Dallas Mavericks: Kobe Bryant
Has Monta Ellis taken the torch from Dirk Nowitzki as the Mavs' best player?Gutierrez: It may pain some fans to hear this, but Ellis is the team's best player through 15 games. That's not to say that Dirk is done. This is the plan the Mavs have been looking to implement for quite some time: reducing Nowitzki's role. Ellis' ability to penetrate and finish in addition to making his teammates better with his facilitating is the perfect companion to Nowitzki's offensive game. Ideally, the plan would work out perfectly if they run neck-and-neck with the torch.
Jae Crowder a couple of weeks ago, consistency is the key. We need to see a body of work from Monta that's three or four months of the same aggressive, attacking style, while making Dirk and others better. Do that, and he might supplant Dirk as the best player. He's headed in the right direction.
MacMahon: Wonder why Ellis is so much better in Dallas than he was in Milwaukee? The big German has a whole lot to do with that. Ellis/Nowitzki is by far the Mavs' best plus-minus duo this season at plus-81. Nowitzki is half of the Mavs' five next best tandems, too. Nowitzki is part of eight of the top 12 duos; Ellis is half of only two of the top 12. Plus-minus isn't a perfect stat, but it makes it pretty clear that Dirk remains the Mavs' MVP.
@mrana85 on Twitter: Does Monta Ellis, in fact, have it all?
Ellis does not have a great 3-point stroke. That’s evident from his 31.9 career percentage from long range. It’s notable that he’s attempting his fewest 3-pointers per game since 2008-09.
Ellis is a phenomenal pick-and-roll initiator, and that’s become the bread and butter of the Mavs’ offense with magnificent results. There are precious few players as dangerous off the dribble, and Ellis has shown that his passing ability has been underrated while he’s played for bad teams over the years. He arrived in Dallas with a reputation as an inefficient gunner, but Ellis has been awesome offensively, averaging a team-high 23.5 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 49.6 percent from the floor.
Oh, and Ellis will never have good size for a shooting guard. That often makes life difficult for him as a defender, especially against bigger shooting guards such as Houston’s James Harden or Minnesota’s Kevin Martin.
But Ellis has rare explosiveness and ability to create, and the Mavs are getting the most out of his best attributes.
@Simeon_Benson on Twitter: Is Dirk's inevitable extension going to be more like Kobe's or Duncan's?
My hunch is that it will be in the neighborhood of the team-friendly, three-year, $36 million deals Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett signed a couple of years ago. However, I could see Dirk taking less than that if Mark Cuban can add players worthy of the face of the franchise sacrificing some money to create room under the salary cap.
@KirkSeriousFace on Twitter: Vince Carter's stats (mainly his 3 pt %) have taken a major hit so far. Is he in a slump or was last year an outlier?
Let’s give Carter the benefit of the doubt and call it a slump. He’s a career 37.6 percent shooter from 3-point range who was close to a career at 40.6 percent last season. Carter is only 22-of-65 (33.8 percent) from 3-point range so far this season, but it’s early. He’s one hot streak away from getting back to his norm. I think he’ll be in the high 30s by the end of the season, if for no other reason than I think he’ll consistently get good looks due to the other weapons on this team drawing attention.
@BrockLPrice on Twitter: Do you see the Mavs making the playoffs, and if so, what seed?
I’m more confident that the Mavs will make the playoffs than I was at the beginning of the season, but I still see them fighting with a handful of other teams for one of the West’s final few spots.
I see the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets as locks. The Portland Trail Blazers (13-2) are off to an outstanding start, but I think they’ll be part of a pack with the Mavs, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and maybe the Lakers battling for the last few spots, with the New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns playing the role of on-the-rise sleepers.
@pickandpop21 on Twitter: What adjustments should the Mavs take to improve defense? Or will they just have to live by their O & hope that's enough?
There’s a reason that Carlisle harps so much on things like “disposition” and “competitive energy.” The Mavs need great effort and intensity, as well as togetherness, to make up for their personnel flaws on defense. The scheme isn’t the problem. The personnel is, but the Mavs can still be a decent defensive team if they pay great attention to detail and make it a priority.
@Scollier2826 on Twitter: Are the Mavs in talks with Boston about Rajon Rondo?
Their talks this summer consisted of a feeling-out phone call and Celtics GM Danny Ainge asking for Dirk, which was his way of telling the Mavs to take a hike. If the Celtics shop Rondo, I’m sure the Mavs will be interested, but it’s hard to see how they could put together a package attractive enough to get the Celtics to pull the trigger unless Boston’s motivation is to dump as much long-term money as possible.
Oh, and they happen to have the two highest salaries in the NBA this season.
