Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban
1. Who will be the odd team out among the four squads fighting for the West's final few playoff spots?
Taylor: It's going to be a tight race all the way until the final game or two, but I don't believe in Phoenix. They're fading, having lost seven of 13, and they don't have a true star that can carry a team late in the season. The Suns weren't supposed to be a playoff team this year, and they may be coming back to the pack after a fantastic start.
MacMahon: The schedule isn’t doing any favors for any of these teams, but at least the Mavs play the majority of their games at home the rest of the way. The Grizzlies (14 of 23) and Suns (14 of 22) will be road warriors the rest of the way. Given the Grizzlies’ significant advantage in experience, I’ll also pick the Suns to slide out of the playoff picture and into the lottery.
2. Is Mark Cuban correct that elite prospects would be better served by playing in the D-League instead of a one-and-done college career?
Gutierrez: Cuban is on the right track. If the goal is the NBA, a teenager's best interest isn't by being a part of an NCAA team. The NBA ecosystem, which includes the D-League, and allows players to get proper practice, further understanding of the game, access to state of the art training facilities and steady, consistent time for playing. Players get to compete against others who are pursuing the same goal. These players would be competing against professionals or semi-professionals, thus playing against better talent and giving them a better chance to improve. There are things that the D-League needs to improve on, but I think it's headed in the right direction. There would be complete transparency with Cuban's idea, something that is clearly lacking in the NCAA.
Taylor: That's a complicated question because the NCAA doesn't care about the kids and neither does the NBA. Each entity sees players only as currency that will make its product better. There's something to be said for going to school – even if it's for a year or a semester. Then again, there's something to be said for immersing yourself in your chosen field and seeing how good you can be. I wouldn't mind kids who have no interest in school going to a developmental league.
MacMahon: It’s a fascinating idea that would need a lot of follow-up work. If the NBA wants elite prospects to go straight to the D-League – and maybe the league office doesn’t – then it needs to take major steps to enhance the D-League. This can’t be a situation that some teams take seriously and some don’t. It has to be a league-wide effort. Cuban is on point about the NCAA being a bunch of hypocrites, but it’s hard to argue that D-League coaches are superior than the coaches at college basketball powerhouses.
3. What do you make of the D-League dominance by Jae Crowder and Bernard James?
D-League, but how much does that really mean?
Taylor: Nothing. They're still basically end-of-the-bench NBA guys. It would be like me getting impressed if a bench warmer or role player at Duke went to Division II and average 25 points a game. No different than guys who hammer Triple-A pitching but can't get it done in the big leagues.
MacMahon: If guys flunk the J.J. Barea test, they won’t ever amount to anything in the NBA. In other words, if you’ve got a chance to be a quality NBA role player, you better dominate in the D-League. It’d have been disappointing if Crowder (two triple-doubles) and James (38 points, 18 rebounds in his one game) didn’t tear it up for the Texas Legends. (It’s a red flag that Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo haven’t had bigger impacts in the D-League.) It’s evidence that Crowder and James have some potential, not proof that they should be in the Mavs’ rotation right now.
Is Rick Carlisle the best pure coach we have ever had in the Metroplex? Obviously Landry and Jimmy are the gold standards, but what Carlisle did in winning the title with that roster and what he has done subsequently is pretty darn amazing. -- Jared (Fort Worth)
All due respect to Carlisle, and that’s a ton, but let’s tap the brakes a bit. Under Tom Landry, the Cowboys had 20 consecutive winning seasons, made five Super Bowls and won two championships. And he essentially served as his own offensive and defensive coordinator, coming up with revolutionary concepts on both sides of the ball.
Having said that, I firmly believe that the job done by Carlisle and his staff during the Mavs’ 2011 championship run is the best coaching job in local sports history. It might be the best in NBA history.
It started with Carlisle’s psychological genius after the Mavs’ fourth-quarter collapse in Portland and ended with the Mavs making mush of LeBron James’ brain in the Finals. Oh, and Carlisle swept Phil Jackson into retirement in between, keyed in part by an unconventional Dirk-and-reserves lineup that the Lakers had no answer for.
Carlisle is definitely on the Metroplex coaches Mt. Rushmore (forgive me). But he needs another strong decade or so to be considered at the same level as Landry.
