Posts Tagged ‘donnie nelson’

Recent Hires Emphasize Player Evaluation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Under the new collective bargaining agreement, screw-ups drafting, trading and signing free agents carry greater consequence than ever before. Teams can no longer simply spend their way out of mistakes. A more severe luxury tax, a crushing repeater tax and annual restrictions on exceptions, plus other roster-building limitations are changing the way front offices think — and hire.

More organizations are looking out of the box to find new minds with new ideas from differing backgrounds to better evaluate talent. The Memphis Grizzlies last year hired then-ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations, a move straight out of baseball’s “Moneyball.”

Hollinger is a leader in the advanced statistical analysis movement increasingly carving out significant space in nearly every NBA front office. For all teams, and especially tight-fisted small market franchises like Memphis, determining the subtleties and nuances of a player’s game and how that player benefits the team structure, at what position, for how long and for how much is paramount to sustainability.

“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien said during the playoffs. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team.”

Last week, Yahoo! Sports reported that the San Antonio Spurs, one of the league’s legendary talent evaluating organizations, particularly internationally, dipped into the ESPN work force after hiring respected recruiting analyst Dave Telep. He worked as a senior analyst for the network and owns and operates Dave Telep Scouting Services. As a recruiting analyst, Telep watches more high school and college basketball in a year than most people will in three lifetimes.

He can provide the Spurs reams of information on the character and talent development of players across the United States from a young age, theoretically giving San Antonio an edge in future drafts. Think of the coming day when the Spurs’ Big Three really will ride off into the sunset and the organization will once again — gasp! — draft in the top 20 or even 15 and will be seeking a franchise-type player to remain relevant.

The longtime Mark Cuban-Donnie Nelson-led Dallas Mavericks didn’t raid ESPN this summer, but they did make a significant hire that underscores the critical nature of talent evaluation in today’s practically hard-capped NBA. Gersson Rosas was lured away from the Houston Rockets to take over as the Mavs’ general manager, a title vacated in 2005 by Don Nelson when he stepped aside as GM/coach.

“I think I bring a strong basketball evaluation perspective, a strong process-oriented focus,” Rosas said. “The responsibility that Mark’s given me is to support the positive things that are going here, evaluate the areas that we need to improve on and continue the efforts of the staff to improve that.”

Unlike Hollinger and Telep, Rosas, 35, did rise through an NBA front office — from video coordinator and scout with the Rockets to becoming the GM of the Rio Grande Vipers, Houston’s NBA D-League team that won two titles under his control.  Like Hollinger, Rosas is a proponent of cutting-edge analytics and technology as key player-evaluation tools. And like both men, Rosas was hired to implement his areas of expertise to strengthen Dallas’ talent evaluation processes.

In consecutive summers, Dallas did not land its top free-agent targets. They also don’t possess a base of young talent, leaving them a franchise in flux since shifting roster-building strategies following the 2011 championship and ratification of the new CBA. In chasing titles throughout the 2000s, Dallas often overspent to get players it wanted and used first-round picks as trade chips. Still, they’ve also missed badly on first-round selections such as Mo Ager (2006), Rodrigue Beaubois (2009), Dominique Jones (2010) and Jared Cunningham (2012).

With Dallas now looking up in the Western Conference, drafting well and finding the best-suited, most cost-effective free agents are imperative to building a sustainable roster. That was implied in the Mavs’ surprising hire of a rising, young executive to be their GM

“Where this team is, the focus on the draft, on trades and free agency is paramount, and we’ve got to make sure that our processes are thorough, that they’re very detailed and that we can make the best, educated decision that you can make,” Rosas said. “This isn’t the type of business where you bat a thousand. You want to make the right decisions for the right reasons. Sometimes, unfortunately, they won’t go your way, but we want to be prepared when all those opportunities present themselves.”

Cuban Shares Video Shown To Dwight

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he’d share with his team’s fans the recruiting video the team produced to woo Dwight Howard during their face-to-face free-agent meeting a month ago, and now he has.

