Posts Tagged ‘Monta Ellis’

Cuban’s summer: ‘Could’ve been worse’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

One of the biggest summer acquisitions in Dallas was former Mav Tyson Chandler. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mark Cuban is more than pleased to have Tyson Chandler back in Dallas. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas – With the hour-long line of smiling fans asking to take selfies, requesting autographs and even pitching business ideas as if this was a super-market version of Shark Tank finally dwindling, Mark Cuban leaned back on a shopping cart filled with palm-sized boxes of Simple Sugars facial scrubs, of which he owns a 33 percent stake, and exhaled a relieving, “Ahhhh…”

“It’s been a long day,” Cuban said, his recently replaced left hip reminding him that he’s still only five weeks removed from the operating table.

Dressed in his traditional blue jeans and a T-shirt, this was his final stop of a whirlwind Thursday at four Central Market grocery stores at opposite ends of the expansive Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cuban was promoting four products he’s backed on the television show “Shark Tank” and are now being carried by Central Market.

Cuban claims more people these days recognize him as a shark than as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But, make no mistake, while Cuban enjoys helping burgeoning entrepreneurs obtain the American Dream, his undying passion remains running the Mavs.

And for the first time since Cuban chomped on a stogie and clutched the Larry O’Brien Trophy three summers ago, a bubbling of excitement surrounds the team. Among those who waited in line to shake Cuban’s hand or give him a hug: a wide-eyed dreamer who asked how to start some kind of mesquite wood business; the student council president of a local high school who pitched a-day-in-school idea; and an affable, gray-haired fellow Cuban said was his acting coach from 20 years ago (Cuban thought acting class would aid his social scene) who handed him a manuscript he wants made into a movie (Cuban owns Magnolia Pictures).

But many, many more asked one simple question: “Are we going to win this year?”

“I hope so!” Cuban responded to each.

Mavs fans had become used to disappointment in the post-title summers as Cuban failed to land a marquee free agent. He didn’t get a big fish this summer either, but a series of moves have ignited serious intrigue, starting with the reacquisition of championship center Tyson Chandler in a deal with the Knicks.

“It was kind of surprising that we got it done, just because with that many pieces and the fact that no one finds out,” Cuban said of the trade in brief moments when the selfie line died down. “I’m glad we got it done. We’re excited. He can kind of quarterback our defense, he makes everybody better defensively and he’ll make Monta [Ellis] better offensively.”

A few weeks later Cuban gambled and won, stealing up-and-coming small forward and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from division rival Houston with an out-of-this-world offer sheet, a move that could have also blown up in his face. Cuban flew to Orlando, Fla., to hand deliver the contract offer at midnight and then he went out for drinks with Parsons and his parents.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would have 72 hours to match the three-year, $46 million offer. In the meantime, Houston signed Trevor Ariza, also a Mavs target, and the speculation game was churning hard on what Morey would do.

“I was 90 percent,” Cuban said of his confidence that he’d land Parsons. “Because of the way the numbers worked, and they’re a very logical organization, they’re very obvious, like we all are, like a lot of teams are, about their approach to building a team and flexibility.”

Then came a wrench. LeBron James signed with Cleveland, leaving former Heat teammate Chris Bosh in limbo. Reports suggested Bosh was leaning toward signing with Houston, and if he did, the Rockets reportedly would match the Parsons offer.

“I don’t think that [Bosh's decision] mattered all that much, honestly,” Cuban said. “I guess they said they’d go for it if he [Bosh] had gone [to Houston]. That would have put them in a tough spot and they probably would have tried to do a sign-and-trade. And if they did a sign-and-trade then they would have had a hard cap, like you’re seeing with the Clippers, and that would have meant they couldn’t add anybody else at all.”

Ultimately, Bosh took Miami’s max deal and Morey pulled the plug on Parsons. Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

Needless to say Cuban is looking forward to his young acquisition relocating to Dallas in the coming weeks and joining Ellis, Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Brandan Wright plus other more under-the-radar pickups in Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson, and then eventually the elder statesman and now the heavily underpaid 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki when he returns later in September.

