Posts Tagged ‘Brandan Wright’

Mavs getting the full Monta in 4th

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ellis sparks Mavericks to win over Nuggets

DALLAS – Two nights after Monta Ellis outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 12-2 down the stretch to get his team to overtime, if ultimately not the victory, he crushed the Denver Nuggets on Friday night with a furious flurry of dazzling drives, pinpoint dishes and even 3-point buckets.

The Dallas Mavericks are getting the full Monta in fourth quarters, a significant weapon to have next to one of the great all-time closers in Dirk Nowitzki. Ellis poured in 14 fourth-quarter points against the Nuggets on 6-for-6 shooting. He dropped 10 points in the final 6:29 after Denver had quickly shaved Dallas’ 11-point lead to 99-96. Ellis finished with 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, plus seven assists and four rebounds, and the Mavs won 122-106.

“I was just taking what the defense gives me, being patient,” Ellis said. “We run a screen-and-roll, come off, see how the defense is playing and make the right plays.”

Ellis has been making the right plays most of the season. He’s played in all 70 games, shaking off a hamstring strain earlier in the season and illness more recently to stay on the floor as the Mavs joust with Memphis and Phoenix for the final two playoff spots.

The three-year, $25 million contract Ellis signed last summer is looking like one of the great bargains of this season. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Ellis, who leads all players in drives to the basket by a fairly wide margin, is getting his points in much more economical fashion than in the past with Golden State and Milwaukee. He’s shooting 45.7 percent overall, which would go down as his highest mark since the 2007-08 season when he shot 53.1 percent with the Warriors. And he’s averaging 15.1 shot attempts a game, which stands to be his lowest mark since that 07-08 season.

The clutch factor has been a bonus. After his latest fireworks against the Wolves and Nuggets, Ellis has notched double-figure point totals in the fourth quarter 10 times in 70 games this season. His shooting percentages soar in the final period to 48.4 percent overall and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc — he’s shooting just 33.1 percent from deep overall. His percentages, as well as his 5.2-point scoring average in the fourth quarter are his highest among all quarters.

“He’s got the confidence to do it,” Nowitzki said of Ellis’ ability to close out games with scoring binges. “Confidence in this league is like 80 percent. There’s obviously some skill involved, but if you have that confidence you can do it and you do it a couple of times, then you’re there. You’ve arrived.

“He’s been great all season for us when we do give him the ball at attacking and making stuff happen. He’s shooting the 3-ball really well lately. If he’s in a rhythm shooting like that, he’s tough to guard because he comes off the screen-and-rolls so quick. If they go under and he knocks those shots in, he’s tough to guard.”

Coming off Wednesday’s disappointing overtime loss to Minnesota in which Nowitzki missed a potential game-winner in the final seconds and played 39 minutes, Dallas needed Ellis’ extra burst. Nowitzki asked out for a quick breather with 3:57 to go with Dallas up 109-99. The 35-year-old power forward wouldn’t need to return. Ellis made sure of that with an assist to Brandan Wright for a dunk before nailing a step-back jumper followed by a pair of 3-pointers.

“He really answered the bell down the stretch,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “That was a spectacular run to end the game. We needed every ounce of what he gave us.”

Dallas Must Have A Wide-Eyed Dalembert


VIDEO: Jose Calderon finds Samuel Dalember for an easy dunk vs. Orlando

DALLAS – All the latest statistical computations reveal the same thickening plot for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference: Dogfight!

Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Minnesota and Memphis are all separated by 4.5 games. Each team can point to one significant key that could put them over the top. For the hottest team in the group, the 23-16 Mavericks point to good-natured and well-intentioned, but not always, ahem, eye-opening center Samuel Dalembert. They don’t ask him for him to be a force, but rather, a consistent presence on defense and on the boards.

“You know, we don’t ask a tremendous amount from our 5-men,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We ask them to bring what they can bring to our team at their best possible level. For [Dalembert], we need him active, we need him rebounding, we need him screening, rolling; he’s been making free throws. We ask those guys to play to exhaustion and then we’ll get them out.”

Exhaustion is an interesting choice of words.

The 6-foot-11 Dalembert has had something of an issue getting out of bed, already twice punished for oversleeping and showing up late. He’s paid for it by being benched and even losing his starting job for a spell. Dalembert is a starter again, in the lineup the last three games and eight of the last 11 because there are too many mismatches that hurt the hustling (but defensively liable) 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair. The lanky, 6-foot-10 Brandan Wright is an offensive commodity off the bench, but he’s not a strong defender or rebounder.

