Posts Tagged ‘Chris Kaman’

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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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.”

D’Antoni Drinking From Kobe’s Full Cup

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HANG TIME, Texas – It turns out Kobe Bryant isn’t the only one thinking the experts will be eating crow when he and his teammates report for duty in the playoffs next spring.

While he isn’t quite cackling on national TV with Jimmy Kimmel, coach Mike D’Antoni insists that the Lakers can improve on their 45-37 record from last season. At least that’s what he told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I think we can be better because I don’t think we reached our potential last year. Our lack of defense came mostly from lack of energy from guys that didn’t feel right in their place on the team. Defense is energy, concentration and the desire to do it.

“If something is sapping that energy — distractions, injuries, not feeling good about the team — then you’re not going to put your heart and soul into it and it comes out on the defensive end. They just didn’t feel each other.”

It’s a simple recipe, really. You simply subtract a seven-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time NBA rebounding leader — including last season when he wasn’t fully fit — and the kumbaya spirit of cooperation lifts the entire boat.

Of course, D’Antoni didn’t mention Dwight Howard by name and we think that’s a good thing, since there has been far too much dredging up the pains of the past by everyone in the Laker organization from team president Jim Buss down to the valet parking attendants at the Staples Center. It is time — way past time, in fact — for the Lakers to move on and part of that has to be adopting the old Stuart Smalley from the long ago days of Saturday Night Live: “We’re good enough.”

Can the Lakers be good enough in a Western Conference where they had to go to the final night of the regular season in 2012-13 to finally secure the No. 7 spot in the playoffs and where Houston (with Howard) and Golden State (with Andre Iguodala) would clearly rank ahead of them now in the pecking order. Then there’s the matter of teams such as Minnesota, Portland and New Orleans coming up from behind. The Timberwolves are rebounding from a season fraught with injuries, while the Blazers and Pelicans have made moves to improve their talent.

The Lakers still have the biggest question mark in the league on their side of the ledger, wondering when — and really if — at age 35, Bryant can return to his Black Mamba form. Until that time, they must rely on 39-year-old Steve Nash and 33-year-old Pau Gasol  to carry the load with aging bodies that both broke down last season. D’Antoni’ said he believes that Nash and Gasol will be 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, but this is certainly a time, for their own good and that of the team, that their minutes will have to be monitored closely and likely limited. The defending Western Conference champion Spurs have been able to get away with fewer minutes from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili because young guys such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are rising through the pipeline. That’s not quite the case with the Lakers, whose offseason additions have been Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman.

D’Antoni says he’s not going into the season looking over his shoulder in terms of his job security, especially after surviving a summer of blood-letting in the NBA coaching ranks.

“I’m sure it’s out there. If you don’t win, it’s there,” he said. “If you’re coaching in Fort Wayne, it’s going to be the same thing. I think the Lakers are a special case because they’re the No. 1 team that’s on ESPN. You just do the best job you can do and go on. If you get caught up in what they’re saying, you can’t do your job.”

Then he mentioned his peers in what was a surprisingly cranky, impatient off-season.

“Look at what happened to coaches this year. Eleven get let go. And three or four of them had the best years the franchise has ever had,” D’Antoni said. “So who am I to say they’re treating me bad? What about all those other guys?”
D’Antoni never feared for his job security despite the first-round playoff flameout.

“No, because Mitch [Kupchak] and Jim Buss were really supportive and great,” he said of the team’s front-office executives. “I couldn’t ask for anything better from the staff and franchise. I don’t want to be flippant, but you also have to have an attitude of, ‘To hell with everything. Concentrate. Go forward.’ You can’t get distracted by the noise.”

Can Dwight-less L.A. Actually Be Better?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t go misinterpreting the headline as this somehow trumpeting the Los Angeles Lakers as a serious challenger for the West crown, let alone a threat to unseat the Miami Heat.

The NBA still wants L.A. showcased on Christmas Day, but this isn’t 2012-13 after all. That fantasy ended, a certain center did say, as a nightmare.

Still, there is the 2013-14 season to play before the Lakers can go LeBron and ‘Melo hunting next summer. In a loaded West where San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Golden State and Memphis look like playoff locks before the first tip, and Minnesota and Portland could be fast-risers, the mighty Lakers could again be scraping for a playoff berth come mid-April.

