TrueHoop: Dallas Mavericks

Rajon Rondo a bad fit in Dallas?

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
12:39
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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So far the Rajon Rondo trade has not worked out well for the Mavs, and this should come as no surprise, according to Amin Elhassan and Tom Haberstroh.video

NBA geek stories

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
1:38
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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David Thorpe with first-person tales of analytics informing decisions by the Rockets, 76ers and Mavericks.

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BIG Number: Rondo hurting Mavs?

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
5:01
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Going inside the numbers to show how Rajon Rondo has jammed up the Dallas Mavericks offense.

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How 'bout them Mavericks?

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
12:30
PM ET
By Jim Pagels
Special to ESPN.com
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Dirk NowitzkiJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsIt's hard to top the 2011 title in Dallas, but this season's Mavs have restored some of the old passion.
The day the Dallas Mavericks were set to meet with Deron Williams in the summer of 2012, I was walking to work in New York and noticed someone who resembled Rick Carlisle on the other side of the street. I quickly crossed, and sure enough, it was him -- the master architect of the devastating zone defense and steward of the analytics-based roster that led the Mavs to their first NBA title just a year prior.

My incredulity was met with sudden anxiety. I’d never met a Mavs player or coach before, other than the time Popeye Jones was signing autographs at my local Oshman’s. I held it together enough to approach, extend my hand and come up with the only words that came to mind: profusely thanking him and blubbering about how much the championship meant to the city. That title and team still loomed so large that, in the moment, I completely forgot that he was likely on his way to meet with Williams, then the most coveted player on the free-agent market.

It was only after Carlisle walked away that I realized he hadn’t uttered a single word -- only a blank face until this bumbling idiot shut up so he could go negotiate the future of his franchise. Carlisle wasn’t eager to reminisce, but that certainly hasn’t been the case for fans.

The 2011 title run is about as storybook as it gets in the sports world. After what a majority of Dallasites perceive as being wrongfully stripped of the 2006 title by constant, dubious Dwyane Wade trips to the free-throw line -- the most popular signing requests during Bill Simmons’ 2010 book tour stop in Dallas were "2006 was rigged" and "Eff You Salvatore” -- and then a 2007 title run nipped in the bud after the No. 1 seed Mavs drew a first-round matchup with the only team with which they’d struggled that season, the franchise regressed to first- or second-round exits from 2008-10. While still winning 50 games every season, the title window appeared shut. Dirk Nowitzki admitted years later that he’d even mulled the idea of leaving Dallas to pursue his ultimate goal of winning a ring.

But in 2010-11, a ragtag group of castoffs -- down arguably their second-best player after a season-ending injury -- charged through the West and then vanquished the very team that stole Dallas’ title five years prior.

Nowitzki also rid himself of demons, playing through injury and illness to spearhead two double-digit fourth-quarter comebacks to defeat the heavily favored Heat and cement his legacy as an all-time great. It was the kind of performance that spurred an FSN special called “Wurzburg to Worldwide: How Dirk Became DIRK!” and a German documentary called "Nowitzki: Der Perfekte Wurf," which translates to "Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot."

It was the perfect ending. Only it wasn’t the end.

The next three seasons were middling at best, but the city hasn’t taken the shortcomings as hard as it once did before Dirk’s finger bore a ring. It’s not that fans are apathetic; the games just don’t have the same gut-wrenching, life-or-death feel to them anymore. Concern arose at the start of last season that the Mavs’ record sellout streak could be in jeopardy. Nowitzki even admitted to becoming too comfortable with sustained success. “I think we kind of took 50 wins for granted a little bit here,” he said. “The fans did and we did, and we just had a good team every year, and we felt 50 wins was easy.”

Instead, many Mavs fans have largely settled for basking in the glow of the championship and celebrating the various milestones Dirk continues to rack up. (He recently passed Hakeem Olajuwon for No. 9 on the all-time scoring list and became the highest internationally born scorer. Even more recently, it was 27,000 points.) With a patchwork roster around Nowitzki’s All-Star play, the Mavs were a classic case for a team that should blow it all up, trade its aging asset for draft picks or prospects and rebuild.

