Posts Tagged ‘donnie nelson’

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.”

D-Will Uninterested in Rehashing Storyline With Mavs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Fresh off platelet-rich plasma treatment in both of his nagging ankles and a round of cortisone shots to boot, Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams has looked as spry as he has all season and he’s easily playing his best basketball.

Just in time for a new pain to come to town: Mark Cuban.

Wherever the Dallas Mavericks owner goes, but especially in New York, he is the center of massive media attention. With tonight’s game marking the first time Williams will play the Mavs since the club tried to woo last summer’s top free agent to his home town, the topic will certainly be top of mind tonight.

Only Cuban, the man who recently suggested that the Lakers should think about using the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant only to see him light up the Mavs for 38 points, and then tweaked Derek Fisher for signing with Oklahoma City, won’t be there to set off potential verbal fireworks. He was speaking Friday morning at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, and the team’s media relations staff said he isn’t expected to make the short trip to say hello to the rejuvenated D-Will.

As for Williams — who is playing like an All-Star over the last five games, averaging 22.8 points, 8.4 assists and nailing 51.5 percent of his 3-point shots — he tried Thursday to head off discussion of his free-agent decision.

“There’s no reason to even go down that lane. That’s behind me. I’m part of the Brooklyn Nets,” Williams told ESPNNY.com “There’s no reason to even revisit that.”

The Mavs and Nets both met with Williams in New York at the start of the free-agency period last July. The Nets got first crack followed by a three-member contingent from Dallas that included coach Rick Carlisle, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and special consultant Michael Finley. Absent was Cuban, who was busy filming the TV show “Shark Tank” in Los Angeles.

Williams, who decided to stay with the Nets and sign a five-year, $98 million deal, would say later that not meeting with Cuban had an impact on his decision.

“A lot of the questions that me and my agent had for them really didn’t get answered that day — you know, pertaining to the future,” Williams said in October. “And I think if [Cuban] was there, he would have been able to answer those questions a little bit better. Maybe would have helped me.”

Cuban, to no surprise, scoffed at Williams’ assertion and shot back on a Dallas radio program.

“I’m a big D-Will fan, but I’m kind of surprised that he would throw his front office under the bus like that by saying that I would make a difference. I would have expected him to say — like I’d expect one of our guys to say — ‘Hey I’m so thrilled with the front office and the moves we made and our team that it wouldn’t have mattered what he did.’

“He’s a superstar point guard, but my goal is to build a team. … I’m flattered that he thought my presence would have made more of a difference than what the Nets’ management did.”

Cuban also suggested that his club, struggling at 25-32 and in jeopardy of not making the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, is actually better off without Williams and the max contract that would have weighed down Dallas’ payroll.

“But in hindsight, I don’t know if I would have been happy [had Williams signed],” Cuban said on the same radio show. “I think we’re in better position now than we would have been if we had gotten him.”

There’s probably not many Mavs fans who would agree with that sentiment right about now. Williams on Thursday said he has not spoken to Cuban since the summer. But he does have the Nets at 34-24 and seeking at top four spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It wasn’t really a back-and-forth thing anyway,” Williams said.

Dirk Loves Big D, Awaits ‘Big Summer’

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki got to talking about playing into his late 30s the other day. No one should doubt his ability to do so, or his desire to do it all with the Dallas Mavericks and the high probability that he will.

He’s on record saying as much practically more times than he’s taken the floor over 15 seasons, and with tonight’s game against Milwaukee that makes 1,082 times.

Nowitzki acknowledged that the slow trudge back from October arthroscopic knee surgery put some doubt in his mind as to his longevity. But he’s feeling and playing more like his old self now as 30 points and 13 rebounds showed Sunday against the Lakers. After that game he said he plans to play two or three more seasons once his current deal expires after next season. The ripe, old age of 40 even came up. 

“But I always say it’s got to be fun,” Nowitzki said. “If it gets to the point that the fun is gone and I’ve got to go to work, I’d rather just retire. I’ve got this year and next year under contract, so I’ll be 36 and for sure play a couple of more years.”

