Posts Tagged ‘Eduardo Najera’

End Of Era: Only Beards Grow In Dallas


HANG TIME, Texas — Pity poor Jessica Nowitzki, who is not a fan of the Mavericks drive-for-.500 beards.

“It’s not a good look,” husband Dirk admitted the other day. “My wife doesn’t like it that much. But I guess we’ve all got to suck it up and reach our goal.”

It might be time to wonder how tolerant Mrs. Nowitzki will be by October, when the Mavs have a more realistic shot to reach the break-even mark after their spectacular 136-103 flameout in Houston? By that time Dirk and his teammates could look like so many Rip Van Winkles or extras from the cast of “Lincoln”.

The Mavs hardly resemble a team that is sharpening its razors or its playoff claws as a lost season staggers toward the finish. They couldn’t defend, get enough shots for their biggest gun or do much of anything right against the Rockets.

“At the clip, we’re losing and losing (close) games at home, and those are the games you have to win if you want to be in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “We haven’t shown consistently that we can big games. We have to fight and we have another game on Wednesday and we’ll see what we got.”

What they’ve got is a season that jumped off track when Dirk missed the first 27 games following knee surgery and has never developed a sense of rhythm or direction. Now a team that has not won more than three consecutive games all season would have to go 15-8 over the final six weeks just to get to the .500 mark and it’s unlikely that 41-41 would be good enough to make the playoffs anyway.

It’s the end of an era. Assuming there is no postseason basketball in Dallas this spring, it will bring an end to the best stretch of basketball in franchise history, ending a playoff streak that stretches back to 2001, the first full season under Mark Cuban’s ownership.

The Mavs string of 12 consecutive playoff appearances is tied for the 13th-longest in league history and is the second-best active streak in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio’s 15 and counting.

The highlight, of course, was the 2011 championship, but more than a decade of always reaching the playoffs is a worthy feat that marks consistency and constant striving by what has become a model franchise.

How long has it been? Consider that the first year of the playoff streak, coached by Don Nelson (53-39), had a roster that included Shawn Bradley, Christian Laettner, Juwan Howard, Vernon Maxwell, Wang Zhizhi a rookie named Eduardo Najera and a 27-year-old Steve Nash, along with Nowitzki who was in his second NBA season.

Now only Dirk remains as the Mavs close in on coming full circle to his non-playoff rookie season.

“If you want to be in the playoffs we haven’t showed consistently we can win big games,” Nowitzki said. “It was a nice win in Brooklyn [on Friday], and we can’t follow it up.

“Not consistent enough even over one game. A decent half, a decent three quarters here and there, and one garbage quarter. It’s never consistent enough to really be a playoff threat.”

It was a long road and long climb by the Mavs to get to the top of the mountain, but the only thing getting longer these days is those beards.

Najera Busts Barriers From Bench Now

FRISCO, Texas — During the first round of the 2010 playoffs, in his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks — the team and the city he always called home no matter where roamed in the NBA — Eduardo Najera decided to shake things up.

The Spurs were doing a number on the Mavs in Dallas and the muscular, 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward had seen enough of the slap-and-hack defense on Dirk Nowitzki. So when Manu Ginobili drove the lane, Najera collared him and Ginobili crashed to the floor. The foul deserved to be and was called a flagrant 2, garnering an automatic ejection. But Najera had grabbed everyone’s attention.

“It was kind of frustrating to watch some of them hit Dirk in the face,” Najera would say. “So I just came in and tried to prove a point that we’re going to fight back. And that’s what’s going to happen.”

As a player, Najera, still the only Mexican-born player ever drafted in the NBA, never had to search for an identity. He simply was physical, intense, hard-nosed and unrelenting. Don’t mistake the Ginobili foul; Najera wasn’t a dirty player, but he wasn’t afraid to take the fight to the opponent.

These days those attributes don’t translate so well wearing a suit. As a rookie coach of the NBA D-League’s Texas Legends, developing an identity, a sideline demeanor, just doesn’t come as naturally.

“I am pretty intense,” Najera said. “I really believe that my identity as a player has carried on to this level as a coach. Yes, I call it the way I see it. I don’t treat players differently, they are all the same to me and I go off on one through 15, and that includes my assistant coaches.” (more…)

Carroll Trade Came And Went, But in Dallas He’s Fondly Remembered

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Tuesday’s first trade of the NBA season, a ho-hummer in which the Charlotte Bobcats sent shooting guard Matt Carroll to the New Orleans Hornets for forward Hakim Warrick, didn’t make news as much as it spawned a Twitterverse comedy hour, a seemingly endless timeline of sarcasm and supposed wit mocking an exchange of low-minute guys.

