Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Dalembert’

‘Chubbygate’ ends with chuckle in Dallas


VIDEO: Parsons says he’s pleased that coach Rick Carlisle apologized for his comments

DALLAS – When Mark Cuban was asked to weigh in on what has become a sensitive issue around here, the Dallas Mavericks owner peered down from his step machine, sweat beading on his forehead and said: “I have to talk about Chubbygate?”

The hubbub started in the early stages of training camp when Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called out prized new acquisition Chandler Parsons for being out of shape. Carlisle suggested that Chandler was a bit too paunchy around the mid-section.

It’s quite the accusation against a heartthrob and bona fide blue-jeans model.

The 6-foot-9 small forward has said he wanted to bulk up some above the waist to help him better guard power forwards when needed. Still, Carlisle shoved on with his ill-fated motivational tactic following Friday night’s preseason game.

“An increase of 18 to 20 pounds is just too much,” Carlisle said. “We talked about it today. We talk about it a lot. He’ll get there, but he looked tired out there and a little heavy-legged, and the extra seven or eight pounds aren’t helping.

“I don’t mean to call him out in public or ridicule him, but it’s just a fact. He’s an important guy for us. We just need him to get to his right conditioning and weight level so he can play his best because we’re going to need him to play a lot of minutes over the course of 82 games.”

Chandler, who signed a $46 million offer sheet from the Mavs in July and officially joined the franchise when the Houston Rockets decided not to match, wasn’t appreciative of such motivation. He could have just rolled his eyes understanding that in years past Carlisle had called out Lamar Odom a few seasons ago and Samuel Dalembert last season.

Of course, neither of those players had instantaneously become the franchise’s second-highest-paid player in a very public courting, and is arguably the Mavs’ most important player for title contention.

Over the weekend, Chandler wanted the world to see just how “overweight” he is, so he snapped a shot of his bare washboard torso while standing on a balcony of a Dallas high-rise and posted it on Instagram. It made the social media rounds, quickly. A lot of people took notice, including, Carlisle said, his wife and daughter.

“I received my punishment,” Carlisle said. “My wife and daughter became full-time Chandler Parsons Twitter and Instagram followers.”

At that point, Carlisle must have felt he was seeing a different body image than everybody else, so he felt compelled to apologize? Carlisle issued a statement Sunday prior to the Mavs’ preseason game against Indiana:

“It was unfair and inappropriate to single out Chandler Parsons after the game Friday night. I have apologized to him and the entire team for this error in judgment. Not only is Chandler Parsons one of our best players, he is also one of our hardest working players and the kind of high-character person we strive to bring to our city and franchise.

I also made it clear to our players and staff this morning that this type of bad example is not acceptable and beneath the dignity of a championship organization like the Dallas Mavericks.”

Well then.

The apology was well-received by Parsons.

“It just shows what kind of guy he is,” Parsons said after Sunday’s game. “We’re in this together. Everybody makes mistakes and he came to me as a man. We have a great relationship. It’s in the past, and we’re going to move forward. It’s over with.”

Thank goodness.

But was Carlisle really wrong for publicly airing his concerns? Or was it bad judgement to take such a tact? Was Parsons, 25, just overly sensitive? And either way, was an apology of such conviction truly warranted from one of the league’s most successful coaches?

Cuban, known at times to fuel his own headlines by speaking out to the media, called “Chubbygate” a non-event and said he doesn’t know if it was necessary for Carlisle to apologize. But, he’s glad Carlisle did.

“Rick’s smart,” Cuban said. “When he feels like somebody’s sensitive about something or he touched a nerve, he deals with it. He doesn’t run away from it. He doesn’t pretend it didn’t happen. It was no big deal. It’s a non-event.”

We now return your regularly scheduled programming.

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.

Felton (again) out to prove he’s got it

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Raymond Felton‘s recruitment of former teammate Carmelo Anthony to join him in Dallas apparently fell on deaf ears. One must wonder if yet another Felton attempt to solicit belief in a fresh start will, too.