“I try to keep an even keel,” Cuban said of his excitement level for the season. “I don’t get all excited about winning the summer. That’s almost the kiss of death.”

Still, as summers go, this one was pretty good.

“It could’ve been worse,” Cuban said.

Nelson happily moves on to fresh start with Mavericks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jameer Nelson

Jameer Nelson is moving on to Dallas after 10 seasons with the Orlando Magic.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jameer Nelson is finally packing up. The moving trucks have been summoned to transport a decade’s worth of belongings and memories halfway across the country. It won’t be easy for Nelson and his wife, Imani, and their four children — Jameer Jr., two weeks from turning 13, and daughters Jamia, 8, Jayden, 6, and Jayce, 2 — to pick up and leave the city he’s played his heart out for, or the community the family loved … and that loved them back.

Yet sometimes even the youngest ones can sense when it’s time for a fresh start.

“My daughter is back there listening, my 8-year-old, she’s excited,” Nelson said during a phone conversation with NBA.com on Thursday afternoon. “My 6-year old, they’re both excited. My son hasn’t said too much, but I actually picked his brain a little bit when I was figuring teams out, asking him some questions. He said, ‘wherever you want to go, let’s do it.’

“So, yeah, we’re going to all move down and build up the population in Dallas.”

Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic after 10 seasons to join the Dallas Mavericks. An intriguing team after a busy summer, Dallas hasn’t landed the superstar it covets. But it has added Nelson, center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. 

Nelson will earn $2.73 million this season and holds a player option for next season.

The missing man in the Mavs’ plans was a trustworthy, veteran starter to run coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense. They lost reliable Jose Calderon in the Chandler deal to New York, which foisted the erratic Raymond Felton upon Dallas to complete the trade. Dallas re-signed Devin Harris, but prefer to utilize him off the bench.

“I feel like one of the reasons I chose Dallas is I wanted to play a significant role on a good team and I felt like there’s opportunity there,” said Nelson, who averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.0 apg in 32.0 mpg last season.

“Nothing’s going to be given to me; nothing’s ever been given to me my entire life. I’m up for any challenge that’s in front of me, so if we got to battle for the [starting] spot, we’ll battle for the spot.”

Nelson, 32, was waived by the Magic on June 30, a salary-cap-saving move made by a franchise deep into a rebuilding movement. He responded by gracefully thanking the organization for all it had done for him and his family and the team responded in kind. In 2012, at the height of Orlando’s “Dwightmare,” Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract only to re-sign. Even after coach Stan Van Gundy was fired and Dwight Howard was traded, setting the stage for a ground-up rebuild, Nelson never asked out.

“That [loyalty] was something that was instilled in me through my younger years by my parents and the people who helped mold who I am,” Nelson said. “I was willing to stay the first year, and the second year got a little tougher. It was just time for me to go. It was time to go.”

In retrospect, he witnessed one of the more stunning free falls in sports. The Magic reached The Finals in 2009 — an injury-plagued season for Nelson, who missed the entire postseason before making a courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful Finals return against the Lakers — and then the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. From there, a series of personnel moves and the Howard disaster sent the franchise spiraling.

“I thought that team was going to be together forever,” Nelson said. “One of my good friends, Keyon Dooling, always preached to us as one of the veteran guys to never take things for granted because you might be on a good team now, but next year you might not be on such a good team. It’s the truth. You think things don’t end, but that obviously ended pretty quick.”

Nelson looks at yet another revamped Mavs roster and compares it to those potent Magic teams, boasting multiple shooters and scorers and a defensive backbone.

“And then fortunately,” Nelson said, “I’m in the mix of being there as the quarterback.”

The marriage of Nelson and the Mavs was a two-way street from the start. Nelson made a list of desirable destinations based on roster strength, need at point guard, organizational culture and location. While Dallas was linked for weeks to combo guard Mo Williams, who recently signed with Minnesota, Nelson was the team’s more pressing need.

