Dallas Mavericks: J.J. Barea
“Probably every game that J.J.’s played in a Mavericks jersey, I’ve seen highlights of it,” said Larkin, who made his NBA debut Monday night after recovering from surgery to repair a fractured ankle suffered before summer league. “I’m looking at tape and just trying to become that type of player for the team.”
That kind of player is a pint-sized pain in the butt for opponents, a change-of-pace guard who creates problems for opponents by pushing the tempo and getting into the paint, often as a pick-and-roll ballhandler. Carlisle’s orders to Larkin: “Mess the game up.”
Barea filled that pest-off-the-pine role extremely well during the Mavs’ championship season and played an even bigger role in the NBA Finals, starting the last few games of that series at shooting guard.
Barea, the shortest 6-footer in NBA history, averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 assists in a little more than 20 minutes per game that season. It remains to be seen if the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Larkin can carve out that big of a role as a rookie, but the Mavs are impressed enough by his rare quickness and ACC player of the year pedigree to give him opportunities to prove himself worthy.
"We specifically grabbed that pick for Ricky Ledo and we feel pretty good about him," president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said.
Ledo, 20, is considered to have big upside, but there is a reason he was available in the second round. He never played for Providence. After moving from high school to high school, the guard sat out his freshman year as a partial academic qualifier before declaring for this year's draft.
"Certainly, he needs to mature and needs time, but we really feel good about him," Nelson said.
It's a much different situation for him now compared to his time at Providence, when he wasn't able to travel with the team.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has been quick to note Ledo is still considered a project piece.
"Ledo is a very good prospect at the guard position. He's a very young kid and this is the beginning of a process for him," Carlisle said. "We know he has NBA ability and we like him as a person. We're going to work hard with him."
The team certainly has a decent foundation to work with in Ledo. He has a smooth shooting touch and is pretty steady in regard to his dribble penetration and ability to pass. There have been highs and lows with his performances in the summer league, but he's still trending in the right direction.
There were ups and downs through the summer league, as he averaged 7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists, but Ledo continues to show promise.
"I like his progression over the last four or five days," Carlisle said. "Each day he was a little more confident, a little more poise, keeping things a little more simple.
"That's going to be the key for him."
It's a key for him because as a second-round pick, he doesn't have a single guarantee of making the roster. He will earn an invite to training camp, but that's all he is assured of.
|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. |
Lamar Odom goes down as one of the greatest disgraces in Dallas sports history. He went from Sixth Man of the Year to scrub during the lockout, and his lack of effort for the Mavs was just embarrassing. The man stole Mark Cuban’s money for a season, continuing to cash checks after Cuban finally had his fill and kicked Odom off the team.
Oh, and the protected first-round pick the Mavs gave up to get Odom seemed like chump change at the time, but it’s handcuffing the Mavs as far as trade assets go (they can't trade future first-rounders) and indirectly helped deliver Dwight Howard to Houston. The Rockets, who acquired that pick from the Lakers, shipped it to Oklahoma City as part of the blockbuster deal to get James Harden, which made recruiting Howard a realistic goal.
And the Odom deal/debacle can get even worse for Dallas. What if the Mavs aren’t good enough to give OKC the pick while it’s top-20 protected through 2017? Can you imagine the Thunder getting a high lottery pick from the Mavs right as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are reaching the middle of their primes?
Derek Fisher's layover in Dallas didn’t cause a whole bunch of collateral damage, other than hurt feelings. At least he had the decency to stop being paid when he quit on the Mavs.
The 37-year-old Fisher lasted a few weeks as the Mavs’ starting point guard before deciding he wanted to spend quality time with his family. That, of course, was a politically correct way of Fisher freeing himself to wait for an opportunity with a contender to come up.
Can the Mavs trust Bynum to pack his heart if he moves to Dallas? Of course not. But it isn’t like there are better big man options available.
We are talking about a guy whose motivation was questioned many times during his stint with the Lakers. This is a dude who quit on Phil Jackson in the legendary coach’s last stand, a broom-waving blowout in Game 4 of the 2011 West semis at the American Airlines Center.
Mavs fans’ strongest memory of Bynum is of his cheap-shot body slam of J.J. Barea, guaranteeing that the big man could exit the Game 4 rout early instead of enduring the embarrassment for 48 full minutes. Who can forget Bynum ripping off his jersey like a pro wrestler as he headed into the tunnel while being hollered at by Cuban and 19,000 other fans?