That won't be the case a year from now. Even after taking a pay cut, Bryant will still be the league's highest-paid player, but Nowitzki has already vowed to re-sign for much less than the $22.7 million he's making in the final season of a four-year, $80 million deal.
As far as the details go, that's something for Nowitzki, owner Mark Cuban and Dirk's longtime mentor/de facto agent, Holger Geschwindner, to discuss in July.
"I don’t really want to look forward too much," Nowitzki said after Monday's loss to the Denver Nuggets. "I'm not going to extend obviously. I want to play the season out and then we can talk about the summer.
"I want to have a good season, I want to have an injury-free season, and then Holger’s going to take his leather coat and meet with [Cuban] in the bunker suite and we’ll go from there.
"But, for me, I want to go back to the playoffs with this team. We have a real shot at it and that’s really what I’m focused on."
The market for historically elite power forwards signing team-friendly deals in their golden years has been set in recent years by Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. They both signed three-year, $36 million deals a couple of summers ago, slashing their salaries approximately in half.
In an interview with ESPN Dallas, Nowitzki said the shot didn’t go unnoticed.
“Yeah, I actually saw that,” Nowitzki said with a grin. “I looked at him and gave him a smirk. It was a heck of a shot. ... I didn’t think he’d shoot a one-legger. It looked pretty smooth. I’ve got to give it to him. He made it look easy.”
"No, it was a show of respect," James told reporters in Miami after the game. "Dirk is one of my favorite guys. I love the way he approaches the game, the way he plays the game, he's amazing, obviously, we all know that. But I took that from him. I don't do that as well as him, though. He's been doing it a lot longer than me."
That comment was made just a little over a week after Oklahoma City Thunder scoring machine Kevin Durant continued to profess his admiration for the Dallas forward. As Oklahoma City and Dallas have squared off in the playoffs over recent years, Durant has been very open about his respect for Nowitzki and wanting to use his shot. Durant mentioned that when he was 13, Nowitzki was 23 and the young gunner was already working on Nowitzki’s patented shot.
“Sorry I’m making Dirk seem a little bit old, but that’s when I started focusing on Dirk, and he became one of my favorite players to ever play this game,”
Durant told reporters prior to the game between the Mavs and the Thunder in early November, “I just tried it one day when I was working out in the summer. It was rougher than I thought it was going to be, so it took me some time to figure it out, but I think I’m doing all right with it.”
It should be noted that Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was the first to really copy Nowitzki’s shot, but he hasn’t had a chance to use it yet this season due to his Achilles injury. Nonetheless, the other two stars are using it and loving it and it’s clear that Nowitzki doesn’t hold any ill will toward the young juggernauts as they use his shot.
“It’s obviously an honor if the two best players in this league think that. That’s great. It makes me feel proud of the work I’ve put in now in my 16th season. I’m glad that other teams and players are watching us play. It makes me happy,” Nowitzki continued. “I’m glad it’s a weapon they use and like.”
It’s not like James and Durant need any additional help to their games on offense. They have the full repertoire. They have post-ups, unlimited range and the ability to get to the rim off the dribble, but having Nowitzki’s one-foot fade makes them that much more filthy. There’s a big difference though in when the three players are required to use the shot. Ever the one to self-deprecate, Nowitzki explained the difference.
“The good thing about that shot is that you can always get it off, but those two guys are so quick off the dribble that they’re not stuck a lot. I usually get stuck,” Nowitzki joked. “I get stuck a lot, so that’s always a shot I can do. They’re still in their prime and quick off the dribble, so they don’t get stuck that much.”
The league has seen Kareem’s skyhook, Hakeem’s dream shake and Michael’s fadeaway emerge as some of the most iconic shots. Speaking of Michael Jordan, don’t forget that Jordan cited Nowitzki as one of the current stars in this era he felt could be as successful in his era. Back to the shots, is it possible that Nowitzki’s one-foot fade could become the next shot to join the group?
“It already is,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told ESPN Dallas. “You’ve got those guys [James and Durant] emulating it and basically going out of their way to learn to shoot it as a tribute to him.
“I can make a case that Dirk has changed the NBA game as much as any player in history with his shooting ability. Just look at the way the game is played now, it’s fast-paced, it’s jump-shot oriented, it’s skill-oriented. It all lines up with when he came in the league. Now, big guys that can’t shoot really are of minute value. Power forwards that can’t shoot really hold a marginalized value. Dirk’s one of the all-time greats. He’s a pioneer because there’s no seven-footer that’s ever transformed the game the way he has. He’s why the league has made the term, stretch four.”
When asked about the theory that his shot could become the next iconic shot, Nowitzki pondered, grinned and quickly dismissed the notion of it.