His level-headed, team-oriented approach are the most desired traits in a Mavs locker room long led by Nowitzki, one of the league’s most down-to-earth superstars. The 7-footer proved it again this summer by agreeing to a massively below-market contract worth $25 million over the next three seasons. His willingness to take less allowed Dallas to make Parsons an aggressive offer and also add roster-wide depth.

“Dirk sets the tone, he’s a superstar and he takes a three-year, $25-million deal,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like who else can argue? Nobody can argue with that, nobody can complain. This guy is sacrificing a lot to win. That’s what it all should be about. That’s one of the major reasons I came to Dallas, to win.”

Nelson won’t end up being a career one-team player, and he must leave the community where and his wife raised a family.

But opportunity beckons in Dallas, where the population just increased by six.

Mavs get even more unconventional


VIDEO: Summer League: Rick Carlisle Interview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After three years of mediocrity, the Dallas Mavericks could be one of the best teams in the NBA again. They’ll be one of the most unique teams, for sure.

Over the last two days, the Mavs signed Jameer Nelson and agreed to terms with Al-Farouq Aminu (a replacement for and a much different player than the injured Rashard Lewis), making their depth chart look even more lopsided than it already was.

Nelson joins a backcourt that already includes Raymond Felton and Devin Harris, while Aminu joins Chandler Parsons, Richard Jefferson and Jae Crowder on the wing. Seven of the Mavs’ top 11 guys are nominal point guards or small forwards.

The other four include hybrid guard Monta Ellis, stretch four Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright, who’s basically a power forward disguised as a center. At least we’ll know what position Tyson Chandler is playing whenever he’s on the floor.

Otherwise, it’s going to be positionless basketball for the Mavs. They’re going to have two point guards on the floor quite a bit. One of the small forwards (likely Aminu) is going to be backing up Nowitzki at the four. And Ellis will be a two who handles the ball more than the three point guards.

Offensively, it should work just fine. Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-pops were already potent. But they now have, in Chandler, a better finisher down low. And they now have, in Parsons, a better attacker on the weak side.

Jose Calderon and Vince Carter will be missed. They were the Mavs’ best catch-and-shoot shooters last season. But both Parsons and Jefferson were strong in that regard as well, and Ellis and Nowitzki will make better shooters of Felton and Nelson.

It’s defense that will determine where the Mavs ultimately stand in the brutally tough Western Conference. That’s why they got back Chandler, who was the anchor of their top 10, championship defense in 2010-11.

But Chandler was also the anchor of New York defenses that ranked 17th and 24th the last two seasons. He can’t turn Dallas’ 22nd-ranked D around by himself and Shawn Marion will be missed on that end of the floor. That championship team also had Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood backing up Chandler.

In the backcourt, they can’t get worse than what they had last season. Calderon and Ellis were the Mavs’ most-used two-man combo and they allowed almost 108 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor together. They were better both offensively and defensively — though in a fraction of the minutes — with Harris and Ellis on the floor together.

Aminu is a plus defender, but his inability to shoot will limit his minutes. Otherwise, the Mavs will need guys who haven’t been great defenders to play good defense as a unit.

On both ends of the floor, the Mavs will be fascinating to watch. They’ve used trades (Chandler), a major free agent signing (Parsons), and great deals on vets (Jefferson, Nelson, Aminu) to put a lot of talent around Nowitzki, who turned 36 last month.

It’s just a matter of how it all comes together.

Dirk’s pay cut has Mavs back in race


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs agree on a new three-year contract

LAS VEGAS – To put into perspective the magnitude of Dirk Nowitzki‘s pay cut, consider this: He’ll make in the next three seasons what Kobe Bryant is charging the Lakers for just next season.

It’s a big reason why the Dallas Mavericks could be back in the conversation as a top-four contender in the Western Conference while the talent-depleted Los Angeles Lakers are more likely to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. That hasn’t happened since 1976.

Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension last year. Nowitzki signed an exceedingly below-market-value deal of three years and $25 million earlier this week. The total is even less than than the three years and $30 million he was initially believed to be signing.

When the Mavs convene for training camp in October, the league’s all-time 10th-leading scorer and the franchise’s leading scorer in every season since 2000, will be Dallas’ fourth-highest paid player.