“We start [Dalembert] because it’s the best thing for our team,” Carlisle said. “The last three or four games I like what he’s done. His focus has been good. It’s evident what he brings to the team. It’s good.”

Dalembert says he’s dealing with a sleep disorder, but it’s not as if this kind of thing hasn’t frustrated coaches and front office-types at his previous three stops over the last three seasons. Mavs owner Mark Cuban recently said he doesn’t know if Dalembert has a sleep disorder or not, but he’s seen enough know to he needs the big man playing with both eyes wide open.

“I told him he’s All-Star caliber when he’s laying it out there,” Cuban said.

After both oversleeping episodes, Dalembert, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract last summer, expressed guilt and remorse. On Nov. 25, his oversleeping made him late for a morning shootaround and led to a first-quarter benching in Dallas’ eventual 110-96 loss to Denver. Afterward, he somberly offered up this classic, no-pun-intended analysis: “It was a wake-up call for us.”

Dallas sorely needs an engaged Dalembert to compete against the West’s bigger frontcourts. The Mavs are a poor rebounding team (27th in rebound percentage) and are porous defensively (19th in defensive rating, 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage) and sport with a soft perimeter defense that must have back-up from an active rim protector.

The Mavs’ defensive rating is 101.3 with Dalembert on the floor. He owns the second-best individual rating among rotation players behind reserve forward Jae Crowder. With Dalembert on the bench, the Mavs’ defensive rating soars to 106.3, the second-largest jump on the team, again behind Crowder. Dalembert is never again going to be a 30-minute-a-night player. So the 20 he gets — or should get — have to be good.

Wednesday brings a massive road test when Dallas puts its three-game win streak up against the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). L.A. has won three in a row since All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder separation on Jan. 3 in Dallas. The Clippers rallied to win the game behind this combined stat line from power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan: 50 points (18-for-32 shooting, including nine dunks), 33 rebounds (11 offensive), six assists and four blocked shots. Dalembert started the game, played 21 minutes and had nine points, five rebounds and one block.

On Friday, Dallas plays at Phoenix (9 ET, League Pass). The Suns trounced the Mavs on Dec. 21. Dalembert didn’t start, played seven minutes and Dallas got outrebounded, 45-36.

During Dallas’ three-game win streak, Dalembert has logged a total of 60 minutes, his second-highest minutes total over a three-game span since late November. He’s averaged 5.0 ppg on 58.3 percent shooting, 7.7 rpg with four blocked shots.

It’s all nothing terribly eye-popping. But with Dalembert, it’s all about presence.

“I go by the recent trends and the recent trends are that he’s been ready and he’s been into it and that’s what we need from him,” Carlisle said. “It’s pretty clear. We’ve laid it out to him: We want it simple and do what you do.”

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

a

a
DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”

Can Happiness Bring Back ‘Monta’ Ball?

a

a
DALLAS –
Sometimes timing is everything. Take the family reunion Monta Ellis will attend next month in Dallas, an event planned well before the missile from Mississippi signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Mavericks.

“I have a lot of people in Houston, a lot of people in Dallas,” Ellis said Thursday after he and the latest crop of Mavs free agents finally gathered for official introductions. “They didn’t know I was going to sign here, but it’s a good thing to already be here, be settled in.”

Is it a sign that Dallas is where Ellis belonged all along? Or merely a coincidence? Having family close can certainly help bring a measure of comfort and happiness. And happiness is something Ellis says he’s been missing the last couple years and, he says, it’s shown in his sliding shooting percentages.

“When you’re in a place where you’re unhappy, it’s very hard for you to perform to your best ability,” said Ellis, the American Airlines Center lights twinkling off the oversized diamond studs in each ear. “So, I mean, with this new beginning, new fresh start, you know, better organization, you know, better teammates, they’re going to make things a lot more better.”

Better organization? Better teammates? Ellis electing to leave $11 million on the table for next season told the Bucks how he felt about his 103-game run there. Asked to elaborate on what went so wrong, Ellis, who didn’t reap what he envisioned when he hit the open market as a free agent, just said, “I left that in Milwaukee.”