But is there a chance that this re-tooled Lakers roster will be better off than last year’s dysfunctional bunch? This entire discussion begins and ends with health, starting with Kobe Bryant‘s unpredictable return from Achilles surgery at 35 (Aug. 23), Pau Gasol‘s feet and knees at 33 and Steve Nash‘s back and body at 40 (Feb. 7). Another injury return, and a significantly underestimated one, is power forward Jordan Hill, 26, coming back from a torn labrum in his hip. He played just 29 games last season.

Any setbacks or new injuries to any of the “Big Three” for an extended stretch will sink the season. The roster is way too thin to cover for the heavy lifters. Deep into the luxury tax for next season, the Lakers had no way to substantially upgrade the roster even after Dwight Howard bolted. They opted for a bit of financial relief and used the amnesty provision to part with a slowed-down Metta World Peace. They let a handful of free agents go and replaced them with Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row.
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2013-14 ROSTER 2012-13 ROSTER
PG: Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar PG: Nash, Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris
SG: Bryant, Jodie Meeks SG: Bryant, Meeks, Andrew Goudelock
SF: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson SF: Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Devin Ebanks
PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly PF: Pau Gasol, Hill, Earl Clark
C: Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre C: Dwight Howard, Sacre

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“We’re excited to see what we can make of ourselves,” Nash recently told reporters. “We really are going to try for the second consecutive year to find chemistry and identity, but we’re excited for it, so we’ll see.”

Not exactly a title guarantee, but at least it’s a roster full of players, both young and old, with something to prove. That goes for coach Mike D’Antoni, too, who needs to prove he can stretch and grow with a team not stocked with youthful gazelles to carry out his high-octane offense.

So here’s why this Lakers team, as unimpressive as it might look on paper, can be better:

No more Dwight tension: The charade is over. There will be no more microscopic Dwight-Kobe relationship introspection, no more D’Antoni railing against utilizing the strengths of two low-post players, no more Gasol groveling about standing 18 feet from the basket. There should be plenty of fresh air here. Gasol will start at center where he will be more comfortable and presumably more effective, and Kobe won’t get rankled day-in and day-out by Howard’s playful ways.

Nash back to being Nash: Assuming he is healthy, Nash should more resemble the player we know, the one who creates for others and doesn’t stand off in the corner. L.A. will still be big with Hill likely starting alongside Gasol, but Young will spread the floor better than MWP and should be a consistent 3-ball threat. Wes Johnson can also run the floor as well as the 6-10 Hill, so this should help Nash push the ball more. And with Kobe coming back from the devastating Achilles injury, perhaps he’ll be more accepting of playing like a traditional shooting guard and be less commanding of the ball, as he said was the plan when the Lakers traded for Nash last summer.

Offense was already pretty good: Despite all the dysfunction and injury issues, the Lakers still averaged 102.2 points, sixth-best in the league. They’ll miss Howard’s 58.7 field-goal percentage, but their middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting should improve. It’s still up to D’Antoni to coach to his personnel’s strengths and not what he would like their strengths to be. While this group should be able to run sporadically, Kobe isn’t exactly prepared to do that and the high-mileage Gasol isn’t Amare Stoudemire in his prime. Still, the offense should be able to create an identity starting in training camp, run efficiently and score at a high rate.

Rambis’ mission: Defense. The Lakers were horrible last season, playing as if they had never heard of a rotation. So in one of the more interesting hires of the season, D’Antoni reached out to Kurt Rambis, a former Lakers blue-collar forward and assistant under Phil Jackson. As an analyst on Lakers broadcasts and nationally for ESPN, Rambis was a harsh critic of D’Antoni, specifically how he used his personnel. Now Rambis must find a way to make a starting five that includes Nash, Young and a recovering Kobe to D-up. When Howard was on the bench last season, the Lakers were abysmal defensively. Hill’s return will help on the boards and defending the paint. With a training camp to implement a scheme and, Rambis hopes, an identity — something the Lakers never attained last season — it is possible to turn a porous defense lacking great individual defenders into a pretty decent team defense. Still, it is not a job for the faint of heart.

So what does it all mean for the Lakers? Are they destined for the lottery or can they be one of the season’s surprise teams and make it back to the playoffs?