“It’s just the kind of human being he is. He’s all about winning; he’s all about championships,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Wednesday as he watched Dallas’ Summer League team take on Charlotte. “He’s one of the most selfless superstars that have ever played in the NBA, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring another parade to Dallas.

“He understood that we needed flexibility in order to get the team better. He’s part of the tapestry of the city of Dallas. He’s really a made man in a lot respects if you think about all the superstars that have come through in all the sports, in terms of basketball it doesn’t get any better than Dirk. He just made a decision to end his career there. Hopefully we can tag another contract on to that.”

By agreeing to go from making $22.7 million last season to $7.97 million this season, Nowitzki provided the Mavs front office with the financial ammunition to deliver a three-year, $46-million offer sheet to Rockets restricted free agent small forward Chandler Parsons.

“The one consistent from Day 1 is Dirk,” Nelson said. “We’re not in position this summer to be as active as we are without him taking a fairly major pay cut and being a team player.”

Houston eventually did not match the contract and the Mavs acquired much-needed youth and talent in the 25-year-old Chandler. He joins a front line that includes Nowitzki and also 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler, whom the Mavs acquired in a trade before the start of free agency.

Chandler, on the final year of a four-year, $60 million deal he signed with the Knicks following Dallas’ 2011 championship, will be the Mavs’ highest-paid player at $14.8 million. Parsons is right behind him at $14.7 million. Shooting guard Monta Ellis will make $8.36 million.

To bring this back to the Lakers, power forward Jordan Hill will make $1 million more than Nowitzki next season.

In each of the last three summers, Dallas has tried to lure a max free agent to pair with Nowitzki in his final seasons and then to take the mantle once the big German finally calls it a career. That plan hasn’t worked out and since winning the title in 2011, owner Mark Cuban has continually flipped the roster. They were bounced in the first round of their title defense, missed the playoffs in 2012-13 and then won 49 games last season and took the Spurs to seven games in the first round.

The organization talked of continuity, but when the chance arose to reclaim Chandler from the Knicks, they sent starters Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert to New York. Dallas lost Vince Carter to Memphis and appears on the verge of losing veteran small forward Shawn Marion, the last player left along with Nowitzki from the title team. Point guard Raymond Felton came to Dallas in the Chandler trade and will tag team with Devin Harris.

Dallas also signed veteran Richard Jefferson and depth center Greg Smith, and it still has a $2.73 million exception and a minimum salary slot to fill. The Mavs didn’t get the big fish again, but with the help of their longtime superstar taking not only a haircut, but a buzzcut, they’ve remade the roster yet again, and this time might have pulled themselves back into contention.

“It’s always been that way,” Nelson said. “Dirk is part of the Mavs family, and he and Mark have had a special, unique, honest and forthcoming relationship since Mark has owned the team. He’s probably the biggest reasons we’ve had 15 years of great chemistry in the locker room. We haven’t been without our speed bumps, but for the most part we’ve had a really good team atmosphere and it starts from the top with Dirk in the locker room, Mark from a franchise perspective and you have the best coach in the game in Rick Carlisle.”

Mavs’ power play nabs Chandler Parsons

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks rolled the dice and came up with 3-point ace Chandler Parsons.

The Houston Rockets on Sunday opted not to match the aggressive, three-year, $46-million offer sheet Mavericks owner Mark Cuban delivered to the restricted free agent the moment the NBA’s moratorium period expired on Thursday. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle first reported the Rockets would not match, the organization concluding that the high price tag would hinder long-term building.

The always opportunistic Cuban, who partied with Chandler and his parents at a bar after the 6-foot-9 small forward signed the offer sheet, made it official Sunday afternoon, writing “Welcome to Dallas Chandler Parsons” on his Cyber Dust app.

Parsons, who becomes Dallas’ highest-paid player at $15 million next season, alerted the masses via Twitter:

Parson’s arrival, coupled with the trade for Tyson Chandler, means Dallas has flipped a front line of Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert into Parsons, Nowitzki and Chandler. The starting lineup rounds out with shooting guard Monta Ellis and either Raymond Felton or Devin Harris at point guard.