How much involvement does Rick Carlisle have with personnel decisions? It seems a little uncertain as to how the Mavs power structure works between Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and Carlisle and who actually puts the team together. -- Jason (Dallas)
Ultimately, Cuban makes the decisions because he signs the checks. It’s his money, and he’s the lead guy when it comes to the Mavs’ cap management. But Cuban trusts his basketball people to guide him, and that includes Carlisle.
Nelson does the heavy lifting when it comes to scouting and researching potential personnel moves, but Carlisle gets to give as much input as he wants. Cuban makes suggestions -- often based on analytics -- for his basketball people to consider. However, Cuban values their knowledge and isn’t so egotistical to think his hoops expertise approaches their level.
“I think he’s taken some great steps on the officiating,” Cuban said of Silver. “There’s been more changes in 15 days or whatever it is than I saw in 14 years. So I like what he’s doing there. I don’t see a lot, but the few things I’ve seen have been very positive.
“Things like sending out reports, proactive reports, being transparent on calls proactively, those are things that never would’ve happened [previously].”
Cuban has been asking for this type of transparency forever, and it’s finally started to happen -- albeit slowly.
Cuban explained more of what he was talking about.
“Like last night in the Houston-Phoenix game, Dwight Howard steps in [to the lane] seven seconds early. He’s waiting there like he’s boxing out before the free throw. And they didn’t call anything. So my expectation is that they’ll say something proactively to the teams, maybe not publicly, so that we we know (A) are they gonna allow that? Or (B), they’re not going to allow it and it should’ve been called and next time it will be called,” Cuban said.
“And then they'll say something to the officials, because we don't know, OK, this is the way to do it, or not the way to do it. In the past, you’d find out the hard way. Now, not on everything, but they’ve been more proactive and it’s a huge step in the right direction.”
- Cuban was also asked Monday if the Mavericks might pursue one of the players who was recently waived.
“We’ll talk about it. But I don’t see anything happening,” Cuban said.
The Mavericks currently have 15 players under contract.
- Cuban on how many years Dirk Nowitzki, 35, has left: “Five, six, seven. Like I said, I think my hops are better than Dirk’s, and so it’s about technique and skill set. And as long as his body holds up, he’ll keep on playing.”
- Cuban on why the Mavericks are 8-2 in their past 10: “We’re boxing out. We’re rebounding. How many games in a row has it been -- with the exception of Charlotte -- 7-8 games in a row we’ve outrebounded a team? If we said we were gonna do that, y’all would’ve laughed at us. We’ve been rebounding, we’re focused on the fundamentals, we’re paying attention to the little things and that’s what a veteran team should know how to do, and that’s what we’re doing.”
- Cuban on the dominance of the Western Conference compared to the East: “That’s been happening for 14 years. There’s no reason to start getting frustrated now.”
- Cuban on a report his team was looking to add an All-Star: “We’re always trying to All-Star-caliber players. We try a lot of things. I’ll give you a second-round pick for that first team all-pro. You ask, but you hope they’re on drugs and say yes.”
- Cuban said the reason for a lack of moves at the trade deadline was that teams placed a huge value on their draft picks. It remains to be seen if that will work out.
Breaking up a championship team wasn't a popular decision by the Dallas front office at the time, to put it politely. And the Mavs brass’ CBA forecast is still easy fodder for critics more than two years later, with Dirk Nowitzki still the lone All-Star on the roster.
But Mark Cuban and Co. were absolutely right about one thing: Keeping that roster intact would have only guaranteed a large luxury-tax bill. All due respect to Tyson Chandler, who the Mavs will see Monday night at Madison Square Garden, but it’s delusional to believe that Dallas was denied a potential dynasty.
Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd and Brian Cardinal have retired. Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones can’t get NBA jobs. Brendan Haywood, an amnesty clause casualty in Dallas, is collecting checks in Charlotte while sitting out the season following foot surgery. Nowitzki and Shawn Marion -- who combine to make $32 million this season -- are the only 2011 champions who remain on the Mavs’ roster.