“I just have to show everybody that I’ve still got it, I still can play,” Felton said on a conference call with Dallas reporters Tuesday. “I still can play the game at this level. I still play as an elite point guard at this level. That’s just all. When you come off a season like I had last year, there’s always a point where you’ve got to prove yourself coming back the next season. And trust me, I look forward to it.”

It’s the second time in three years the point guard is coming off an awful season. He showed up for his first season in Portland after the 2011 lockout out of shape and never rounded into form. He quickly became the butt of pudgy point-guard jokes and the poster child for players who relaxed for too long during the work stoppage. He and was basically run out of town.

The Knicks brought him back in 2012 and Felton made similar pleas about fresh starts and being motivated. But his second season in New York was a disaster on and off the court. His divorce was recently finalized and in June he reached a plea deal to avoid jail time stemming from gun charges. In February, Felton’s then-estranged wife alleged he threatened her with a loaded, semi-automatic handgun.

“I was just fighting with a lot of injuries, and I was fighting with a lot of mental stuff off the court, but like I said earlier, I don’t make any excuses,” Felton said. “Last season was all my fault. It was nobody else’s but mine. I take the blame for it totally. Like I said, I look forward to this year. I’m putting all that behind me last year. I’m looking forward to this year with the Mavs.”

Dallas is putting as positive a spin as possible on the potential for Felton taking over as the starting point guard. It’s not as though he was their hand-picked choice. They badly wanted back center Tyson Chandler, their fiery, defensive anchor during the 2011 championship season, but to get him in last month’s trade, Knicks president Phil Jackson foisted Felton upon them to complete the deal.

“He’s an enthusiastic, high-energy, aggressive type of guy and I know he’s going to be extremely motivated,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’ve known him for many years and I’ve had positive experiences working with him and watching him play. He’s going to have a terrific year.”

The Mavs surrendered popular and steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, speedy point guard and 2013 first-round draft pick Shane Larkin, starting center Samuel Dalembert, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and two second-round draft picks.

Since Jason Kidd left after the 2011-12 season, Dallas has burned through backcourt combos. The tandem of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo was a bust in 2012-13, while Calderon and Monta Ellis, with Devin Harris off the bench, worked pretty well last season.

Harris this week agreed to a three-year deal to stay in Dallas, and will likely back up Felton, who last season averaged a career-low 9.7 points and 5.6 assists. That duo enters as one the worst shooting point-guard combos in the Western Conference. Felton shot 39.5 percent from the floor (31.8 percent from beyond the arc) last year and Harris shot a career-worst 37.8 (30.7 percent from 3).

Although Felton, who turned 30 last month, hasn’t escaped the body-image jokes, he denied that conditioning was an issue for him last season. He said at this point of the summer, his physical conditioning is as good as it has been in the last five years.

He is owed $3.8 million this season and has a player option for next season at $3.95 million.

“I’ve got a lot of things that motivate me this summer,” Felton said. “I’m just really getting after it, just working extra, extra hard. I’m not really doing anything different, just doing it more and working at it harder.”

It’s just not the first time Felton has had to make such claims.

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?

Morning Shootaround — June 27


VIDEO: Relive some of the best moments from the 2014 NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rose would welcome ‘Melo | Jackson says chemistry issues sparked trade | Wiggins, Parker forever linked | Bucks happy to have their rookie | Sixers will require more patience

No. 1: Report: Rose would welcome Anthony in Chicago — Former MVP Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls is hoping to be back at 100 percent for the start of the 2014-15 season. He’s also hoping to lift Chicago back to its elite status with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and the rest of his Bulls teammates by his side. Would he welcome Carmelo Anthony into that core? According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the answer is a decided “yes”:

In December 2011, shortly after the lockout ended, Derrick Rose uttered a character-defining statement.

“I’m rolling with Keith,” said Rose, the league’s reigning most valuable player.

Keith was Keith Bogans, the oft-maligned, then-starting shooting guard whom management waived later that month.