Dirk is different to us, though. He came to Texas as a dorky, techno-music-loving German kid who struggled with English and whom many wrote off as too “soft” to ever make it in the American game. But over 16-plus seasons, he revolutionized the game and became the face of a franchise and an all-time great. And unlike, say, the Celtics, who last offseason traded away two franchise luminaries, Dallas doesn’t have a single other Hall of Fame player that it can call its own. That means you follow him into potentially years of NBA purgatory if it means keeping him from wearing another team’s jersey.

[+] EnlargeDallas Mavericks
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsThe new-look Mavericks have the NBA's best offense and their best chance at a championship since 2011.
Or, in the case of this season, you graciously thank him for leaving perhaps the most money on the table in NBA history -- $72 million -- to make the most out of his final years. With the addition of Chandler Parsons on a three-year, $46 million deal -- as Dirk quipped early this season, “I told him [Parsons] every dinner on the road this year is on him, because it's my money anyway.” -- and Tyson Chandler, and the growth of Monta Ellis and Brandan Wright, the 2014-15 Mavs are playing at a historic offensive clip. They’re currently 16-7, good for seventh in the West, and have the best shot of a post-championship era team of making it back to the Finals.

The returns of Chandler and J.J. Barea -- two critical parts of the Mavs’ title run -- bring an air of nostalgia to the franchise that already relishes in playing the “remember when” game. And the rest of the team, much like in 2011, is rounded out by a cohesive collection of mostly one-dimensional journeymen and younger players, many of whom grew up watching Nowitzki (or in Parsons’ case, wore his jersey while playing pickup in the park).

And of course there’s still Dirk, whose stature as one of the deadly offensive weapons in the league at age 36 is nothing short of incredible, especially with Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett having become shells of their former selves, and Tim Duncan now bearing a significantly reduced offensive burden. Much of this consistency is because of Dirk’s style of play and his trademark one-legged fadeaway that won’t degenerate as the miles pile up. The resiliency is nonetheless impressive (Nowitzki came back from a surgery-derailed 2012-13 season to finish just a few missed shots from a 50/40/90 shooting line in 2013-14).

Winning another title would certainly be exhilarating, not only to solidify Dirk’s recognition as a top-10 all-time player, but also the legacies of Devin Harris, who missed out on a deserved ring in 2006 and whose trade for Jason Kidd in 2008 paved the way to the Mavs’ eventual championship, and Carlisle as an all-time great coach.

It won’t ever mean quite as much as it did in 2011, and that’s OK. The Mavs will have their own BC (before championship) and AD (after Dirk) historical eras, but for maybe the first time, we’re basking in the in-between period.

Jim Pagels is a regular contributor to Forbes and has written for FiveThirtyEight, Bloomberg and Deadspin. Follow him on Twitter, @jimpagels.

The Mavs' offensive juggernaut

November, 18, 2014
11/18/14
12:41
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Jameer Nelson discusses the Mavs' offense, the demeanor of his coach and what it's like to be up 58 points in an NBA game.

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Good try, Mark Cuban

August, 4, 2014
8/04/14
2:32
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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In the wake of Paul George's horrific injury, Mark Cuban wants the NBA to take control of international hoops. Henry Abbott and Amin Elhassan don't agree on whether or not NBA owners have any such right.

Delonte West, going for it again

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
10:00
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Delonte WestDominic DiSaia for ESPNAfter two years out of action, Delonte West is attempting a comeback with the Clippers in Vegas.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ summer league squad has just beaten the Miami Heat’s summer iteration 91-85, in part because of Delonte West’s heady play. As West strolls off the floor, he’s besieged by well-wishers, players and former players alike. It’s unclear if West notices, but a young man in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey starts screaming, “LeBron James! LeBron James!” at West from seats overhanging the locker room tunnel. The heckler shouts downward at West, from directly above West’s head, as the 30-year-old point guard continues to the locker room, surrounded by friendly faces.

