Posts Tagged ‘Gal Mekel’

Rooks Burke, Larkin Thankful To Be Healthy Again


VIDEO: Trey Burke talks after his home debut with the Jazz

DALLAS – Even for a couple of positive thinkers, there seemed little to be thankful for soon after Shane Larkin felt his ankle pop and Trey Burke crushed his finger.

A couple of eager, 21-year-old first-round point guards ready to storm into their NBA careers instead made forced pit stops onto the injured list. Larkin, the 18th pick out of Miami by the Dallas Mavericks, broke his right ankle as he planted for a dunk during a summer practice. Surgery was mandatory. Summer League ended before it started. Training camp? Preseason? Start of the regular season? Pipe dreams.

“At that point, the first reaction is to be negative,” Larkin said. “I worked so hard to get here and we have four point point guards on the roster and now I’m going to be at the back of the pack.”

The Utah Jazz traded up to nab Burke at No. 9 and planned all along for the national college player of the year to run their squad from the jump. In his third preseason game, Burke tried to make a pass off the pick-and-roll as he had thousands of times before, but this time the quick hand of an NBA defender got in the way and collided with his right index finger. Crack!

He would next check into an operating room.

“There was nothing I could do,” said Burke, the catalyst in Michigan’s run to the NCAA title game. “I was disappointed and frustrated, but I knew I had to keep my conditioning up and learn from the sideline. I didn’t know how long I was going to be out so it was disappointing for me because I really hadn’t had an injury like this since middle school.”

As their rookie campaigns reach Thanksgiving, the familiar foes from their AAU days — Burke from Columbus, Ohio, and Larkin from Cincinnati — are both thankful to be playing again. Each has had a slow start shooting and has played less instinctual than either would like, but that’s how it goes jumping stone-cold into a season in progress, robbed of so much practice time and game experience.

“I practiced four times and he threw me out there against Philly,” Larkin said, referring to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.

Thrown into the fire


VIDEO: Trey Burke finishes strong at the basket against the Bulls

As complete a player as there was last season in college, Burke is four games into his NBA career and has started the last two. His first home start Tuesday, a desperately needed overtime win for the 2-14 Jazz over the Bulls, was one to remember: 14 points, four assists and six rebounds while making key plays. He logged a career-high 34 minutes.

“It all comes down to confidence really, not putting too much pressure on myself and going out there and just playing,” Burke said last week. “I know the sets, I know where guys are supposed to be. I know what works for us and what doesn’t, so I think it’s just about picking and choosing my spots, not putting too much pressure on myself and not forcing things.”

Slick and cat-quick, Larkin played in his sixth game Wednesday and it was his best yet with seven points, six assists and no turnovers while garnering clutch fourth-quarter minutes among the 17 he played. It took just two games for him to unseat fellow rookie Gal Mekel as the primary backup behind starting point guard Jose Calderon. Veteran Devin Harris (toe surgery) is expected to make his season debut some time before Christmas, adding more intrigue in the battle for minutes.

“It’s been tough,” the 5-foot-11 Larkin said last Friday after the Mavs held on to beat Burke and the Jazz in Dallas. “Just getting back into the rhythm of everything and making the correct reads off the pick-and-roll and just my whole overall game, it’s just not all the way back yet.

“Trey had an advantage of playing in Summer League and a little in preseason before he broke his finger. But he’s doing well out there. It’s just a matter of him getting back in his rhythm as well because he’s been out four or six weeks. So both of us just getting back to our rhythm and playing how we played in college — that’s why our teams drafted us.”

Bad breaks


VIDEO: Shane Larkin discusses his solid performance against the Warriors

Just weeks after being drafted, the Mavs’ Summer League team was days removed from departing for Las Vegas. For the final five minutes of that July 12 practice, Mavs assistant coach Monte Mathis wanted to run one last full-speed, full-court drill. Larkin made a steal, went coast-to-coast, planted on his right foot to go up for a dunk as he has thousands of times before and — pop!

“I thought it was a really, really, really bad sprain because when it happened I heard the pop, but I got up and I walked to the training room and my ankle didn’t swell up,” Larkin said. “But then I put ice on it and after I took the ice off it just started swelling and then I knew something was wrong.