Do the Mavs really want that guy on their roster? Do they want to test their luck with another 2011 Laker?
In ideal circumstances, the answer would be absolutely not. But Bynum represents the Mavs’ only hope to hit a home run this summer, so they’d roll the dice on his character if his knees don’t scare them away.
|ESPN NBA senior analyst Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest developments in NBA free agency. The Rockets are a slight favorite to land Dwight Howard, but the Mavericks are in the running. |
The Mavs don’t have the luxury of picking their trade partner in these sign-and-trade scenarios, which include the possibility of a package from the Clippers headlined by explosive 23-year-old point guard Eric Bledsoe. Mayo will pick his next team – and it’s a near certainty he won’t return to Dallas due to the market for him after he was the team’s second-leading scorer during his lone season with the Mavs.
Dallas decision-makers Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson are determined to explore all options involving him as a trade asset.
If Mayo chooses Minnesota, one of several teams who have shown interest in him, a deal that would bring back Barea and likely another piece might make sense, depending on how the Mavs’ shopping for a point guard goes. Barea isn’t an ideal starter due to his size but could be a stopgap who could mentor rookies Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel.
Due to make $9.2 million over the two remaining years on his contract, Barea could also have some trade value if opportunities present themselves in midseason. At the very least, Barea, who averaged 11.3 points and 4.0 assists off the bench last season, would add some juice to the Mavs’ pick-and-roll-happy offense.
And seeing Barea in a Mavs uniform again would certainly please some fans who never wanted to see him leave in the first place.
No, that’s not a short joke, although their sub-six-foot stature is one reason for the Barea-Larkin comparison.
|Mavericks top draft pick Shane Larkin joins Galloway and Company to discuss his future in Dallas. |
“I see myself as a Ty Lawson type,” Larkin said during a conference call with Dallas reporters. “Just somebody that can go out there every night and make an impact with my speed and quickness.”
Larkin’s career path is pretty similar to Lawson’s to this point. Lawson was the ACC player of the year as a junior at North Carolina before being selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2009 draft. Larkin was the ACC player of the year as a sophomore at Miami before being selected No. 18 last week.
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Lawson is thicker than the 5-foot-11, 171-pound Larkin, but Larkin is quicker and more explosive. Larkin has data from the draft combine to prove it, noting that he tested better than Lawson.
|ESPN NBA senior analyst Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest developments in NBA free agency. The Rockets are a slight favorite to land Dwight Howard, but the Mavericks are in the running. |
*Larkin was timed in the three-quarters-court sprint at 3.08 seconds, the fastest at this year’s combine. Lawson’s time: 3.12.
*Larkin’s time in the lane agility test was 10.64, the sixth-best at this year’s combine. Lawson was timed at 10.98 in 2009.
None of that guarantees that Larkin can be an NBA starter or even a rotation player, but his athleticism, pick-and-roll pedigree and perimeter shooting ability are among the reasons that the little guy thinks big. There’s also a healthy chip on the shoulder of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin’s son, who enjoyed hushing those who didn’t think he could play Division I basketball, much less star in the ACC.
"People are saying now that I can't be a starter, I can't be a successful player in the NBA,” Larkin said. “I'm just going to use that as motivation."
Larkin’s immediate goals aren’t too large, though. He simply wants to earn playing time and be productive as a rookie.
It’s a pretty good plan to continue following a similar path to the one traveled by Lawson, who primarily came off the Denver bench during his first two NBA seasons before emerging as one of the West’s better starting point guards the last two years.
That’s what Larkin is aiming for. If he ends up being the next Barea, that’s not bad, either.
The deadline passed without Marion exercising the early termination option in his contract, according to a source, meaning the Mavericks need to create an additional $2.73 million of space under the salary cap to be able to sign Dwight Howard to a max contract.
|Donnie Nelson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the crazy NBA draft, new Mavs Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo, and Dirk Nowitzki's long-term roll with Dallas. |
A best-case scenario for the Mavs would have been Marion, whose agent Dan Fegan also represents Howard, opting out of his contract and returning to the Mavs on a multi-year deal with a lower annual salary. However, NBA rules expressly forbid negotiating that type of deal before the player officially becomes a free agent, as the league office recently reminded the Mavs.