As LeBron is returning to his Ohio roots, his former Cleveland teammate is attempting to reboot his NBA career. West hasn’t played in the league since 2011-12, after a fraught divorce with the Mavericks. It appears he has a window of opportunity with the Clippers this summer. Doc Rivers says he’s considering West for a spot on his roster. It would be a resurrection of a career that has an almost haunted quality, given how associated West is with a time and place in LeBron’s saga that ended so abruptly. A combination of West’s personal struggles and misinformation about those struggles has fueled the sense that a promising career went irrevocably astray.

Life doesn’t seem so bleak when you talk to West, though. He’s engaging, hopeful, introspective and reflective. Now a father, his world has grown beyond the next game. It’s unclear if he will get to reprise his NBA role, but West appears to have gained an improved perspective regardless of whether that happens for him.


Is it hard to mesh your style of play in summer league, where everybody’s trying to show off?

Actually, it's not, because we don't have a consistent go-to guy, and therefore you have to use your team and your offense to create most of your offense. And collectively, we have to win games offensively and defensively. Somebody has to be from whatever position more of a creator, like a point forward or a point shooting guard. If my pass leads to a bucket, that's what all this is about.

I read the Slate article about all that you've been through. Would making the league again be an even bigger accomplishment than the first time you made it.

Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause, since, I mean, since I, I've pretty much taken care of my body over the years. I feel like I'm in the Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher boat, not as far as age just yet, but as far as can play eight more years. Those guys played 'til 38. I feel almost like a rookie again, and it feels great because you have a whole different perspective because my game done changed, introducing it all over again. It's fun for me. I'm more confident. So I'm just enjoying this, like I said. This time around will be better than last time around.

[+] EnlargeDelonte West
Dominic DiSaia for ESPNWest is trying to overcome past issues with taxes, bipolar disorder and more in eight NBA seasons.
What kind of different perspective have you gained?

I'm putting pieces together off of my complete game. I've been successful in this league being able to be a piece on a puzzle. And now I'm coming back. I'm giving teams the whole puzzle, and therefore I think I'll be a real asset.

Do you think with what you've added that you're better than you were on those Cleveland teams?

Yeah, definitely. You know, I'm confident in my ability, growth. All those things off the court. I preach this to young guys all the time. That translates on the court. How good was Joe Schmo All-Star when he first came out of college or high school, and look how good he is eight to 10 years later. He's a phenom now, but look at him then. Pulling up 3-pointers, everything, so, that's that age range where you go from a phenom and a super talent to a super player, and super players win championships.

Does LeBron returning to Cleveland evoke any nostalgia for you?

You know, Cleveland is still home for me. Cleveland is one of those cities. It's blue-collar, it's been through so much, and I can relate to all that. Anytime I been anywhere in the world, I ain't been to too many places, tell 'em I go through Cleveland. Clevelanders, you know, they just good people, man. And they deserve some greatness. And LeBron knows that and he's doing the right thing. It's great, man. It's great.

Has being a father changed your perspective immensely?

Well, you just can't make the same silly decisions. Everybody gets frustrated when a call don't go your way or something and you want somebody to know you're mad. See that's my thing -- I always wore my emotions on my sleeve. You just want someone to know I'm upset. Injustice! Didn't y'all see that?! But, as you get older and wiser, you learn everybody gets technical fouls. Last season I played, I might have had two techs the whole season. For me, if those little things like that are causing teams' second-guessing, then out the window. And that comes with growth and maturity.

[A few players congratulate West on his game.] It seems like you get a lot of love here.

I'm a team player, man. I think when I've been out there, even in the past, I want to see a smile on my face. And that's how you should compete. If you look back at the days when gladiators were athletes. People would probably chop somebody up, and then after winning, they put their sword down and have a cocktail or something, you know? So as a point guard I compete and battle, but I want to show the teams that I can compete with a smile too if that's a problem.