“They took me to the team doctor, got X-rays, got an MRI, found out it was broken, had surgery four days later. They said the force on my ankle was like a car crash.”

Burke had a tough introduction at Summer League in Orlando and also through his first couple of preseason games. In the first quarter of that third game on Oct. 12 against the Clippers, his right index got bent in a way it is not intended.

“At first I thought it was dislocated. I tried to pop it back in place and go back out and play,” Burke said. “But it didn’t feel right. I had an X-ray at halftime and you could see there was a break.”

Reduced to spectators following their surgeries, both players reverted back to being students, doing all they could to soak up their respective playbooks, learn the play calls and the tendencies and personalities of their new teammates while watching them grind out practice after practice.

“Honestly, you want to be out there with your teammates,” Burke said. “It was an unfortunate break, but It was just something where I had to see the game from a different perspective, find ways to learn from the sideline. I was on the bench, as then with Johnny [Lucas III] coming in here and showing me different things on the film; I was watching other good point guards, looking at their pace and things like that. I think that all helped me out and gave me a better understanding of how I want to play for this team and how I want to make plays for this team.”

Larkin would be watching practice when either Carlisle or an assistant coach would turn and point at him.

“Coach would throw a question at me like, ‘Hey rook, what do we do here?’ and I’d have to know the correct answer,” Larkin said. “That’s kind of the way they built trust in me because I knew what was going on.”

And now the rest of the season

Larkin’s minutes off the bench have been fairly steady, and at times have come in key situations. But he also got the pine treatment two games ago after some sloppy play and logged barely four minutes. Carlisle, though, clearly wants to utilize his change-of-pace quickness at both ends of the floor on a mostly veteran team that needs dashes of speed. Larkin is averaging 3.7 ppg and 2.2 apg in 12.6 mpg.

“I’ve started making some drives to the basket and my confidence is getting back,” Larkin said. “So it’s just a process of keep building every single game to get back to where I want to be and where coach wants me to be as a player.”

Burke, averaging 8.5 ppg, 3.0 apg and 3.5 rpg in 21.5 mpg (a figure likely to rise in a hurry), has the more daunting and less forgiving task, running a team in total rebuild and that was 1-11 when he was cleared to play. Still, Burke said he relishes the challenge.

“Honestly, it reminds me of my freshman year at Michigan. Obviously this is another level, this is the pros and the best players in the world, but I had to go right into Michigan and learn right away,” Burke said. “I had to jump right in, play that starting position and I had to learn quickly.

“I think with the vets on the this team are doing a good job of sheltering me, letting me know what’s right and what’s wrong. They trust me so with their trust that gives me more confidence out there.”

Fans will be seeing more of Burke and Larkin, two eager point guards who got an early lesson that good health in the NBA is always something for which to be thankful.

Israeli Rookie Gal Mekel Emerges From Mavs Debut Ready For More


VIDEO: Mavs introduce Gal Mekel, other rookies to media

DALLAS – Gal Mekel woke up early on the eve of his NBA debut to do a teleconference in Hebrew with Israeli reporters. He headed to practice, followed by a bit of treatment and finally back home to relax with his dad and aunt who flew halfway across the world to witness his big night.

Before long it was time for bed.

“I went to sleep,” Mekel said. “And I slept good.”

Slept good? Who sleeps good the night before their first NBA game? Not only that, but pressure would be high for him to play well in the season-opener against the Atlanta Hawks. The re-tooled Dallas Mavericks are down veteran point guard Devin Harris and first-round draft pick Shane Larkin. Mekel, the 6-foot-3 rookie from Petah Tikva, Israel, is all Dallas has behind starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.

There was good reason to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

“I remember, after the fact, I was in Portland, I was an assistant coach there when [Arvydas] Sabonis came over,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Sabonis was as big a name out of Europe as you were going to find, and as I got to know him during the year he kind of reflected back to the first game and he said it was the most nervous he had ever been.”

For the better part of his eight minutes, 51 seconds during Dallas’ 118-109 victory, Mekel, 25, played as if he’d been here before. He’d make his first appearance with 3:05 to go in the first quarter, open the second quarter and then help to maintain the Mavs’ lead in the critical early portion of the fourth quarter. He finished with two points, two rebounds, three assists and two turnovers. He was respectable defensively, at times, having to check emerging Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague.