Here’s a look at what’s happened to the rest of the title team:
Dallas departure: signed four-year, $55.4 million deal with the New York Knicks
Chandler was the finishing piece of the Mavs’ championship puzzle, but he’s an outstanding role player, not a star capable of being a centerpiece of a title contender. That’s evident by the fact that the Knicks, who feature a legitimate superstar in Carmelo Anthony, have won only one playoff series since signing Chandler in December 2011 and are a long shot to make the playoffs this season. Injuries have limited Chandler to 32 games this season, and he is averaging 8.7 points and 9.3 rebounds, numbers that certainly don’t justify a $14 million salary.
The Mavs declined to make Chandler a multiyear offer after the lockout, much less match the Knicks’ deal. That will always leave the Mavs’ front office open to a couple of second-guess hypotheticals: Could the Mavs have done a respectable job defending their title with Chandler anchoring the 2011-12 Dallas defense? By dangling Chandler, could Dallas have pulled off a blockbuster deal to land Dwight Howard instead of helplessly watching the Los Angeles Lakers use Andrew Bynum to get the league’s best big man in the summer of 2012?
Dallas departure: signed three-year, $15.7 million deal with the Boston Celtics
Jet is a journeyman now, having been traded twice over the last eight months. His brief tenure with the Brooklyn Nets was an unmitigated failure, as the 36-year-old Terry averaged only 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting before being shipped to the NBA equivalent of Siberia. He’ll sit out the rest of the season instead of reporting to the Sacramento Kings. The hope is that focusing on rehabbing his left knee -- he apparently never fully recovered from summer surgery -- will allow Terry to contribute again next season. However, it’s painfully clear that Jet’s days as an elite bench scorer are over.
Dallas departure: signed four-year, $18 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Barea is a quality backup point guard, but that’s a steep price to pay for that type of player. Barea’s stats have dipped this season (8.7 PPG, 3.6 APG), but his contract is the primary reason Barea’s name was floated in trade rumors before the deadline.
Dallas departure: signed three-year, $24 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers
This was a crazy contract to give a then-31-year-old who was coming off a serious knee injury that ended his 2010-11 season on New Year’s Eve. Butler is a high-character guy, but he’s a low-efficiency offensive player at this point of his career. The Clippers insisted on including him in the three-team deal that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns and Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Clippers. The Bucks are stuck with an expensive part-time starter who is shooting less than 40 percent from the floor for the NBA’s worst team.
Dallas departure: traded to the Denver Nuggets along with Rudy Fernandez for a future second-round pick
The Mavs dumping Brewer’s reasonable salary before the 2011-12 season made little sense, considering Dallas needed all the energy and athleticism it could find on the cheap. The Mavs made creating salary-cap space their priority, but they could have easily found takers for Brewer the next summer if need be. However, the Dallas front office didn’t see a role for Brewer after signing Vince Carter. After a couple of quality seasons coming off the Nuggets’ bench, Brewer signed a three-year, $14.1 million deal to become the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starting small forward.
Dallas departure: signed four-year, $16 million deal with Indiana Pacers
If the Pacers were confident in Mahinmi, they wouldn’t have rolled the dice on Bynum. Mahinimi is averaging 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds and making $4 million this season.
That’s one conclusion reached by owner Mark Cuban as the Mavericks do their annual due diligence of exploring any possible opportunities to upgrade their roster. It confirms what the Mavs have learned over the last couple of years.
“Teams really value picks more than they used to,” said Cuban, who has used picks as sweeteners in trades in the past, such as the Jason Kidd deal. “Teams now value receiving picks a lot more than they used to, so I think teams would rather not do a deal than do a deal without picks.
“Teams have kind of defined their strategy post-CBA where you either went all in and the team you’ve got is the team you’ve got [or] you went all under and you’re going young and you’re mining for draft picks. What I call the three years away from three years away strategy. Then there’s teams like us that are looking to make deals, that are flexible but aren’t willing to give up picks.”
Never mind willing. The Mavs aren’t able to give up any first-round picks before 2020 because of the top-20-protected pick they owe from the dreadful Lamar Odom deal that is now owed to Oklahoma City.
That makes it awfully tough for the Mavs to get any significant conversations started. Cuban says there are ways around it, methods the Mavs could use to be able to peddle picks, but he declined to elaborate. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be simple or easy.