If Howard chooses the Mavs over the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets or other suitors, the most likely scenario is that the Mavs would trade Marion for no, or significantly less, returning salary.
Marion, the Mavs’ most versatile player and best defender, is Dirk Nowitzki’s lone remaining teammate from the 2011 title team. Other core players from that team, such as Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, left via free agency when the Mavs opted not to make competitive offers because Mark Cuban wanted to create the kind of financial flexibility necessary to sign a superstar such as Howard.
“We’ll cross that bridge once we get there,” Nowitzki said this week of potentially trading Marion. “If Dwight really says he’d love to be here, he’d love to come and this is where he wants to play, then that’s something we have to address then. Now I don’t think we have to address that.
“I loved playing with all of my championship teammates. We had a great team and chemistry. I was sad seeing all of them go. It would be the same if we did part ways with [Marion]. We’ve been through a lot. We’re the same age and we almost came into the league together. We’ve seen a lot together in this league and we won the ring together. It’s been a great ride together. We’ll see how far we can still take it. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks don’t envision Shane Larkin developing into the next Jason Kidd or Steve Nash.
|Donnie Nelson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the crazy NBA draft, new Mavs Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo, and Dirk Nowitzki's long-term roll with Dallas. |
“I don’t think he and Barea are exact duplicates, but we’ve missed the last couple of years the element that Barea brought to the game here,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Being able to get to the rim, being able to get it going from 3, the resourcefulness and some of those types of things.
“Shane’s going to bring some of those types of things.”
The coach said Larkin won’t be identical to Barea, and that’s OK.
“He’ll be better in some areas and other areas he won’t be as good," he said. "But we like him and feel like he can compete for playing time right away.”
Barea, who like Larkin comes up shy of being a 6-footer, played a key role as a change-of-pace reserve point guard for the Mavs’ 2011 title team before leaving for the Minnesota Timberwolves after the Mavs declined to make him a multiyear offer. Barea averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 assists in 20.6 minutes per game that season.
“[Larkin] comes in with that kind of a punch,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “He’s able to get by the best of them. He’s about as quick as it gets. His ability to shoot the long ball and create, especially the way the game is played nowadays, is just really, really important.”
Other than size, the primary reason for the Larkin/Barea comparison is their pick-and-roll proficiency, which is especially critical for a point guard who will play with Dirk Nowitzki. As a sophomore for the Miami Hurricanes last season, Larkin averaged 6.4 points as the pick-and-roll ball handler, ranking sixth in the NCAA in that category.
“Our pick-and-roll game this past year was not at the level we’re used to, so we wanted to get better in that area,” Carlisle said. “Shane’s one of the best in college basketball at doing that. A lot of people try to go under screens because of his quickness and he shot behind screens very effectively. He’ll see a lot of different coverages in this league, and what we’ve seen is that he does a good job reading situations.”
|Tim MacMahon joins Galloway and Company to discuss the NBA draft and where the Mavericks stand on getting Dwight Howard. |
The Mavs envision a backup role for Larkin. At this point, they just don’t know who their starting point guard will be next season.
The Mavs were determined to address the point guard position in the first round after a frustrating, non-playoff season that had Darren Collison, Derek Fisher, Mike James and even Dominique Jones all start games at the position. Nelson said the Mavs were prepared to stay at No. 13 and pick Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum or Michael Carter-Williams if any of the draft’s top three point guards slid to that spot.
Once Carter-Williams went off the board at No. 11, the Mavs targeted Larkin, who has a 44-inch vertical leap and ranked among the fastest and quickest players in the draft during combine testing.
“This league now is a lot about playmakers and being able to make plays off the dribble, having a feel for the game,” Carlisle said. “Speed is important. He brings some of those dynamics and characteristics. We think he’s going to help us.”
Ian Mahinmi is the last member of the Mavericks’ championship team left standing in these playoffs.
With Mahinmi watching all but four minutes from the bench, his Pacers eliminated the Knicks in Game 6, ending a miserable series for two integral pieces of the 2011 title team.
Indiana’s Roy Hibbert dominated Tyson Chandler before the Knicks big man fouled out with 3:12 remaining. Jason Kidd was benched for the second half for the second straight game and went scoreless for the 10th consecutive game, dating to Game 2 of the first round.