The Mavs, having flipped their roster for a second consecutive summer other than Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Brandan Wright and Shawn Marion, nabbed Ellis, and quite surprisingly so, late in free agency and after already stocking up on guards. After whiffing on Dwight Howard, a second superstar setback after missing on Deron Williams the previous summer, the Mavs viewed Ellis as the best remaining scoring option to pair with Nowitzki, and he instantly became the jewel of their seven-player free-agent class that might otherwise have been flashy Isreali point guard Gal Mekel.

So maybe timing is everything. The Mavs are desperate for fireworks and Ellis is desperately seeking a happy place to revive his career. Not that Ellis has been anything close to a hyper-efficient scorer, but if he can give the Mavs 2010-11 numbers — 45.1 percent overall and a career-best 36.1 from 3-point range — they’ll be thrilled.

“I don’t really have to shoot the ball as much on this team,” Ellis said. “The previous team I been on, like I said once before, I had to do 60 percent of the work no matter what the situation is. I think with this team here, I don’t have to do as much or take as many shots because sometimes they’re going to stop me and Dirk is going to be open, Jose [Calderon], Devin [Harris], the list goes on and. So I don’t think I have to do as much as I had to do in the previous years.

“So that’s going to get me back to being efficient, that’s going to get me back to being more consistent and it’s going to get me back to playing Monta basketball.”

The Mavs told Ellis he can get there on a team that they believe puts talent around him like he’s never known, starting with double-team magnet Nowitzki, and with a pass-first point guard in heady veteran Jose Calderon, who will free up Ellis to be a dynamic scorer, penetrating at will and popping inevitably open jumpers, without the burden of also having to run the offense.

But what they’re really selling Ellis on, and what they believe Ellis truly desires, is stability at the top. While he’s played for just two franchises in his eight seasons, Ellis has played under eight head and interim coaches. Last season Scott Skiles was fired and replaced by assistant Jim Boylan, who was replaced this summer by former Hawks coach Larry Drew.

“I think Monta really knows that we have stability here with Rick [Carlisle] and he wants to commit to a coach that he can trust, and Rick’s that coach, so I think it will be a great relationship,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Rick’s a great teacher and Monta’s a willing student.

A year ago, the same was said of O.J. Mayo following his disappointing time in Memphis. Mayo wanted to hand his game over to the respected Carlisle and Carlisle — now heading into his sixth season in Dallas — wanted to teach him how to become an all-around player. But it never clicked and Mayo has taken Ellis’ old spot with the Bucks at a rather startling $24 million over three seasons.

So maybe this timing is good. Maybe Ellis, 28 in October, is ready to settle into a team concept, to dispel theories that he’ll never be more than a volume shooter and a highly inefficient scorer. Asked if people are undervaluing him or underestimating him by emphasizing his sliding shooting percentages of the past two seasons, Ellis took about 15 seconds before offering an answer.

“I’m gonna say not really,” he said. “You’re going to have people who are going to say what they’re going to say anyway. I don’t think so. I’m fortunate, blessed to have a job and still be doing what I love doing. Like I said, there’s going to be things people say that you have no control over so I don’t think it is. I just think people have an opinion, they like to state their opinion and that’s what it is.”

The final answer begins Oct. 30 against the Atlanta Hawks.

Who’s Left? A Look At The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been 15 days since teams could start talking to free agents and six days since contracts could be signed. And at this point, pickings are slim. If you want an impact player, you’re probably going to have to settle for a guy that makes an impact only some of the time.

Here’s what’s left on the free-agent market as of Tuesday morning, according to the numbers guys put up last season.

There were 30 free agents available on July 1 (or who became available afterward) who had played at least 2,000 minutes last season. Only three remain …

Most minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 80 2,896 36.2
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 58 2,133 31.4
Nate Robinson CHI 82 23 2,086 25.4
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 62 1,959 31.6
Jason Maxiell DET 72 71 1,789 24.8
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 6 1,636 21.5
Lamar Odom LAC 82 2 1,616 19.7
Alan Anderson TOR 65 2 1,495 23.0
Gary Neal SAS 68 17 1,484 21.8
Beno Udrih ORL 66 9 1,457 22.1

(R) = Restricted free agent

There were 21 free agents who played at least 200 minutes in the playoffs, and six of those guys are still left …