“I’m not sure about of that,” Nowitzki laughed. “I’m glad that I’ve left a little mark. I’ve been able to do some good stuff and win a lot of games in this league, score a lot of points. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been a good ride. I wouldn’t quite put my shot up there with the dream shake or the Jordan fadeaway, but it’s definitely a good shot.”
When you see the NBA logo, you know that it’s Jerry West. When you see the Jumpman logo, you know that it’s Michael Jordan. That’s the true definition of an icon. Nowitzki might not agree, but his one-foot fadeaway is an iconic shot. Maybe one day, the shot will be immortalized in true icon status as a statue outside the American Airlines Center.
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.
The Mavs’ silence isn’t just by design in this instance. It’s team policy.
|ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.
“The approach I learned from Donnie [Nelson] is that more teams will talk to you and be more open with you when they know they won't read about it. Same with players.
“The two things I hate the most are leaks to the media and the wave.”
Officials, players and others from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers have commented publicly about their meetings with the free-agent All-Star center.
The moment that the free agency period officially began a minute after midnight Eastern Monday, Houston general manager Daryl Morey created a "#dwighttohouston" Twitter hashtag and requested that Rockets fans send messages to Howard’s account. After the Rockets’ meeting with Howard ended hours later, Morey tweeted about Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler telling Howard how he could form the “next gr8 big/wing combo” with James Harden. Many details of those closed-door sessions with Howard and his representatives have been leaked to the media.
The Houston Chronicle quoted anonymous Rockets representatives and reported intricate details of the team’s presentation, such as video visits from former Houston centers Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo and pushing the marketing potential of playing for a franchise with great popularity in China.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak released a statement after L.A.’s meeting with Howard, while point guard Steve Nash talked to reporters on his way out of the building. ESPNLosAngeles.com and other media outlets, citing sources, have reported specific details about Howard’s conversations with Nash and Kobe Bryant during the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Mavs’ only comment thus far about their meeting -– on or off-the-record -- was the usually outspoken Cuban mumbling, “It was fun,” when encountered by ESPN’s Shelley Smith and camera crew on the way out of Tuesday’s meeting with Howard. Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki, part of the Mavs’ six-man recruiting contingent, joked that he wasn’t in the meeting when asked for comment.
Cuban had been upfront about the Mavs’ plan to pitch prospective free agents, particularly Howard, on a two-year plan to rebuild a championship contender. It’s been widely known that the Mavs would sell the franchise’s championship pedigree and the ability to add more talent next summer, when Nowitzki’s contract expires and he intends to re-sign for a drastically reduced salary.
The details of the Mavs’ pitch to Howard, however, have successfully been kept a secret. That could be appealing to a superstar whose dirty laundry was aired publicly during the latter stages of his tenure with the Orlando Magic, most memorably when then-coach Stan Van Gundy told the media after a shootaround that Howard went to the front office in an attempt to get him fired. The ensuing group interview of Howard, who was unaware of Van Gundy’s revelation moments earlier, was off-the-charts awkward.
Cuban, Nowitzki, president of basketball operations Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle headlined the Mavs’ recruiting contingent. They were joined by Dallas athletic trainer Casey Smith, who has a relationship with Howard from their time together with Team USA, and director of analytics Roland Beech.
The only reason Smith and Beech are known to have participated in the meeting is because they were filmed by the ESPN camera crew leaving with the rest of the Mavs’ representatives. If Cuban had his way, their presence wouldn’t even be public knowledge.
We’ve known for weeks that the Mavericks’ sales pitch to Dwight Howard would be headlined by their four horsemen.
|ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.
The other two members of the Mavs’ party were head athletic trainer Casey Smith and director of basketball analytics Roland Beech.
As far as their contributions go, we don’t know for certain because the Mavs have been mum about their meeting with Howard, as opposed to the Rockets and Lakers, who made official statements and leaked all kinds of details about their pitches. We can offer some informed speculation, though.
The Mavs consider Smith the league’s premier athletic trainer and see him as a recruiting asset, especially for veteran big men who have had injury issues. They can use his impact on Tyson Chandler’s career as evidence.
When Chandler arrived in Dallas, he was an overpaid, oft-injured center who missed a total of 68 games with ankle and foot problems the previous two seasons and flunked a physical to kill a trade that would have sent him to Oklahoma City. When Chandler left Dallas, he was an NBA champion with a four-year, $56 million contract.
Howard obviously doesn’t need any help getting paid, but he is a season and a half removed from back surgery and fought through shoulder injuries for most of 2012-13. It’d be a wise move to have Smith map out a potential treatment plan to not only keep Howard healthy for the next four years but extend his career as long as possible.
