract. Clearly that's not the spirit of what we're doing. We're really excited and not looking to move Chandler Parsons at all."
Chandler ParsonsGeorge Bridges/MCT/Getty ImagesDallas' offer sheet to Chandler Parsons further intensifies the rivalry between the Mavs and Rockets.
This Chandler Parsons offer sheet is business for the Dallas Mavericks, but if Mark Cuban is being honest, it’s also personal.

Cuban might never admit this publicly, but he’s surely taking great pleasure in forcing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to scramble.

There is mutual respect between the front offices in Dallas and Houston, two franchises that have been at the forefront of the NBA’s analytics revolution, with tech-geek Cuban and MIT-educated Morey leading the way. There is also a pretty intense rivalry brewing between those front offices and particularly the two men who are accustomed to being the smartest guy in the room.

Remember that text message Morey sent Cuban last summer inquiring about a deal for Dirk Nowitzki? Cuban took it as a taunt after Dwight Howard declined overtures from Dallas and others to head to Houston. Morey later claimed that it was a panicked plea when he momentarily thought the Rockets didn’t win the Dwight sweepstakes. Sure.

What about the leaks this summer that the Rockets would love to pay Nowitzki like a superstar? Dirk’s intention to give the Mavs a massive hometown discount had been on the record for a full year.

Of course, Cuban is far from an innocent victim in all of this. His recruiting pitch to Howard took shots at the Rockets, such as referencing the fact that Houston has won a grand total of one playoff series in the last decade and a half, contrasting that to the championship culture the Mavs have created. You can bet that got back to Morey.

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Mavs not admitting mistake with trade

June, 25, 2014
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Raise your hand if your initial reaction to the report of Tyson Chandler’s return to Dallas was the thought that Mark Cuban was admitting a massive mistake.

Think again. You're wrong.

[+] EnlargeTyson Chandler and Mark Cuban
Glenn James/Getty ImagesReacquiring Tyson Chandler doesn't necessarily mean Mark Cuban was wrong to let him go in the first place.
Dealing for Chandler in the final season of the four-year deal he signed with the New York Knicks after the lockout -- and only months after he played a major role in the Mavericks’ championship run -- isn’t proof that Cuban regrets the decision to let the big man go in the first place. It’s a matter of doing what’s best for the Mavs now, when their financial picture looks completely different than it did in December 2011.

"It's apples and oranges," Cuban said via an email reply to ESPNDallas.com. "You couldn't get from there to here."

First and foremost, Dirk Nowitzki is no longer one of the highest-paid players in the NBA. He has committed to re-sign with the Mavericks for a drastically reduced salary, likely in the Tim Duncan-discount territory of $10 million per year, less than half what the big German made the past few seasons. In other words, Nowitzki’s pay cut next season will probably be pretty close to Chandler’s salary.

After studying the new CBA, Cuban’s fear was that the Mavs would become what the Brooklyn Nets are now, an old team with a bloated payroll and no real shot of winning a title and extremely limited avenues of upgrading the roster.

Cuban’s hope was that the Mavs could take advantage of their financial flexibility -- those might as well be curse words in Dallas now -- by signing an in-his-prime superstar to pair with Nowitzki. That didn’t happen, with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard declining Dallas’ recruiting pitches and Chris Paul committing to stay in L.A. without even listening to the Mavs.

In hindsight, would the Mavs have been better off keeping Chandler all along? Only if you think an aging team that made a surprising championship run was going to have a legitimate chance to repeat in a lockout-condensed campaign that was especially tough on old legs.

The potential reward was never realized, but it was big enough to justify the Mavs’ risk.

The Mavs are in better shape now with Chandler back in the mix than they would have been if he never left. With Chandler on board last summer, meaning the Mavs wouldn’t have hoarded cap space with Howard/CP3 hopes in mind, there wouldn’t have been any room for Monta Ellis on the roster.

That means the Mavs’ offense would still lack the dynamic dribble penetrator who blended so well with the big German and took pressure off the now-36-year-old Nowitzki.

Now the Mavs have a potent one-two offensive punch, a defensive backbone (again) and the salary-cap space to make at least one more major addition this summer.

No, Cuban’s grand plan didn’t work out as he hoped. Yes, Chandler is coming back to Dallas to complete the contract the Mavs weren’t willing to give him originally.

That’s proof that the Mavs’ front office is doing what it feels is in the franchise’s best interests now, not that Cuban & Co. are attempting to make up for a mistake from a few years ago.
Monta Ellis and Dwight HowardJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsHow good would the Mavs have been offensively with Dwight Howard but without Monta Ellis?
None of the big fish the Dallas Mavericks failed to catch in free agency advanced to the conference finals.

Would Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard still be playing if they signed with Dallas?

Of course, that’s a hypothetical that’s impossible to answer. Who knows how the Mavs’ roster would look if their recruiting pitch to one of the max-salary stars was successful? But pointless speculation can be pretty fun, so we’ll do our best to guess the Mavs’ odds of being in the NBA’s final four with each of the big fish that got away.

Williams: A falling out of bounds full-court heave.

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Which big fish would have given the Mavs the best chance at advancing in the playoffs?

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It’s gotten so bad for Williams in Brooklyn that there’s talk about the Nets trying to trade the five-time All-Star point guard this summer. That’ll be tough to do considering that Williams’ contract is considered toxic with him being owed $63.1 million over the next three seasons.

The Mavs certainly wouldn’t trade Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon for Williams. They’re much better off with their current starting backcourt -- with combined salaries significantly lower than Williams' -- than a former star whose bad ankles have caused him to fall a couple of tiers.

Williams, 29, had his least productive season since he was a rookie, averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 assists while missing 18 games. His shooting percentage plummeted in the playoffs, when he made only 39.5 percent of his field goal attempts.

Maybe the Mavs’ medical staff, considered one of the league’s elite, could have prevented Williams’ ankle problems. But Mark Cuban, who has all but admitted sabotaging the Williams recruiting effort by refusing to meet face to face with the native north Texan, must feel like he dodged a bullet by not making a max investment in Williams.

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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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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
Jan 29
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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
12/23/13
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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
11/21/13
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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
11/20/13
3:39
PM CT
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
11/20/13
12:00
PM CT
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.

SportsNation

Are the Mavericks better off without Dwight Howard?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,718)

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.)

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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