On his blogmaverick.com, Cuban wrote more than 3,000 words explaining his personnel decisions of the last three seasons, from dismantling the 2011 title team to why he insists trading franchise rock Dirk Nowitzki is not an option. He offers opinions on the collective bargaining agreement and differing approaches to team-building, how Dwight would have fit in Dallas and the club’s high-profile free-agent misses these last two summers.

Embedded in Cuban’s missive is the two-minute, eight-second, comic-book style video that he, coach Rick Carlisle, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and Nowitzki showed to Howard while meeting in Los Angeles. The video takes Dwight back to his infancy, a baby delivered from the stars, “a hero and future MVP” to a loving mother and father in 1985 Atlanta. Howard grows from “humble beginnings,” his path to greatness “defined by effort and commitment.” The animated Howard is then shown succeeding in a Mavs uniform, fueled by “his burning desire to win” and having “fun doing it.” He embraces “new allies” (Nowitzki) and “new ideas” (from Carlisle) to become “the most dominant center of all time.” Howard and Cuban are then shown lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. A 2014 and 2015 championship banners hang next to the franchise’s lone title in 2011. And finally the video states, “Being a Maverick doesn’t end with the Hall of Fame,” as Howard is shown wearing a Superman cape, “Being a Maverick ends with… Global domination.”

In the end, Howard apparently believed taking over the world could be accomplished quicker as a member of the Houston Rockets.

Here’s a sampling of Cuban’s takes:

On not trading Dirk: “Our culture is one of the reasons I won’t trade Dirk. When you turn your team upside down and try to figure out what the culture of the team is, you take the greatest risk a team can take.  Dirk sets the tone for our team.  He works as hard, if not harder than anyone.  He helps our younger players understand what he expects and what they need to do to excel. On the court he is selfless.  He would rather not have to score a point if we would win the game any way.  He would rather pass the ball and let anyone else score than be forced to take the shot. Until its the time of the game where we need a point. Then he is ready to step up as often as we need it. But he knows, that his impact on a game is far more important than any averages or what appears in the box score. That mindset. That selflessness. His work ethic is something I want to be in place long after he has retired.  But to do that we have to transition with him, not in a void.”

On Dwight fitting with Mavs: “Let me address here the inevitable question of Dwight vs Mavs culture.  We saw it as somewhat of a risk, but felt like because Dwight by all appearances and checking we did,  is a good guy and with our support systems we believed we could make it work.  if not, he was obviously a very trade-able asset.  But, as everyone knows, we didn’t sign him. He went to the Rockets.  I do have to say the meeting with Dwight was very interesting. He is a smart guy. Much smarter than people give him credit for. He is also a very, very good listener.  Unlike most people, he spent far more time listening than talking.  And he had the best response to an opening question that I have ever heard from a player, or anyone for that matter.  When we asked him what his goal was, his response was very specific ” I want to be Epic” .  Which was a perfect lead in to the video we created for him. Would i do it the same way again ? In a heartbeat. Why ? Because in the NBA, like in the non-sports business world,  you have to take chances in order to be rewarded.  You have to be smart and you have to be more than a little lucky.”

On team-building strategy under today’s CBA: “What I do know, at least what I think i have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do . Not easier. Harder.  It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.

I see quite a few teams taking what appears to be the same approach to building a team.  I can understand why they are taking this approach. In the current CBA the value of a player chosen in the draft can be considerable because of the defined contract terms.  And if you put together some great young players, it is very enticing to want to keep those players together for a long period.

But I also know that even if you have the worst record in the NBA, you may not get the top pick and even if you do, there is a material chance you pick the wrong player , or it just happens to be a draft when there are not any IDENTIFIABLE superstar potential players at the top of the draft.

In other words, while it may be popular, I think the quantity of teams taking the same approach makes it more difficult to build a team in this manner.”

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – At NBA.com, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

Cuban Hires GM And Goes Scientific?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Listening to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explain the hiring of new general manager Gerrson Rosas, it’s difficult to tell whetherCuban is restructuring his front office or opening a sports science clinic that Major League Baseball might want to investigate.