Most playoff minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Nate Robinson CHI 12 8 404 33.7
Gary Neal SAS 21 0 390 18.6
D.J. Augustin IND 19 1 316 16.6
Derek Fisher OKC 11 0 261 23.7
Kenyon Martin NYK 12 1 253 21.1
Devin Harris ATL 6 6 225 37.5
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 4 4 133 33.3
Sam Young IND 15 0 130 8.7
Keyon Dooling MEM 14 0 114 8.1
Ivan Johnson ATL 6 0 108 18.0

There were 31 free agents who scored at least 800 points last season, some more efficiently than others. Only four of those guys are left …

Most points scored, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP PTS PPG eFG% TS%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 1,397 17.5 46.8% 51.0%
Nate Robinson CHI 82 1,074 13.1 51.0% 54.0%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 1,055 15.5 46.6% 53.1%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 1,011 16.3 52.0% 57.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 712 9.4 53.7% 56.1%
Alan Anderson TOR 65 693 10.7 46.0% 50.9%
Gary Neal SAS 68 645 9.5 48.7% 51.2%
Mo Williams UTA 46 592 12.9 48.5% 51.9%
Devin Harris ATL 58 577 9.9 52.5% 56.5%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 564 10.6 44.4% 46.5%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

Of the 30 free agents who grabbed at least 300 rebounds, five remain …

Most total rebounds, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP OREB DREB REB RPG OREB% DREB% REB%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 230 315 545 8.8 13.1% 18.8% 15.9%
Lamar Odom LAC 82 117 363 480 5.9 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%
Jason Maxiell DET 72 135 274 409 5.7 8.6% 17.7% 13.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 109 253 362 4.8 7.5% 16.7% 12.2%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 71 266 337 6.4 5.3% 21.9% 13.2%
Samuel Dalembert MIL 47 105 171 276 5.9 13.9% 26.6% 19.8%
Ivan Johnson ATL 69 76 190 266 3.9 8.4% 20.9% 14.7%
Brandan Wright DAL 64 85 175 260 4.1 8.5% 16.0% 12.4%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 55 195 250 3.7 2.9% 10.9% 6.8%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 59 187 246 3.1 2.1% 7.3% 4.6%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed while on the floor

Of the 24 free agents who dished out at least 200 assists last season, six remain …

Most assists, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP AST APG TO AST/TO ASTRatio
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 521 6.5 203 2.57 24.9
Nate Robinson CHI 82 358 4.4 144 2.49 23.9
Beno Udrih ORL 66 302 4.6 108 2.80 32.4
Jamaal Tinsley UTA 66 290 4.4 106 2.74 45.2
Mo Williams UTA 46 285 6.2 125 2.28 29.1
A.J. Price WAS 57 205 3.6 64 3.20 28.9
Devin Harris ATL 58 197 3.4 88 2.24 24.8
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 177 2.6 108 1.64 13.9
D.J. Augustin IND 76 170 2.2 68 2.50 29.5
Luke Walton CLE 50 166 3.3 60 2.77 39.9

ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions resulting in an assist

There were 49 free agents who recorded a positive plus-minus last season, and 18 of them – including a pair who made a strong impact – remain.

Highest plus-minus, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP +/- OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Lamar Odom LAC 82 +296 104.9 95.4 +9.5
Devin Harris ATL 58 +155 105.2 97.9 +7.3
Gary Neal SAS 68 +101 105.4 101.4 +4.0
Brandan Wright DAL 64 +100 107.9 102.8 +5.1
Derek Fisher OKC 33 +64 107.2 100.7 +6.5
Kenyon Martin NYK 18 +58 109.8 101.4 +8.4
Rodrigue Beaubois DAL 45 +36 102.8 99.3 +3.5
Nate Robinson CHI 82 +32 101.9 101.9 +0.0
Mike James DAL 45 +30 106.8 103.8 +3.0
Jerry Stackhouse BKN 37 +27 103.0 104.6 -1.7

OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions with player on floor

Ellis Gives Dallas A Badly Needed Jolt

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks finally appear to have their big-name free agent and Monta Ellis finally gets his big contract.

Only neither is as big as originally hoped. The Mavs dearly wanted Dwight Howard. He’s in Houston. Ellis opted out of $11 million with the Milwaukee Bucks for one final season. He didn’t find the market he expected. Now he’s headed to Dallas for a reported three years at between $25 million and $30 million.