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The dust is settling and rosters emerging after the biggest free-agent move of the summer came down one week ago. Dwight Howard has positioned the Houston Rockets as Western Conference contenders while creating altered realities for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

Because of their high-priced payroll, the Lakers have limited flexibility to strengthen their roster for the 2013-14 season. To lessen some of its financial burden, L.A. made it official on Thursday that it will use the amnesty provision to cut loose Metta World Peace, a move that Kobe Bryant made clear he’s not thrilled with on Twitter:

Had Howard remained with the Lakers, Pau Gasol might have been on the wrong end of the amnesty, but now he’ll be the Lakers starting center. L.A. has added Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar to a roster that certainly has talent, but isn’t even expected to make the playoffs by some. 

The Mavs will scale a considerable mountain to not be lottery-bound in consecutive seasons. Dallas missed out on Deron Williams a year ago and watched Dwight pick their division rivals this time around. To make Mavs fans feel even worse, Andre Iguodala told the San Francisco Chronicle that he almost signed with Dallas an hour before committing to the Golden State Warriors. Dallas met with Andrew Bynum, but passed on making an offer.

Dallas was extremely high on Iguodala as an anchor for the future with Dirk Nowitzki in the case that Howard said no. The Mavs are in difficult spot now with a hodgepodge, guard-heavy roster that bears almost no resemblance to last season’s team that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. It includes newcomers Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and a couple of rookies in Shane Larkin and Israeli free-agent Gal Mekel.

At least Nowitzki kept a sense of humor after missing out on the prime DH target and signing another one:

Meanwhile in Houston, with Howard joining All-Star guard James Harden and emerging sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, the front office went to work to add more shooters around their new center, bringing back Francisco Garcia and agreeing to a deal with Reggie Williams.

Here’s how the Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks have filled out their rosters and who else each might be looking at:

HOUSTON ROCKETS (14)

PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

SG: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams, James Anderson

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (12)

PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic

DALLAS MAVERICKS (11)

PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

SG: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

Possibles: C Samuel Dalembert; C Greg Oden; C/F Brandan Wright; F/C Elton Brand

Report: Lakers To Amnesty World Peace



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Metta World Peace era in Los Angeles has apparently come to an end. The colorful Lakers small forward could be the first casualty of the Dwight Howard decision to go to Houston with the Lakers prepared to waive him, according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

MWP, formerly Ron Artest, has been a staples in the Lakers’ lineup for the past four seasons. He played the hero in Game 7 of The Finals in 2010, knocking down the clutch 3-point shot (above) to help the Lakers survive the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center.

But he’ll exit in the fallout of a lost season and free agent summer that saw the Lakers strike out in their recruitment of Howard, who chose to chase his championship dreams with the Rockets instead of sticking around to see if he and Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, MWP and the rest of the Lakers could get it right during a second season together.

The Lakers are cutting ties with MWP on the same day they agreed to terms with center Chris Kaman on a one-year deal to help shore up the frontcourt rotation with Howard out of the picture.

There is still a hole at small forward, though. MWP was one of the only regulars to make it through the 2012-13 season healthy for the Lakers. He played in 75 regular season games, starting 66 of those. At 33, he surely has a few good years left in him. They just won’t be with the Lakers.

Open For Business On Free-Agent Sunday



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – There are still potentially two big fish available in a shrinking free-agent summer pond. And while Sunday saw no concrete offers for either Andrew Bynum or Monta Ellis, the general sentiment is that things could change dramatically at either time for one, if not, both of them.

The Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets are reportedly interested in acquiring Ellis, who can slide into a specific role in either location. The Hawks need to restock their ranks with impact players and Ellis, a legitimate 20-point scorer, could add immediate punch at shooting guard. Denver has a hole to fill where Andre Iguodala worked last season and Ellis could also be a fit there.

The market for Bynum’s services seems to have taken a familiar turn in this wild free-agent summer, and that’s to Texas, where the Dallas Mavericks are looking for a frontcourt anchor to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. They had their sights on Dwight Howard, of course, but since that didn’t work out they’ve had to work down their list. Now Bynum appears to be in their sights, though they are cautious about his knees, as any team would be at this point.

That said, some folks believe a surprise team could win the Bynum sweepstakes.

This one could get really interesting before it’s all over.

Making things even more intriguing is what will happen with incumbent Rockets center Omer Asik, who reportedly wants no part of playing behind Howard and has asked to be traded. The Rockets have no intention of trading him, according to ESPN.com, making for an extremely intriguing next few days for any team desperate for a center.