Cuban made an appearance on the team’s flagship radio station, ESPN Dallas, and confirmed Rosas’ hiring first reported Monday by Yahoo Sports.

He said the hire had little to do with the former Houston Rockets executive’s role under analytics-driven general manager Daryl Morey in enabling the franchise to trade for James Harden and to acquire free agent Dwight Howard, or with the Mavs’ failures to land a top free agent in consecutive summers.

An exuberant Cuban said Rosas, 35, will provide day-to-day organization and management to the front office as the owner seeks to “push the envelope” in new technology areas, including an expansion of traditional analytics to what Cuban termed “bio-analytics.”

Cuban said that means exploration into areas such as “genetic testing to blood analysis and performance technology,” apparently in an effort to better evaluate players.

“If you want to keep pushing the envelope in new technology areas to give us an edge, you’ve got to hire somebody who has experience in managing those kinds of things,” Cuban said. “We really needed somebody with stronger organizational and management skills.”

Rosas, 35, Cuban said, will report to president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who previously also held the title of GM. Cuban said he, Nelson and Rosas could all handle potential trade talks with other general managers and discussions with agents depending on which one has the best relationship with that particular GM or agent. Cuban said it was his idea to seek a general manager “to get smarter as an organization” and said he implored Nelson to find the right person for the job.

“We try to take pride in being one of the most technologically advanced teams out there in all of professional sports, not just the NBA,” Cuban said. “And to keep on pushing the envelope in the direction I wanted to go, we wanted to add not just brain power, but organizational, management and process power.”

Part of that plan, Cuban also announced, was to fire 10-year strength and conditioning coach Robert Hackett. Cuban said the right candidate will be “more of an expert in performance technology science.”

Who knows where Cuban’s “bio-analytics” experiment leads, perhaps to clones of the 2011 title team. But no doubt he’s hard-charging technology efforts. He recently awarded $100,000 to biomechanics experts at SMU to research flopping.

Rosas will best serve the Mavs by keeping a sharp focus on streamlining the operation. Both Cuban and Nelson have their hands in plenty of cookie jars. Cuban is an involved investor in a gaggle of businesses, including many of his own, and he’s committed to the popular television show “Shark Tank.” Nelson is co-owner of the D-League Texas Legends and also has outside business interests, while also serving as a nightly ambassador to VIP guests at both Mavs and Legends home games.

“It gives us one more smart person to interact with and help us make smarter decisions,” Cuban said of Rosas.

Bio-analtycis aside, fans just know the team has faltered fast and the roster has been remade for a second consecutive summer around the 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki. Jose CalderonMonta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert are the latest to join Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and the soon-to-be-signed Brandan Wright.

Cuban said his recent comment that drew eye rolls, calling Dallas better off without Howard, was not put in proper context. He said the Mavs wanted Howard, but “failed in that.”

The owner said, with health, his team can be competitive, and said he’s miffed at critics who dismiss Nowitzki’s ability to shoulder this latest collection of talent.

“Like I’ve been telling him, Karl Malone won an MVP at 35 and there’s no reason why he can’t be considered in the MVP conversation at 35,” Cuban said. “I can also tell you that the way people are just randomly dismissing him as just being done has been incredible motivation for him as well.”

Ellis Gives Dallas A Badly Needed Jolt

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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.

Howard To Houston Is A Two-Fisted Gut Punch For Mavs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – If the Los Angeles Lakers recoiled at the sobering prospect of dealing Dwight Howard to an already rising divisional foe, imagine the steam clouds that spewed from the ears of Mark Cuban as if his head was an erupting Mount Vesuvius when he learned the big man had agreed to join the aspiring Houston Rockets.

Cuban seemed to take the news in stride Friday afternoon when the Dallas Mavericks’ owner was notified that his team was out of the running for the summer’s most coveted free agent. At the time, he said he was not told with which team Howard would sign.