Nowitzki, 36, is the hero here. Coming off a four-year, $80-million contract, he agreed to a three-year deal for $30 million in the first week of free agency. The hometown discount allowed Dallas to pad the price of Parsons’ offer sheet. While $15 million per season might seem hefty for a player just three years into his career, put it in terms of $25 million total for Parsons and Nowitzki, and it’s much more palatable.

During the three days the Rockets had to mull their Parsons strategy, they signed small forward and Mavs secondary target Trevor Ariza away from Washington, the first sign Houston might be moving away from Parsons. Another Mavs Plan B target, Luol Deng, agreed to a deal Sunday with Miami.

Suddenly, if Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was going to match, the Mavs’ alternatives were looking bleak at a position they wanted to upgrade. Plus, they had already lost nearly half of their 3-point shooting from last season with Vince Carter signing a free-agent deal with Memphis and Jose Calderon now in New York, the price for acquiring Chandler.

Now Dallas has a 25-year-old borderline All-Star who last season averaged 16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.0 apg and shot 37.0 percent from beyond the arc. Chandler was the classic “sleeper,” a four-year player at Florida who became the Rockets’ prized second-round pick by tremendously outplaying his low-cost contract.

Dallas believes next to the sweet-shooting Nowitzki and quick-penetrating Ellis, Parsons will fit seamlessly in coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense.

This will be a bitter pill to swallow for the superstar-searching Morey. He declined the team option that would pay Parsons $965,000 next season, a move that would have made Parsons an unrestricted free agent in 2015. Morey wanted to clear as much cap space as possible to make a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but always with the objective of retaining Parsons.

Neither superstar chose Houston, but when James announced he was returning to Cleveland, the door opened for a run at All-Star forward Chris Bosh. And the Rockets thought they had him. Only at the last minute Bosh signed a $118-million max contract to stay in Miami, simultaneously nuking Houston’s plans to match Parson’s offer sheet.

For Dallas, the risk paid off gloriously. Parsons will replace Marion, a popular and reliable veteran, and the last player other than Nowitzki from the Mavs’ 2011 championship team. The 36-year-old will likely be moving on as Dallas is down to a $2.73 million exception which they’ll likely use to bolster the backcourt where point guard would appear to be the one key weakness. Combo guard and 3-point specialist Mo Williams has been a target.

Cuban, like Morey, has been big-fish hunting for three summers, but unlike Morey, he has come up empty each time. In a twist surely not lost on either men, Parsons heavily recruited Dwight Howard last summer and the All-Star center passed on Dallas and signed a four-year deal with the Rockets. Now Cuban will certainly delight in a little revenge.

Not to mention an improved roster. Dallas won 49 games last season, yet had to fight to the end to secure the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With the flexible and adaptable Carlisle at the controls, the Mavs, boasting one of the league’s most efficient offenses throughout the regular season, took eventual champion San Antonio to seven games in the first round.

Interior defense was the obvious weakness and Dallas quickly pulled the trigger to return Chandler, the 7-1 anchor who completed the title team.

Now, by taking a gamble mixed with little good fortune, the Mavs got their other Chandler, as in Parsons.

Long-shot Mavericks make short, straightforward pitch to Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s Texas tour and what’s next

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – If Carmelo Anthony isn’t all that keen on seeing himself plastered on buildings like a monster-sized Fathead in a uniform he’s never worn and holding a trophy he’s never hoisted, then maybe the Dallas Mavericks’ simplistic approach will give them a chance to land the coveted free agent.

Unlike the red-carpet recruiting jobs that the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday unveiled for their guest of honor, Mavs owner Mark Cuban and his team of recruiters kept their meeting with ‘Melo to old-school basics: A conversation.

“What I can tell you is that we made this purely a business meeting,” Cuban wrote to Mavs fans who follow him on his CyberDust app. “No tours. No banners. All basketball and business.”