Free agency is only a week old but there are already tons of wrinkles. As for the other business that went down Sunday, here are some of the highlights:

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Free Agent Tracker

Cuban Takes Blame For Mavs’ Fall

DALLAS – For the first time since he bought the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of the 1999-2000 season, owner Mark Cuban won’t be able to harass officials in the playoffs.

Two nights after the Mavs were eliminated from playoff contention, snapping the franchise’s record run of 12 consecutive postseason appearances, Cuban fell on the sword, taking the blame for a season that remains one game under .500 with three to play. On Wednesday, Cuban contended that had Dirk Nowitzki not missed the first 27 games of the season after knee surgery, and a career-high 29 in all, that his club would be fighting for a fifth or sixth seed.

On Friday he said he failed to put a good enough team around his 7-foot star who led the franchise to two NBA Finals and the 2011 championship.

“Look, it didn’t work out the way we planned. It’s all on me and [president of basketball operations] Donnie [Nelson],” Cuban said prior to Friday night’s overtime win over the Denver Nuggets. “It’s our job to put people in position to succeed. We didn’t do enough of it. It’s not an apology. It’s just the nature of the beast. I bust my ass to do as best as we can. No one hates losing more than me, so I’ll keep on busting my ass and hopefully it will change.”

Cuban opted not to re-sign key players from the 2011 championship, in particular last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, in order to create cap space under the altered rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The club chased Deron Williams last season but failed to lure him, setting in motion a run at players on the final year of their contracts or signing players to one-year contracts to keep salary cap room wide open for this summer.

While Cuban acknowledged that the franchise is now in a rebuild mode, he said it will be a quick job.

“It’s not a four-year rebuild cycle,” Cuban said. “I guess when you miss the playoffs, by definition you’re rebuilding. So we’ve got to get better.”

After striking out on Williams, Cuban and Nelson quickly went to work to construct a team. They felt confident about pieces acquired, namely O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison to replace Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, plus center Chris Kaman, easily the most offensively gifted big man the Mavs have had, and Elton Brand.

But, with Nowitzki out of the lineup, Dallas skidded to a 13-23 start. And while coach Rick Carlisle shuffled through starting lineups like a deck of cards, the Mavs still managed to make things a bit interesting over the last few weeks in the race for the eighth spot, but ultimately they were never able to fully recover.

With three chances in the past two weeks to get back to .500 for the first time since December, they lost by double-digits in each game, the last coming Wednesday to the last-place Suns.

The loss sealed the Mavs’ fate as an unfamiliar participant in the upcoming draft lottery.

“Look, we did the best we could,” Cuban said. “We obviously didn’t have what we thought we would have. We obviously should have had more. I don’t know if we could have, but we should have, and so it’s all on me. If that means I let Rick down, I let Rick down. People always give me (expletive) — why do you always put your email up on the screen and why are you always out front? This is why. So if someone’s got a shot to take, take it at me.”

Mavs’ Beard Talk Makes Pacers Bristle

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DALLAS – Omar the Barber missed out on a big night of tips. The Dallas Mavericks’ beards will keep growing, and perhaps if they’re fortunate enough to play for .500 again in the final 10 games of the season, they won’t broadcast plans to hold a locker-room shaving party afterward.

Not that the Indiana Pacers needed additional motivation beyond the East’s No. 2 seed being up for grabs to get up for Thursday’s 103-78 smacking of the Mavs, but they pounced on it anyway.

“That was the message coach [Frank Vogel] said to us coming in,” Pacers forward David West said. “Another day for them to do it. It wasn’t going to be tonight.”

It was 41-41 at halftime and the Mavs’ sweaty, scraggly beards that should have had time-elapsed cameras trained on them since their late January inception, were 24 minutes from finally getting out from under them.

“Personally, whatever gimmick they have to do to rally themselves is fine,” center Roy Hibbert said in one breath after delivering 16 points 11 rebounds. In the next breath he said, “We wanted to shut that [expletive] down.”

The Mavs’ beard story has gained a lot of traction recently because of the team’s hot streak, riding Dirk Nowitzki‘s improved play to the cusp of the eighth and final playoff spot. That goal seemed a long shot back when Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Chris Kaman and others took O.J. Mayo‘s unity idea to heart — no shaving until .500.

So close to breaking even after Tuesday’s riveting overtime win against the Los Angeles Clippers, a giddy Mayo, who scored the improbable lefty scoop through a double-team to force OT, said innocently postgame that he’s ready to shave. Mayo’s barber, Omar — popular with other members of the team, too — would be at the American Airlines Center and ready to get to work.