It is assumed that when Nowitzki, 34, signs his next deal he’ll do so seated next to smiling owner Mark Cuban, who once said he’d sign the German when he’s 73 if he can still shoot. Yet when Nowitzki discusses his future these days, he’s quick to reiterate his staying power in Dallas, but he also continually delves into the current uncertain state of the franchise, a little caveat that leaves the window cracked ever so slightly for a potential change of scenery in his final seasons.

“Once you’ve won it all and had that feeling, that excitement in the city and the franchise, you don’t want to play basically for the eighth seed two straight years,” Nowitzki said. “So it’s been tough. We made some business decisions obviously we all know about, so we’ll see what we get out of this. We have cap space for the first time in a long time. We’ll see if we can make something happen this summer.”

Actually, as Nowitzki knows, the franchise had cap space last summer, too, but swung and missed on Deron Williams. The whiff ushered in a second season of constructing a short-term roster of mostly expiring contracts, a scenario Nowitzki doesn’t view as a winning formula.

So then came this answer, the caveat, when asked if he expects to continue to make Dirk-like, or superstar, coin on his next deal. Nowitzki is owed $20.9 million this season and $22.7 million next season.

“Well, I think it’s a little too early to look, honestly,” Nowitzki said. “Basically the last couple of times, there was not much negotiating going on. It was, ‘Give me money and I’ll stay,’ right? I gave him [Cuban] a little discount last time. The CBA’s changed. We’ll talk about that when it gets to that point. I still have this year and then the full next year. We’ll see what happens and where this franchise is. Like I said, it could all depend; this is a big summer. This is a big summer.”

Since raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Mavs are 61-60, plus a first-round sweep out of the playoffs for the first time in Nowitzki’s career. Now the franchise’s record 12 consecutive playoff appearances is in jeopardy. The pressure is on Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson to come through this summer with a significant free agent to ease Nowitzki’s burden in his twilight years, or to formulate a trade that lands impact players.

Do so and no doubt Nowitzki, who will have earned more than $200 million by the end of his current contract, will cut a cap-friendly deal. But if he’s still the lone star in the summer of 2014, his asking price might just go up, potentially making things a bit uncomfortable for Cuban. Or, if Dallas remains a revolving roster, perhaps a more enticing situation elsewhere presents itself as the CBA promises more salary-shedding and roster shakeups across the league.

“We’ll make it work,” Nowitzki said. “Cube’s obviously said his bank’s open, so we’ll see what happens this summer. It’s going to be a big summer for us. We want to get back to winning ways. We always competed and were part of the playoffs, so we’ll see what happens this summer. It’s going to be a big summer for this franchise.”

Winners, Losers In Deadline’s Big Chill

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DALLAS –
The Big Chill.

If Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was a movie, the audience would have walked out in the middle from boredom. This freeze came straight from the script that is the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — with its harsher luxury tax penalties and diminished roster flexibility for tax offenders — it put the clamps on a stunningly uneventful deadline day.

The big names were on the opening credits: Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

Yet, when the curtain closed at 3 p.m. ET, Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick stole the show as the lone player of significance to switch teams. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter in a six-player deal that involved five other relatively anonymous NBA names.

Only one potential blockbuster deal percolated, but ultimately died on the vine with the Atlanta Hawks going the distance in an attempt to strike a deal with the Bucks for Smith before pulling back. One reason so few big deals were discussed was simply because there wasn’t much talent realistically in play, a point that goes beyond any ramifications of the CBA.

The CBA that took effect in December 2011, and begins to smack tax-paying teams with stiffer fines next season, has clearly put franchises on the defensive. Teams that were once willing to add salary to consummate a deal no longer are. Teams that once didn’t think twice about sweetening a deal with a first-round pick, suddenly guard them with their lives.

“Cap room and draft picks, which are usually the currency of how these [big] deals get done, were at a huge premium and are something that everyone wants to have,” said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who steered the most active club at the deadline with a couple of lower-tier deals.

