Posts Tagged ‘O.J. Mayo’

Jennings Gets Paid, Fresh Start In Detroit

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Jennings was running low on options. As a restricted free agent from the Milwaukee Bucks, he had strained for more than a year at the leash holding him to that club. Jennings previously talked fondly of bigger markets and then sent max-salary shots across the Bucks’ bow as his semi-freedom approached, a not-so-subtle way of discouraging them from flexing their matching rights.

Unfortunately for Jennings, when he hit the marketplace, the marketplace hit back. It was bad enough that others, including his self-absorbed backcourt mate Monta Ellis, found jobs and millions; it was worse when Jennings’ own team, the Bucks, tried to procure his replacement, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, with a four-year, $32 million offer sheet it wasn’t willing to give Jennings. The Hawks matched but the message was clear – Jennings’ business with the Bucks had festered into something other than mere leverage.

So his options were few, barring a philosophical change by Milwuakee. Jennings could sign the one-year, $4.5 million qualifying offer with the Bucks and try again next July. In theory, that might have made sense: A motivated player, his team benefiting as he hoists his market value.

But anyone familiar with the Bucks’ situation and locker room knew that scenario would be rife with pitfalls. A sensitive lad, a little light on the maturity scale, Jennings could end up playing self-consciously and, thus, unnaturally. It wouldn’t guarantee that his game – high energy but shoot first, with too many shaky finishes at the rim and a laissez-faire defensive attitude – would budge a bit from the plateau on which it has settled. And an agitated Jennings wouldn’t help a locker room mood hoping for some addition-by-subtraction (Ellis, Samuel Dalembert).

How ‘bout spending 2013-14 in Europe? Jennings, after all, had taken that creative route around the one-and-done eligibility rule prior to the 2009 Draft in which Milwaukee picked him 10th overall. But no, NBA free-agency rules don’t work that way; Jennings still would be Bucks’ property.

So the multiple reports Tuesday afternoon that the Bucks and the Detroit Pistons were completing a sign-and-trade to ship Jennings to Motown made a lot of sense. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, Detroit would send to Milwaukee guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov. Estimates of Jennings’ three-year deal ranged from $24 million to more than $25 million, putting him in the same financial neighborhood as Teague but for one year less.

In Jennings, the Pistons get a talented backcourt player who has averaged 17.0 points and 5.7 assists in four NBA seasons. He is a career 39.4 percent shooter, so he won’t bring the range to pull defenses away from big men Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. He’ll be teaming with veteran Chauncey Billups, back with Detroit after a summer signing.

Milwaukee already had added guard O.J. Mayo in free agency, traded to get back Luke Ridnour and introduced its latest addition, former San Antonio guard Gary Neal, to local media Tuesday. Knight, whose trial as Detroit’s point guard suggested to some he was better suited to shooting guard, still has potential to intrigue Bucks GM John Hammond – the No. 8 pick in the 2011 Draft won’t turn 22 until Dec. 2. And since when does a shoot-first point guard trouble the Bucks?

Ellis Quietly Waits For Next Team

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Waiting and watching the free-agent landscape unfold is high-volume shooter and scorer Monta Ellis.

J.R. Smith became the latest shooting guard to take himself off the market Thursday morning when he agreed to re-up with the New York Knicks for four years and $24.7 million.

Others who have reached similar agreements (contracts can’t be signed until Wednesday) include Kyle Korver with Atlanta (four years, $24 million) and J.J. Redick with the Los Angeles Clippers (four years, $27 million).

Those players are known quantities. Teams know what they’re getting and their salaries are slotted as such. O.J. Mayo apparently remains in discussions with the Milwaukee Bucks on a multiyear deal. He’s younger than the others and more of a mystery in terms of unlocking his potential.

One mystery man who will cash in on upside is Tyreke Evans. The New Orleans Pelicans made a surprising bid for the Sacramento Kings guard and Evans was prepared to sign a four-year, $44-million offer sheet. On Friday, the Pelicans, Kings and Portland Trail Blazers completed a three-way trade that gives the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft a fresh start with the feisty Pelicans.

That leaves Ellis as the most intriguing and most dangerous shooting guard still available. The eight-year vet hasn’t had much headline buzz during this first week of free agency. Ellis chose to become a free agent when he opted out of the final year of his deal that would have paid him $11 million. He signed a six-year, $66 million deal with the Golden State Warriors as a 22-year-old.