Plus, Howard and Smith, who is extremely popular with players he’s worked with, probably have a good relationship from their days together on Team USA. (The fact that Smith has that job indicates that the Mavs aren’t the only ones who consider him to be elite in his profession.) It can only help to have a friendly, familiar face in the room with Howard.
Beech could have been a counterpunch to the Rockets and MIT-educated general manager Daryl Morey’s claim to being ahead of the analytical curve. Of course, Cuban was at the forefront of the NBA’s statistical revolution long before Morey even had a job in the league.
Beech’s role could have been as simple as offering statistical support throughout the course of the meeting, including when the Mavs presented various scenarios for how they could build a contender around Howard.
But I’d be willing to bet that Beech’s numbers included some stats that hammered home the Mavs’ contention that Dirk Nowitzki was much better suited to complement Howard’s offensive skills than ball-dominating shooting guards Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
Smith and Beech certainly aren’t nearly as well known as, say, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. But the two relatively anonymous Mavs staffers very well could have given Howard more to think about than the two Houston legends who were part of the Rockets’ pitch in L.A.
The Lakers and Mavericks are in similar situations when it comes to their supporting casts: They have to sell hope.
|Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the officiating in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers' chances at beating Miami, the conspiracy theories surrounding the NBA and Mark Cuban's new two-year plan.
What about the future?
Like the Mavs, a lot of money comes off the Lakers’ books next summer. Steve Nash, whose physical breakdown finally happened almost a decade after leaving Dallas, is the lone Laker under contract for the 2014-15 season. The Mavs only have option years for last season’s rookies on their 2014-15 ledger.
You can make a strong case that L.A. would be a more attractive destination for free agents than Dallas, but there’s one major wild card. Would Kobe Bryant, the league’s highest-paid player, be willing to take the major pay cut to give the Lakers the flexibility required to make significant additions to a Dwight/Kobe core? Dirk Nowitzki’s willingness to slash his salary will be part of the Mavs’ pitch.
The Rockets have the advantage of already having a potential long-term supporting cast in place. They might have to slice into that cast a bit to make room for Howard, but they have young building blocks such as Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley under contract at bargain rates for at least two more seasons.
Parsons, the second-round steal who averaged 15.5 points in his second season, could be a phenomenal complementary piece for Howard and James Harden for years to come. The multi-skilled 6-foot-9 small forward’s perimeter shooting makes him a perfect fit for the Rockets’ system and accentuates the offensive strengths of the potential Houston co-stars.
A commitment from Houston ownership to keep Parsons when his contract expires after the 2014-15 season could go a long way.
|Mark Cuban joins ESPN Dallas GameDay to discuss the Mavericks' plans, the free-agent market and what possibilities there are for Dallas.
Does he want to deal with Kobe Bryant’s ego and demanding personality again? Does Kobe’s torn Achilles tendon factor into the decision? Does Howard believe Dirk Nowitzki still has a few elite years left in his legs? Does he consider James Harden a long-term fit as his co-star?
We’re talking about the most infamously indecisive man in the NBA here, so the answers to those questions could change a dozen or so times before free agency opens July 1. Let’s see if we can help Howard by laying out the pros and cons of each potential co-star.
As was the case with Shaquille O'Neal, part of the issue is the polar-opposite personalities. Bryant has earned a reputation as one of the most ruthless competitors in sports. Howard often acts like a big, goofy kid.
There’s also the alpha male thing. Bryant won his power struggle with Shaq, and he wasn’t about to subjugate his ego upon Howard’s arrival in Los Angeles. Make no mistake: As long as Kobe is wearing purple and gold, the Lakers will be his team.
And then there’s the on-court chemistry, or lack thereof. Bryant will dominate the ball, plain and simple. The offense isn’t going to run through Howard, especially not with Mike D’Antoni on the bench. Whether Howard wants to admit it or not, that negatively affects his energy, reducing the easy buckets he ought to get in the flow of the game and making him a less effective defender.
Kobe’s comeback from the torn Achilles suffered late in the season is a huge wild card. Can Bryant, who turns 35 this summer, ever get back to being a dominant player? Will the injury force him to change his style?
Another thing nobody knows at this point: How much longer will Bryant play?
As far as personality and style of play, Howard couldn’t ask for a better fit as a co-star than Nowitzki.
Dirk is more than willing to pass the baton of being the Mavs’ centerpiece to another future Hall of Famer. He’d love to be the second-best player on his team for the first time since the developmental stage of his career. Yet Dirk could still serve as the unofficial locker room spokesman, easing the burden on Howard’s sensitive shoulders.