In Dallas, what didn't exactly work out? Why wasn't the fit ideal?

It was ideal. Obviously it had nothing to do with the team. I kind of, in the summer, put all my eggs in one basket. In my own thinking, this next contract was going to be a step up for me. But that's my own thinking then. Like, that was probably going to be that situation, which the organization explained to me if certain pieces fell into place, like Dwight Howard, or this guy or that guy. So, it was almost a rebuilding, and they had a lot of young guys. And at 29, 30, I just wasn't receiving that well. I was looking for more stability.

You know, [Mark] Cuban used to talk to me all the time, talk to me all the time, even afterward. He would call me, "Whatcha got going on? You still working hard?" And that's what's up. He was a mentor to me for a while even after I left Dallas with the whole Twitter thing, finances and tax situation. He'd go, "I know you're in a tough financial spot, but you can't focus on the contract. You should focus on basketball. He told me once or twice. The third time he was like, "Look dude, this is the direction we're going to go." So I understood that.

It seemed like you were misunderstood, and it contributed to this stigma that wasn't exactly fair. What are your thoughts on that now?

Life is not fair, and I'm so thankful and blessed for these last two years of my life. That's for real. The hardest thing about being, is when you set yourself up. And then it hurts you more when you set yourself up, know what I mean? If that situation forced me to take control, to grow up, to fight through, not accepting being bipolar and fighting through it and talking to the right people and making sure I am understood and I'm not the only man in the world that has to do that. People in all walks of life have to go to work and prove themselves every day. It helped me grow as a person and a man, so I'm very grateful for that. And sometimes you gotta learn by bumping your head and going through it, and that's what I did.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
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Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Rick Carlisle's five Finals factors

June, 5, 2014
6/05/14
12:51
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Rick Carlisle
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
The Mavericks' head man is the only NBA head coach who has defeated LeBron's Heat in a series.

Rick Carlisle will be in the stands, and not on the sidelines, as Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals tip-off in San Antonio Thursday evening. And his Mavericks' season ended a month ago.

Yet Carlisle is surprisingly relevant: He's the only coach to beat the Heatles in a playoff series, and his Dallas squad came closest to ousting this year's Spurs, losing in a 7-game Round 1. I contacted him hoping he'd share the nitty gritty X's and O's of these teams. No such luck; Coach Carlisle wasn't about to give away any trade secrets. And he wouldn't pick a winner.

But he did say several things that will matter as the series unfolds.
  1. Slow play is death. "NBA defenses are so sophisticated now. You don't want to give them a chance to get fully established. When we played Miami in the Finals, we knew that if we called any plays we were doomed. We had to play faster than that. Popovich really pioneered a lot of that. There is a pendulum on a lot of these things, but I really don't see faster offense going away."
  2. Erik Spoelstra doesn't get nearly enough credit, but ... "Gregg Popovich is the greatest coach ever."
  3. The Tony Parker effect. "The Heat don't have big-time rim protectors. LeBron James will block some shots. Dwyane Wade will get some blocks. But how they handle the Spurs penetration will tell a lot."
  4. Get the ball. "Neither team is great at rebounding. It's a chance to establish an edge."
  5. Keep the ball. "In the NFL, turnovers practically determine every game. In the NBA it's not like that. But in this series it might be. Both teams take such good care of the ball, and I expect the games to be very close. Turnovers could determine everything."

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

Silver's un-Stern stern move

April, 11, 2014
4/11/14
4:43
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
If the NBA’s decision to fine the Dallas Mavericks for public address announcer Sean Heath’s tweets about the officiating seems very David Stern-like, it could be because new commissioner Adam Silver is doing his best to NOT be like Stern.

In 2010, Stern revealed that one of the biggest regrets of his tenure as commissioner was that he didn’t crack down on Phil Jackson and Pat Riley when they kept insinuating that league agendas were behind the officials’ calls during their playoff battles in the early 1990s.