“Gal gave us eight great minutes,” Carlisle said. “Those minutes are really important. Otherwise, our two starting guards are walking out of here playing 38, 40 minutes and you’ve got to resuscitate them and try to have a practice [the next day].”

Mekel was a minus-2 overall, meaning the Mavs were outscored by two points when he was on the floor. Dallas never lost its lead with Mekel in charge of the offense.

“I think for a first game, the minutes I was on the court, I helped the team and from here I want to keep going, developing,” Mekel said. “I really believe I can be a good player in this league. I can really feel it. I just need to get to know everything better, get more experience. It was great to open with a win and I’m looking forward to Friday.”

Tonight, the Mavs visit the Houston Rockets (8 ET, League Pass). Most will see it as Dallas against Dwight Howard, the premiere free agent who shunned Dallas and joined rival Houston over the summer. It’s also Mekel vs. Omri Casspi, the only Isreali ever drafted in the NBA. The game will be televised live in Israel.

On Wednesday morning, Mekel arrived at the American Airlines Center for shootaround. He went home, ate lunch, took a nap and then made his back to the arena, arriving around 4:30 p.m. After some stretching inside the Mavs’ locker room, Mekel took the court for warmups.

At the other end of the floor, Hawks rookie point guard Dennis Schroder, the first first-round pick from Germany since Dirk Nowitzki, was finishing his pre-game workout. Mavs player development coach Mike Procopio pointed out to Mekel how Atlanta assistant coaches were instructing Schroder to come off screens. Assistant Mavs coach Darrell Armstrong then ran Mekel through shooting drills from various spots on the floor.

“He’s a flashy player,” Armstrong said. “One time on the plane after a preseason game I went back and counted all the behind-the-back passes he made. It’s just a natural thing for him going right to go behind-the-back. Teams will read his tendencies. You learn in this league that the simple plays are the keys to this game.”

After a session of resistance running with athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple, Mekel headed back to the locker room, but not before granting the pleas of fans that had gathered in the front row seeking autographs and pictures. Back in the locker room, he ate a yogurt and a granola bar. Then he put on the uniform for real for the very first time.

“Of course I’m excited, it’s the first game,” Mekel said. “I’m coming with a lot of energy.”

Dallas led 26-18 when he made his first appearance. Early on he got caught in no-man’s land and lost his dribble. He directed a pass toward DeJuan Blair, but it skipped out of bounds. With time running out in the first quarter, Mekel grabbed a defensive rebound, motored up court, dipped inside the free throw line and drew a foul. With 1.7 seconds to go he made both free throws for his first NBA points, and Dallas led 33-28.

Adjusting to the speed and athleticism of his opponents is Mekel’s greatest challenge. In the second quarter, Teague made him pay with a pretty crossover for an easy basket. Soon after, Mekel would exit, but the Mavs still led 41-36.

“As a player it’s always the next play,” Mekel said. “You forget what happened and you move forward. All my life I was a good defender. I like this challenge to guard people. It’s fun for me.”

He’d return early in the fourth quarter with Dallas leading 86-79. A slick baseline bounce pass through the lane led to a Jae Crowder 3-pointer and when Mekel left the game for good with 8:10 remaining, the Mavs were still in control, 94-88. He did not attempt a behind-the-back pass.

“I’m a guy that learns pretty fast and learns from everything to get the experience,” Mekel said. “I think I can really do some corrections fast. For me, it’s just be ready to help the team. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, who’s injured, who’s out; be ready all the time, and that’s the right mentality of a player.”

Ellis’ Hot Start Now Waits On Calderon

Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon look to bring a new punch to the Mavs. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon look to bring a new punch to the Mavs. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s only two preseason games, but Monta Ellis is fulfilling his promise to deliver “Monta basketball” to the Dallas Mavericks. The turbo-charged, at-times-reckless playmaker is cruising with the pleasing efficiency of a Prius.

This post initially was set to pose this question: Can Jose Calderon tame Monta? Perhaps the updated inquiry is: Has a dash of happiness helped Ellis to quickly figure it out on his own?