Hibbert had 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the series finale. Chandler had two points and six rebounds, limited to only 23 minutes because of foul trouble.
For the series, Hibbert averaged 13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks, compared to 6.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks for Chandler. The Knicks were outscored by 23 points with Chandler on the floor in the series, including 17 in Game 6.
The 40-year-old Kidd had a historically horrible offensive performance during these playoffs. He averaged 0.9 points and shot 12 percent from the floor, the lowest postseason field goal percentage for a player with at least 25 attempts since 1947.
This might not quiet the outcry about Mark Cuban opting to break up the Mavs’ championship team – that’d probably require signing a superstar this summer – but it definitely deadens the angry mob’s factual ammunition.
Here is what Cuban feared: The Mavs would look a lot like the Boston Celtics or New York Knicks, veteran teams who weren’t good enough to be true contenders and have extremely limited avenues to improve because of their bloated payrolls and the restrictive rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Imagine if the Mavs paid the price to keep all of their championship pieces. Chandler, Kidd, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler will cost a total of $35.1 million next season, which would put the Mavs in luxury-tax territory, handcuffing them this summer. Only Butler’s $8 million salary would come off the books in 2014-15.
With a Dirk Nowitzki as the lone star surrounded by an supporting cast of players who are primarily also on the decline, do you really believe the Mavs would have been a threat to come out of the West?
You can make a strong case that it’d have been better for the Mavs to have kept the title core together and at least be a playoff team than the mediocre mess the franchise put on the floor this season. But this really isn’t a Chandler vs. Chris Kaman conversation. It’s a risk/reward discussion.
In Cuban’s opinion, the potential reward didn’t justify the risk of sacrificing roster flexibility if they kept the championship team intact. Finances were only a factor in the post-lockout decisions as they related to limiting the Mavs’ upgrade options.
Cuban decided to dream big, putting immense pressure on him to pull off a superstar acquisition this summer. That ultimately needs to happen to justify stripping down the title team as a good decision.
But if you think the Mavs broke up a dynasty, you clearly didn’t watch much of the first two rounds of these playoffs.
"Yeah, I mean, it’s not Tyson’s fault or the guys’ or J.J.’s," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Obviously, winning it all, they got a better deal somewhere else. You can’t fault the guys for going there where the money is. I guess that’s part of the business. We let the guys go and it is what it is.
"I said it all year long, that we can’t judge yet if it was a mistake or not. I think it’s going to depend on this offseason. If we end up empty-handed again, then maybe it was the wrong decision to let everybody go. But if we make a good move here with all this cap space, then maybe it wasn’t all bad. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what this summer brings."
While Nowitzki brought up the post-lockout decision not to make more than one-year offers to Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and other free agents from the 2011 championship team, Cuban maintains that he doesn't regret those decisions. However, the Mavs have yet to reap the benefits of the salary cap space created as a result.
Nowitzki's initial reaction to Cuban blaming himself for the 12-year playoff streak ending was to wonder what might have been if he hadn't needed to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October, forcing him to miss the season's first 27 games.
"When we put this roster together, I thought we were solid," Nowitzki said. "I figured if I stayed healthy and didn’t need surgery, we would be fighting right around the playoffs, for a six, seven, eight, nine seed. I figured before the season that’s where we were going to end up. I didn’t think we were going to be a top four seed, but then obviously I needed surgery and missed almost two months and once I came back I wasn’t in the shape I really needed to be to be a factor out there. That’s where we’re at."
That’s a backhanded compliment to a 25-year-old who entered the final season of his rookie contract determined to prove that he was a solid starter in this league.
That, however, is the reality of Collison’s role right now and most likely for the rest of the season. The Mavs are 5-3 since 37-year-old journeyman Mike James became the starting point guard, and coach Rick Carlisle has indicated on several occasions that he believes Collison’s game is best suited for coming off the bench.
Collison accepts his role. That doesn’t mean he embraces it – and it isn’t the ideal situation he’ll search for in free agency this summer.
“In my heart, I know I’m a starter,” Collison said. “I know what I’ve done. As of right now, I’m just trying to help the team win.”
Carlisle emphasizes that he still considers Collison, who was demoted for Derek Fisher earlier this season, to be as important to the team now that he’s a reserve than he was as a starter.