“I wish I had to do it all over again and, starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media,” Stern said.

Stern believes that failing to do so allowed the conspiracy theories to fester, making the default explanation for any blown whistle become either “the TV networks want the series to last longer” or “the NBA wants the biggest TV markets to meet in the Finals.” If the most prominent coaches said it, why wouldn’t the fans believe it? Every fan believes the league is out to get his favorite team. Hearing the same thoughts come from the participants themselves only encourages them.

Apparently, Adam Silver’s regime won’t make the same mistake as Stern. When Heath took to Twitter to complain about the officiating following a Mavericks loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1, Heath’s biggest mistake in a series of tweets was writing “@NBA: the ONLY professional league in the US with the reputation that the games are rigged. Know why? Because of games like tonight. #shame”

Actually, the shame is that a representative of a team would do anything to fuel the conspiracy-minded fans. “Rigged” is too serious an accusation to casually toss around without consequences. This week we learned what they were: a $25,000 fine for the Mavericks, as reported by Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.

MacMahon wrote that the league’s first impulse was to suspend Heath, but that action would be complicated by the fact that he is technically a contract worker, not a team employee. That still sounds like the revised mindset of which Stern spoke four years ago.

I bet it’s something that Silver will not regret upon reflection 20 years from now.

ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:


Quotes were gathered by ESPN.com writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.

What more does Dirk have to do?

March, 25, 2014
3/25/14
9:33
AM ET
By Zac Crain
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Dirk NowitzkiAP Photo/Don RyanOne ring. One MVP. One Finals MVP. Yet Dirk Nowitzki still doesn't get his due around Dallas.
"Oh, come on, Dirk!"

The heckle came early in the first quarter during a Mavericks home game against the New Orleans Pelicans. I've heard that sentence, or a close facsimile of it, on many occasions since Dirk Nowitzki came to Dallas from Germany in 1999. But this instance stood out. Nowitzki had just ... honestly, I’m not sure what he did. Missed a jumper? Let his man score? It was so insignificant it doesn’t really matter. That’s not the point.

It stood out for two reasons. First, it was further evidence that even after all Nowitzki has done for basketball in Dallas -- rescued it from one of the worst decades by any single team in the long history of the league, for a start -- he still hasn’t earned unconditional love from Mavericks fans.

The second reason it stood out, the more important one? It happened in the first quarter of the Mavericks’ first preseason game of the year.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJust three years ago, Dirk Nowitzki carried the Mavericks to their first title in franchise history.
I've been thinking about that moment a lot as this season has progressed, as Nowitzki has recaptured the All-Star form that momentarily vanished last season. During an injury-plagued 2012-13 season, Nowitzki captained a travel team from the Island of Misfit Toys -- and even then he still almost willed the Mavs to a 13th straight trip to the playoffs. Nowitzki’s at a stage of his career when most felt like he would be reduced to a complementary piece.

Yet here he is, maybe not better than ever, but not far off, still capable of turning a half of basketball into a game of H-O-R-S-E with those wrong-foot fadeaway jumpers delivered from barely plausible angles. When he’s on, as he often is, his shot looks as it always has, like someone who’s never watched a basketball game stuck a Dirk Fathead on the wall in the dark.

Forget about this season. Step back from the wall so you can take in the entire painting. Nowitzki is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and his No. 41 will be in the rafters of the American Airlines Center shortly after he stops wearing it. He will finish his career somewhere in the top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, likely nestled between Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. He’s already, without question, the best European player in league history and in the conversation for its best foreign-born player. He’s won an NBA title and an MVP trophy and is one of the few players that can be identified by silhouette alone. He’s like a 7-foot Jerry West.

But still: “Oh, come on, Dirk!”

You hear it in bars and at games, impatiently spat out after any slight or even perceived miscue. Mavericks fans are reduced to the type of youth basketball coach you don’t want your kid to play for. This is what more than 26,000 points, an MVP trophy and a championship ring get you.