Any day now, perhaps soon after Dwight Howard finally makes his decision, we’ll find out the rate for a streaky scorer who averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.0 apg last season, but who connected on just 41.6 percent of his overall shot attempts and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Only Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook attempted more shots than Ellis’ 1,436 field-goal attempts last season. Among the top 10 in total points (Ellis finished eighth), Ellis made more field goals than only rookie Damian Lillard, and Ellis and Westbrook (plus LaMarcus Aldridge) were the only ones not to make at least 100 3-pointers.

Still, Ellis (a career 31.8-percent 3-point shooter) can light it up on any given night and that type of scoring prowess is enticing. He is reportedly more interested in signing with a team with a fighting chance than one that will pay him the most money. Now 27, Ellis is smack in his prime and could be a valuable piece on a good team, but will he get paid prime-time money?

There is also another factor regarding Ellis: He’s largely untested as a prime-time player. He has just 15 playoff games under his belt in eight seasons. This year’s first-round sweep to the eventual repeat champion Heat didn’t go well. Ellis averaged 14.3 ppg and shot 15.8 percent from 3-point land. In 2007 when the Warriors upset the No. 1-seeded Dallas Mavericks, a young Ellis saw his 16.5 ppg in the regular season shrink to half that in the playoffs and he shot 11.1 percent from beyond the arc.

The teams that lose out on Howard will have money to spend and needs to fill such as the Mavericks, whose backcourt at the moment consists of draft pick Shane Larkin and a graying Vince Carter.

So where will Ellis land and how much will he get paid?

Free-Agent Roundup: July 2

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From NBA.com staff reports

The biggest news — other than CP3 staying in Clipperland — from free agency’s opening day wasn’t that big at all. Mostly, a smattering of smaller-name reported signings dotted the map, including Mike Dunleavy to the Bulls, C.J. Watson to the Pacers and Eric Maynor to the Wizards among the notables. There was also Tyreke Evans getting a $44 million offer from Pelicans. As we gear up for Day 2 of free agency, here are some overnight items that you may have missed …:

Bucks, Mavs interested in trade for Bledsoe?

Chris Paul‘s tweet yesterday not only assured Clipper fans that he’ll be in the fold for years to come, but re-opened the door to trading his understudy as well, it seems. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Clips are thinking of moving reserve point guard Eric Bledsoe to either the Bucks or Mavs in an effort to land 3-point specialist J.J. Redick or scoring swingman O.J. Mayo.

According to the ESPN.com report, new Clippers coach Doc Rivers wants to keep Bledsoe on the roster, but the Clippers are nonetheless engaged in “live” talks with the Bucks and Mavs regarding trades. The Magic and Raptors may also factor into a Bledsoe deal as the Clips have been in touch with those teams with talks that would land either Arron Afflalo (from Orlando) or high-flying swingman DeMar DeRozan (from Toronto).

The primary driving force behind any trade for Bledsoe is the summer of 2014, which is when he will become a free agent. The Clips are reportedly concerned they wouldn’t be able to match the kind of offer sheet Bledsoe would draw and, thus, lose him to the open market for nothing. As you can tell, this is a fairly complex story, but some details are below:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers have this week exchanged sign-and-trade scenarios with both the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks in potential deals that would bring either J.J. Redick or fellow free agent O.J. Mayo to L.A.

The discussions with Dallas, sources said, center on Mayo, whom the Clippers are said to have contacted in the first few hours of NBA free agency Monday. Talks with the Bucks, meanwhile, center on Redick, with one source close to the process telling ESPN.com that a face-to-face meeting between Redick and the Clippers was imminent, perhaps as soon as Monday night.

The Clippers, in their previous discussions with Orlando and Toronto, have targeted Magic guard Arron Afflalo and Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan, although it’s not immediately clear what Toronto’s pending trade of Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks does to the Raptors’ ability to stay in the Bledsoe hunt. The Clippers had interest in Bargnani as a potential solution to their lack of floor-spacing shooters.

A trade with any of the known suitors would almost certainly have to include other pieces — such as Caron Butler‘s expiring contract — because Bledsoe is due to make only $2.63 million next season in the final year of his rookie contract.

If they can acquire another player or two Rivers likes, it’s believed he can be convinced to part with Bledsoe before the start of the season. The 23-year-old is eligible for a contract extension before the Halloween deadline for such deals for members of Bledsoe’s draft class.

Yet there’s clearly also a part of Rivers who wants to ignore the conventional wisdom that the Clippers can’t afford to keep Bledsoe as Paul’s backup and try to keep him around for one more season as the ultimate insurance policy for Paul.

The Clippers, with or without Bledsoe, are focused on adding perimeter shooters around Paul and Blake Griffin, sources say, as well as upgrading their perimeter defense.