"Even though he’s an off-the-bench guy at this point and time, I view him as one of our starters," Carlisle said. “Much like Jason Terry was for four years here. Jet was one of our better players, but he came off the bench and gave us a lot in that role. We need Darren to do the same thing."
J.J. Barea is probably a better comparison, but you get Carlisle’s point.
Collison’s minutes haven’t seen too steep of a drop since he stopped starting. He averaged 31.1 minutes in 51 starts, compared to 24.8 in the last eight games.
Collison’s production isn’t drastically different in the reserve role, either. He has averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor in the last eight games. As a starter, Collison put up 12.6 points and 5.7 assists per game, shooting 46.7 percent from the floor.
The biggest difference: Collison's plus-minus has been plus-51 in the last eight games; it’s minus-101 in his 51 starts.
“I think he’s in his wheelhouse right now,” sixth man Vince Carter said. “He’s very comfortable. And I think he gets the opportunity to kind of analyze the game before he plays it now. The game slows down and he’s playing at a really high level.”
Collison acknowledged that there are some benefits to coming off the bench. He gets to study the flow of the game for the first five minutes, and he typically tries to use his speed and quickness to increase the tempo. Plus, he feels that he has a little more freedom as a reserve.
“As a starter, you kind of want to get everybody involved the first five minutes,” Collison said. “When you come off the bench, everybody’s kind of already had their touches. You want to be a little bit more aggressive coming off the bench.”
Given the choice, Collison wants to be a starter. But that’s not an option in Dallas right now. Whether it is somewhere else will be determined in the free-agency market this summer.
DALLAS -- Raise your hand if you thought Elton Brand was done.
You were wrong.
|Elton Brand joins Ben and Skin to talk about the current state of the Mavericks. Ben lets Brand know about his Mavs' mediocre nightmare becoming a reality, and Skin talks about Brand's roller-coaster season. |
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Brand knows he earns his minutes because he’s a banger and smart, physical defender. But he firmly believes he can still be an efficient scorer, a point he’s proving.
Brand’s season-high 20-point performance in Monday’s win over the Timberwolves was his fourth double-digit scoring effort in the last six games. By comparison, he had five double-digit nights in his first two months and change in a Mavs uniform.
“I had to change the role a little bit,” Brand said. “I looked at it as, OK, come in, play some good defense on their big, be a presence in the post against their defenders and don’t worry about the shooting as much. It worked out early on, but then we were losing. So it’s, OK, I need to find a way to be a threat, help out this team, get buckets and do what you need to do.”
Brand is averaging 10.8 points over the last six games, which isn’t exactly eye-popping for a man with a career average of 17.9 points. But he’s done it on 66.7 percent shooting, hitting 30 of 45 shots from the floor.
“I know where my looks are coming from,” Brand said. “They know where I like my looks. We kind of worked it from there. It’s tough when you’re getting two or three shots a game, four shots a game, and you’re expected to shoot at a high clip. I forget what I said (in November) -- I’m not a firecracker or something like that -- but now I’m getting a lot of touches and sharing the ball.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ third consecutive win:
1. Hangin’ with Collison: Darren Collison capped a 23-point, nine-assist performance with a pretty, two-handed dunk on a fast break. The 6-footer was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim after the dagger dunk in the final minute.
“I think that’s the first tech of my career,” the mild-mannered Collison said. “I can’t remember getting one at all.”
If you’ve got to get T’d up, that’s a pretty good way to get one.
2. Barea’s big return: Former Maverick J.J. Barea tried his best to keep the Timberwolves in the game during his first action as a visitor at the American Airlines Center.
Barea, who got a nice applause from the crowd when he checked in for the first time, led Minnesota with 21 points and dished out five assists. The Timberwolves were plus-3 in his 26 minutes.
“I have a lot of good history here,” Barea said. “This is where it all started and where it all happened, so I’m always going to love coming back to Dallas.”
3. 20/20/20 vision: The Mavs, who never trailed in the game, had three players score at least 20 points for the first time all season. Collison scored 23, and O.J. Mayo and Brand added 20 each.
It’s the first time since Jan. 30, 2012, that three Mavs not named Dirk Nowitzki scored at least 20 points in a game. Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Delonte West each had 20-plus points in a win over the Phoenix Suns that night.
If it were up to him, he'd still have a stall in the home locker room here.
