HANG TIME, Texas — The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and that means general managers are spending endless days on the phone and many veterans are spending sleepless nights on edge.
On one hand, athletes get to plead the case that they’re the only professional group in today’s modern age that can be swapped like heads of lettuce at a farmer’s market, having their homes and their lives relocated on short notice.
On the other, the rest of the world outside those well-paid lives usually get only a handshake and a pink slip when they’re no longer wanted or needed.
So here is 14-year-veteran Shawn Marion telling Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas that he won’t necessarily show up in a new city and play if the sinking Mavericks trade him.
“If I’m going to get traded, they’re going to tell me what’s going on and where I’m going,” the 14-year veteran said. “Because if I’m going to a (expletive) situation, I’m not going. It’s just that simple.
“At this time, I’m too old to be trying to go through and be a, you know what I’m saying, not have a chance to do anything. I’m at a point where I want to be playing for something right now.”
Certainly it is easy to understand the emotional and professional viewpoint of Marion. It was just 20 months ago that The Matrix was playing in The Finals and playing a key role on a team that would win a championship. He figures he’s paid his dues over the years, jumping from Phoenix to Miami to Toronto to find a place in Dallas where he has been comfortable and appreciated.
And all that just goes out the window because Dirk Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season following knee surgery, the Mavericks plummeted in the standings and now team owner Mark Cuban must start looking toward the future?
Perhaps somebody could cue up the Lion King music for Marion, because this is just the circle of life. For all that he has done in Dallas over the past 3 1/2 years, the Mavs are probably hopelessly out of the race for even the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and must begin to look ahead.
Of course, things would have been radically different if Cuban would have been able to reel in star free-agent point guard Deron Williams or made a deal for center Dwight Howard.
But that is the past and it’s time for Cuban, team president Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle to build for the future. Can they somehow convince Chris Paul, the free agent next summer, to leave all that he’s built with the Clippers? Can they talk Howard into leaving money on the table with the Lakers to start fresh in Dallas?
They Mavs at least have to try and that means making tough choices, namely moving veterans such as Marion or Vince Carter in hope of getting draft picks, young prospects or just to clear out salary space. Marion will be owed $9.3 million next season, Carter nearly $3.2 million. Those elder statesmen are the most logical — and valuable — trade chips for a team that has to get much better real soon so they don’t squander what’s left of Nowitzki’s career.
Marion is hardly alone on the hot seat. Atlanta is evidently willing to talk to anyone about veteran Josh Smith. Despite all the claims to the contrary from Lakers G.M. Mitch Kupchak, Pau Gasol listened to the talk all season until getting sidelined by his foot injury.
By the way, from a historical perspective, players refusing to report to an undesirable location is hardly a modern phenomenon. As far back as 1950, Bob Cousy was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, but would not sign and was later picked up by the Celtics. Six NBA titles later, that worked out well for Cousy.
Marion, of course, can only hope that Dallas would send him to a place where he can compete for another championship come June. But if not, the Mavs owe less to him than they do to themselves and their fans.
After a decade of excellence that included annual trips to the playoffs, culminating with the 2011 championship, it is time to move on in Dallas.
The circle of life in the NBA.