Blazers interested in Rockets’ Asik?

The acquisition of Thomas Robinson from the Houston Rockets on Sunday could signal the Portland Trail Blazers interest in Rockets’ center Omer Asik, according to Chris Haynes at CSNNW.  

But what’s being overlooked in all this was the Trail Blazers’ willingness to facilitate the deal in order for Houston to free up the necessary cap space to pursue free agent center Dwight Howard.

According to league sources, several teams including the Trail Blazers, are closely monitoring the Omer Asik situation. Reports are out that the 7-0 center is available. If the Rockets get that verbal agreement they so desperately want from Dwight Howard, Asik will be moved.

One source who is tuned-in with how things could develop tells CSNNW.com that the Trail Blazers are in the Rockets’ good graces, which could have an influence on where they choose to ship Asik when it’s time to do so.

(more…)

Kirilenko Opt-Out Leaves Void For Wolves

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Andrei Kirilenko
reportedly informed the Timberwolves of his decision to opt-out of next year’s contract while vacationing in the south of France.

This is not to be confused with South France Ave., a main north-south thoroughfare in the western Minneapolis suburbs where, the locals will tell you, the nation’s first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall (Southdale, 1956) is situated.

There is a reason for the fully enclosed and climate-controlled stuff, which dovetails nicely into the Kirilenko decision.

Having the veteran Russian forward say nyet to the $10.2 million he had guaranteed for 2013-14 technically frees up some salary-cap space for new Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders as the NBA free agent market opens at 11:01 p.m. Twin Cities time. It fuels visions of this-or-that flashy signing, whether it’s O.J. Mayo to address the team’s ongoing hole at shooting guard or some other targeted player.

But there’s a careful-what-you-wish-for aspect to this, too.

After all, this is Minnesota we’re talking about, hardly a magnet market for NBA free agents. Most visiting players who come to town quickly focus on the fully enclosed, climate-controlled skyway system that allows them, if they dare venture off the fully enclosed, climate-controlled team bus, to navigate a few blocks in any direction from their road hotel.

Many players drafted by or traded to Minnesota learn about the reasons behind all that enclosing and climate-controlling and opt to play their basketball elsewhere.

It’s a terrific place to live and raise a family – I lived there for 24 years – but for one reason or another (legacy of mediocrity, coaching changes, Kevin Garnett‘s storm-cloud scowl upon departure), it’s a tough sell to players who can select their destination. Most of the Wolves’ free agent “successes” have come from overpaying (for instance, giving Mike James four years instead of three and $25 million) or doing some other favor for the player. Like paying Brandon Roy to get hurt again.

The idea of having money freed up beyond the league’s mid-level salary exception is intriguing. For Saunders, it’s a chance to wheel-and-deal and perhaps make up a little for a muddied draft night.

But the odds are against the Wolves signing a player for 2013-14 who’ll be more productive than Kirilenko was for them in 2012-13.

A year removed from the NBA after spending 2011-12 in Russia, the former Utah Jazz forward put up numbers remarkably similar to his career stats: 14.0 points on 50.7 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks pro-rated to 36 minutes per game. He ranked second on the team in minutes, was third in scoring average (12.4), blocked more shots than starting center Nikola Pekovic and had more steals than J.J. Barea or Luke Ridnour. The Wolves were 26-38 in the games Kirilenko played, 5-13 when he was out.

His abilities to cut and to see cutters were vital to coach Rick Adelman’s system, especially with teammates such as Kevin Love and Chase Budinger missing significant time. Kirilenko, who turned 32 in February, was a steady influence, too, on Russian rookie Alexey Shved and in general a grown-up voice in the locker room. Kirilenko and Shved, frankly, may have been former boss David Kahn’s two shrewdest moves.

It’s possible but not likely he would re-sign with the Wolves, based on Star Tribune beat writer Jerry Zgoda‘s update Saturday:

Kirilenko is seeking a three- or four-year extension because he believes this might be the last chance to negotiate the last big contract of his career.

You can bet Flip Saunders won’t offer anything more than two years, and at a salary considerably less than $10 million.

Still, the Wolves might wind up missing Kirilenko’s versatility and production at both ends of the floor. They could do a lot worse because, well, they have.

Defensive-Minded: Success For Grizzlies’ Allen’s A Mix Of Trust, Belief, Resiliency

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Long before Tony Allen became a fixture on NBA All-Defensive Teams and back when the Oklahoma City Thunder still belonged to Seattle, some Oklahoma basketball fans cheered a hard-scrabble Chicago kid who serendipitously landed in rural Stillwater and has never stopped surviving.