This is how Rose views teammates, which is instructional at a time when free agent recruiting has been spotlighted. He’ll never publicly recruit players because he won’t disparage current teammates.

But this stance doesn’t mean Rose wouldn’t love adding high-profile talent. In fact, sources close to Rose said Carmelo Anthony’s camp is aware that Rose would welcome the addition of the elite scorer.

The same sources said a recent report that Rose preferred Kevin Love over Anthony is “fiction.” Rose is in support of any improvements.

(more…)

‘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.

Dallas Must Have A Wide-Eyed Dalembert


VIDEO: Jose Calderon finds Samuel Dalember for an easy dunk vs. Orlando

DALLAS – All the latest statistical computations reveal the same thickening plot for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference: Dogfight!

Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Minnesota and Memphis are all separated by 4.5 games. Each team can point to one significant key that could put them over the top. For the hottest team in the group, the 23-16 Mavericks point to good-natured and well-intentioned, but not always, ahem, eye-opening center Samuel Dalembert. They don’t ask him for him to be a force, but rather, a consistent presence on defense and on the boards.

“You know, we don’t ask a tremendous amount from our 5-men,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We ask them to bring what they can bring to our team at their best possible level. For [Dalembert], we need him active, we need him rebounding, we need him screening, rolling; he’s been making free throws. We ask those guys to play to exhaustion and then we’ll get them out.”

Exhaustion is an interesting choice of words.

The 6-foot-11 Dalembert has had something of an issue getting out of bed, already twice punished for oversleeping and showing up late. He’s paid for it by being benched and even losing his starting job for a spell. Dalembert is a starter again, in the lineup the last three games and eight of the last 11 because there are too many mismatches that hurt the hustling (but defensively liable) 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair. The lanky, 6-foot-10 Brandan Wright is an offensive commodity off the bench, but he’s not a strong defender or rebounder.

“We start [Dalembert] because it’s the best thing for our team,” Carlisle said. “The last three or four games I like what he’s done. His focus has been good. It’s evident what he brings to the team. It’s good.”

Dalembert says he’s dealing with a sleep disorder, but it’s not as if this kind of thing hasn’t frustrated coaches and front office-types at his previous three stops over the last three seasons. Mavs owner Mark Cuban recently said he doesn’t know if Dalembert has a sleep disorder or not, but he’s seen enough know to he needs the big man playing with both eyes wide open.

“I told him he’s All-Star caliber when he’s laying it out there,” Cuban said.

After both oversleeping episodes, Dalembert, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract last summer, expressed guilt and remorse. On Nov. 25, his oversleeping made him late for a morning shootaround and led to a first-quarter benching in Dallas’ eventual 110-96 loss to Denver. Afterward, he somberly offered up this classic, no-pun-intended analysis: “It was a wake-up call for us.”

Dallas sorely needs an engaged Dalembert to compete against the West’s bigger frontcourts. The Mavs are a poor rebounding team (27th in rebound percentage) and are porous defensively (19th in defensive rating, 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage) and sport with a soft perimeter defense that must have back-up from an active rim protector.

The Mavs’ defensive rating is 101.3 with Dalembert on the floor. He owns the second-best individual rating among rotation players behind reserve forward Jae Crowder. With Dalembert on the bench, the Mavs’ defensive rating soars to 106.3, the second-largest jump on the team, again behind Crowder. Dalembert is never again going to be a 30-minute-a-night player. So the 20 he gets — or should get — have to be good.

Wednesday brings a massive road test when Dallas puts its three-game win streak up against the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). L.A. has won three in a row since All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder separation on Jan. 3 in Dallas. The Clippers rallied to win the game behind this combined stat line from power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan: 50 points (18-for-32 shooting, including nine dunks), 33 rebounds (11 offensive), six assists and four blocked shots. Dalembert started the game, played 21 minutes and had nine points, five rebounds and one block.

On Friday, Dallas plays at Phoenix (9 ET, League Pass). The Suns trounced the Mavs on Dec. 21. Dalembert didn’t start, played seven minutes and Dallas got outrebounded, 45-36.

