By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Jameer Nelson is finally packing up. The moving trucks have been summoned to transport a decade’s worth of belongings and memories halfway across the country. It won’t be easy for Nelson and his wife, Imani, and their four children — Jameer Jr., two weeks from turning 13, and daughters Jamia, 8, Jayden, 6, and Jayce, 2 — to pick up and leave the city he’s played his heart out for, or the community the family loved … and that loved them back.
Yet sometimes even the youngest ones can sense when it’s time for a fresh start.
“My daughter is back there listening, my 8-year-old, she’s excited,” Nelson said during a phone conversation with NBA.com on Thursday afternoon. “My 6-year old, they’re both excited. My son hasn’t said too much, but I actually picked his brain a little bit when I was figuring teams out, asking him some questions. He said, ‘wherever you want to go, let’s do it.’
“So, yeah, we’re going to all move down and build up the population in Dallas.”
Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic after 10 seasons to join the Dallas Mavericks. An intriguing team after a busy summer, Dallas hasn’t landed the superstar it covets. But it has added Nelson, center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.
Nelson will earn $2.73 million this season and holds a player option for next season.
The missing man in the Mavs’ plans was a trustworthy, veteran starter to run coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense. They lost reliable Jose Calderon in the Chandler deal to New York, which foisted the erratic Raymond Felton upon Dallas to complete the trade. Dallas re-signed Devin Harris, but prefer to utilize him off the bench.
“I feel like one of the reasons I chose Dallas is I wanted to play a significant role on a good team and I felt like there’s opportunity there,” said Nelson, who averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.0 apg in 32.0 mpg last season.
“Nothing’s going to be given to me; nothing’s ever been given to me my entire life. I’m up for any challenge that’s in front of me, so if we got to battle for the [starting] spot, we’ll battle for the spot.”
Nelson, 32, was waived by the Magic on June 30, a salary-cap-saving move made by a franchise deep into a rebuilding movement. He responded by gracefully thanking the organization for all it had done for him and his family and the team responded in kind. In 2012, at the height of Orlando’s “Dwightmare,” Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract only to re-sign. Even after coach Stan Van Gundy was fired and Dwight Howard was traded, setting the stage for a ground-up rebuild, Nelson never asked out.
“That [loyalty] was something that was instilled in me through my younger years by my parents and the people who helped mold who I am,” Nelson said. “I was willing to stay the first year, and the second year got a little tougher. It was just time for me to go. It was time to go.”
In retrospect, he witnessed one of the more stunning free falls in sports. The Magic reached The Finals in 2009 — an injury-plagued season for Nelson, who missed the entire postseason before making a courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful Finals return against the Lakers — and then the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. From there, a series of personnel moves and the Howard disaster sent the franchise spiraling.
“I thought that team was going to be together forever,” Nelson said. “One of my good friends, Keyon Dooling, always preached to us as one of the veteran guys to never take things for granted because you might be on a good team now, but next year you might not be on such a good team. It’s the truth. You think things don’t end, but that obviously ended pretty quick.”
Nelson looks at yet another revamped Mavs roster and compares it to those potent Magic teams, boasting multiple shooters and scorers and a defensive backbone.
“And then fortunately,” Nelson said, “I’m in the mix of being there as the quarterback.”
The marriage of Nelson and the Mavs was a two-way street from the start. Nelson made a list of desirable destinations based on roster strength, need at point guard, organizational culture and location. While Dallas was linked for weeks to combo guard Mo Williams, who recently signed with Minnesota, Nelson was the team’s more pressing need.
His level-headed, team-oriented approach are the most desired traits in a Mavs locker room long led by Nowitzki, one of the league’s most down-to-earth superstars. The 7-footer proved it again this summer by agreeing to a massively below-market contract worth $25 million over the next three seasons. His willingness to take less allowed Dallas to make Parsons an aggressive offer and also add roster-wide depth.
“Dirk sets the tone, he’s a superstar and he takes a three-year, $25-million deal,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like who else can argue? Nobody can argue with that, nobody can complain. This guy is sacrificing a lot to win. That’s what it all should be about. That’s one of the major reasons I came to Dallas, to win.”
Nelson won’t end up being a career one-team player, and he must leave the community where and his wife raised a family.
But opportunity beckons in Dallas, where the population just increased by six.