He joins a roster under extreme reconstruction that, at the moment, is stacked with newcomers in the backcourt. The athletic, volume-shooting Ellis figures to start at shooting guard next to high-IQ point guard Jose Calderon, who signed on for four years and $29 million. Dallas will pay those two around $15 million next season.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the Ellis agreement. Stein also reported that the three-year deal that Devin Harris (who has dislocated toe) and Dallas agreed to has been shelved.

Sixth man Vince Carter is the lone returnee and only producer from last season’s train-wreck backcourt. He enters the final year of his deal at $3.2 million.

Dallas also brought in guards Wayne Ellington on a two-year deal, plus rookie free agent Gal Mekel and draft picks Shane Larkin (who will miss possibly three months with ankle injury) and Ricky Ledo. After realizing top free agents (Deron Williams last summer and now Howard) weren’t enamored with a thin roster that wasn’t winning any trades either, the Mavs are in the asset acquisition business.

It’s a different approach than the last two offseasons when owner Mark Cuban sought short-term bang for his buck, and consistently said he would save his money for foundation-type players. Perhaps the Mavs now believe that the 27-year-old Ellis, who has played in two postseasons in his eight-year career, is one. He was certainly the last remaining “impact” free agent on the market.

At the moment, eight of the 12 players Dallas has or soon expects to have under contract are guards. Talk about going small-ball. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jae Crowder fill the forward position and second-year center Bernard James, a low-minute player when he got off the bench, is the only big man in the middle.

That has to change, although how is the big question considering the Mavs’ cap situation. Dallas remains in pursuit of stop-gap veteran Samuel Dalembert (a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee could be an option) and they’ve been in discussions with their own hybrid forward-center Brandan Wright. Elton Brand also remains a possibility.

The agreement with Ellis seemed unlikely just a couple days ago when president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said he didn’t expect more backcourt additions. With all eyes focused on the depleted center position, Ellis did perk up a fan base wondering where the franchise was headed after missing out on Howard a week ago.

Ellis doesn’t turn the summer around for the Mavs, but he does bring with him some needed swag back to Big D. The roster had been virtually bare of playmaking electricity. He gives Dallas excitement, if not also unpredictability, and he’ll happily fill the role as the second — and sometimes lead scorer — the Mavs so desperately need next to Nowitzki.

The 6-foot-3 Ellis averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.0 apg sharing the backcourt in Milwaukee last season with Brandon Jennings. He shot just 41.6 percent overall and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc, but he can light it up on any given night and seemed to have a knack for fireworks when he played Dallas.

A rim protector must be on the way, though, or the Mavs’ defensive standing at No. 27 in scoring (101.7 ppg) last season could get worse. Ellis’ defensive efficiency last season benefited from the Bucks’ swat machine Larry Sanders. Ellis consistently ranks high in steals, but his overall defensive prowess is not considered a strong suit, and starting next to Calderon could cause coach Rick Carlisle to go completely bald.

The Mavs aren’t done massaging their roster. Friday at least provided a jolt and a little more intrigue for a proud franchise that was quickly looking lottery-bound for a second consecutive season.

Celtics Drifting, But Who’s Going To Count Them Out?

DALLAS – The Celtics were in no mood to hear about a Heat hangover as an excuse for never leading in Friday’s 104-94 loss, their second straight road disappointment since letting Miami off the hook Monday night in Boston.

While the Heat pushed their win streak, one that the Celtics fail to view as particularly impressive, to 25 in a row on Friday, Boston took another step in the wrong direction. The Celtics lost for the third consecutive time to the Dallas Mavericks and the fifth time in seven games — a southerly drift that could ultimately lead to a first-round matchup with guess who?

“It’s a tough losing streak right now, three games, but we’re going to try to bounce back,” said Paul Pierce, who had a tough night with 16 points, but just seven through three quarters. “We’ve been through it before. This team is mentally tough and we’ll weather through the storm.”

Boston (36-32) moves on to a tough back-to-back at Memphis Saturday night with just two games separating it from the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics will hope to have available starting point guard Courtney Lee, who sprained his left ankle late in the fourth quarter. After reaching the bench he was able to apply pressure and walk to the locker room on his own. He’s hopeful any swelling will be limited and that he’ll be ready to play.

No one would be foolhardy enough to count this stubborn, old Celtics team out. But at some point the emotional and physical toll of battling shorthanded night-in and night-out has to come home to roost. In consecutive games, they’ve fallen at New Orleans (the West’s last-place team) on a last-second tip-in, and on Friday they were out-hustled to loose balls and beaten on the boards by the light-rebounding Mavs, a team that’s played better of late but still sits 10th in the West.