“Got word we are out of the DH sweepstakes,” Cuban wrote in an email to various media outlets. “We gave it a shot and it didn’t work out. It was truly an experience. At some point I will post our video and presentation we made.”

The Rockets, Golden State Warriors and the incumbent Los Angeles Lakers remained in play. But only a short time later, USA Today, followed by TNT’s David Aldridge confirmed that Howard will leave the Lakers and join the Mavs’ Southwest division rival.

This one will deeply burn the Mavs, now two-time losers trying to lure a big-name free agent to pair with a now 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki.

All the while Cuban controversially, yet strategically was dismantling his 2011 championship club in anticipation of re-building a contender by creating cap space to lure a superstar (or two) under the guidelines of the new collective bargaining agreement, his in-division, in-state rival in southeast Texas was scheming just the same.

Daryl Morey, the gambling Houston Rockets’ general manager, set in motion a number of trades and transactions over the last two years to ultimately acquire players, cap space and other assets that would position the Rockets to strike when opportunities arose, to swing for the fences through both trades and free agency.

The Rockets should give Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti a tip of the cap for making this behemoth agreement possible. Before the start of last season, the Thunder’s salary-cap-strapped GM dealt rising star James Harden to Houston as Morey dipped into his collection of assets. Harden became an All-Star and delivered the Rockets back into the playoffs. Now Morey has Howard, too, his longtime target.

Aside from the Lakers, who practically begged Howard to re-sign, no team will find this harder to swallow than Dallas. The scenario of Howard to Houston was always the Mavs’ worst nightmare, leaving the franchise third in pecking order in its own state behind the Rockets and the ever-resilient San Antonio Spurs.

The Warriors cleared out cap space Friday and added another top-flight free agent in Andre Iguodala – a Mavs target in the case they whiffed on Howard — to a young and talented roster that challenged the Spurs in the second round. Golden State won’t be too disappointed in not landing Howard. They were always a long-shot in this race and even without Howard they look to be putting together something special.

The Atlanta Hawks, flush with cap space, never seemed to elevate their hopes too high that Howard would reverse his long-held thinking and decide to play in his hometown. General manager Danny Ferry will now attempt to piece together the best team he possibly can for new coach Mike Budenholzer.

This was Strike Two for Dallas. A year ago, it chased native son Deron Williams, but was rebuffed. It signed a slew of players to one-year deals to keep their free-agent “powder dry” — as president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson is fond of saying — and to go after Howard or Chris Paul this summer.

Williams’ Nets now have the look of a contender after general manager Billy King pulled off the stunning trade that brings Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. CP3 got Doc Rivers and is staying put and now the Rockets with Howard will vault into the top four or five in the West with Warriors, CP3′s Clippers, the Thunder and the reigning West champion Spurs.

And Houston might not be done. They have long been reported to seek Atlanta free agent power forward Josh Smith, a childhood buddy of Howard, who’s reluctance to join the Mavs leaves the franchise reeling. Two seasons ago they were swept out of the first round by the Thunder and this season failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.

Nowitzki, understanding his years are numbered, has repeatedly called this a “big offseason for us.”

Yet on the roster at this moment with him is Shawn Marion, 35, Vince Carter, 36, two 2012 second-round draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James, plus 2013 first-round pick Shane Larkin and newly signed Israeli guard Gal Mekel. 

As Howard’s drama dragged on, Dallas missed out on other free-agent targets, most notable Iguodala. The Clippers re-signed role player Matt Barnes and on Thursday center Al Jefferson signed a lucrative deal with the Charlotte Bobcats.

So where do Cuban and the Mavs go from here?

Dallas, 41-41 last season with Nowitzki playing in only 53 games after preseason knee surgery, has glaring holes at point guard, shooting guard and center. They can seek a trade but possess few assets to entice a team into dealing a player of stature. They learned that quickly in reported talks with Boston for Rajon Rondo.

Cuban said after the season that he doesn’t want to go through another year of one-year contracts, preferring to find players that are core-worthy. Now he and Nelson must decide if, for instance, still available guards Monta Ellis, Mo Williams or Jarrett Jack are building-block players they want to commit years and dollars to at the risk of cutting into cap space for next summer. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Zach Randolph, among others, could be on the market.