Calderon is the steady, high-IQ, pass-first point guard. He doesn’t force what’s not there and makes few mistakes. He’s the honor-roll yin to Ellis’ wild-hare yang. As a backcourt combo working off a floor-spacing, double-team magnet in Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ brass believes this formula will allow Ellis to roam as burden-free and consistently be in position to fire quality shots. In theory, Ellis will have the opportunity to leave the tag as one of the league’s least efficient scoring machines in his contrails.

“My job this year is going to be to get the ball to the right guys at the right moment,” Calderon said. “So, it’s going to be with Dirk, it’s going to be with Monta, with everybody. That’s what I do.”

We won’t get a first glimpse of the Calderon-Ellis combo at work probably until at least Wednesday when Dallas plays at Indiana (7 p.m. ET). The 32-year-old Calderon has yet to play because of a gimpy hamstring and he’s likely to miss a third consecutive game Monday against Orlando.

Joining Calderon on the injured list are point guards Devin Harris and rookie Shane Larkin, making inexperienced Israeli import Gal Mekel the starter so far. It’s been Ellis, though, as ringleader, running the floor and coming off screens to drop buckets and dimes. He had eight assists in Wednesday’s 95-90 win at Memphis and seven in the opening loss against New Orleans. That’s 15 assists to just three turnovers in 51 total minutes. He’s 9-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc for 21 points. His efficiency downer is 3-for-6 at the free-throw line.

During the Mavs’ Media Day, Ellis predicted that his highly criticized game of the past few seasons will take off in coach Rick Carlisle‘ high-pace, movement offense.

“I think it’s going to take me back to my golden years where I was enjoying playing basketball again,” said Ellis, reflecting on his early Golden State days. “With his style of play, like I said, we’re going to shock a lot of people. Here, I have to adjust my game a little bit and get back to running the floor, being that one-man fast break and try to bring a lot of pace to the team.”

The early results might suggest Calderon slipping into more of an off-ball Steve Nash-type role that evolved with the Lakers last season, standing in the corner waiting for the open 3. Not that Calderon, the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter last season (46.1 percent) compared to Ellis being the least accurate among 134 qualifiers (28.7 percent), didn’t already suspect as much.

“I think I am going to have a lot of situations for the spot-up 3s,” said Calderon, who attempted a relatively low 282 of them last season.

How Calderon and Ellis mesh will make for compelling theater. There are plenty of doubters and the spotlight following this duo will always shine brightest, for better or worse, on the 27-year-old Ellis. He shrugs off the advanced stats that deem him inefficient, which is a word in Ellis’ world that might as well be a four-letter one.

“I’m going to get criticized for what I do anyway so the only thing I can do is laugh it off,” said Ellis, who averaged 19.1 ppg on 41.6 percent shooting last season with Milwaukee. “There’s a lot of guys that take a lot of bad shots in this league, a lot of bad shots. Nobody wants to talk about them, but everybody wants to talk about the shots that Monta takes. The only thing that I’m going to do is take the punches and prove everybody wrong.”

That’s when Ellis busted out “Monta Basketball.” What is “Monta Basketball?”

“Getting out, running, taking the shots that’s appropriate and attack the basket more,” Ellis said. “I think over the past few years I got to a point where I was settling for jump shots. At first, I attacked the basket, never was the high-end guy to shoot 3s. I think I put a lot more 3s into my game, so I’m going to get back to attacking the basket, getting out there and being a one-man fast break and bring pace to this team.”

So far so good. The next step is to put the yin together with the yang and see what fortune awaits.

Time For Parker To Settle For Some R&R?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Nobody’s telling Tony Parker to knit berets from a rocking chair for three months. But in light of this week’s second international knee scare and a cross-your-fingers MRI, perhaps it is time for some summer R&R for the All-NBA point guard.

Parker has nobly led his countrymen as team captain of the French national team since 2003 and has represented his country on the senior level since 2002, and on the junior level since 1997 (when he was 16).

Parker, 31, has a career’s worth of bumps, bruises, twists, strains and sprains that rivals the number of countries he’s competed in. His latest scare came days ago in an exhibition game preparing for next week’s FIBA European Championships. The details from the French national team were vague, but for a second time during the run-up to the tournament, Parker did something to his right knee that didn’t feel good.