Dallas is considered the dark horse in this supposed five-horse race with Anthony’s Knicks, the Bulls, the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, who get their crack at Anthony on Thursday. On Tuesday he spent eight hours meeting and eating with Bulls brass and players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

James Harden, Dwight Howard and even Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler entertained Anthony during his six-hour stay in Houston. The Rockets opted for the special effects, splashing images of Anthony in a Rockets uniform adorned with the No. 7 — that being Jeremy Lin‘s current No. 7 — outside and inside the Toyota Center just as the Bulls had done at the United Center the day before.

Anthony then departed for Dallas, landing at Love Field late in the afternoon. A black limousine whisked him to Cuban’s sprawling Dallas mansion. All-in-all, Anthony was in and out in less than three hours, sparking a round of Twitter jokes of all the things that can’t be done, or take much longer, than the Mavs’ time with Melo.

https://twitter.com/DwainPrice/status/484514426515492865

There was no stopping off at the American Airlines Center to pick out a locker stall or to catch a glimpse at the Mavs’ basement practice court (Dallas remains without an off-site practice facility), or even just to check if maybe somebody had photoshopped him into a blue and white, No. 7 uniform (no word how 2013 second-round draft pick Ricky Ledo would have felt about that).

The plan going in was to sell Anthony on settling for less than a max deal by convincing him that the franchise’s impressive track record under Cuban, the craftiness of coach Rick Carlisle and a roster that includes an aging, but capable Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and now Anthony’s former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler could deliver him to the promised land quicker than any other team.

The incumbent Knicks can offer New York’s native son the most lucrative contract by a long shot — $129 million over five years. The Mavs as well as any other team can offer four years and a maximum of $96 million. Dallas would have to shed payroll to get close to a starting salary of $20 million.

One way would be for Nowitzki to take less in his own negotiations that are on hold until they get final word from Anthony. Nowitzki, 36, has said all along he plans to take a significant pay cut from the $22 million he made last season, likely in a similar deal to three years, $30 million Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs in 2012.

The Mavs have targeted a big fish in each of the last three summers, failing to land Deron Williams in 2012 and Dwight Howard a year ago. If Anthony makes them 0-for-3, next-tier candidates include the likes of Luol Deng and the Rockets’ restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, plus the Mavs’ own free agents Devin Harris, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

If time allotted per team means anything, Anthony’s decision will likely come down to the two team’s most expected anyway, his hometown Knicks and the hard-charging Bulls.

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

‘Melo sits in center of Knicks-Mavs trade


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s future

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks fans never wanted to see the band split up in the first place. But a new collective bargaining agreement spiked with harsher tax penalties, plus an aging roster, convinced owner Mark Cuban to reassess his team-building strategy as an annual luxury tax payer and set out on a new course bound for cap space.

So out the door went several key contributors to Dallas’ 2011 championship team, but none more beloved than its one-hit wonder Tyson Chandler, the best center Dirk Nowitzki had ever played with and the one who complemented him the best. Even so, Cuban passed on paying Chandler major bucks over the next half-decade, fearful of fueling an overage, overpaid roster with no escape hatch in this new era. As Cuban has said time and again, he didn’t want to become the Brooklyn Nets.

So the New York Knicks stepped in with $60 million over four seasons.

On Wednesday, Cuban reclaimed his drummer, the backbone of a defense that’s sorely lacked identity and disposition since Chandler exited and became the league’s Defensive Player of the Year the very next season. To get Chandler, though, Cuban had to take on troubled point guard Raymond Felton, the state of his career in distress, and who now leaves the scorn of New York fans to become a pet project of adaptable coach Rick Carlisle.

Dallas sent steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, whose lack of quickness, but intelligence and excellent shooting make him more suited for the Eastern Conference, and perhaps a decent fit  in Jackson’s Triangle offense under rookie coach Derek Fisher. Erratic starting center Samuel Dalembert, little-used shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and speedster point guard Shane Larkin, Dallas 2013 first-round pick who found only sporadic playing time last season, plus the Mavs’ two second-round picks (34 and 51) in Thursday’s Draft are headed to New York.