But the Mavs have twice seen what a crapshoot that strategy can be.

Rondo To Mavericks Makes Sense

 

HANG TIME, Texas — Game on.

With the big man spreading the word that he won’t waste time and will make his free agent decision on July 10, all the players in the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes have to come firing out of the starting blocks.

So Rajon Rondo to Dallas?

The word from Mike Fisher at DallasBasketball.com is that Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson has broached the subject with GM Danny Ainge in Boston:

The two parties continue to discuss trade scenarios, sources tell us.

Ainge and Dallas Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson have a long-standing and friendly relationship, so that might be a reason for the two teams to be exchanging ideas. Meanwhile, Mavs owner Mark Cuban is hinting at talks about a trade acquisition so large that it might preclude the “big-fish’’ acquisition of Dwight Howard.

I asked one NBA source if Cuban’s remark is intended as a smokescreen.

“Dallas, for all the right reasons, has 100 scenarios up on their board,’’ the source said. “But scenario No. 1 is Dwight Howard.’’

Previously, scenario No. 1 was Chris Paul. But Mavs officials tell me they are anticipating an official pronouncement from Paul that he’s staying with the Clippers, thus saving potential suitors their time and effort there.

There are mathematical/legal ways for Dallas to acquire Dwight and Rondo, the sort of double-play that would greatly accelerate the Mavs’ return to title contention. (Dwight could be signed outright with the trade-away dumping of the contracts of, say, Vince Carter and Jae Crowder. That would have to be done first. Then Marion would have to be a centerpiece of Dallas’ offer to the Celtics.) Both of the players come with some baggage, however. For Mavs fans, Howard’s issues are well-documented; he’s eyeballed the Mavs for over two years, and therefore his game and his persona have been picked apart in this space.

It is a deal that would make perfect sense from both sides. The Mavs, of course, are looking for another elite level player to join the supporting cast around Howard. Of course, they already have Dirk Nowitzki, but at 35 he’s close to the end and Dallas needs another All-Star level running mate into the future for Howard who can combat Houston’s enticement of playing with James Harden.

Put Howard into the middle of a lineup with Nowitzki and Rondo and the Mavs are right back battling at the top of the Western Conference race next season.

Ainge may be saying right now that he’s not looking to completely dismantle what’s left of the Celtics in the aftermath of trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. But whatever pain the Celtics put their fans through could pay off in the long run, especially if they land a high pick in a top-heavy Draft in 2014.

There is also the matter of how Rondo would personally handle being on a mediocre to poor team. He’s always been a handful to deal with even in the best of times, ready to fight literally with coach Doc Rivers and go to war figuratively with Ray Allen. Only the presence of the old heads Garnett and Pierce was able to keep Rondo’s white-hot competitive streak and his sizzling temper in check. If Ainge, as expected, is going to hire a first-time coach to mid-wife the Celtics through the next couple of years of rebuilding, that guy without a long resume as a leader is not going to need a point guard who will constantly challenge his authority.

If Ainge can get expiring contracts, maybe draft choices and wind up with a team next season that gets him a high pick in what is said to be a top-heavy draft in 2014, the Celtics are on their way to a recovery.

The clock is ticking on the countdown to the Fight for Dwight and the maneuvering has just begun. But this is a bold, big move that we can get behind from both sides.

Game on.

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.”

Deadline Deals Don’t Equal A Fresh Start

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Not everyone can be J.J. Redick and get traded at the deadline to a playoff team that has 28 minutes of playing time carved out and instantly make a positive impact.

Just ask Anthony Morrow, who was virtually nonexistent in Atlanta only to become invisible in Dallas; or Ed Davis, who is only now, thanks to injuries to Zach Randolph, beginning to break into Memphis coach Lionel Hollins‘ rotation. Ronnie Brewer lost his rotation spot in New York and has yet to find one in Oklahoma City and Jordan Crawford, whose low minutes in Boston are at least better than no minutes in Washington.