As long as Nowitzki’s legs are able, the Mavs will always look for opportunities to get him open midrange looks and create mismatches for him. But Nowitzki would be ecstatic to spend much of his time serving as a floor-spacing stretch 4 if the Mavs are able to acquire a low-post weapon. Think of how effective Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson were in that role during their days playing with Howard in Orlando. How do you think the sweetest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history would fare with a bunch of open 3s?
The concern with Nowitzki, of course, is his age. He’s about to turn 35 and his numbers dipped the last two seasons, in large part due to knee problems.
How much greatness is left in the big German? The Mavs will point to 37-year-old Tim Duncan as proof that, with good medical care and modern technology, the all-time greats can bounce back from nuisance knee problems and be dominant forces.
With Bryant recovering from a serious injury, Harden should indisputably be considered the game’s premier shooting guard at this point, having averaged 25.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds for a playoff team. And he’s still a few years away from his prime.
Harden has also proven he can sacrifice his ego (but not money) to co-exist with superstars. He thrived as the Thunder’s sixth man before Oklahoma City’s front office made a financial-based decision to deal him just before last season began.
There’s no doubt that Harden would welcome Howard to Houston. In fact, Harden has reportedly been making recruiting pitches to Howard over the phone for weeks now.
What’s not to like about Harden for Howard?
Well, the Mavs might mention that Harden’s pound-the-dribble-and-shoot-a-lot playing style is awfully similar to Bryant. They had the top two usage rates and most field goals attempted among shooting guards who played at least 50 games last season. Could that perhaps plant seeds of doubt in Howard’s fickle mind about pairing with "The Beard"?
How else would they be able to convince Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to agree to a sign-and-trade deal that would ship Howard to Dallas for a couple of veterans with expiring contracts and spare parts?
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Howard forces the Lakers’ hand by saying that he’s leaving Los Angeles, no matter what. If the Lakers don’t agree to the sign-and-trade that would allow Howard to join Paul in Dallas – for the sake of argument, we’re making the huge assumption that Mark Cuban and Co. have successfully recruited CP3 – the big man will just sign with Houston or Atlanta.
Better for the Lakers to get something for Howard instead of letting him leave for nothing, right? Not really.
Let’s be real. If Howard leaves while Kobe Bryant is in the early stages of his comeback from a torn Achilles tendon, the Lakers have no chance to win a championship next season.
That wouldn’t change if they accepted a sign-and-trade deal that sent every player on the Mavs’ roster not named Nowitzki to Los Angeles. All that would do is prevent the Lakers from avoiding a massive luxury tax bill.
If the Lakers added Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Mavs filler to a roster that features rehabbing Kobe, ancient Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, they’d be fighting just for a shot to sneak into the playoffs again while paying a luxury-tax bill in the neighborhood of $28 million, assuming they’d use the amnesty clause on Metta World Peace.
What about that would possibly appeal to L.A.?
If Howard leaves, the Lakers might as well unofficially tank the season. They could avoid the luxury tax altogether by using the amnesty clause on Gasol. Kobe could take his sweet time with his comeback.
In this scenario, the Lakers could be looking at a high lottery pick in a loaded 2014 draft, when they’ll also have a ton of cap space. Why would they want to end up with a middle-of-the-road pick after putting together a mediocre team with a nine-figure price tag?
Perhaps you could argue that the biggest obstacle blocking the Mavs from acquiring a CP3/D12 duo is the Lakers agreeing on a sign-and-trade deal.
You could also argue that the only hurdle between the Mavs from acquiring LeBron James is the Miami Heat agreeing on a trade. That doesn’t make it a legitimate possibility.
Dirk Nowitzki came in at No. 12. The Sports Guy's take on the big German:
One of my favorite NBA lists …Click here to read the entire trade-value trilogy finale on Grantland.
That's the 15-Year Club — the only seven NBA players who spent their entire careers with the same franchise, played at least 15 seasons AND won at least one title. You don't just stumble onto that list — all seven are Hall of Famers, with 21 rings among them. Think about what the list means: excellence, durability, longevity, loyalty, championships … it's your best-case scenario for a basketball career, basically.
And you need a little luck along the way. I don't know how Schayes and Greer played that long with all the bad sneakers, bad food, bad medical care, scary travel, second-hand smoke and everything else that should have stopped them back then. Havlicek had a Secretariat-size heart and superhuman stamina. Duncan nearly signed with Orlando. Kobe's Lakers career nearly fell apart twice. Pierce was nearly traded 935 times. Dirk lucked out with a wealthy owner who always spent enough money to compete (so he never had to pull a KG), as well as one sizable break: During the summer of '04, Dallas was the consensus favorite in the Shaq Sweepstakes when Kobe forced the Lakers to trade Shaq the Lakers decided to trade Shaq, only Mark Cuban (astutely, as it turned out) made Dirk untouchable.