At the center of all this, like a radiant sun glowing brightly on all that orbits it, is discontented star Carmelo Anthony. Knicks new president Phil Jackson made his first major deal of his tenure seeking to unload salary and create cap space to begin a rebuild that will convince Anthony to stay in the Big Apple. Anthony has already opted out of his contract and will become a free agent on July 1.

One of three teams free-agent Anthony will grant a face-to-face meeting with, according to ESPN.com, is the Mavs (the Rockets and Bulls are the others). While Dallas was given long-shot odds before the trade to land Anthony, it stands to be an even tougher sell now because to fit him into available cap space once Nowitzki signs his new deal will require Anthony to accept a significant pay cut.

But, again, Melo has agreed to at least sit down with Dallas, which now has the 31-year-old Chandler to help woo his former teammate to his former team.

The Mavs continue to be one of the more active teams in the league over the past several summers, turning over the roster, save for a few key core components, in search of a mix to give Nowitzki, 36, a chance to contend again in his final few seasons. Since the title and the dismantling of that club, Dallas hasn’t finished better than the seventh seed and hasn’t advanced past the first round.

But last season’s 49 wins provided hope. Monta Ellis blended well with Nowitzki and Dallas boasted one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Their defense, however, never found its footing. That’s Chandler’s job now and Dallas will have to hope that the 7-foot-1 center can stay as healthy as he did in playing 74 games in the championship season, his rebound season after two years of dealing with injuries.

Chandler managed just 55 games last season and averaged 8.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg in 30.2 mpg. While Dallas upgraded its frontline, it seemingly took a step back at the point. Felton, for the time being, would seem to be the Mavs’ starting point guard. Free agent Devin Harris could be re-signed, or they could go a different route in free agency.

Now left without a draft pick, they won’t find one on Thursday night. But unlike when Cuban chose to let Chandler walk in 2011, the club has sufficient cap space available to be aggressive players in free agency. Targets include Luol Deng and Pau Gasol.

And, obviously, that scorer from New York.

Showdown Sunday for final four first-rounders

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The first round’s final four teams are doing whatever they can to avoid going fishing

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Four quarters.

That’s it!

Four quarters.

It all comes down to this.

Four quarters, or more if need be, for the final four teams still alive on the most epic weekend ever in the first round of the NBA playoffs. From the emotional roller coaster of Saturday’s wild, three-game ride to — the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, all three higher seeds — we finish with today’s two-part saga.

The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors finish what they started in the Eastern Conference while the defending Western Conference champion and No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs defend the Alamo against those pesky No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

It goes without saying, no one wants to Go Fishing!

So the time for posturing is over. All that’s left is this double-header for all the marbles.

The final four must deliver on the promise of what we’ve already seen from this historic weekend of Game 7s. No pressure fellas, just epic finishes to epic series on an epic weekend …

NETS @RAPTORS, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

It has to be a comforting feeling for both of these teams knowing that a rested and focused Miami Heat team, the two-time defending champions, await the winner in the conference semifinals.

Either way, the Nets and Raptors couldn’t be better suited for one last battle.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, just one point (967-966) separates them in the 10 games they’ve played this season, with each of them winning five times. This is a much-needed rubber match that pits one of the most well-seasoned teams in the Nets against a Raptors crew that is swimming in the deep end of the playoff pool for the first time.

But there are more than just numbers at stake today at the Air Canada Centre. There are legacies on the line for the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who were brought to Brooklyn for moments like this, and for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose careers will continue to be built on defining moments like this one.

As a group those four stars have a combined 23 Game 7 starts under their belts … so at least one advantage, the experience edge, goes to the visitors from Brooklyn. Just don’t tell the Raptors, who have the sensational and dynamic DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry duo (they are averaging a combined 44.8 points in this series) on their side.

***

MAVERICKS @ SPURS, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

No one loves Game 7 like the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

No one.

His spotless 4-0 record in Game 7s — that’s right, spotless — no doubt makes him love this big stage even more. All he’s ever known in Game 7 is success, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out:

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Of course, Duncan is mentioned among those Game 7 greats. The Spurs superstar big man has been at this so long that you knew he’d have this on his resume, too.

