Van Exel has habit of taking revenge

Forget LeBron James' NBA debut, Kobe Bryant's first game next season or even the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs' opener.

The season opener I want to see is Nick Van Exel's debut with the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 29.

That's the night when he might challenge Wilt Chamberlain's scoring record against his old team, the Dallas Mavericks.

When Van Exel was playing with the Denver Nuggets, he torched his old team -- the Los Angeles Lakers -- several times. He had 41 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on the road against the Lakers on April 5, 1999.

Expect even more against the Mavs, who dealt Van Exel to Golden State last Monday.

Could Van Exel be holding up a little white sheet of paper -- a la Wilt -- reading "101" after the game against Dallas? Probably not. But best believe this: the scorekeeper will be busy marking "Kwik's" name down in the field goal column against the Mavericks that night.

"Nick loves a challenge, so we know he will bring his best and then some,'' Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said.

Van Exel was Dallas' most explosive player in the playoffs last season as he averaged 19.5 points. He also was the leading scorer off the bench during the regular season.

What's more, he turned around his once-sour reputation in Denver and became a good team player, as well as a great quote for the media in Dallas. Van Exel also gave the Mavericks much needed swagger and confidence.

Even so, Van Exel was dealt along with guards Avery Johnson and Antoine Rigadeau and forward-center Popeye Jones for forwards Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortson and Chris Mills and guard Jiri Welsch. Van Exel got word of the deal a couple days earlier while taking his son, who has been growing up in the Dallas area, to Disneyworld in Orlando.

"He was disappointed more than anything. Hurt,'' said Van Exel's agent, Tony Dutt. "Probably a little bit of all emotions go through you that situation. He's OK. He's very professional about it. He just needs some time to mentally readjust himself."

When asked if it was difficult to trade Van Exel, Cuban said: "Incredibly difficult. Nick is a contributor on the court, in the locker room and in the community. He sets so many great examples. But to get a great player, you have to give one up."

Understandably, Van Exel is having a hard time coming to grips with the trade.

He was tired of being in a losing and rebuilding situation in Denver and demanded to be traded in December of 2001. He got his wish two months later in grand fashion, going to Dallas.

Now, Van Exel goes from being on a veteran team that is a NBA title contender to a squad that will have to be playing their best basketball to just make a run at the playoffs. He also goes from being a valuable sixth man to the No.1 scoring option.

Moreover, Van Exel will also be away from his son, a close plane ride to his offseason home in Houston, and many of his friends.

In order to go to Dallas, Van Exel also made the final year of his contract, which pays $12.9 million during the 2005-06 season, a team option. While Cuban has said that he would have exercised the option, Golden State has declined comment on the matter.

"We're discussing some things as it relates to Nick,'' Dutt said. "We're talking to them.''

One former player trying to help Van Exel deal with the trade is three-time NBA champion Mario Elie.

Elie runs pickup games for the likes of Van Exel and other NBA players like Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley, Robert Horry and James Posey in Houston over the summer. Of late, Elie has been spending a lot of time talking to Van Exel while also relaying his tough experiences in the NBA.

After winning two championships with Houston, Elie was disappointed when the Rockets renounced his rights in January of 1999. Elie ended up signing with the Spurs that same month and being a key player in their 1999 NBA championship.

Elie has told Van Exel that the NBA, bottom line, is a business with things happening unexpectedly all the time.

"Nick and talked about it (Tuesday),'' said Elie, a long-time friend of Warriors general manager-in-training Chris Mullin. "I won two championships with Houston, and they tried to move me. It's a business. I told him, 'I know you were comfortable. Your son was there, you were coming off the bench and there was no pressure of you being the man because you have Dirk, Stevie and Mike. You played well for them. But that's the league, and it's foul. If it wasn't for you, they wouldn't get past the first round.'

"He was their best player in the playoffs," Elie said. "Obviously. But that's the league. If (Charles) Barkley and (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar can get traded, you can get traded,
too. It's a business. I know he was mad initially, but I am hoping he cools off because that franchise will give him everything and they are good people up there. All he has to do is play well."

With Jamison and guard Gilbert Arenas leading the way, the Warriors finished with a 38-44 record last season. But Jamison and Arenas, now with the Washington Wizards, are now gone.

Even so, Warriors coach Eric Musselman believes today's Warriors are better than last season's team. Enough to contend for the playoffs for the first time since 1994?

The Warriors have more depth at point guard than any team in the league with Van Exel, Johnson and Speedy Claxton. At times, Van Exel and Claxton will share the backcourt. Dunk champion Jason Richardson returns at shooting guard with high-flying rookie Mickael Pietrus backing him up. Musselman believes Mike Dunleavy, Jr., the third pick in the 2002 NBA draft, is ready for a breakthrough sophomore season at small forward.

The Warriors are expected to sign another veteran swingman guard, too -- possibly Utah free-agent Calbert Cheaney. And after trading guard Bob Sura to Detroit for forward Clifford Robinson, Golden State has a respectable list of inside players that also includes underrated forward Troy Murphy as well as Erick Dampier, Adonal Foyle and Popeye Jones.

"Our team is better than people think,'' Musselman said. "We have great fans and a great place to live. The roster is improved and we have a great mix of young players as well as veterans."

Musselman said he has left messages for Van Exel, but hasn't talked to him. Musselman has spoken to Dutt and two former NBA players who know Van Exel well in George McCloud and Anthony "Pig'' Miller. While Musselman understands Van Exel's initial disappointment, he believes Golden State could be a great fit for him.

"(Van Exel) is a guy that has proven he can hit shots at the end of games,'' Musselman said. "He can help our guys get in a winning situation. We think it can be a positive …
"He can put up all-star numbers. If our team does well, he can be an all-star.''

If Golden State wants to make the road to Oakland much more appealing for Van Exel, there is one way to make it happen: Do what Cuban said he planned to do, make the team option during Van Exel's final season his option again. Van Exel's previous move was made for Dallas, not Golden State.

Such a move would give a message to Van Exel that the Warriors truly want him.

Considering Van Exel's age and past knee problems -- not to mention the potential salary cap room Golden State could acquire without him -- it's easy to understand his new franchise not wanting to make a commitment. But once you clear Van Exel's money, he's basically the type of point guard the Warriors try to add anyway.

Basically, Van Exel is a veteran version of Arenas.

After years of being a lottery team, the Warriors need to be proactive in doing everything possible to bring some hope that the franchise is finally ready to be an NBA contender instead of a work in progress. Show Van Exel the money and in turn he can show the Warriors some exciting basketball of possibly the playoff variety.

"In the end, I think they'll do it. My gut is that they are going to do it,'' Dutt said.

Which would make that season opener even a little more intriguing.

Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA and Denver Nuggets for The Denver Post, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.