That's not how it happened, however. Barea, who has been injured during the Timberwolves two previous trips to Dallas since his departure from the Mavs, didn't get a multiyear contract offer from the then-defending champions, like the rest of the Mavs' post-lockout free agents. He wasn't willing to make the immense financial sacrifice of turning down Minnesota's four-year, $19 million offer to take an offer from the Mavs that looked tiny by comparison.
No matter how badly Barea wanted to stay with the Mavs, he felt he had to leave, a situation he admits bothers him to this day.
"No question, that crosses my mind every day," said Barea, who is averaging 10.9 points and 4.5 assists this season. "What could have been? We're never going to find out. But it's just something that you've got to live with and let it go."
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has nothing but appreciation for Barea, saying he feels a "special connection" with the fiery, undersized point guard he signed as an undrafted free agent out of "Never, Never Land," aka Northeastern University. Barea spent his first five NBA seasons with the Mavs, carving out a significant role in the last few seasons.
"I know he wanted to stay," Cuban said. "Look, I'm disappointed, too. I didn't make up the rules. I'm just trying to figure them out."
Barea, who still keeps in touch with several of his former teammates and members of the Mavs' support staff, will surely be greeted with a warm welcome.
He's also sure to hear a familiar line from Cuban, who will be in his usual baseline seat: "Who let that baby on the court?!"
That was a Clipper Darrell classic, shouted in a dead-quiet Staples Center during a Mavs rout of the Clippers. It became one of the favorite punchlines for the 2010-11 title team.
When the Timberwolves came to town last season on the night of the Mavs' ring ceremony, a high chair was waiting for Barea in the visitors' locker room, a gift for the son his former Miss Universe girlfriend soon delivered, with a little double meaning.
A Timberwolves uniform was waiting on Barea this time, and he readily admitted he has a little extra motivation.
"You know he'll be throwing up 3s and trying to take over the game," Cuban said. "J.J.'s a great guy. He's just a really, really good guy. Other than when he plays us, you always want him to do well."
When U.S. star of stars and Lakers icon Kobe Bryant squeezed Spain foe and L.A. teammate Pau Gasol for an extended embrace after Sunday's gold medal match, surely Bryant whispered in Gasol's ear to savor his stunning survival in Tinseltown and to sharpen his mind the rest of the summer for another championship run -- the one that will even Bryant with Michael Jordan at six.
The Lakers are set to roll out a starting five of Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard. A cynic might suggest that the first four average nearly 34 years of age and will never hold up. OK, but they collectively bring 27 All-Star Game appearances and three league MVPs. And that fifth guy on the list, Howard, is only 26 and is a six-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
With that, here's my early rankings for what should be a remarkably competitive West:
1. Los Angeles Lakers: The big question is if second-year Lakers coach Mike Brown is capable of handling this collection of talent and ego (somewhere in Montana Phil Jackson is contemplating a return). It's not only the two blockbuster moves that should create a more dynamic offense and a more intimidating defense that makes L.A. the favorite in the West, but also quieter moves that bolster the Lakers' previously questionable depth. Antawn Jamison, the 6-foot-9 veteran forward, will be elated to come off the bench and add scoring punch for this bunch (he averaged 17.2 points for Cleveland last season). Soon after Howard signed, the Lakers shrewdly signed free-agent shooting guard Jodie Meeks to shoot 3-balls (37.1 percent last season for Philadelphia) that will come in endless supply with this lineup. Backup point guard Steve Blake is back and so is young, 6-10 forward Jordan Hill, who sparked L.A. with energy and rebounding and even a bit of scoring after coming over at last season's deadline.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Hey, we still love these guys. Kevin Durant might win 10 more scoring titles in a row, Russell Westbrook will continue to mature and James Harden and Serge Ibaka only seem to be scratching their potential. So why is it seemingly so easy to rank the West champs behind the Lakers? Because L.A. has double the number of scoring threats and that new defensive stopper in the middle. The Thunder will again rely on the same three scorers: Durant, Westbrook and Harden accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team's scoring last season. Ibaka, at 9.8 points a game, was the closest to averaging in double figures behind the Big Three and then there was significant dropoff to the next high-scorer, L.A. castoff Derek Fisher. Upon his arrival at the deadline, Fisher became the team's fifth-leading scorer and best 3-point option. He won't be back and the Thunder still lack scoring punch off the bench, although the return of Eric Maynor will help. Inside, even with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder will be as hard-pressed as everyone else to contain Gasol and Howard.