You know Duncan remembers well that Game 7 loss to the Mavericks from May 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals, an overtime defeat that saw Duncan torch the Mavericks for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in a failed effort. The Spurs are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, boasting a rich history of highs and lows in those games, 2-2 record under the watch of Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written later today.

It’s Showdown time for all involved in the final four of the best first round of the NBA playoffs we’ve ever seen!


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavericks

 

No fluke Mavs have Spurs on the ropes

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Sam Mitchell preview Game 7

DALLAS – The Mavericks have pushed the reigning West champion and top-seeded Spurs to a decisive Game 7 because they’re working their game plan to near-perfection. Dallas is improbably winning the 3-point battle, getting widespread contribution, nearly matching San Antonio’s defensive efficiency and Monta Ellis has become a very big deal.

“It’s called speed,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, asked why Ellis is so effective attacking the rim.

Only San Antonio point guard Tony Parker has more drives to the basket in the playoffs than Ellis, according to the SportVU tracking system, and Dallas’ defensive scheme is practically begging him to do so as the Mavs concentrate on choking off the 3-point arc.

The Spurs’ Achilles heel is locking down athletic squads such as Oklahoma City and Houston. San Antonio didn’t beat either one in eight regular-season games. Dallas won’t typically fall into the “athletic” category with Dirk Nowitzki, 35, Shawn Marion, 35 and Vince Carter, 37, so relied upon, but Ellis, 28, is penetrating with attitude and altering that dynamic.

He’s making life miserable for 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and anybody else trying to stay in front him. Ellis pumped the Spurs for 29 points — 22 in an electrifying second half — during Dallas’ stay-alive Game 6 win Friday night, his second game with 29 in the series.

“When he scores like that, he is to tough to stop,” Parker said. “We are going to have to control him.”

Ellis is Dallas’ leading scorer at 21.8 ppg. Only one other time in 12 previous playoff appearances has Nowitzki not led the team in scoring. That was a disaster, a 2007 first-round ousting as the No. 1 seed by Golden State, exactly what Dallas is attempting to do to San Antonio. Ellis played with decisive force in recent fourth quarters, and has helped to crumble a typically unbreakable end-of-game Spurs defense.

The Mavs’ success extends throughout the lineup. From Carter to Devin Harris to DeJuan Blair‘s inspired, revenge-minded hustle, Dallas’ depth has grabbed a much larger role in this series than a bench that was so important to San Antonio all season long.

Ginobili had his first poor game of the series in Game 6, having averaged 19 points in the first five games as San Antonio’s best player. Starting shooting guard Danny Green finally shot it well in Game 6 with 19 points after averaging 3.4 through the first five games.

Boris Diaw has come on in recent games, but Marco Belinelli has been a virtual no-show, averaging less than one 3-point attempt a game. Patty Mills is shooting 23.5 percent from deep. He’s 4-for-17 in the series after dropping six 3s on Dallas in their final regular-season meeting in April.

“I don’t know, it just happens,” Ginobili said of the Spurs’ bench struggles. “Some matchups are good for some players and some matchups are good for others. We’re 3-3 with home court advantage. I don’t think we’re in an awful position. We’re not a team that needs the bench to score 45 points. We take what the opponents give us.”

Dallas is doing all it can not to give up the 3-pointer. The Spurs have devastated the Mavs with the 3-ball for two consecutive seasons, but so far in this series they are losing that key battle. Only once has San Antonio made more 3s, and that was an irrelevant 10-8 advantage in Game 2, which Dallas won in a blowout.

The Mavs’ defense, ranked in the bottom 10 in efficiency all season, has limited the Spurs to 17.3 attempts a game, fewer than any team in the playoffs other than Washington and Memphis. They’re averaging nearly two fewer 3-point baskets than Dallas, which is shooting the 3-ball at 37.9 percent, slightly higher than San Antonio’s 37.5 percent. The Spurs led the league in the regular season at 39.7 percent.

It’s no fluke that Dallas has its longtime nemesis on the ropes.

San Antonio will be favored to win Game 7 on their home floor, but several concerning patterns could make end this playoff run much sooner than anybody could have expected.