“I just think we gave one away the other night in New Orleans, that was self-inflicted, and tonight they took it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They won the game. We didn’t play great. We missed a lot of open shots, we missed layups, but overall I’ll take those. I thought we played pretty hard. I wasn’t real happy with our defense and we’re going to have to clean that up.”

Dallas center Brandan Wright, in and out of the rotation all season, although playing more and quite well of late, lit up Boston’s interior defense for a season-high 23 points and a season-high-tying eight rebounds. Shawn Marion, back after missing eight games with a calf strain, had 11 points and 13 rebounds.

“I can’t wait to watch the film. I think we got crushed in the 50-50 game today,” Rivers said, referencing the loose balls that could go to either team, but mostly wind up in the hands of the players with more jump. “Some of those rebounds will count as rebounds, the long ones that were way out to the free throw line, we didn’t get any of those. They got them all. Shawn Marion, I don’t know what his numbers are, but he hurt us with his effort.”

Pierce played 40 minutes Monday against Miami, 33 at New Orleans and another 35 at Dallas. Kevin Garnett (16 points, 12 rebounds) logged 29 minutes in each of the last two games after sitting out two with a thigh injury, but Boston could have used him for 39. Off the bench, Jeff Green had 10 points, giving him 23 in the last two games after hitting Miami for 43. Jason Terry, in his return to Dallas, had little to say after scoring eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.

“All I was worried about was the win,” Terry said. “We have to end this road trip on a good note. Right now we’re just not getting it done.”

Resolve can be a powerful tool to beat back adversity, but eventually the absence of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo — and even rookie Jared Sullinger to help on the boards – will wear down the older Celtics team. When Lee went down looking like he, too, could become a casualty, it had to be nothing short of disheartening.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had so many ups and downs and always were able to find a way,” said third-year guard Avery Bradley, who missed the first half of this season recovering from shoulder surgery last May. “Last year we had  a lot of issues that people didn’t know about, a lot of injuries and we still were able to find a way, and still had an opportunity. It just shows what kind of organization we have.”

Finding a way this time will be an even tougher dig than a year ago when the Celtics clawed all the way to Game 7 at Miami in the East finals.

Still, nobody’s counting out the Celtics just yet. No, not even the Heat.

Mavs Owner: ‘Bank Of Cuban Is Open’

DALLAS – Talk about your public offerings. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t need Facebook to inform the rest of the NBA that everybody not named Dirk Nowitzki on his makeshift roster is officially on the trading block.

“We’re letting everybody know that the Bank of Cuban is open,” the billionaire owner announced Monday night before his Mavericks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for a third consecutive victory to climb to 16-23. “If it’s the right deal, we don’t mind taking back money. But we’re not going to do a trade just to do a trade. It’s got to be worthwhile.”

Cuban’s declaration came two nights after he said there is a “100 percent chance” that the Mavs will aggressively pursue trades — either as a main trade partner or as a facilitator in a multi-team scenario — as the weeks and days count down to the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

It’s perhaps the Mavs’ best chance to upgrade a unit that last week dropped to 10 games under .500 for the first time since Cuban bought the team in 2000. The Mavs, five games out of the eighth spot in the West, are in jeopardy of not making the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.

So don’t discount Cuban’s comments as a crafty PR move. Cuban needs to keep a fan base that has provided a league-best 449 consecutive sellouts going back to 2001 engaged in a team that has had massive turnover the last two seasons and has underperformed since claiming the championship. Consider it also a warning shot to the current players. Since Cuban’s initial comments on Saturday, the Mavs have blown out the Grizzlies and Timberwolves.

Dallas is in position to take on salary because of Cuban’s controversial financial maneuverings following the 2011 championship when he dismantled the title team. Under the more rigid guidelines and more punitive tax of the new collective bargaining agreement that begins to truly bear its fangs next season, Cuban altered his spend-at-all-costs philosophy. Instead, he went for scaling back salary to create cap space, allowing for the pursuit of high-dollar free agents (a move that bombed this summer when Deron Williams re-signed with Brooklyn) as well as the flexibility to make a blockbuster trade (including, and perhaps most importantly, sign-and-trades in the summer that will be off limits to teams above the luxury-tax apron – the point is $4 million above the tax level, which is $70.3 million this season).