Nowitzki would be fine with just playing a handful of minutes during his 12th All-Star appearance, getting up a few shots and grabbing a seat to watch the high-risers on the West roster put on a show. His 35-year-old legs can use all the rest they can get, and Nowitzki knows nobody tunes into the All-Star Game to see midrange jumpers.
“It wasn’t even really my type of game when I was young,” Nowitzki said, “so it definitely isn’t my type of game now that I’m old.”
That’s why Mavericks fans should savor the next few seasons, regardless of whether the front office succeeds in its mission of constructing a roster around Nowitzki that gives him a chance to compete for another championship.
It’s not often that you get to watch an all-time great put the finishing touches on a career that changed the game. It might be even more rare for those finishing touches to be as beautiful as those Nowitzki is putting on the canvas now.
This 12th All-Star appearance was no lifetime achievement award from the Western Conference coaches. Nowitzki remains one of the most impactful offensive players in the league, and precious few have been so good while being so old. He’s on pace to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Alex English and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 21 points per game at age 35 and older.
And it should come as no surprise if Nowitzki , who ranks 13th on the all-time scoring list now and has a legitimate chance to become the sixth member of the 30,000-point club, joins Abdul-Jabbar and Malone as the only players in NBA history to have more than one such season.
The big German has the game to age extraordinarily gracefully. As Mark Cuban half-kiddingly points out, it’s not like Nowitzki ever had a lot of athleticism in the first place. He’ll be 7 feet tall the rest of his career (and life, for that matter). He’ll always be able to knock down open jumpers in his sleep. And the unique work ethic that has allowed Nowitzki to maximize his potential is just part of his wiring.
There has never been a player who had Nowitzki’s combination of size and shooting touch. Not that NBA teams haven’t searched the globe to find those guys. The term “stretch 4” was coined because of all the copycat power forwards with perimeter-based games.
But part of the beauty of Dirk is the way his game has evolved over the years. Often criticized as soft because he wasn’t a low-block threat early in his career, he’s developed into one of the most lethal back-to-the-basket scorers in a most unconventional fashion.
That one-legged fadeaway perfected by Nowitzki is this generation’s sky hook, an unblockable shot fit for a statue. It’s a remarkably difficult shot that Dirk makes look easy.
A few of the league’s elite scorers -- Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant -- worked for summers to add it to their repertoires, an ultimate sign of respect for the face of the Mavs’ franchise. But nobody can shoot it with all the different variations of footwork and from all the different angles like Nowitzki.
Maybe Nowitzki will knock down one of those one-leggers in Sunday’s midseason showcase, which might be his last All-Star appearance. Maybe not on both counts. But there will be many more from him in a Mavs uniform.
There won’t be many more All-Star minutes for Nowitzki, but there’s still plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of the big German’s game.
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.
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)
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.
The Mavs considered Calathes a first-round talent when they acquired the 45th overall pick in the 2009 draft to select him, knowing he had a commitment to play in Greece. Four years later, the Dallas front office decided they’d rather have Gal Mekel, signing the Israeli point guard to a three-year contract and dealing Calathes’ rights to the Grizzlies for a 2016 second-round pick.
“They’re similar players,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We went that direction, and at that point it made no sense to hold Calathes’ rights.
“They’re both good. They both have had similar success internationally, and they both have gotten much better since they’ve got in the NBA. I’m happy for Nick because I know him a little bit personally, and we like Gal. It wouldn’t make any sense to have both of them here.”
Calathes, a backup filling in while Memphis’ Mike Conley recovers from a sprained ankle, has averaged 15 points, three assists and 2.5 steals in two starts for the Grizzlies, shooting 52.2 percent from the floor. He has averaged 3.7 points and 2.3 assists in 13.9 minutes per game this season.
Mekel, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, has averaged 2.4 points and 2.1 assists in 9.6 minutes during his 30 appearances for the Mavs.
Once Mekel gets healthy, he might spend a lot of time with the D-League’s Texas Legends instead of being buried beneath Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and Shane Larkin on the Mavs’ depth chart.
The reality of the situation is that Calathes wouldn’t have had any more opportunity than Mekel to make an impact with the Mavs as a rookie.