At the time, that decision was a much bigger deal than anyone remembers now. A rejuvenated, pissed-off Shaq guaranteed you one title, maybe even two. We all knew it. (As it turned out, Miami won in 2006, and probably would have won the previous year had Dwyane Wade not gotten injured.) When the Lakers could only get Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant's contract for him, I ended up creating the Vengeance Scale to figure out exactly where Angry Shaq ranked among the most vengeful people ever, ultimately assigning him an 8.7 (just behind Charles Bronson in every Death Wish movie). And yeah, I ridiculed the Mavericks for keeping Dirk over dealing him for Shaq, too, even calling Dirk "the German Bob McAdoo" (not a compliment). I never thought you could build a championship team around Dirk's offense. A lot of people felt that way. Looking back, resisting that enticing Shaq trade was probably Cuban's third-greatest NBA moment, trailing the time he stared down David Stern after Game 5 of the 2006 Finals, and, of course, this picture.
What happens with Dirk going forward? Kobe, Pierce and Dirk have one thing in common: They don't have to chase a title like Karl Malone did. Dirk controls his own destiny; if he wants to retire in Dallas, Cuban would be delighted. Kobe probably controls his own destiny, even if there's increasing buzz (no, really) that the Lakers would amnesty him if it guaranteed them Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Sadly, Paul Pierce doesn't control his destiny — he's probably getting traded this summer by a team that wants to rebuild. That's the difference between being a star and being a superstar. But if you think Dallas isn't going balls-out after CP3 this summer to give their loyal superstar one last run, you're crazy. We might even see Mark Cuban skip a Shark Tank taping this time around! Don't count out Dirk Nowitzki just yet.
The question is: Should it be?
The Lakers have already made their intentions clear. They want Howard back.
"Dwight is our future," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said back in February to debunk all the trade rumors that were swirling.
"It's hard to get talent in this league, and to have a talent like Dwight Howard, we have no intention of trading Dwight Howard," Kupchak continued. "He belongs to have his name on the wall [as a retired uniform] and a statue in front of Staples [Center] at some point in time."
They certainly won't be erecting a statue based on Howard's 2012-13 alone. In a season that started with Howard coming off of spinal surgery -- later admitting that his back could have feasibly kept him out of the lineup until March -- and included Howard missing six games because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Howard never lived up to the "Superman" reputation that preceded his arrival here.
The nine-year veteran made his seventh All-Star team, but his 17.1 points per game were his lowest average since his second season in the league, his 12.4 rebounds were his lowest since his third season, and his 49.2 percent mark from the foul line represented the second straight season he's shot less than 50 percent from the charity stripe. Not to mention the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner finished tied for 14th in the voting for the award this season.
With Kobe Bryant going down with a season-ending Achilles tear, Howard's numbers have increased to 20.6 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks on 55.7 percent shooting from the floor in five games as the No. 1 option with Bryant gone. But the Lakers have gone just 2-3, including 0-3 to open up their first round series against the San Antonio Spurs.
All year long, when asked about his future plans after this season, Howard's go-to response was that he was only concentrating on winning a championship in L.A. in 2013.
Barring the Lakers becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win their series against the Spurs, and then somehow going on to win three more series without Bryant on the court, Howard's championship goal will go unfulfilled this season.
So, what will he decide to do?
While the Lakers have been forthright with their plan to build around Howard, the 27-year-old has been evasive as to whether he sees his future including L.A.
When asked about what the offseason could bring following Saturday's practice, Howard said, "I haven't thought about it."
Even if Howard wasn't telling the truth, he can't act on any decision he would make for more than two months; he becomes a free agent July 1.
At that point, Howard can sign a five-year, $118 million contract to stay with the Lakers, or a four-year, $87.6 million deal with another team.
While the extra $31 million in guaranteed money might not seem like as big a deal for a player who is on a career track to warrant yet another max contract when his next one is up, Howard learned that he isn't as indestructible as he thought this season, after only missing seven games total in his first seven seasons in Orlando.
According to several sources familiar with Howard's thinking, Howard will likely explore free agency before reaching his final decision. In today's media landscape, that means there will be a circus in July while Howard hears pitches from the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even if it is merely Howard doing his due diligence before making a major life decision, the frenzy it is sure to create will give Howard a taste of the backlash he could face if he ultimately decides to uproot from L.A. just one year removed from the "Dwightmare" that surrounded his exit from Orlando.
As bad as Howard's first season in Los Angeles went -- from a coaching change, to myriad injuries, to the death of the Lakers' legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss, a media spotlight that criticized him for everything from his free throws to lack of effort to the headband and arm sleeve he wore -- L.A. is still set up to be a place for his career to blossom.