Cuban’s belief is that good players with big contracts will become available as teams seek ways to get under the luxury tax for this season and beyond. An example is Rudy Gay, who is reportedly being shopped by the Memphis Grizzlies. Front offices are also keenly aware of the repeater tax that will be levied on teams that chronically spend over the luxury-tax line.

Cuban said he’s been busy poring over rosters, watching players and making suggestions daily to president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

Dallas has few assets on the roster capable of netting a major acquisition in a two-team swap. The big question is if Cuban can swing a deal that not only improves his team this season, but also makes long-term cap sense. His club is loaded with players on expiring contracts such as O.J. Mayo, a 25-year-old shooting guard that Dallas wants to pan out for its long-range plans. Guards Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and Roddy Beaubois, center Chris Kaman and forwards Elton Brand and Brandan Wright are also on one-year contracts.

Veterans Vince Carter (owed $6.3 million through 2013-14) and Shawn Marion (owed $17.5 million through 2013-14) could be of interest to a contender.

Going nowhere, the owner has made clear, is Nowitzki. And that’s not because the sweet-shooting 7-footer is believed to be the only player in the league other than Kobe Bryant with a no-trade clause in his contract.

Cuban said flatly that he won’t trade the 15-year face of the franchise.

Nowitzki, whose four-year, $80 million contract expires after the 2013-14 season when he will turn 36, has been consistent in saying he wants to remain with Dallas until he decides to retire. He did recently express skepticism toward Cuban’s plan and went so far as to wonder if it would be in Dallas’ best interest to trade him if it fails to land a star player to build around before next season.

Stay tuned. Plenty of intrigue to come as the Bank of Cuban is officially open for business.

With Fisher Out, Heat Rises On Collison

DALLAS – With Derek Fisher out at least the next three games with a right knee strain, the stage is again yours, Mr. Collison.

That’s Darren Collison, the point guard the Dallas Mavericks traded for in the offseason to take over as their starter and then benched after just 14 games.

Fisher, signed a month into the season, suffered a right patellar tendon strain in the Mavs’ Tuesday night win over Philadelphia, a game he almost sat out because of the flu. But he didn’t and five minutes in Fisher was on the floor grasping his right knee. The Mavs announced Thursday that he will miss tonight’s game against the Miami Heat and at least through the following two-game road trip at Memphis on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday.

It clears the way for Collison to get back in the starting saddle (although coach Rick Carlisle would not confirm his starter at shootaround with Dominique Jones being an option), and that means in a national television showcase against the defending champs (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Carlisle benched Collison after an often reckless, turnover-tinged start and with the Mavs sitting at 7-7 during their favorable portion of the schedule. That’s when the veteran Fisher came abroad to deliver a rudder to Dallas’ listing, Dirk Nowitzki-less ship.

Now they’re 12-13 and embarking on a most daunting six-game stretch that also includes a road game at Oklahoma City after Christmas, followed by home dates with Denver and the Spurs again.

How well the Mavs close out 2012 could well depend on how reliable Collison, who has averaged 5.3 assists and 2.6 turnovers, can be as the starting point guard as the competition level significantly rises.

“Right now we’re trying to figure out how not to turn the ball over 17 times a game,” Carlisle said Wednesday. “And then, yeah, these are all good teams coming up. Nothing’s ever easy, particularly this year. It’s been tough. We’re going to prepare hard and team’s got to deal with us, too.”

Nope, nothing easy, particularly in the turnover department. Dallas coughed it up on an average of 21.4 times in three consecutive road losses, with a high of 28 in the double-overtime loss at Boston. Against Philly, they did a better job, limiting the turnovers to just 11 that the 76ers turned into six points. Collison had just one turnover in more than 30 minutes.

The short-handed Mavs, obviously still without Nowitzki, who practiced for the first time on Wednesday, have other injury issues as well heading into tonight’s game against Miami, which is just 4-4 on the road. Forward Elton Brand (groin) is listed as day-to-day as is reserve center Brandan Wright, who turned his ankle late in the Philly game.

Collison, who wasn’t happy with the demotion at the time, has come off the bench the last 10 games and will need to play big during this stretch. As a reserve, his playing time dropped by only three minutes a game and his stats have remained relatively the same with the exception of his assists dropping from 6.3 a game to 3.8. His scoring dipped from 12.9 to 11.1, but his overall shooting percentage rose to 46.7 percent from 43.3 percent (although his 3-point percentage has plummeted to 21.1 percent).