Nowitzki, who dresses in the locker stall next to Mayo, had said the other night that he preferred not to talk about it for fear of jinxing it. After Thursday’s whipping, his hobo-like beard creeping a good half-inch down his neck, Nowitzki was more perturbed at the Mavs’ failure to move up the standings than missing out on a shave until at least Tuesday (when Dallas visits the Lakers).

“Knowing the Lakers lost now, we had an opportunity to cut into their lead,” Nowitzki said. “And it sucks. It sucks.” (more…)

Feeling Lucky? Try 7 GMs With Decisions

HANG TIME, Texas — The clock ticks down, the trade deadline draws near and all 30 NBA general managers are burning up their phones with possibilities realistic and absurd.

Some need to make deals to solidify playoff teams, others simply can’t bear the thought of sitting still. As Thursday gets closer, here are seven GMs with big decisions to make:

Danny Ferry, Atlanta Hawks

Is it finally time to give up on the hope that Josh Smith can be more than a numbers-gatherer in Atlanta? Ferry, the first-year Hawks’ GM, wasted no time in moving out Joe Johnson’s big contract. Part of the decision was that J-Smoove would blossom without Iso-Joe taking up a big part of the offense. Instead he’s averaging 1.4 fewer points and one rebound less than a year ago, his efficiency rating is down from 21.14 to 19.90 and he’s shooting only 50 percent from the free-throw line. The sense is that it’s “just time.” Still, that doesn’t mean Ferry has to move him. He’s positioned the Hawks so that they could afford to keep Smith and still sign a pricey free agent next summer. But that won’t stop the likes of the Bucks, Suns, Celtics, Wizards and Sixers from making a run. The Rockets have long had eyes for Smith, but might be more inclined to wait to make their moves in free agency.

Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

Despite their 8-1 record since Rajon Rondo’s season ended due to torn knee ligaments, it’s too hard to see the Celtics making a serious and deep playoff run on the aging legs of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The obvious move would be with the 36-year-old Garnett and making that long-rumored deal to the Clippers (Eric Bledsoe). The challenge is getting K.G. to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. Can Ainge appeal to Garnett’s own best interest to get another ring or his loyalty to the Celtics organization to help them start over? Even if Rondo’s knee injury isn’t as severe as first thought and he’s able to get back on the floor for the start of training camp, the rebuilding in Boston has to start sometime. It might as well be now.

Billy King, Brooklyn Nets

If King could know for sure that Deron Williams will shake off the injuries and inefficiency and return to the All-Star form he showed in Utah, then he’d be more inclined to sit back and put his feet up. Or maybe not in the realm of Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire owner is willing to shell out big bucks, but also expects immediate results and does not handle mediocrity well. See Avery Johnson, who was fired with a 14-14 record, a Coach of the Month title pinned to his resume. The Nets will likely try to get Paul Millsap from the Jazz and could be in the running for the popular Josh Smith. Last year’s All-Rookie team member MarShon Brooks is on the block. Would Charlotte’s offer of Ben Gordon for Kris Humphries be enough? The Nets have been so inconsistent that with the possibility of a first-round bounce due to a bad matchup looming, you have to believe King won’t sit still.

Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks

“The Bank of Cuban is open.” That was team owner Mark Cuban’s declaration last month, but what must be determined is in which direction the Mavericks are headed right now. They enter the post-All-Star stretch six games under .500 and 4 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the West. If the Mavs decide they’re better off reloading with a fully-recovered Dirk Nowitzki next season, they certainly have a good trade chip in Vince Carter, who’d be a wonderful addition to any playoff contender. He could also bring in future assets for Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.

Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets

You put him in this slot just because Morey lives with an itchy trigger finger and might be inclined to make a deal just because he can. But with the James Harden steal under his belt and the free agency hits on Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets will probably strike only if it’s a chance at a home run. With the youngest team in the league, a position in the West playoff race and a payroll that could make them big, big players in free agency, next summer is probably when they’ll make their move. But Houston is now big-game hunting for talent to play with Harden. If a chance to scoop up a true All-Star comes their way, Morey won’t hesitate.