The MRI came back negative and Parker declared he will be 100 percent for France’s opener against Germany. Germany’s star, Dirk Nowitzki, is forsaking the tourney to have more time to manage his right knee that required surgery last October. That doesn’t mean the game will be a cakewalk for Parker’s club — which includes Portland’s Nicolas Batum and Spurs teammates Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo. Overall, this French team is one devoid of NBA veterans, including Joakim Noah, a wounded warrior much of last season, and key cogs Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf.

No one could have blamed Parker had he graciously bowed out of the FIBA tourney considering he missed 16 games last season, scared the bejesus out of coach Gregg Popovich two weeks before the playoffs and gutted through a Grade 1 hamstring strain in the final four games of The Finals.

But when it comes to the French National team, there is no stopping Tony. He delivered France its first medal in 50 years in the 2005 European Championship and got them to the finals for the first time in 2011, followed by a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.

And speaking of the Olympics, in a recent overseas interview, Parker said he plans to play for France through the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. At that point, he’ll be 34 and coming off a 15th NBA season.

It leads to one question with no defined answer: With meaningful international tournaments staged around the globe each summer, when, if ever, does loyalty to one’s NBA team supersede loyalty to country? The Spurs have paid Parker $95 million over 12 seasons and will pay him $12.5 million more this season.

Parker is the irreplaceable driving force behind the Spurs as Tim Duncan, 37, and Manu Ginobili, 36, hit their twilight years. Ginobili, a fixture on the Argentinian national team, is not playing in the FIBA Americas Championship after dealing with frustrating injuries last season.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been the loudest critic among NBA owners of international competition. He bemoans that NBA teams assume all the risk when their handsomely paid players suit up for their countries. Cuban saw once-promising guard Rodrigue Beaubois, a Parker protege, break his foot during a French national team practice several years ago. Requiring two surgeries, Beaubois never bounced back, is no longer with Dallas and remains unsigned.

Two months after winning the 2011 NBA championship, Nowitzki led an inexperienced German national team into the European Championships pushing for a second consecutive OIympic bid. Germany failed to advance and Nowitzki started the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a bothersome right knee he pinned on the additional physical toll of playing that summer: “Playing in the Euros, looking back now, was obviously not the right decision, but it was a decision I made for my country,” Nowitzki said in January 2012.

Interestingly, Mavs rookie guard Gal Mekel, a star for the Israeli national team, told his coach in late July that he would not play in the European Championship. Israeli coach Arik Shivek said the Mavs strong-armed Mekel to pull out.

Even if Parker breezes through the Euro championships without another nick, the additional wear-and-tear on his body after another long season has to be concerning to the Spurs and their fans (who have seen this play out with Ginobili). A number of NBA players, some of whom dealt with health issues last season, decided to sit this summer out, with the Lakers’ Pau Gasol (Spain) and the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter (Brazil) among them.

The Spurs have signed and drafted numerous international players. The current roster boasts nine foreign players from six countries, not including Duncan, who hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Six are currently playing internationally.

But there’s only one Parker. And with training camp opening in less than five weeks, all of San Antonio waits stateside with bated breath. Because nobody wants to watch Parker knitting berets from the Spurs’ bench.

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m down with that.”

Can Happiness Bring Back ‘Monta’ Ball?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mekel Gains, Earns Confidence In Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – Gal Mekel has plenty of support in his native Israel. After all, he’s got six brothers and sisters ranging in age from 19 to four months. All of them, well, except for the newbie, watched up close last season as the flashy 6-foot-3 point guard stormed to the Israeli Basketball Super League MVP.

That means it’s time for NBA League Pass in the Mekel household.

Signed by the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month to a three-year contract, Mekel became the second Isreali-born player to get to the NBA. The first, Omri Casspi, still the lone Israeli drafted, will  play just a few hundred miles down the road with the Houston Rockets.

“Actually a lot of Israelis are playing hoops, just not a lot in the States,” Mekel, who played two seasons at Wichita State, said following Friday’s Summer League finale, the Mavs’ fourth game in as many nights. “Basketball is big in Israel and I started when I was 5 on the court right next to my house, and actually started with a serious team when I was 6 or 7. Basketball was my first love.”

Pretty much just like every American kid who dreams of the NBA on the neighborhood pavement.