“We like Gal, we like Shane, we like Jose and we’ve got Monta [Ellis] to play point and Devin,” owner Mark Cuban said. “That’s a lot of point guards, so there wouldn’t be a lot of room. But [Calathes] can play. I still think he can play.”
The 6-foot-6 Calathes gets a chance to prove it Wednesday night against the team that traded him.
1. What's the best hypothetical deal you can come up with for the Mavs before the trade deadline?
Gutierrez: I would call Boston and see if they're interested in Shane Larkin and Bernard James for Avery Bradley. Dallas has two second-round picks -- one of them due from Boston -- in this upcoming draft, so those could be further chips to use. The logic I see in this is Boston would be acquiring a young asset they presumably liked in Larkin and Bradley turned down an extension with Boston, so the Celtics may look to just get an asset for him now. They're in tank mode, so getting worse and acquiring cheaper talent would be optimal for them. Bradley doesn't fix a lot for Dallas, but one player can't fix what ails Dallas. Presented with an option, I'll go for a defensive-minded guard.
Taylor: I'm not interested in any trade the Mavs could make because this game has evolved into a league where the team with the most superstars win -- unless you're Indiana or Chicago and you supplement your one true superstar with suffocating defense and two or three guys who are almost stars. Those types of players aren't available for what the Mavs have to offer. Evan Turner or Omer Asik aren't going to turn the Mavs into legitimate contenders. Dirk Nowitzki is still a star, and Monta Ellis is really good, but he's not a star. The Mavs' defense is worse than abject. They're a fun team to watch, but they have not chance to win a title and they're merely delaying the inevitable, while Dirk is still on the team.
MacMahon: It will probably be a disappointing trade deadline for Mavs fans. As JJT mentioned, this team simply doesn’t have enough assets to have any confidence in Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson pulling off a blockbuster deal. A Dahntay Jones-for-Anthony Morrow type deal is much more likely, but I’ll stick with my pie-in-the-sky scenario of the Milwaukee Bucks being motivated enough to dump talented but troublesome big man Larry Sanders before his four-year, $44 million extension kicks in. The purely speculative three-way proposal I came up with would bring Sanders and throw-in power forward Ekpe Udoh to Dallas, send Omer Asik and DeJuan Blair to Milwaukee and Shawn Marion to Houston. Too bad Sanders would likely have to get in another bar fight in the next couple of weeks for this to have a chance of happening.
The presence of Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ lone All-Star, has a major positive impact on the plus-minus of every single player in the Mavs’ rotation. The numbers indicate that Ellis, who is averaging 19.4 points and 5.9 assists while shooting a respectable 46.0 percent from the floor, has the opposite effect despite his impressive individual numbers.
Just the stats, using net ratings (points per 100 possessions):
With Ellis: plus-1.8
Without Ellis: plus-9.9
With Ellis: minus-1.1
Without Ellis: minus-0.8
With Ellis: minus-0.7
Without Ellis: plus-13.1
With Ellis: minus-0.5
Without Ellis: plus-12.4
With Ellis: minus-4.3
Without Ellis: plus-3.2
With Ellis: plus-0.4
Without Ellis: plus-5.0
With Ellis: minus-1.9
Without Ellis: plus-12.2
With Ellis: plus-8.4
Without Ellis: plus-10.2
With Ellis: minus-0.9
Without Ellis: plus-10.8
With Ellis: minus-16.7
Without Ellis: plus-13.1
What do the Mavs make of those numbers? Essentially, they see them as confirming the obvious about Nowitzki’s value to the Mavs, rather than revealing anything negative about Ellis.
“We’re really asking [Ellis] to play in some of the most difficult circumstances,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
In other words, almost all of Ellis’ minutes come against the opponent’s starters or when Nowitzki is not on the court.
The Mavs’ rotation is designed to limit the wear and tear on the 35-year-old Nowitzki as much as possible despite him being Dallas’ focal point. Nowitzki routinely rests midway through the first and third quarters, coming out of the game much earlier than most stars. He checks back in three or four minutes later, when Ellis usually gets a breather.