Those Oklahoma faithful might now wish the most influential father figure in Allen’s life, a career college basketball assistant coach named Glynn Cyprien, had never left Oklahoma State to later wind up at the University of Memphis. Because the man who delivered the little-known junior-college guard with a knack for finding trouble to Eddie Sutton’s Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2003 also greased Allen’s free-agent signing seven years later, leaving the championship-caliber Boston Celtics for the then-middling Memphis Grizzlies.

“We never would have gotten him without Glynn,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who also has longtime ties to Cyprien. “Tony helped put us over the top.”

Named to a third consecutive All-Defensive Team on Monday and a second consecutive First Team selection, Allen is tormenting overtaxed Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant and breaking the hearts of Thunder fans in this semifinal series the Grizzlies lead, 3-1.

Allen and the Grizzlies return tonight to Oklahoma City (9:30 ET, TNT), about an hour drive southwest of Stillwater, to try and close out the reigning-but-wounded Western Conference champs in Game 5.

Memphis had never won a playoff series before Allen signed in 2010. It hadn’t made the postseason since 2006. But this blue-collar bunch, epitomized by Allen’s tireless and genuine grit, is one win away from the team’s first conference final in its 18-year existence.

Allen’s story is all about timing, trust, belief and resiliency. Start with beating back life’s hard knocks — a father in prison, an adolescence set up to be knocked down like bowling pins — with an unbreakable spirit. He’s scraped away at a nine-year NBA career that’s finally in full bloom, having persevered through season after season of seemingly two steps forward, one step back. His is an evolutionary journey of constant self-improvement and forever proving his worth — through six seasons in Boston and, even initially in Memphis under coach Lionel Hollins — just to play.

In his second season at Oklahoma State, Allen carried the Cowboys to the 2004 Final Four as the Big 12 Player of the Year just two years after getting kicked out of his first of two junior-college stops. But that misfortune landed him at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. That’s where Cyprien was dispatched by Sutton, not to recruit Allen, but to bring back a stud named Antwain Barbour, who would eventually sign with Kentucky and never play a minute in the NBA. It was Allen who kept catching Cyprien’s eye.

“Tony’s statistics weren’t great, but he had an overall good game, he played defense, he ran well and bottom line he was just real tough,” said Cyprien, now an assistant coach at Texas A&M. “When the game got late, he made tough plays.”

It’s his NBA calling card. And Durant and the Thunder are witnesses. Allen tilted the razor-thin margin in this series when Hollins finally called upon the 6-foot-4, self-proclaimed “junkyard dog” to sic the three-time scoring champ in the final three minutes of a nip-and-tuck Game 2. The call could have come in Game 1, when Durant scored 12 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter including the game-winner with 11 seconds to play. But Hollins was sticking to his original declaration that Allen would be no match for the impossibly long Durant.

Allen shrugged and suggested Hollins got desperate as the Grizz were in jeopardy of falling into a 2-0 hole against a team playing without its All-Star point guard, Russell Westbrook.

Yet maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be for Allen, nothing ever coming without outside doubt, nothing ever certain, always having to prove himself over again. Even to his coach of three seasons, unless, as Allen was asked after the Game 2 win when he held Durant scoreless in those decisive final minutes, maybe Hollins was trying to inspire him.

“I don’t play mind games. I just go out there and do my job,” Allen said. “My confidence is always sky-high. If you try to limit me, then you limit me. But I will continue to show you that I work and I continue to get better each and every day. Whatever your limitations are on me, I am always ready to prove you wrong.” (more…)

Cuban: I Feel Worse For Vince Than Dirk

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks attempted to get younger this season, attempted to put pieces in place for the future. But, after 81 games, they’re oldies have been their goodies and any roster continuity for next season is as uncertain today as it was 12 months ago.

Dirk Nowitzki, 34, Vince Carter, 36, and Shawn Marion, 34, have been Dallas’ best players by a long shot. Not that this fact needs validating, but it was never more evident than in the past two games, with the Mavs eliminated from the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons and nothing on the line except overgrown beards and swelling pride.

The veteran trio played their hearts out. The others served mostly as bystanders. Tonight, Dallas closes out its most disappointing season since the dark days of the 1990s by trying to salvage a .500 record against New Orleans. And so Nowitzki will miss the playoffs for the first time since his first two baby-faced seasons. Marion’s out for the first time in five years after Phoenix traded him to Miami for Shaquille O’Neal.