4. San Antonio Spurs: The dream season of a year ago spiraled after taking a 2-0 lead on the Thunder in the West finals. It only gets tougher for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who played at an MVP level last season, to get back to the Finals, a place they haven't been since 2007. Still, considering how Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford re-tooled the franchise on the fly, both in roster and style, the Spurs, who won 50 games last season, will again be a contender. In-season deals that sent out Richard Jefferson and brought in Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw were shrewd. Youngsters Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter will continue to improve.
5. Denver Nuggets: George Karl should have a lot of fun coaching this team, assuming he can keep center JaVale McGee relatively focused on most nights and always running in the direction of the right hoop. The 7-foot youngster has produced his share of laugh-out-loud bloopers, but he also showed in the playoffs against the Lakers that with time and patience he just might become a force to be reckoned with in this league. The up-tempo Nuggets helped to facilitate the Dwight Howard-to-L.A. trade by taking on Philadelphia 76ers All-Star and Olympian Andre Iguodala, 28, and sending off Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo. Adding Iguodala to a group that includes Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Corey Brewer should make for some fun times. Denver also brings back improving 7-1 center Timofey Mozgov and signed young power forward Anthony Randolph.
6. Dallas Mavericks: One of the most consistent and predictable outfits in all of basketball over the last dozen years is suddenly the mystery team of the league. If you lived under a rock from June 13, 2011, until now you won't recognize the Mavs outside of recently married Dirk Nowitzki and perennial bachelor Shawn Marion. It's going to take time for this team to come together, but there is intriguing potential here with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo in the backcourt and Chris Kaman and Elton Brand joining Nowitzki, now 34 and coming off his first brush with Father Time, in the front court. Dallas failed to land Deron Williams, but recovered with a mix of speed and youth in the backcourt and a front court that is obviously not the most mobile, but is as savvy and crafty at scoring the ball as any the Mavs have fielded during their 12-year playoff run. Depth is questionable. There certainly isn't a scorer like Jason Terry to provide instant offense off the bench, but Delonte West, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Brand and a rookies Jae Crowder and Bernard James are capable of being a solid backup group.
8. Memphis Grizzlies: A team that struggled to shoot the 3-ball last season lost its most prolific bomber in Mayo and replaced him with Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington. The Grizz will continue to be a tough matchup because of their size and skill up front with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and they still possess a strong starting five with Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Rudy Gay. But Memphis finished 20th in the league in scoring last season and it doesn't appear it will be any easier for them to put up points. Never mind the mental recuperation after last season's choke job in Game 1 of their playoff series with the Clippers and then being unable to bury a banged-up Paul and Griffin in Game 7 at home.
Utah Jazz: This could easily round into a playoff team with an upgraded backcourt of Mo Williams and Randy Foye. Gordon Hayward has breakout potential and a front line that includes Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter will be rough and tough inside.
Portland Trail Blazers: Former Mavs assistant Terry Stotts takes over a roster that includes All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson and a two top-11 draft picks in point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard.
Golden State Warriors: There's some nice pieces here with Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Jarrett Jack and rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. But are there enough pieces to crash into the top eight for the first time since 2007?
Phoenix Suns: Had Mayo opted to come aboard, the re-tooling in the wake of face-of-the-franchise Steve Nash leaving would have looked a lot better. As it is, the Suns reclaimed PG Goran Dragic to replace Nash and added Luis Scola to Marcin Gortat up front.
New Orleans Hornets: From bust after Chris Paul left to boom after winning the lottery and selecting Anthony Davis with the No. 1 pick and Austin Rivers at No. 10. New Orleans also re-signed big-time scorer Eric Gordon and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson as a new era officially begins.
Sacramento Kings: The team might be staying in Sacramento for the time being, but there's not a tremendous amount to get excited about as far as ending a six-year playoff drought. Jimmer Fredette needs a big year to complement DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas.
Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin has his work cut out. GM Daryl Morey's maneuverings to land Howard failed and he's left with a hodgepodge roster that includes some nice-looking rookies and former Bulls backup center and defensive force Omer Asik.
