NBA PM: An Unlikely Contender In The West?
“This is Dallas. We compete for championships here.”
Those words were spoken by Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle earlier this week as he sat alongside the majority of his new players for the 2012-13 NBA season. On his right were Dahntay Jones, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, all lined up at a table with microphones in front of each.
Admittedly, it’s a hard sell at first. After all, this new group of Mavericks is made up largely of cast-offs who don’t have a championship ring among them. It’s a far cry from the familiar faces who defined the Mavericks for much of the last five seasons and won a championship just over a year ago.
Then again, the more we talked with this new crop of Mavericks the harder it was to simply dismiss them out of hand.
To start with, the front court is going to be pretty impressive. Chris Kaman and Elton Brand played together as members of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Kaman has played with Dirk Nowitzki on the German national team, as well.
“Playing with a player as talented as Dirk Nowitzki, Chris and myself are used to having the best defenders guarding us and that’s no longer going to happen,” said Brand. “Dirk is one of the greatest, so we’re looking forward to exploiting match-ups, taking advantage in the low post or wherever Coach has us. We expect to be able to exploit those match-ups with Dirk out there with us at different times. … Chris and I played for five or six years together and some of the sets we had, he would pass me the ball and I would score (laughing). I’d like to continue that tradition here.”
“You know, I’ve established a pretty good relationship with Dirk and I feel like I’m comfortable playing with him,” said Kaman. “That was one of the things that helped bring me here to Dallas. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play with one of the greatest players in the NBA, as well as one of the best European players. I’m in a pretty comfortable position here. I’m settled in and I feel comfortable with the coaches and everybody around me. We have a great staff here and I’m really happy to be here at this point. … Since 2008 I played with Dirk on the German national team even though I’m not very German. I think I have some ancestors somewhere down the line. I’ve been very comfortable during the offseason and the summer participating with him at the different events. I knew from conversations with him the kind of guy Mark was and Coach Carlisle that this would be a great place to play.”
Mavs owner Mark Cuban later joked that for the first time in years he didn’t cringe when he watched his team’s starting center shooting jumpers on the practice court. Kaman’s ability to do a number of things with the basketball will certainly make the Mavs harder to defend.
The other big change from recent years is the addition of Darren Collison, who came to Dallas in a trade that sent backup center Ian Mahinmi to the Indiana Pacers. Collison may not be a crafty Hall of Famer like his predecessor Jason Kidd, but he does bring an up-tempo style of play that may remind Mavs fans of the last point guard to take them to the NBA Finals. Collison has Devin Harris’ quickness, but also brings a career 37% three-point average that Harris never added to his arsenal.
“I’m not trying to replace Jason Kidd,” said Collison. “That’s tough to do. I thought he was a great player for this organization, but I just plan to be myself. I was brought here for a reason. Some of the things that I want to bring are an up-tempo style, energy, defense, and whatever I can do to help out these guys. I’m just excited to be here.”
When the Mavericks chose not to re-sign DeShawn Stevenson after the championship year, they lost a degree of toughness and relentless defensive intensity. This summer they got some of that back in the person of Dahntay Jones, who has played that very role for the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers before landing in Dallas.
“That’s the role I’ve had throughout my career and it’s something I take pride in,” said Jones. “My role is primarily to play defense, to play hard, but also to knock down open shots and to be an all-around player. There are lots of guys here who will lead the team in scoring, but my job is to come in and change the tempo of the game and make it hard for the other team and I enjoy that role.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt for a couple of people on the team to feel like they have something to prove, and while none of the new Mavericks have championship hardware, two in particular come to town feeling like Dallas is a place where they can prove their past critics and detractors wrong.
“I can’t tell you how much of a chip I have on my shoulder,” said Darren Collison, who was discarded first by New Orleans and then by Indiana despite playing well in both places. “I can’t wait to play, to play the first game, and I have a lot to prove to myself about who I am as a player. Me and O.J. were talking about that yesterday, about how much of a chip we do have on our shoulders. I just want to play. It’s nice talking to the fans and talking to the media, but I have a lot to prove right now.”
“I do feel like I have something to prove,” agrees Mayo, who was the subject of trade rumors and even a failed trade during his time with the Memphis Grizzlies. “It was a crazy four years in Memphis. I’ve been traded, then had the phone call that the trade didn’t go through and you have to come back to work. It was a reality check that this is a business, and as long as you take care of your game your game will take care of you. I just want to come here, have a breath of fresh air, compete with one of the greatest players that ever played, one of the greatest owners to own a team in one of the greatest sports towns in America. I’m here to give it my all and not fail.”
Adding this new mix of particularly motivated NBA veterans to a group that already consists of all-world power forward Dirk Nowitzki, the ultimate x-factor in Shawn Marion, the still capable Vince Carter, and a nice mix of young talent certainly creates an interesting team on paper. It was difficult, sitting at the press conference, looking at this group, hearing them talk, envisioning this new team, not to start to feel something special in the air.
Can this team compete with the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder in a Western Conference that looks poised to pass the 2011 NBA champs by?
“One thing about it, you know we have the Lakers game one,” said Mayo. “We don’t need to do too much talking, but I think after that game, I believe Mavs fans will be excited and have big smiles on their faces, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Indeed, it is. And with a group as motivated and with as much experience as this new-look Mavs team will have, anything can happen.
Blatche, Nets Finally Team Up
We HOOPSWORLD reported last week, free agent big man Andray Blatche and the Brooklyn Nets will team up for the 2012-13 NBA season, at least on a non-guaranteed basis. After being subject to the amnesty clause, Blatche is not looking for money as much as he’s looking for an opportunity to show that he does, indeed, belong in the NBA.