The things that could give him pause, mainly his relationship with Bryant and his belief in Mike D'Antoni, can be worked on, and if Howard indeed signs a five-year deal, odds are he'll outlast both of those guys in L.A. anyway.
While Howard has been tight-lipped when it comes to answers about his future plans all season long, maybe his true intention has been on his Twitter profile all this time.
Howard's avatar shows him in a gold Lakers uniform staring down at a basketball that he holds in both of his big hands. Behind him hang the uniforms of legendary Lakers big men: George Mikan's No. 99, Wilt Chamberlain's No. 13, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's No. 33 and Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34.
His Twitter bio is three words: "After the ring!"
We'll find out sometime in the coming months after the season whether he'll continue to seek that ring with the Lakers, or if he'll have to change that avatar of his.
Brand believes the 34-year-old Bryant will regain his Hall of Fame form after going through the grueling rehabilitation process that will follow Saturday’s surgery to repair his torn left Achilles tendon.
“Everybody knows his work ethic,” Brand told ESPNDallas.com before the Mavericks’ Sunday game against the New Orleans Hornets. “I think he’ll be fine. I know they said there’s no way to come back to 100 percent from it, but if there’s anybody that could come close, he can.”
Brand knows firsthand that Bryant will be in good hands during his rehab. Brand credits Judy Seto, a physical therapist who now works for the Los Angeles Lakers, for helping him come back strong eight months after he tore his Achilles during a workout in August 2007.
Brand regrets not continuing to work with Seto the following summer, when he returned to his East Coast home instead of staying in Los Angeles after averaging 17.6 points and 8.0 rebounds for the Clippers in eight late games that season, giving him confidence that he had successfully completed his comeback. In hindsight, Brand wishes he also would have worked that summer with Tim Grover, a renowned personal trainer whose NBA clients include Bryant.
Working out on his own, Brand regressed, losing some of the strength and explosiveness in his left leg that he had worked so hard to regain. After scoring at least 20 points per game in the four seasons before his injury, Brand never averaged more than 15.0 points per game in a full season. He remained a productive player, but his rebounding and shot-blocking numbers also dipped significantly.
“I don’t think it had to, but it did because I lost the explosiveness,” said Brand, whose left calf is still noticeably smaller than his right. “I wasn’t the most explosive guy, but I lost some explosion, especially jumping off my left leg.
“But like I said, I don’t think he has to worry about that because of the people he’s working with. I think they’re going to have all the machines and all the technological advances to know how to get it solid. When I left, I was more on my own and didn’t have their expertise to fall back on.”
The word Brand uses most to describe the rehab process from a torn Achilles tendon is “tedious.” He describes it as a grind with a lot of two-a-day sessions, a lot of stretching, a lot of working to build back up muscles in the lower leg and a lot of pain.
Brand firmly believes that Bryant, one of the most ruthless competitors in NBA history, will be up to the challenge.
“Just be himself and attack it like he attacks life and sports,” Brand said. “He doesn’t need any advice. He’s driven from within. He’ll be fine.”
LOS ANGELES – Coach Rick Carlisle cited “embracing our imperfections” as one of the keys to the Mavericks’ 11-5 March.
Perhaps their biggest flaw bit the Mavs hard as they opened April with a lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Mavs, who rank third to last in the league in rebounding differential, got absolutely dominated on the glass by the longer, more athletic Lakers. L.A. had a 57-37 rebounding edge and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.
“That’s really the game,” Carlisle said. “I know they’re big, but our persistence has to make up for our lack of size.”
That definitely wasn’t the case in Tuesday night’s critical loss. NBA rebounding leader Dwight Howard grabbed a dozen boards in addition to his game-high 24 points, and he was one of four Lakers to post double-doubles. Actually, Kobe Bryant (24-11-11) had a triple-double, with Earl Clark (17-12) and Pau Gasol (14-10) contributing to the Lakers’ paint domination.
“Ain’t no excuses” said Shawn Marion, who led the Mavs with seven rebounds. “If you really want it, you’re going to get it done. All the loose balls went to them. All the 50/50 balls went to them. It’s frustrating, man.”
Added Vince Carter, who grabbed just a lone rebound in 27 minutes: “We had our moments where we just let them take advantage of us.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ crushing loss:
1. Dirk’s dud: Coming off his best week of the season, Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t keep it going against the Lakers.
The Mavs’ superstar was held to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He even looked like Dwight Howard from the free throw line, making only 2-of-6 attempts.