And Carter, who has played in one conference final (2010 with Orlando) in just seven postseason appearances during his 15 seasons, is out for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Since Feb. 1, Carter has averaged nearly 15 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 2.5 apg while shooting better than 43 percent from beyond the arc, where he’ll fall just short of his career best.

On a more competitive team, Carter would have been a dark horse Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

“I feel bad for Vince. Let me just say that right off,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. “Vince is a warrior. All these things I’ve heard in the past about him being soft and not playing hard, [bleep] that. That dude comes out to deliver every [bleeping] night. Even when a game got out of hand, he was busting people for not doing what they were supposed to do. He was cheerleading on the bench. I feel worse for Vince than I do for Dirk.”

Carter joined the Mavs prior to the 2011-12 season expecting to help defend the championship and vie for his first. But that was a watered-down version of the title team and was summarily swept in the first round by Oklahoma City. This season’s club, beyond Dirk and Marion, bared no resemblance to the team that celebrated on the Heat’s home court.

The Mavs’ veteran trio, all of whom are signed through next season at a combined $35.2 million, came through with big games after being eliminated. Sunday in New Orleans, Nowitzki became just the ninth player in NBA history to record 25,000 career points and 9,000 career rebounds. Marion had 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Carter put up 16, seven and five.

On Monday, in Game No. 81 against Memphis, with the goal of finally eclipsing .500 for the first time since Dec. 10 in Game No. 22, Carter put up 22 points, five rebounds and four assists. Along the way he passed Clyde Drexler for 27th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and waved to the cheering crowd.

The achievement might have gained more traction afterward if not for O.J. Mayo‘s disastrous two-point, four-turnover game that got him benched and led to coach Rick Carlisle’s highly uncharacteristic dressing down.

Mayo, after initial excitement, has faltered for months. He can opt out after the season, but his return to Dallas is now highly questionable. Backcourt mate Darren Collison never achieved solid footing in Dallas and was twice replaced as the starter by old-timers off the street, first by short-timer Derek Fisher and then by Mike James. Collison will be a restricted free agent this summer.

“I’m proud of the effort,” Cuban said of his club that fought back to .500 after falling to 13-23 on Jan. 9. “I’m just not always proud of the basketball IQ. When you see dumb plays, sometimes they look like lack of effort plays when they’re just dumb.”

That was a direct shot at the club’s young, first-year backcourt that replaced future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd, who ditched Dallas at the last minute for New York, and Mr. Clutch, Jason Terry.

“We expected a different roster here and Dirk to be healthy,” Cuban said. “We thought we had young guns to put around old guys. Our backcourt roster wasn’t what we planned it to be, but that’s just the way it goes.”

Dallas’ three old-timers can now only wait to see which new young guns are on the way.

Mavs Coach Carlisle Rips O.J. Mayo

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DALLAS – Rick Carlisle typically falls on the sword and defends his guys, but on Monday night the Dallas Mavericks’ coach boiled over with frustration and ripped O.J. Mayo for failing to compete against his former club.

“I don’t know. You should probably ask him. I’m not sure,” Carlisle said when asked why Mayo delivered such a disappointing effort. “He wasn’t into it in the first half. We showed him some film at halftime where he was virtually just standing around defensively and said, ‘Hey, we need you’; just tried to get him going a little bit. He just had a bad night. I guess I’ll write it off to that. But I tell you what, if I was playing against my former team, I’d come out ready to go. I’d come out ready to go at them. But that’s me, you know, that’s me.”

Mayo wasn’t available to give his side. He split the Mavs’ locker room before reporters were permitted inside.

He finished the game — a 103-97 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies that assured the Mavs (40-41) of finishing with a non-winning record for the first time since 1999-2000 — with two points on 1-for-6 shooting and four turnovers in more than 28 minutes. In a disastrous span of 2:54 in the fourth quarter, Mayo missed a long 3-pointer, threw the ball away and then committed a foul that led to a three-point play. Then, following a steal by Shawn Marion, Mayo was stripped from behind on the fastbreak.

Seething, Carlisle stomped on the floor and called time out. He lunged in front of Mayo and looked as if he wanted to tackle him to the floor. He never put Mayo back in the game.

Mayo’s first season in Dallas has been filled with ups and downs, with Monday’s effort scraping bottom.

“Well, the good news is there’s only an opportunity for one more [poor outing],” Carlisle said. “I just want to see him show up. I just want to see him show up and compete. He didn’t compete tonight. And I tell you, with all the time we’ve put into helping him develop and bringing him along, in the biggest game of the year – an opportunity to be a winning team – for him to show up like he did tonight, I was shocked. Look, sometimes guys have bad nights, so make sure to put that in there, too.”