Mitch Kupchak, L.A. Lakers

It’s almost obligatory to put the Lakers on any potential trade deadline list, despite Kupchak saying publicly that he’s not at all interested in dealing Dwight Howard or breaking up his All-Star group of underachievers at this point. He can’t trade Pau Gasol as long as the possibility exists that Howard walks as a free agent next summer — which it does. Besides, the Lakers problems are not about needing more players but getting the ones they have to play every night with passion.

Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz

Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap? With the contracts of both of the frontcourt veterans expiring, it was assumed since Day One of this season that the rookie GM Lindsey would have to deal one of them by the deadline, if for no other reason than to make room and more playing time for Derrick Favors. It would seem to make sense, but only if the Jazz can get a bonafide star in return. That’s what the 30-24 team lacks right now. But there is no reason to make a deal just to make a deal. The future is based on a young core of Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Millsap is the more likely one to go, but maybe only for another expiring contract in return. Salt Lake City is not a desired location for free agents. But as the effects of the new collective bargaining agreement are felt and big names teams try to avoid the increasingly punishing luxury tax, players will want to simply get paid. Don’t expect a panic move here.

Hickson’s Sacrifice Has Him Well-Positioned For July

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DALLAS – Portland’s energetic J.J. Hickson has played himself into a great position even while playing out of position.

At 6-foot-9, Hickson is the Blazers’ undersized center who’s putting up double-doubles at a higher rate than even his All-Star teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Hickson’s 14 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s loss at Dallas was his 27th double-double, tied for third-most in the league.

It’s the kind of production that will put Hickson, 24, atop many teams’ offseason shopping lists when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking forward to it, but that’s something I’ll get more excited about when that period hits,” Hickson said. “It’s something that me and my agent will talk about, but right now I’m just worried about playing basketball and trying to make these playoffs.”

Hickson is averaging nearly 30 minutes a game, 12.9 ppg and a career-best 10.7 rpg to help a Blazers team with little depth to stay in playoff contention.

He’s been a steal for Portland at $4 million this season. The Blazers signed him off the waiver wire last March after Sacramento released him. The Kings acquired Hickson in a trade earlier in the season from Cleveland, the team that drafted him 19th overall in 2008 out of North Carolina State, but moved him out to make room for rookie Tristan Thompson.

Portland attempted to go the more traditional route at center last offseason, making an offer to restricted free agent Roy Hibbert, but Indiana matched to hold onto the promising big man. The Blazers also eyed Chris Kaman, who chose to sign with Dallas. Portland signed Hickson to a one-year deal.

“Nah,” Hickson said when asked if he imagined himself playing center on a daily basis. “But, you know, it’s what my team needs me to do and it’s what my teammates and coaches have asked me to do, so it’s something I’m willing to sacrifice for the team.

“I’ve just been strong mentally, I think, all season. I’m a physical player so that’s not a problem, but mentally I think I’ve been locked in and I’ve just been consistent with my play.”

He and Aldridge complement each other well. In first-year coach Terry Stotts‘ offense, Aldridge is extended out of the low block more often with Hickson occupying the weakside.

“L.A.’s the kind of player that can mix it up so I’m just playing off him,” Hickson said. “He knows my situation and we all know he hates to be called a ’5,’ so we make it work and we’re doing a good at it.”

At 6-11 and equipped with a solid post game, Aldridge is closer to a traditional 5 than Hickson will ever be.

“Sometimes we get too concerned in pigeon-holing players in what he is or what he isn’t,” Stotts said. “I think [Hickson] is a frontline player, whether you want to say he’s a 4 or a 5, he’s an effective frontline player. He can score, he can run, he can rebound and I’m a little reluctant to pigeon-hole him as he’s this or that.”

Even if Hickson does feel pigeon-holed as a pseudo-center.

“Yeah, I do,” Hickson said, frankly. “But like I say, that’s something I sacrifice for the team. The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the 5 to help us get wins.”

So what’s next for Hickson? Aldridge isn’t going anywhere, so big minutes at the 4 wouldn’t seem to exist in Portland, which drafted 7-foot center Meyers Leonard last June and could make a run in free agency (or through trades) at legit centers that potentially will hit the market such as Al Jefferson, Nikola Pekovic, perhaps Andrew Bynum or even Kaman again.

Suitors and a handsome payday won’t be in short supply come July, and Hickson certainly sounded as if he’d look long and hard at a starting power forward gig elsewhere. Which could make it difficult for Portland to retain him.

“Well,” Stotts said, “we’ll worry about that later.”