For the Nets, who have outspent nearly every team in the NBA this offseason, it’s about adding one more big body in a low-risk, high-reward type of scenario.
In seven seasons with the Wizards, Blatche averaged 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He showed steady improvement over his first five years, ultimately averaging 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in his best season, 2010-11. There were some setbacks both on the court and in the locker room last season, when Blatche managed just 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds and started just half of his games after being a fulltime starter the year before. Blatche told HOOPSWORLD it was just time for him to leave, that the situation in Washington had become so bad that a mutual agreement to part company was the only way to go.
The Nets would love to see Blatche come off the bench behind Brook Lopez and give them another strong presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. If he can do that, he could turn out to be one of the real steals in this summer’s free agency crop. Considering the Nets don’t have another true center under contract, this is a very real opportunity for Blatche to get his career back on track.
Philadelphia 76ers Had Maxed Out?
Doug Collins knew what was up, as any good coach would. He knew that when the Philadelphia 76ers finished four games over .500 and lost in the second round of the playoffs last season, they had gotten as far as they could go with their roster as it was.
“I personally thought we had maxed our team out,” Collins said in an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic in Philly. “I thought we were a team that every night played hard, we played terrific defense and if you looked at our team other than Andre Iguodala, we really didn’t have a premier defensive player individual. Michael Curry, what he did with our defense was spectacular. We didn’t have a dominant rebounder or shot blocker so to do the things that we did on the defensive end to give us a chance we thought was really, really good, but we knew if we were going to make a move that we were going to have to get better and, unfortunately, when you do that you’re going to lose good people.”
They certainly did lose some good people, starting with Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, but they were also able to add Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, who bring positives that outweigh the other negatives.
“Andre Iguodala, the two years that he gave to this organization when I was here, what he did, the guy won a World Championship with the National Team, he’s won a gold medal, he made the All-Star team and he got us into the second round of the conference semi-finals. Elton Brand, one of the ultimate pros. Lou Williams, second in Sixth Man of the Year Award and our leading scorer … Jodie Meeks’ three-point shooting. So we lost some key guys, so what do you do? Improve shooting, and we think we have done that. We planned to put ourselves in a position where the cap was not going to kill us. I don’t think people realize how important it is to have cap flexibility and I think the neat thing about what we have done is with all of the things that we have done we also have a bright future just from the standpoint that we don’t have any bad contracts and we have flexibility moving forward. For a franchise like us, that is going to be so important as we continue to add the pieces to try to get to that championship level.”
Bynum is obviously the big addition for Philly, and he was someone they had their eye on early in the process.
“Well, we knew that Orlando was going to do something with Dwight Howard and so we had had some conversations along the way,” said Collins. “There were three or four teams involved. Houston was really involved and they were trying to get Dwight Howard. Obviously, the Lakers, Brooklyn, too, and so we kept paying attention to what was going on and when it looked like the deal was going to have to go through LA, we knew either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum was probably going to be involved in that so we got ourselves involved actually by getting in with a fourth team. We were the third team involved and then ironically I’m over doing the Olympics and Andre Iguodala has a great, great game and Denver calls up now and is interested in being the fourth team to get in with Andre Iguodala so we had a deal with Orlando that we were going to move ‘Dre and we were going to move Moe Harkless and Nick to get in the deal with Bynum but only if Orlando took Andre on as a piece to get something back when that fell into place and got the fourth team involved. Then we were right there and ready to make the move. With our draft picks and flexibility that we were able to have we were able to get in the mix and get Drew.”
At the heart of Philadelphia’s plans for contention is Andrew Bynum, and the idea that his motivation will be at an all-time high given his experience in Los Angeles and his feelings about coming home to Philly.
“I’ve had great conversations with him,” said Collins. “The day of the press conference we went back and he, I and Jason Richardson spent some time together along with some of the other people in the organization and I think for Drew, I think a big part of him is he’s excited to be coming home. He was out in LA and I don’t think he ever really fit into the LA scene. I talked to him the other day and he was ready to go over to Germany to have the little procedure, the little injection done in his knee, he’s gotten home in the country here and is excited to be back near his family and everything like that. I think he’s excited that he’s going to be the primary focus of us playing through the post rather than being the third option in LA. He’s a very smart and bright guy, he’s articulate, he knows the game and we talked a little bit about it. Sometimes you say things and I think even he would agree that some of the things that he said came across maybe being a little immature a couple of times. He knows the play on JJ Barea is going to be seen forever and he will always be a part of that but I just feel like he’s in a great place. I think he and I are going to have a great connection with one another. I’m at a spot in my life where I feel very peaceful coaching this team and what we’re trying to do. I like what we’re doing with all of our guys so I think it’s going to be a very good fit.”
As a result of the Bynum trade, the Sixers now face high expectations heading into the 2012-13 season, and Collins admitted he prefers that to always having to fight just to get noticed.
“Yeah I like that. I would much rather have expectations to be really good then to have to overachieve and scratch into the seventh or eighth spot and get beat in the first round by the first or second seed. We’ve got a great opportunity this year to have some good things happen, we think we have made some nice changes on our team. We have gotten bigger in the backcourt, we’ve added some shooting, we’ve gotten bigger on the front line, we think we’ve added the premier low post center in the NBA on the offensive side of the ball. Now it’s going to be up to us to try to put the pieces together, but I like what we’ve done and we’re going to see how long it will take us to get it together.”
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