Carlisle was asked if Mayo has been one of the more frustrating players he’s coached.

“I’ve avoided the use of the word ‘frustration,’” Carlisle said. “I am all about enthusiasm this year, really, and I’ve been very consistent with that. But, you know, if you’re not going to compete, don’t show up at all. Look, we’ve got one left and we’ve got a chance to avoid a losing record. I think that is significant, so we’ve got to get ready for Wednesday.”

Will Mayo be back in the starting lineup?

“We’re talking about a guy here who leads our team in minutes played,” Carlisle said. “We’re very dependent on him and have ridden through a lot of stretches where he hasn’t played his best, and then other times he’s played great. This is part of the learning experience for him. And, look, to be honest, it’s part of the learning experience for me. I guess in my 11th year of head coaching in this league – been deep in the playoffs a lot of times, had a chance to be with a championship team, coached three or four first-ballot Hall of Famers – I’ve got to understand that there’s going to be instances like this.

“Look, he’s not the only guy that stunk tonight. I stunk, too. I’ll readily admit that, and I’ve been admitting it all year. But I’m passionate about not wanting to stink. That’s where I have trouble reconciling things.”

The 6-foot-4 former No. 3 draft pick spent his first four seasons with the Grizzlies, where he started all 82 games his first two seasons. After that, though, he filled a reduced, and personally unfulfilling, role as sixth man. Memphis opted not to make a qualifying offer to him as a restricted free agent last summer and set him free.

Mayo signed what was essentially a one-year deal for $4 million with Dallas with the choice to opt out this summer or stay on for one more season also at $4 million. At the time he signed, Mayo said he chose Dallas to turn his game over to Carlisle in hopes of becoming a better all-around player.

He started the season on an impressive scoring tear with Dirk Nowitzki out until nearly Christmas following knee surgery. But his scoring average has dipped to 15.4 ppg, and since Feb. 1 he’s had just four games of at least 20 points. During that span of 35 games, he’s averaged 12.1 points.

In four games against the Grizzlies, Mayo has averaged 8.5 points on 13-for-37 shooting.

The Mavs, with potentially nine open roster spots this summer, will again be making significant changes. The belief all along has been that Mayo would opt out to seek a more lucrative deal either with Dallas or another team.

But now there must be clear doubt as to whether Mayo can command more on the open market. And whether he and/or the Mavs care to take this relationship to a second season is wide open to speculation.

Asked last week if Mayo is a player capable of being a key cog on a team with aspirations to return to a championship level, Carlisle said: “Is he capable of that? I’ll give you an evaluation on that once the season is over. I believe he is.”

Cuban Takes Blame For Mavs’ Fall

DALLAS – For the first time since he bought the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of the 1999-2000 season, owner Mark Cuban won’t be able to harass officials in the playoffs.

Two nights after the Mavs were eliminated from playoff contention, snapping the franchise’s record run of 12 consecutive postseason appearances, Cuban fell on the sword, taking the blame for a season that remains one game under .500 with three to play. On Wednesday, Cuban contended that had Dirk Nowitzki not missed the first 27 games of the season after knee surgery, and a career-high 29 in all, that his club would be fighting for a fifth or sixth seed.

On Friday he said he failed to put a good enough team around his 7-foot star who led the franchise to two NBA Finals and the 2011 championship.

“Look, it didn’t work out the way we planned. It’s all on me and [president of basketball operations] Donnie [Nelson],” Cuban said prior to Friday night’s overtime win over the Denver Nuggets. “It’s our job to put people in position to succeed. We didn’t do enough of it. It’s not an apology. It’s just the nature of the beast. I bust my ass to do as best as we can. No one hates losing more than me, so I’ll keep on busting my ass and hopefully it will change.”

Cuban opted not to re-sign key players from the 2011 championship, in particular last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, in order to create cap space under the altered rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The club chased Deron Williams last season but failed to lure him, setting in motion a run at players on the final year of their contracts or signing players to one-year contracts to keep salary cap room wide open for this summer.

While Cuban acknowledged that the franchise is now in a rebuild mode, he said it will be a quick job.

“It’s not a four-year rebuild cycle,” Cuban said. “I guess when you miss the playoffs, by definition you’re rebuilding. So we’ve got to get better.”

After striking out on Williams, Cuban and Nelson quickly went to work to construct a team. They felt confident about pieces acquired, namely O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison to replace Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, plus center Chris Kaman, easily the most offensively gifted big man the Mavs have had, and Elton Brand.