“It’s a dream of every player,” Mekel, 25, said. “You grow up, you have the posters of Michael Jordan and everybody on your wall, and it’s a dream of everybody, but last summer I came here [to the U.S.] to train with coach [David] Thorpe and I had a good workout with the Utah Jazz, and I saw that I have this chance, going to have this shot. I went back home, I had a great season.”

The quick, savvy point guard, with wide-open court awareness and an ability to dish with unpredictability, has some comparing him to Ricky Rubio. Mekel averaged 13.3 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.6 rpg and 1.4 steals last season for Maccabi Bazan Haifa in Israel.

“I love the point guards that involve everyone and getting all the other guys better, controlling the team with tempo,” Mekel said, “[like] Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, a long list, that’s the style of game I like to play.”

Mekel drew some of the more curious observers to six Summer League games to gain a bit of perspective as to how his game would transfer at a higher level. He didn’t quite create the stir of Jeremy Lin a few years ago when he barnstormed Vegas as part of the Mavs’ team.

But Mekel did perform well, averaging 9.7 ppg on 45.1 percent shooting and 5.0 apg. He vaulted into the starting lineup after first-round draft pick Shane Larkin fractured his ankle requiring surgery in the team’s final practice before departing for Las Vegas. Without Larkin, Mekel played nearly 28 mpg, which eventually caught up to him as the Mavs played their final four of six games on consecutive days.

“I was dead in the end,” Mekel said. “We really tried hard to bring energy and it’s not easy. But for me I think it was a great week, first time getting to know the NBA game. I think I played pretty good for the first time. That’s it. I’ll work on my game, stuff that I saw to work on this week and I’ll be ready for training camp.”

The big question is where will Mekel get most of his minutes next season, with the Mavs or perhaps their D-League affiliate just north of Dallas, the Texas Legends? Dallas completely reshaped its backcourt, signing veteran point guards Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, plus high-scoring combo guard Monta Ellis and shooting guard Wayne Ellington. Then there’s also Larkin, who is expected to return some time around the middle of training camp.

“He did a really good job early and maybe had some times where he sputtered because again, back-to-back-to-back-to-back, that’s a lot of work, and without Shane as a backup,” Mavs assistant and Summer League coach Monte Mathis said. “I think the wear and tear caught up to him a little bit, but he’s a tough kid. He fought through everything and he keeps coming and coming. He’ll get better and better.”

Mavericks’ Plans Change At Point Guard

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LAS VEGAS –
The Mavericks have gone from the enviable problem of not having enough minutes after initially making investments in four point guards to possibly opening training camp with only one proven player and a rookie as the lone backup.

summer-league-logoDays after appearing ready to move into 2013-14 with free agent Jose Calderon as the projected starter and two other signees, Devin Harris and Gal Mekel, contesting for reserve minutes with first-round pick Shane Larkin, the Mavericks are down to Calderon and Mekel.

Coach Rick Carlisle said it is too soon to know whether Larkin will be ready for camp after fracturing his right ankle in a final practice before the summer-league opener here. But plans to sign Harris, once the Mavs’ point guard of the future before being traded to acquire Jason Kidd, were tabled after it was learned Harris would need surgery to repair a toe injury. Reports indicated the sides could try again for a reunion when Harris is closer to returning.

“Guys get hurt and they do get better,” Carlisle said. “It’s bad timing for Shane because this would have been a great experience for him, the Vegas summer league. But we’ve got 2 ½ months to get him better and that’s going to be our focus. He had three or four days of practice before he got the injury, so he’s gotten a little taste of it and he’ll be fine because he’s a great athlete.”

The Mavericks also agreed to terms with Monta Ellis and could play him at the point.

Mekel was signed to a three-year deal after spending the last five seasons in Italy and his native Israel, which followed two seasons at Wichita State. The 25-year-old NBA rookie, very good running the pick-and-roll, may immediately step into a prominent role for a team in win-now mode.

“It’s part of the business,” Mekel said. “It’s really bad for Shane. It’s not a simple injury. But it’s part of the business and if I get an opportunity for that, I’ll be ready to step in and take it.”

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.

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOUSTON ROCKETS (14)

PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

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

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (12)

PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic

DALLAS MAVERICKS (11)

PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

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

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

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