“I landed in a place that is pretty much a great fit for me,” Morrow said a few days after being freed from the Hawks. “Coming out of my last situation I just wanted to get somewhere or anywhere where I could have an opportunity in terms of working hard and letting that pay off.”

Judging by comments from the Mavs’ brass, Morrow, a free-agent-to-be, figured to have gotten exactly what he wanted. President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson went so far as to call Morrow “one of the top stretch shooters maybe in the history of the league.” That might have been stretching things a bit, but owner Mark Cuban seemed happy to get the 3-point specialist for a playoff push in a straight-up deal for defensive-minded shooting guard Dahntay Jones.

“He’s one of those guys you just can’t leave,”  Cuban said. “If you do he’s going to make you pay for it and that’s going to be really valuable for us.”

It might be if Morrow ever gets on the court. Coach Rick Carlisle has played Morrow a whopping six minutes. Six total minutes. He finally got up his first 3-pointer as a Mav on Sunday against Minnesota — he missed it — when he played 2:28, a shade under his Mavs high of 3:40 to go with stints of 16 seconds and four seconds.

The Thunder acquired the 6-foot-7 Brewer after trading backup guard Eric Maynor to Portland, a move that has worked well for Maynor on the Blazers’ thin bench. Brewer has played limited minutes, but his true value should come in the playoffs as a sturdy wing defender that coach Scott Brooks can utilize in specific situations. Brewer got a brief, late fourth-quarter assignment against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers last week.

“Those are minutes I have to somehow work in, but it’s hard to play 10, 11 guys,” Brooks said. “But Ronnie knows what he has to do and what he will do, he’s a professional, he understands what we do. He knows how to play, he’s a hard-nosed defender, he’s a team guy, so he just has to keep working until he gets his number called.”

Which is what the 6-foot-10 Davis is doing in Memphis. The three-team deal that sent Detroit big man Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince to Memphis and Rudy Gay to Toronto (Raptors point guard Jose Calderon now starts for Detroit) happened about three weeks before the deadline.

Daye surprisingly was getting the bulk of the bench minutes while Davis sat. But in the last four games, Davis is starting to emerge as a key player for the hot Grizzlies, if only because of injuries to the starter, Randolph, and top reserve forward, Darrell Arthur. In his last four games, Davis is averaging 27.0 mpg, 9.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg. In the prior three games, he played a total of 21 minutes and had averaged less than 10 minutes since joining the Grizzlies.

Hollins offered up a pretty good indication of what he expects from Davis following Saturday’s win at New Orleans where Davis produced 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

“When he is focused, he’s good. It’s a different focus; a different concentration level when you are on a good team,” Hollins said. “You can’t float, you can’t be in and out. You have to be focused for the whole time you’re on the court. Last [Friday] night, I thought he was great in the second half. He was not very good in the first half. [Saturday night], it was just the opposite. There were shots that he should have blocked. There were rebounds he should have had. It’s just something he has to grow into.”

As for Crawford, what seemed like a savvy deadline move for the Celtics to add some scoring pop off the bench with Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa out for the season, hasn’t panned out. Crawford remains an inefficient scorer and a poor decision-maker and, not coincidentally, he has provided little impact.

In a trade season where Redick — whose Bucks are 6-2 since his arrival (he missed Sunday’s win at Sacramento with a sprained ankle) — was the biggest name moved, role players in new homes are finding that it can be difficult to fit in.

D-League Diary: Justin Dentmon’s Long Wait

FRISCO, Texas — Sometimes Justin Dentmon wants to strangle his cell phone. But like the rest of us, he can’t live without it. It’s just that so few of us experience the stomach-wrenching anxiety he does with each ring of an incoming call or beep of a text.

“I feel like I’m on call every day, I’m waiting every day,” Dentmon said. “Every time Bill [Neff, his agent] calls and leaves a message, I’m thinking that it’s somebody calling for a contract. I’m really just trying to be patient.”