But, with Nowitzki out of the lineup, Dallas skidded to a 13-23 start. And while coach Rick Carlisle shuffled through starting lineups like a deck of cards, the Mavs still managed to make things a bit interesting over the last few weeks in the race for the eighth spot, but ultimately they were never able to fully recover.

With three chances in the past two weeks to get back to .500 for the first time since December, they lost by double-digits in each game, the last coming Wednesday to the last-place Suns.

The loss sealed the Mavs’ fate as an unfamiliar participant in the upcoming draft lottery.

“Look, we did the best we could,” Cuban said. “We obviously didn’t have what we thought we would have. We obviously should have had more. I don’t know if we could have, but we should have, and so it’s all on me. If that means I let Rick down, I let Rick down. People always give me (expletive) — why do you always put your email up on the screen and why are you always out front? This is why. So if someone’s got a shot to take, take it at me.”

As Mavericks Flounder, Cuban Talks Of Drafting Baylor’s Griner?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Go ahead Dirk. Shave it off.

As Vince Carter said last week after the Dallas Mavericks’ first failed attempt to get back to .500, the beard brigade served its purpose, bringing this group of mostly one-year rentals closer and focused on making a run. To their credit they did. But now, as Carter also said, the hubbub surrounding their quest to finally shave after two months of battling to break even is — ahem — growing out of control.

To the point that the Indiana Pacers used Dallas’ planned post-game shave party with the now-famous Omar the Barber as motivation for their 25-point pounding of the Mavs last Thursday.

Still, Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ career lone superstar — looking half uni-bomber, half-Bill Walton ’77 — promised to abide by the non-shaving pact initiated by O.J. Mayo back in late January.

“We only have 10 games left,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to shave now.”

Now, with eight to go, it’s time. After Tuesday’s second failed attempt for .500, a 20-point road drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas is 36-38 and essentially out of the chase for eighth, now a two-team race between the Lakers and Utah Jazz. Nowitzki, who had 33 points in an overtime win against the Clippers last Tuesday and 35 in Saturday’s miraculous comeback to beat the Bulls, fizzled in L.A. with just 11 points, appearing as old as the 45 years his mother said that beard makes him look.

There is no shame in the longtime face of the franchise opting for a shave. It will be refreshing, perhaps even a bit rejuvenating to see your still-youthful face again and finish out this lost season on a positive note.

Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run came to an end this season and he could suffer his first sub-.500 season since the turn of the century. Plus, he’s on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons, a remarkable run that only the Spurs can outdo, recently cinching a 16th consecutive playoff appearance.

The offseason promises to be a long one for Nowitzki, who turns 35 in June and who will wait and see how owner Mark Cuban again reshuffles the deck entering the final year of his contract.

Since winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavs are 72-68 with a first-round sweep. He has grown weary of a makeshift roster and even questioned Cuban’s strategy earlier this season.

Surely Nowitzki didn’t take solace in Cuban’s comments Tuesday in Los Angeles that got him trending on Twitter. Cuban said he’d consider drafting giant of the women’s game, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.

It’s doubtful this is the star Nowitzki had in mind to join him for his twilight seasons.

Back in star-studded L.A., where he was filming the TV show “Shark Tank” last July when Deron Williams wondered why he wasn’t in his Manhattan living room, Cuban told reporters regarding Griner:

“Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”

Perhaps Cuban saw the inevitable to come Tuesday night and figured he’d preempt Shaq’s big night and this beat-up, sub-standard Lakers team eventually demolishing of his Mavs by going headline hunting.

For one, Cuban has often talked about the heightened importance of the draft under the new collective bargaining agreement. Those more rigid, financially punishing set of rules convinced him to dismantle the 2011 title team, particularly by not re-signing Tyson Chandler and choosing to rebuild a contender through cap space and draft picks.

Dallas hasn’t hit on a draft pick since Josh Howard in 2003. Last June’s second-round pick, Jae Crowder, is the closest yet to becoming a contributing rotation player. Fellow second-round pick, 6-foot-10 former Air Force staff sergeant Bernard James, might tell Griner this gig isn’t so easy. First-round pick Jared Cunningham, a combo guard, has played a total of 26 minutes in a season the Mavs brought in Derek Fisher and then Mike James.

With free-agent star power this summer expected to stay where it is, and Dallas light on trade assets to acquire a rising impact player, the Mavs must find success in the draft — be it in the first round or the too-easily dismissed second round.

The Mavs need contributors, not marketing gimmicks. And that’s no shot at Griner, who dominated the women’s game and was recently described probably quite accurately by one Dallas radio commentator as the Wilt Chamberlain of women’s basketball.