Collison will fill the shoes (and the uniform No. 2?) vacated by Kidd when he chose to finish his career with the New York Knicks after a four-plus season-long second stint in Dallas. No one will mistake the 6-foot, 160-pound Collison's shifty point game for that of the 39-year-old, Hall of Fame-bound Kidd, who will go down as one of the great court visionaries and passers in league history.
|New Mavs point guard Darren Collison talks about coming to Dallas, how he'll fit in with Dirk Nowitzki and more. |
"It’s going to be an honor to step in his position and try to continue to do the same things that he brought to the table," Collison said Tuesday during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Coop and Nate." "It’s going to be difficult, but at the same time I feel like I’m my own player.
"I think what I bring to the table is my quickness and to play defense, too. I want to be able to pressure and create some tempo on the defensive end. I’m not so much worried about the offensive end, I think that’s going to take care of itself, but on the defensive end I want to be that energy guy. I think that’s when I can bring some different things to the table."
As for the offensive side, Collison said he's looking forward to getting back to a pick-and-roll system that he thrived in at New Orleans with David West. The last two seasons he's been immersed in more of an inside-out attack.
"That’s something me and Coach Carlisle spoke about. He spoke highly of J.J. Barea and his ability to get to the lane and he expressed how much he wants me to do the same," Collison said. "I couldn’t have asked for a better system. I think the pick-and-roll system is a system that suits me. Indiana, we had a little more of an inside-out game. We had some pick-and-rolls, but Dallas, here we run nothing but pick-and-rolls. That suits me. That’s something I did in new Orleans and that’s something I was accustomed to, so I have a chance to get back to that player I’m accustomed to in the system I’m about to embrace."
Collison said he's already started to look at film of his new teammates. He acknowledged it is going to take time to adjust, not only because he's new to the team, but because essentially the entire roster has been overhauled.
"I can’t tell you how quickly we’re going to start jelling together. At the same time, I can tell you that it’s going to take practice," Collison said. "We all want to win. We all want to have success in the playoffs, but it takes hard work just to get to the playoffs and it takes hard work to have that success in the playoffs. So I think the players that are around us, we’re new, and it's going to take us a little while to understand each other, our personnel on the court, but I’m already starting to watch film on these guys, get an early start. It’s going to be hard, but at the same time it can be done."
Multiple reasons exist for the downturn. Jason Kidd missed 18 games and, when he did play, he simply wasn't a threat to get to the rim and his 3-point shooting was erratic. Outside of Delonte West, who missed 22 games, no one was a rim attacker. Terry attacked at his leisure, and Rodrigue Beaubois has yet to fill expectations in this role -- one that J.J. Barea had come to perfect.
The Mavs also lacked a low-post finisher last season. Tyson Chandler, never a dump-it-in center, could fly off screens and catch and finish with authority. Brendan Haywood's tediousness under the basket tended to make such plays frustratingly comical. Why the Mavs at time continually dumped it down to him was equally frustrating. Those days are over as the Mavs plan soon to use their amnesty clause on Haywood.
Dallas' new acquisitions should help the offense become a bit more fruitful even though Terry is gone, leaving the roster glaringly void of a 3-point sharpshooter. Vince Carter, 18th on the NBA's all-time 3-pointers made list, now seemingly inherits that role.
Center Chris Kaman will complement Dirk Nowitzki like no other low-post player Dirk has paired with in his 14 seasons, much like Al Jefferson would have done when the Mavs flirted with trading for him a couple summers ago. Kaman has averaged double figures in seven consecutive seasons and he is the rare 7-footer in the league today that can get the ball on the block and go to work with excellent footwork and a soft touch on an array of hooks and jumpers.
As for Collison, his explosive first step easily makes him the best rim attacker on the roster. That will be a welcome change for a team that has long made a living from the perimeter. Last season, Dallas finished ahead of only Philadelphia in shot attempts at the rim, according to ESPN affiliate Hoopdata.com.
The 6-foot, 160-pound Collison has not put up great assist numbers in this three NBA seasons (5.2), but he will be proficient at running the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop with Nowitzki, and he will simulate some of Barea's ability to drive and dish when the defense collapses.
Coach Rick Carlisle has already stated that the offensive system could be tweaked depending on the personnel. With speed returning to the backcourt and a true low-post option next to Nowitzki, the Mavs will bring a new look to the offensive end and should be able to juice things up from last season's struggles.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast 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.
Play Podcast 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.
Play Podcast 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.
Play Podcast 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.
Play Podcast 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.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.