It’s not that Mavericks fans dislike Nowitzki. But I do believe -- apart from the team’s improbable run to the 2011 title -- they’ve rarely fully appreciated him.

Nowitzki doesn’t have the lightning-bolt athleticism that inspires awe. He dunks so rarely in games, each one is singled out. And he’s not the kind of charge-taking, floor-slapping player that fans rally behind; he’s white but he’s European, so he’s robbed of all the stereotypical grittiness of a Brian Cardinal type. He’s sort of the BMW of athletes: nothing flashy, just precise German engineering. Mid-range jumpers don't sell sneakers or jerseys or just about anything else.

But it’s not all Nowitzki. You have to take the longer view here, too. After the Mavericks set the template for building an expansion team into a perennial contender in the 1980s, the team spent the next decade in the doldrums, bottoming out when they won 11 and 13 games in back-to-back seasons (1992-93, and 1993-94). The franchise’s trio of supposed saviors -- Jamal Mashburn, Jim Jackson and Jason Kidd -- managed only to bring the soap-opera atmosphere of "Dallas" to the hardwood.

When Nowitzki finally arrived at the end of the decade, struggling mightily through his first season, he was seen as just another tall white guy who would let everyone down, and Mavs fans had seen enough of those -- Cherokee Parks, Eric Montross, Chris Anstey.

It hurt even more that the Mavs’ pratfall into becoming veterans of the lottery process coincided with the Dallas Cowboys’ return to America’s Team status. A generation of potential Mavs fans became front-running mercenaries, repping for the Bulls or Lakers or anyone other than the hometown team. Even though (under Mark Cuban) the Mavericks were reborn as a first-class organization, the seeds planted during the 1990s continue to sprout. I remember, a few years ago, a spirited “M! V! P!” chant breaking out during a Mavs-Lakers game at the AAC, spreading all across the arena.

It was for Kobe Bryant.

Nowitzki already had his own MVP trophy at that point, but he picked it up a few days after the 67-win Mavs were bounced out of the playoffs in the 2007 first round by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors. This came a year after the Mavs folded against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. Three series before the Mavericks’ first title, in 2011, a double-digit fourth-quarter collapse against the Trail Blazers was seen as evidence that Nowitzki just couldn’t get it done.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki is Mavericks basketball. But Dallas' lone NBA star still doesn't bask in rarefied air.
Mostly they just didn’t pay enough attention. They forgot about him after 2007, their already fragile trust doomed by two disastrous postseason finishes. Dallas sees itself as a city of winners, even when that isn’t true, and Dirk didn’t seem to conform. They didn’t realize he was building himself into one while they debated Cowboys draft picks and minor roster moves.

Even after Nowitzki proved himself worthy of induction into the pantheon of Dallas sports, he didn’t have time to enjoy it. The lockout happened, the Mavs’ front office started gearing up for free agents that never materialized, and Nowitzki hurt his knee, leading to his first extended absence. And now, after spending the bulk of his career as the avatar of a franchise that was very good but never great, he’s the face of a team pre-loaded with frustration, occasionally very good but never living up to what might have been had, say, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard come to town.

And so: “Oh, come on, Dirk!”

He’ll be gone one day -- maybe in a season or two, maybe three if we’re lucky. I hope the Mavericks figure out a succession plan by then, and continue on a path of perpetual respectability. But if I’m being honest, I have something else in mind:

I want them to be terrible for a little bit after Nowitzki retires. Just for a season. Just so everyone who doubted the singularity of his talent, who heckled him during preseason games, who didn’t realize that gods shoot mid-range jumpers, too -- just so all of them know exactly what they’re missing. And what they had all along.

Zac Crain is a senior editor at D Magazine.

MIT Sloan 2014: Oh, the humanity

March, 4, 2014
3/04/14
10:41
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive


The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference isn’t about stats anymore. Not coincidentally, it’s much-improved.