But Griner can’t play in the NBA, and for Cuban to even suggest that he’d consider selecting her with a draft pick should only make the still-bearded, still-committed Nowitzki roll his eyes.

Nowitzki’s 35 Keeps Mavs’ Season Alive

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DALLAS –
If time machines were real, Mark Cuban would have bought one months ago.

There’s no sense lamenting Dirk Nowitzki‘s injury absence for the first 27 games of the season and his rocky return following right knee surgery in the middle of training camp.

The Dallas Mavericks can only hope that their bearded big man’s brilliance this week — culminating with Saturday’s season-high and season-saving 35-point performance in a 100-98 comeback win over the Chicago Bulls — continues as they hit the road for four tough ones. All-in-all, the Mavs have nine games left to steal the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Bulls, playing without Joakim Noah and Marco Belinelli, led by 12 with 4:08 to go, by eight with 3:06 to go and by five, 97-92, with 1:27 to go. That’s when Nowitzki, 8-for-8 to start the game and 6-for-7 to finish it, kept hope alive and outscored Chicago 8-1 in the final 54 seconds.

“He’s made a career out of doing that,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.

The sold-out matinee crowd was ready to erupt when Nowitzki stunningly missed a trailing, straightaway 3 with 60 seconds left, what would be his lone misfire of a 15-point final period. But Dallas corralled the rebound and Nowitzki got it back, wide open for a rare corner 3. Bang.

Next possession he victimized second-year guard Jimmy Butler caught in a mismatch. Swish, 98-97 Bulls. An unnerved Butler then gave Dallas a gift, bricking two free throws with 15.9 to go.

The Mavs’ guards have caught plenty of flak for not finding Nowitzki in key situations this season. Not this time.

“We ran a play there that I think confused them a little bit; me, Vince [Carter] and Mike James were kind of all there, running a little action and I think they messed up the switch a little bit,” Nowitzki said. “So one guy was open, I swung it to Vince, then they [the defenders] both ran to him.”

Carter quickly swung it back to Nowitzki just to the left of the top of the arc with the clock ticking down … 5, 4, 3…

“Had a good look and let it fly,” Nowitzki said. “Actually, that one didn’t feel as good coming off my hands, but it helps when you make a lot of shots before that. It kind of snuck in there. It kind of rattled, too.”

Whatever, it dropped with 2.9 seconds to go. And what was minutes away from a terribly disappointing, and likely season-crushing 3-3 homestand, became a momentum-juicer heading into a two-day break and a Tuesday night showdown in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

“It’s kind of like the story of our season, every time people write us off or saying we’re done, for some reason we find a way to hang around.  The same happened again today. I thought everybody was thinking this game’s over and we went and found a way to turn it around and save our season. We’ve been able to make this a close race. We’ve had some great wins over the last three weeks and we’re still in the mix.”

Dallas has gotten a little something from up and down the roster during its run to get into contention. Against the Bulls, center Brandan Wright didn’t get the start, but bounced off the bench for 17 points and 13 rebounds. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle made a point to boost O.J. Mayo, who went 1-for-13 shooting, but gutted through 42 minutes lugging around a painful sprained left shoulder. And the defense finally buckled down when it absolutely had to late.

Still, Dallas, suddenly seizing close games it used to let slip away, isn’t sniffing the eighth spot without Nowitzki, claiming his best health of the season, recently returning to All-Star form. That 11-year run came to an end this season, but he hasn’t closed the book on a 13th consecutive playoff berth.

During the just-concluded homestand that improved the Mavs’ March record to 11-4, Nowitzki posted two 30-point games (33 in Tuesday’s overtime win over the Clippers) and averaged 24.0 ppg on 61.5 percent shooting overall and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.

“You can see him really champing at the bit to get to the eighth spot,” Mayo said. “He’s doing everything in his will to keep us within striking distance.”

His five 3-pointers on six attempts were a season-high and ruined Bulls guard Nate Robinson‘s incredible 25-point  game. Robinson connected on his first seven 3-point attempts, including a 32-foot, late-shot-clock heave that put Chicago ahead 93-81 with six minutes left in the game. His corner 3-pointer at the buzzer, though, bounced away, leaving Nowitzki and his Mavs with new life once again.

“The game is 48 minutes and we kept on playing,” said Nowitzki, who tallied his career 12th regular-season game-winner in the final 10 seconds of a game. “Myself, just step into the shots. I mean, really, there’s no other chance. It’s not like somebody else is unbelievably hot. … So just going to let it all hang out and see what happens.”

When Nowitzki does that, you just never know.