Few jokes, jabs or barbs, however, likely originated from laptops in the City of Dallas. No sir. You see, in Dallas, Matt Carroll is something of a hero, the final, critical piece to the 2011 championship puzzle — or, more accurately, a facilitator to acquiring said hero and final, critical piece to the 2011 championship puzzle.

On July 13, 2010, the Mavs traded Carroll, Erick Dampier (the linchpin with his fully non-guaranteed $13 million contract) and Eduardo Najera to the Bobcats for a pair of centers, Alexis Ajinca and, drum roll please … Tyson Chandler, hero and final, critical piece to the 2011 championship puzzle.

Of course, no one knew it when it happened. In fact, in Big D, Chandler arrived to a collective yawn that rivaled Tuesday’s trade. Fans were banking on the much-hyped Dampier trade chip netting a superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. Who knew?

So Carroll had quite the unique and overwhelmingly valuable existence in Dallas for a player who scored 71 points over 262 minutes in 46 games in a season-and-a-half. Yet every time the name Matt Carroll comes up, it makes Mavs owner Mark Cuban bust out with a smile.

“I do,” Cuban wrote in an email. “Because Matt is such a good guy. He makes the NBA better on the court and off.”

Carroll’s Mavs magic started on July 17, 2007, when Charlotte handed him a six-year, $26.9 million contract after he posted a career season, averaging 12.1 points while shooting 41.6 percent from beyond the arc. He’d have one more pretty good season the next year before basically plummeting.

Meanwhile back in Dallas, on July 2008, the Mavs inexplicably signed free-agent center DeSagana Diop to a five-year, $31 million deal  just months after trading him to New Jersey in the Jason Kidd deal. Quickly realizing their miscalculation, Dallas began shopping Diop and found a taker in the Bobcats decision-maker Michael Jordan.

On Jan. 16, 2009, Dallas acquired Carroll and his contract and unloaded Diop and his contract on the Bobcats. By the time memorable July 13, 2010 rolled around, Carroll had just enough dough left on his once-in-a-lifetime contract to make him the perfect fit in the package for Chandler.

And most fortunate for the Mavs, the generous Jordan agreed to bring Carroll back to Charlotte where he joined Diop in enjoying a bit role on the NBA’s worst team, until Tuesday.

For Cuban and what’s left his almost completely altered Mavs, it was a day to reminisce.

Najera Ready for the Next Career Step

HANG TIME, Texas — It’s an old axiom in sports that the best coaches and managers rarely come from the ranks of the stars.

If that’s the case, keep your eye on new coach Eduardo Najera.

When you construct a 12-year NBA career without ever averaging as much as seven points a game in a single season, you must be learning and doing a lot of other things right.

For Najera, those things were rebounding, banging and never letting a loose ball get away without at least a very honest effort.

Now the first Mexican-born player drafted into the league has retired and will become the first Mexican-born coach under the NBA umbrella when he leads the Texas Legends of the Development League. He’ll also become a minority owner of the team and also hold a front office position with the Mavericks in the NBA.

“This is a dream come true,” Najera said. “I have long wondered what would be in store for me when I hung up the basketball playing shoes, and this is the perfect opportunity for my post-playing career. The chance to develop as a coach, while also assisting Mark [Cuban] and Donnie [Nelson] with the Mavs, is an ideal situation.”

Drafted in the second round by Houston in 2000, Najera played the first four seasons of his NBA career in Dallas at time when the team was trying to bury a decade of failure. The Mavs made their first playoff appearance since 1990 during Najera’s rookie year as he carved out a reputation as a power forward who would go down into the low post and do the dirty work.

“I have the utmost respect for Eddie,” said Nelson, who is a co-owner of the Legends and president of basketball operations for the Mavericks. “The work ethic he exhibited as a player, and his knowledge of the NBA game will serve him well in his role as head coach of the Legends. Whether coaching a rookie, or an NBA veteran, coach Najera will have valuable insight for all of our players. I am equally excited to begin working with Eddie in a front office capacity with the Mavericks as he learns the management side of the game. I am proud to be able to call Eddie an ownership partner with the Legends.”

If the best coaches are not simply born out of the headlines but forged in the trenches, Najera may have the experience and the scars worth watching.