Stats really never stood a chance at Dorkapalooza. As Danny Nowell demonstrated, a belief in information as currency quickly begets a reluctance to share information. If you think stats are the future, you’re hoarding the future a la Biff and his Grays Sports Almanac in "Back to the Future Part II."

Yes, there are still academic papers at the conference up for discussion. But the stars of the show are the stars -- the nationally famous owners, general managers and coaches.

So don’t attack this conference as a bunch of geeks trading slide rule war stories. The convention is no longer proliferating the academic advancement it symbolizes. They moved this thing away from MIT, remember.

Instead, SSAC 2014 offered us an enticing look at the future of sports entertainment. Paradoxically, that future has all to do with messy, imperfect humanity, and little to do with statistics.

Malcolm Gladwell grilling newly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver on James Dolan’s tax benefits? Yes please. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive getting into it over which of their teams is tanking? Don’t mind if I do. Stan Van Gundy mocking the Sixers in extreme language? Pass the popcorn already.

After so much focus on the rather dehumanizing process of commodifying athlete performance, the Sloan Conference somehow managed to commodify the humanity of its speakers. Nearly everyone at Sloan believes in the competitive power of data, but Sloan, like sports, is a personality-driven business. Selling tickets to Phil Jackson talking extemporaneously is easier than selling tickets to a guy you’ve never heard of expounding on rebounding.

It’s hard to beat live, reality TV. Adam Silver seemed a bit nervous and it was riveting. Stan Van Gundy waxed angry and it was hilarious. In their panel on negotiations, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers appeared vulnerable and it was cathartic.

The latter event was the least contentious, which is funny when you consider how these men are supposedly tasked with swindling each other up until trade deadlines. Morey and Myers both vented about the travails of dealing with GMs who try to lecture you on what’s best for your team. They expressed frustration with peers who seek to win the trade as opposed to finding common ground. The normally opaque general managers dropped the veil and conveyed the exhaustion of working in a world so steeped in secrecy and paranoia.

Most memorably, Morey dished on his fear in response to Golden State’s deal for Andre Iguodala. Morey revealed how he thought the trade might put Houston’s Dwight Howard venture in jeopardy: “This is where my emotion takes over. I go into a complete panic. I really did. I thought it was down to us, Dallas, L.A." What followed was an anecdote about how a frantic Morey called Mark Cuban to inquire about Dirk Nowitzki (Cuban assumed that Morey was sarcastically taunting him).

Morey is among the most media-friendly GMs -- he invited the media to this conference that he co-founded, after all. “Friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean “open,” though. But alongside Myers, Morey was startlingly open.

That’s the secret for turning a suit into a storyteller. He needs some company up there on stage, people who hail from his cloistered world and can validate the statements. This is how many of these panels evoked the loose, conversational, and at times, contentious comedy of shows like HBO’s "Real Time" and ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption."

The Parade of Loosened Ties has yet to reach the mainstream in the way many advanced statistics have. The Sloan conference is more entertaining than ever before, but it still (intentionally) plays to an exclusive audience. In Boston, we can see the future of how sports leagues will feed the fan’s increasingly voracious appetite: Get the most powerful people in sports together and get them talking.

Might you enjoy a panel of GMs discussing team needs a week before the trade deadline? Would you listen to two famous coaches razz each other for your amusement?

Suit-based sports entertainment would be the natural outgrowth of the statistical revolution that turned Billy Beane into someone Brad Pitt plays in a movie. And even though “suit-based sports entertainment” sounds terrifyingly corporate, the results at the Sloan petri dish were captivating.

Information is currency, so owners, GMs, and coaches won’t spend it on us. But celebrity is the rare currency that earns as you spend it. If the analytics movement pulled "the geeks" into the spotlight, it’s only a matter of time before those geeks grab the mike and make use of their newfound fame.

The Mavericks' sneakily effective offense

January, 8, 2014
1/08/14
2:40
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The Mavericks aren't amazing shooters, or crazily athletic, but they're scoring very well. David Thorpe explains what the Spurs can expect to face tonight.

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