Carlisle never wants Ellis and Nowitzki both on the bench for meaningful minutes. That means the vast majority of Ellis’ time being paired with Nowitzki, whether it’s starting halves or closing games, is against the opponents’ best players. Ellis -- and Marion, whose two-man lineup numbers have a similar trend -- rarely are on the floor with Nowitzki against reserves.
That, the Mavs believe, explains why Nowitzki’s net rating is so much better without Ellis. The Mavs feast when their 12-time All-Star is on the floor against second units.
Sixth man Carter has such a poor net rating when paired with Ellis in large part because most of their time together comes during the toughest minutes for the Mavs. Those are the stints of three or four minutes in every first and third quarter when Nowitzki sits while the opponents’ stars are still on the floor.
“The challenge is non-Dirk lineups. Not Monta lineups,” Mavs owner/analytics pioneer Mark Cuban said via email.
The Mavs other massive challenge, of course, is finding a way to stop opponents from lighting up the scoreboard. And it should be noted that it tends to be especially difficult with Ellis on the court.
For instance, the Mavs allow 107.4 points per 100 possessions when Nowitzki and Ellis play together. Only the Utah Jazz (107.5) have a worse overall defensive rating this season. But that figure drops to 98.1 when Nowitzki plays without Ellis, a defensive rating that would rank third in the league.
The only players whose defensive ratings are worse without Ellis than with him are Calderon and Marion, and those are small sample sizes of fewer than 100 minutes.
It stands to reason that Ellis’ defensive woes are a factor in this two-man lineup phenomenon. Just not nearly as much of a factor as the Dirk dynamic, which is why the Dallas decision-makers defend Ellis.
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.
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.
The second quarter of the 107-106 loss Friday against the Brooklyn Nets was a disaster all in itself. The Nets scored 39 points, their most in a second quarter this season and the third-most in any frame. They shot 16-of-21 from the field and 7-of-9 from beyond the arc. Mirza Teletovic scored 24 of his career-high 34 points in that second quarter.
“We weren’t alert. We weren’t rotating quickly enough. We weren’t fighting hard enough,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of how his team closed the first half. “That’s pretty clear. You can’t have an off quarter in this league competitively. I’m afraid that’s what happened in the second quarter.”
“B-minus,” Cuban replied. “I think we’ve got the capabilities to be a B-plus, A. We’ve just given up too many games.
“We just need to execute better. We need to learn more and be better at it. Like coach has said, we need to be a little tougher down the stretch.”
It seems the Mavericks are taking one step forward only to take two steps back. For example, they had a total of 16 turnovers in the two games that preceded these past two losses; in those defeats, they totaled 36. Execution on multiple levels continues to be the downfall for this club. All of the missteps added up in a big way during this road trip.
“We expected to go 3-0 this week, plain and simple,” Mavericks forward Vince Carter said. “I don’t really care what anybody else really thinks, it’s what we felt like we could accomplish, and we didn’t get the job done. The good thing about it is that we can bounce back and kind of take care of business at home.”
Dallas won’t have to play outside of the American Airlines Center again until it visits the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 5. The Mavs are 7-7 so far in January, and that inconsistency has found them sliding back into the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. And closing in behind them are the aforementioned Grizzlies, winners of seven of their past 10 and gaining momentum.
Dallas leads the four-game season series with Memphis 2-0, and is two games clear in the playoff chase. That helps, but as the season heads toward its sprint to the finish, the Mavericks will remember games like those against Toronto and Brooklyn as opportunities they allowed to slip through their fingers.
“It’s tough. Now, we’re home for 10 days, which we haven’t been in a while,” Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “Adam Silver [deputy NBA commissioner and chief operating officer and eventual successor to David Stern] got us pretty good here with the schedule the last few weeks, I’ve got to admit. We’ve got to take care of our home court.”
Taking care of the home court is an absolute priority for Dallas now. Cuban gave the Mavericks a B-minus. If things continue to slip, they’ll get a C. Instead of the actual letter C, it’ll be a "see me after school."
There was an obvious falling out from when Kidd had verbally committed to re-sign with Dallas, agreeing to a three-year, $9 million deal, only to change his mind and accept the same offer from the New York Knicks during the summer of 2012.
It certainly sounds like the two are continuing to play nice and that the hatchet has indeed been buried.