But time is running short, on the the NBA season, on that elusive call-up and ultimately on the 6-foot point guard’s NBA dream.

“I’m just hoping for that call-up, man,” Dentmon said. “Just the chance, the opportunity.”

Dentmon, 27, plays for the Texas Legends. It is his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate in the last three years, and he leads the league in scoring at 21.5 ppg. He’s averaging 25.9 ppg in 15 games with the Legends since being traded mid-season from the Austin Toros, the San Antonio Spurs’ affiliate he won the league MVP with and led to the D-League title a year ago.

That season, while averaging 22.8 ppg and 5.5 apg while shooting lights out from beyond the arc, it took until March 24 for Dentmon to get the call for his first 10-day contract with the Spurs. A few days after San Antonio released him, the Toronto Raptors quickly scooped him up with another 10-day contract. But they decided to hold onto Ben Uzoh, a D-League staple this season with the Springfield Armor.

But Dentmon felt like he had finally got himself on the map and closer than ever before to realizing his dream. Last summer he was set to play for Dallas’ summer league team and Dentmon and his agent believed that the Mavs, whose president of basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, co-owns the Legends, were ready to sign him to a partially guaranteed NBA contract. That would get him to training camp in October where he could compete for a roster spot.

But disappointment followed. He didn’t play as much as he would have liked in the five summer league games and then four days later his desired contract fell through because Dallas re-signed veteran, but troubled guard Delonte West. Without an NBA contract, Dentmon returned to the D-League Toros this season to begin the fight all over again.

And now with just 13 games left in the Legends’ season, West’s shadow looms again. The Mavs waived West prior to the season for detrimental behavior and he’s been out of the league since. Five weeks ago he failed to report to the Legends after signing a contract, however he is apparently ready to join the team now in a late attempt to salvage his derailed career.

It’s a difficult pill to swallow for Dentmon. He essentially plays the same position and could lose essential playing time. It seems like that’s been a constant threat since the Legends traded for him on Jan. 22. West signed his original Legends deal on Jan. 25 and days later a report revealed the team was making a play for former NBA MVP Allen Iverson, who declined the invite.

Still, with flirtations with West and Iverson, the prospect Dentmon was left wondering what it all meant for him.

“I talked to Bill [his agent] and I’m like, ‘Bill what’s going on? They’re bringing in all these guys and they just traded for me,’” Dentmon said. “He just told me to continue to be me.”

So Dentmon does. He’s scored 30 or more points in five of the last 10 games and has averaged 27.9 points during that stretch to get the Legends on the cusp of playoff contention. He arrived to the team during a 12-game losing streak and has since helped them win six of their last nine. Still, he waits for the call he has yet to receive.

“I’m still hoping that he will,” said first-year Legends coach and former NBA forward Eduardo Najera. “I’ve been working with him in terms of mentoring what he needs to be doing. I think scoring takes you a long way, but you’ve still got to be able to play defense and be in great shape. I’ve been pounding on that because I really believe this kid, in top shape and he when plays individual defense — and we’ve been working on it every single day in practice — he can make it to the NBA and also stay there because he’s that talented.”

Dentmon, who went undrafted out of Washington in 2009, has played overseas in stints, in Israel and Italy and even the Dominican Republic. At home, he’s fought the constant battle of being labeled undersized and the perception that he’s a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body. He keeps coming back to the lower wages of the D-League, he said, because he deems it the second-best league in the world and the best way to make it to the No. 1 league.

I just really want to stay here, but playing here it seems like it keeps pushing me away,” Dentmon said. “I’m trying my hardest. Last year, I did a great job of playing the point and this year I’m playing a little bit of both, but it’s just tough, it’s tough.”

So he plays, practices and practices some more as he waits for the phone to ring. If it doesn’t ring soon, Dentmon said it will be time for him to make his own call whether to stay or go make a better livelihood playing overseas.

It all depends on if I’m getting any looks or if get called up this year,” he said. “If I don’t get any call-ups this year, maybe it’s telling me I need to go overseas for a little bit.”