His turnovers have tapered off some with two or fewer in five of the 10 games, although he’s had three games with four or more, including seven in the Boston loss.

Come tonight’s tip, Collison will be eager to show the basketball world that he is what Dallas brought him in to be — a starter.

Is Marion NBA’s Most Overlooked Stat-Stuffer?

DALLAS – It took 12 seasons and one remarkable championship run butting heads with three of the game’s greatest scorers in succession – Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James – for Shawn Marion to get his just due as a lean, mean, defensive machine.

Yet into his 14th season, and as he aligns with a super-elite group of men — all of either considerably more height or girth than he — with at least 16,000 points (which Marion surpassed Monday), 9,000 rebounds (which he surpassed last week) and 1,500 steals, is the 6-foot-7, 228-pound Martix still one of the great overlooked all-around players of his time?

The group he joined? Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett. The first three are Hall of Famers and the fourth will be.

“I’ve got over a thousand blocks, too,” Marion chirped.

Indeed you do. Marion is one of five players with at least 1,500 steals and 1,000 blocks along with The Dream, The Mailman, The Doctor (Julius Erving) and Garnett, who, in his 18th season, is obviously the only other active player with Marion to have earned a spot among those legends.

“It’s hard to do; it ain’t easy,” Marion said. “You got to pride yourself on certain things and be that complete player to make it happen.”

As the Miami Heat visit Marion’s Mavericks tonight in Dallas (9:30 p.m. ET on TNT), the Matrix’s defensive assignment will be front and center as it typically is, the spotlight matchup against LeBron, the player Marion helped suffocate in the 2911 Finals.

And while that feat might have come as news to some, Marion’s done it his entire career. Overshadowed in Phoenix by the Suns’ high-powered offense, he continues to get it done it in Dallas. According to the Mavs’ stats maven known on Twitter as @mavstats, Marion over the last four seasons has held opposing starting small forwards to a 40.5 field-goal percentage, the lowest of any forward in the NBA (Boston’s Paul Pierce is second at 41.4 percent).

“You know what?” Marion said. “I work hard every summer, playing this game and learning this game. My whole career I’ve tried to make myself the best basketball player I can be and make my teammates better as well, and I have. I reached the ultimate goal in winning a championship, I’ve done it. Personal accolades, they come along as you walk on the journey you travel and obstacles you incur during your NBA career. This is my 14th season; I’m fortunate enough to be playing 14 years and I’ve just never taken anything for granted. It’s hard work to do this, to sustain this energy and this effort and this level for this long to do the things I’ve done.”

More often when Marion’s asked about the numbers he’s amassing, accomplished by so few yet seem to fly under the radar, he tends to get defensive for a moment, then shrugs, smiles and says, “You know what? It is what it is.”

But on this day, with his latest milestones still fresh, the four-time All-Star who last was one in 2007, seemed more determined to reflect on the rare versatility required to accrue numbers of such magnitude as his career totals for points and rebounds and steals and blocks and assists, too — another 90 dimes and he’ll have 2,000 — were rattled off.

This time he didn’t shrug and blow it off. Instead he bowed up with a vertebrae-stiffening, darn-right kind of pride.

“It’s hard, and especially at 6-7,” Marion said. “I commend myself, and I push myself. I challenge myself to do things that other guys don’t want to challenge themselves to do and I’m truly blessed to do it and be able to do it over a long period of time. I think some of that stuff is on you and some of that stuff is how; it’s determination. I’m a competitor. When you’re truly a real competitor, you’re going to go out and compete on both ends of the floor and do whatever you got to do to win.”

Marion, 34, has missed seven games this season with a knee sprain and a groin strain, and he’s played through pain to try to keep Dallas’ head above water until Dirk Nowitzki finally returns. He’s producing at a near-double-double level at 10.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. In his last four games, he’s averaging 14.0 points and 10.8 rebounds with 14 assists, five steals and four blocks.

As he was last season, Marion is again Dallas’ leading rebounder despite playing with 7-foot center Chris Kaman, 6-foot-9 forward Elton Brand and 6-foot-10 reserve center Brandan Wright.

“He just keeps going, man, he’s going strong and he’s been one of our horses this year,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “And he’s played through injury and without him, we would be, I don’t know where we would be.”