The Lakers simply never let Nowitzki, who had 33- and 35-point performances last week and scored 30 in the Mavs’ last meeting with L.A., establish a rhythm. He was more effective as a distributor (six assists) than a scorer.
“They had long bodies on him. They were physical with him,” Carlisle said. “When we got him a lot of touches, a lot of times he was forced to pass. Unfortunately, we were unable to hit a lot of the shots where he kicked out. Getting him quality shots is always going to be tougher against better teams and experienced teams.”
Added Nowitzki: “I didn’t have a lot of easy ones tonight. I had to work for it. The ones I did have, I’ve just got to knock down.”
2. Kaman’s contributions: Chris Kaman, the 7-footer with the $8 million salary, led the Mavs in scoring with 14 points after making his first start since March 20.
Kaman, who refused to speak to reporters after the game, made 7-of-10 shots from the floor and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes. That came on the heels of playing a total of 12 minutes in the Mavs’ previous four games, including two DNP-CDs.
“I think Kaman is a good player and he’s a guy we need,” Carlisle said. “I thought coming into tonight, our best chance to get something out of him was to start him because he can get open looks, he’s a big body, he can use some of his fouls on Howard early. I thought he did a really solid job out there.”
The Mavs didn’t get much out of their two big men who had been playing the vast majority of the minutes. Brandan Wright and Elton Brand combined for only six points and six rebounds in 30 minutes.
3. Love for Shaq: The Lakers retired Shaquille O’Neal’s number at halftime, giving Mark Cuban an opportunity to reminisce about his days as verbal sparring partner with the legendary big man.
“He was a beast,” Cuban said. “But forget the player. Everybody knows who he was as a player. He's just a great guy. He brought so much fun and attitude and energy to the game. That's what makes Shaq special then and now.
“Plus he was a nice foil. He would come at me and I think when he realized I wouldn't back down from him, that I'd come right back at him, then it got fun for both of us. And we've stayed friends. We're good friends now.”
LOS ANGELES -- Full of optimism after Saturday’s phenomenal comeback win, Dirk Nowitzki compared that stunning rally against the Chicago Bulls to the story of the Mavericks’ season.
Just when you think you can count them out ...
Unfortunately, Nowitzki’s comparison was probably a few days premature. Their 101-81 loss in Tuesday night’s critical game against the Los Angeles Lakers truly sums up the Mavs this season:
They manage to beat the odds by making things interesting, but this patchwork roster is just not good enough to get the job done.
Maybe you can’t count the Mavs out quite yet, but the math sure as heck looks hellacious as far as their playoff hopes go. They now trail the Lakers and Utah Jazz by 2½ games and don’t have tiebreakers against either of their competitors in a three-team fight for the West’s final playoff seed.
“We knew we were behind the eight ball all season,” said Nowitzki, whose bushy beard will keep growing after the 36-38 Mavs failed to seize an opportunity to hit .500 again. “We were battling, battling back. To think we were going to win them all down the stretch is tough, but this is a game we needed to have if we really wanted to make it interesting.”
For a few moments in the third quarter, it appeared that the Mavs might pull off another comeback, kind of like Game 1 in the 2011 West semifinals, a shocker that set the tone for that Dallas team of destiny’s sweep of the two-time defending champion Lakers and title run.
Alas, fate doesn’t smile on a team this flawed.
It took one possession for the Mavs’ momentum to disintegrate after they went on an 11-0 run to trim L.A.’s lead to five. Lakers reserve forward Earl Clark scored five points in the possession after a timeout, making a layup despite being fouled, missing the free throw and canning a corner 3 after Pau Gasol pulled down one of the Lakers’ 19 offensive rebounds.
“We never could get back over the hump,” said Shawn Marion, who joins Nowitzki as the lone Mavs on the active roster who remain from the title team.
We never could get back over the hump. That sentence seems destined to sum up this disappointing Dallas season, which will snap a dozen-year postseason streak for the Mavs, barring a miracle.
The Mavs, a team comprised primarily of temporary pieces, surprised a lot of people just by having hope as the calendar flipped to April. After all, it’s been 16 years since a team battled back from 10 games below .500 to punch a postseason ticket.
It’ll be at least one more year before that happens again, barring a miracle.
The Mavs landed in L.A. with legitimate hope. They boarded their flight to Denver, the toughest place in the West for NBA visitors, with the baggage of harsh reality after being thoroughly dominated on the boards (57-37 Lakers edge), struggling to get good shots (42.0 field goal percentage) and allowing Kobe Bryant to post a triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) and three other Lakers to record double-doubles.
“We have to win out,” Vince Carter said, “and hope that it’s good enough.”
The Mavs will keep hoping to get over the hump, but it looks more like a mountain after losing to the Lakers.
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.