There’s really no greater example of the effect of these changes than the Dallas Mavericks and their braintrust, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Chronic and strategic over-spenders and tax payers under the old CBA, Cuban, who took on salary in deadline deals for Jason Kidd in 2008 and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in 2010, analyzed the new rules and reversed field last year.

He dismantled the 2011 championship team, choosing to covet cap space and the roster flexibility granted to teams that remain under the tax threshold, as well as newfound valuing of first-round draft picks as low-priced labor and trade assets.

It’s a strategy that no longer has the Mavs on speed dial of teams looking to make a deal and dump salary.

“It’s definitely a factor,” Nelson said of the CBA’s chilling effect Thursday after the deadline expired. “There’s no question that folks have their eye on the inevitable, and there’s no question that people are getting their collective houses in order.

“There’s some teams that see that on the horizon and act early, and other teams that will procrastinate and pay a dear price. But I think we’re right in the middle of that. It’s not brand-new news and so, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams try to correct themselves financially.”

The so-called “repeater” tax really has teams scared. Several clubs tried to deal away lost-cost players to avoid the repeater tax, which will whack franchises with an additional fine if they go over the tax line in three of four seasons. Golden State was successful in this venture. Chicago was not and will pay a luxury tax for the first time since its implementation.

This “repeater” penalty deterred teams from making deals that would have pushed payroll even slightly over the tax line, deals they might have normally green-lighted in the old days. So, is this the way of the future under the current rules?

“I can’t predict the future,” Morey said, “but I think the trend is more this way.”

WINNERS

Rockets: Morey’s stockpiling of assets the last couple years has been questioned, but he’s turned it into quite a haul starting with James Harden prior to the start of the season. The day before the deadline, Morey acquired the No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from Sacramento. Morey’s dealing didn’t damage an abundance of cap space next summer that will be used to pursue a top free agent such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.

Bucks: GM John Hammond didn’t get his big fish in Smith, but he pulled off the deal for Redick, who should really help a club that’s been skidding down the East standings and needs a boost. Hammond held onto Jennings and Ellis and will have room to maneuver in the summer to add more pieces.

Thunder: GM Sam Presti continues to make shrewd moves. The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a second-round pick gives OKC another strong perimeter defender to help Thabo Sefolosha.

Celtics: Jordan Crawford might not be Jamal Crawford, but he can score in bunches and Boston was desperate to bolster its injury-ravaged guard backcourt. Boston fans are the winners here, too, with the team’s heart and soul, Garnett and Pierce, staying put.

Mavericks: Sure, on the surface, picking up 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow for defensive-minded guard Dahntay Jones doesn’t sound like much. But then SheridanHoops.com reminded us of this Dwight Howard interview in Russia when he named Morrow as one of a handful of players he’d like to have as a teammate.

Blazers: The team with the leanest bench in the NBA finally got some help in a minor deal that netted OKC guard Eric Maynor, who lost his job early on to Reggie Jackson. Maynor will help Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard reduce his 38.5 mpg workload.

LOSERS

Hawks: They didn’t get the deal done to ship out Smith and now it seems they will lose him for nothing in free agency. On one level, however, it’s hard to say that this is a definitive loss. They’ll keep Smith (who might or might not come away from this experience deflated) for the rest of the season, and, with any luck, try to keep him while recruiting friend and fellow Atlantan Howard next summer. If GM Danny Ferry wasn’t pleased with the deals presented, it doesn’t always pay to take something, anything just because in the end you could be left with nothing. If Smith leaves, the Hawks will take the cap space and look to spin it in their favor.

Magic: They deal away a useful player and one they drafted in Redick and hand over his Bird Rights to the Bucks. There was no guarantee that Redick would re-sign with Orlando, but he at least had said the door was open to a return.  The Magic’s Josh McRoberts to Charlotte deal for Hakim Warrick is a head-scratcher.

Knicks: They didn’t upgrade at any position and gave away a solid defender in Brewer, who was starting for the club during their hot start out of the gates, but had slipped out of the rotation. New York did use the roster vacancy to sign veteran power forward Kenyon Martin.

Nets: They failed to land another high-priced player in Smith and failed to unload one of their own, Kris Humphries.

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.