“We email back and forth,” Cuban said. “When they were struggling, I sent him some words of encouragement and gave him some insights on how to deal with the media. We’ve got a great relationship.”
Kidd has stated that the relationship between himself and Cuban is ‘good’ and that they have communicated via e-mail multiple times over the course of the season.
The struggles the new Nets coach was having earlier in the season appear to be long gone as the Nets have the league’s best record during the calendar year at 8-1.
“He’s doing a lot of things right,” Cuban continued. “I haven’t had a chance to watch the Nets a lot, but the record speaks for itself.”
Back when there were some sour grapes about Kidd leaving the Mavericks to join the Knicks, Cuban said he no longer had plans to retire Kidd’s jersey in the rafters of the American Airlines Center. Since then, there have been discussions of a potential Ring of Honor like the one the Dallas Cowboys have to honor members of the 2011 championship roster or other valuable components to the franchise. As time passed on, Cuban said it’s possible that Kidd could be honored that way. Prior to the game against the Nets, Cuban left the door slightly ajar to the idea of retiring Kidd’s jersey.
“There are no plans,” Cuban replied. “But that’s not out of the question.”
Kidd had two stints in Dallas, playing for the Mavs for six full seasons and parts of two others. Though he spent time in Phoenix, most of Kidd’s resume has been established between the time he was with the Mavericks and the Nets. It’s obvious that Kidd is going to be a Hall of Famer. The question then becomes, will he go in as a Maverick or a Net?
“Whatever makes him happy,” Cuban said. “It would be great if he went in as a Mav. That’s always a great thing, but I’m sure he’ll make a decision that he’s most comfortable with.
“Actually, I would tell him is if he’s the coach of the Nets, go in as a Net because he’ll probably get a raise and he’ll probably have it as leverage to get a big raise. That’d be my advice to him, otherwise I’d be happy for him to go in as a Mav.”
The old adage is that time heals all wounds. It’s taken some time, but it certainly appears that the relationship between Cuban and Kidd has made it through the rough patch and is back to being solid again. What comes of Kidd's name or jersey remains to be seen, but things are looking a lot better than they did a couple of years ago.
The Dallas Mavericks are still hoping to acquire a bona fide superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki during the big German’s golden years.
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.
They know the 30-year-old guard will need some time to play his way into shape and sharpen up his game after missing the first half of the season while rehabilitating from summer toe surgery. However, the Mavs have relatively high hopes for the impact Harris can make as the primary backup at both guard spots.
Is it asking too much for Harris to make the kind of contributions that he did in 2005-06?
You might remember Harris starting the majority of the Mavs’ playoff games while they made their first Finals appearance, but he came off the bench during the regular season, averaging 9.9 points and 3.2 assists in 22.8 minutes per game. Harris might not have the same quickness and explosiveness he did as a 22-year-old in his second NBA season, but that kind of production shouldn’t be considered unrealistic.
His role will be awfully similar. Harris, who has primarily been a starter since that season, is once again a change-of-pace point guard who will also see significant time at shooting guard. He’s immediately the Mavs’ best defensive guard, faint as that praise might be, and considers it his duty to push the pace, particularly when he’s paired with fellow speedsters Monta Ellis and Shane Larkin.
“I’m definitely going to try to speed the game up,” Harris said before his season debut Saturday night. “I think we’re one of the last teams in fast-break points. My goal is to try to impact that along with defensively being sound.”
The hope is that Harris’ presence allows Rick Carlisle to reduce Ellis’ heavy workload. Jose Calderon's minutes could also be cut, especially against elite offensive point guards.
Harris had a decent debut despite the Mavs’ lopsided loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring six points and dishing out two assists while playing 17:24. It’ll probably take a couple of weeks for Carlisle to figure out exactly how Harris fits in the rotation, but he checked in for Calderon at the 3:22 mark of the first quarter and slid to shooting guard a couple of minutes later when Larkin came in for Ellis.
“He’s worked hard and he did well considering this is the first game, it’s been months and this is a major surgery,” Carlisle said. “It speaks to how hard he’s worked. This game gave us an opportunity to get him what would be considered at this extended minutes. His workouts have been intense, he’s done well with them and he hasn’t had any setbacks.
“He’s a guy that can help us for sure.”
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.