During Dallas’ three-game win streak, Dalembert has logged a total of 60 minutes, his second-highest minutes total over a three-game span since late November. He’s averaged 5.0 ppg on 58.3 percent shooting, 7.7 rpg with four blocked shots.

It’s all nothing terribly eye-popping. But with Dalembert, it’s all about presence.

“I go by the recent trends and the recent trends are that he’s been ready and he’s been into it and that’s what we need from him,” Carlisle said. “It’s pretty clear. We’ve laid it out to him: We want it simple and do what you do.”

Mavs’ Offense Clearly Improved, But Defense Can’t Find Its Footing


VIDEO: Tim Duncan and the Spurs topple the Mavs in Dallas

DALLAS – When the Dallas Mavericks were putting together a championship season, they played very good defense. All five players worked on a string, each movement was made in sync.

During the regular season, the 2010-11 Mavs ranked seventh in the league in defensive efficiency (102.3 points per 100 possessions). With Tyson Chandler defending the paint, a heady and still-capable Jason Kidd locking down opponents late in games and a spry Shawn Marion taking on all comers, Dallas took out LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

But as that title team has been stripped, the defense (revealed by its defensive efficiency) has eroded: 8th in 2011-12 to 20th last season to 23rd now. As not altogether unexpected, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon rank as the worst defensive backcourt in the league. The up-and-down Samuel Dalembert is the best option to man the middle. The backups are undersized reserves Brandan Wright, a lanky, 6-foot-10 offensive-minded player who missed the first 23 games with a shoulder injury, and 6-foot-7 ground-bound scrapper DeJuan Blair, who actually seized the starting job for a couple of weeks. Marion, 35, is a step slower, but is still asked to switch onto point guards out of necessity.

This challenged defensive mix threatens to exclude a mostly entertaining offensive product from postseason play.

“It’s almost been pretty consistent throughout the year,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “There might be one or two instances  I remember that we didn’t score enough to win down the stretch, but other than that, all the other losses, it’s giving up too many points. We gave up 116 again [Thursday], almost 30-point quarters across the board. It’s tough. It puts a lot of pressure on our offense.”

Dallas’ offense can be very good. Yet in the high-powered West, the Mavs’ 103.9 ppg ranks just sixth-best. Their offensive rating of 105.8 (points scored per 100 possessions) ranks seventh. Combine it with the turnstile defense and Dallas’ net rating of 0.9 (the difference in a team’s offensive and defensive rating) leaves it ninth among the 15 squads.

The only other Western Conference team currently occupying a playoff spot (or even above .500) despite a defensive efficiency in the bottom 15 of the league is the one with the league’s best record: the Portland Trail Blazers (at 104.5, just one spot better than Dallas at 22nd). How can that be? The Blazers boast the No. 1 offense — no team makes more 3-pointers per game — and they’re No. 5 in rebounding percentage. Not only can’t Dallas stop anybody, but it also sits 26th in the latter category.

“It’s team defense that has to happen for us to get over the hump and we know that,” sixth man Vince Carter said. “We have to get stops and rebound. We’ve understood that since Day 1 coming into training camp. We just have to get better at it.”

In Thursday’s 116-107 loss to San Antonio, the Mavs (16-13 and eighth in the West) surrendered more than 110 points for the ninth time. In its last four games, Dallas has scored 108.5 ppg, yet is 1-3 because it allowed 113.0 ppg. The Spurs shot 49.3 percent and other than a late two-minute stand that got Dallas back in the game, San Antonio had its way.

“It’s easy to look at our roster and nitpick our challenges,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got age, we’ve got some size issues, we’ve got this, that and the other. If you want to make a laundry list, it’s not hard to make a list. But my job is to be a problem-solver and not a problem-identifier.”

Carlisle said it’s the media’s job to identify problems. This one can be seen a mile away. The Ellis-Calderon pairing, as praiseworthy as it has been as an efficient and effective tandem with Nowitzki, is a sieve defensively. Opposing point guards tear them apart. That’s not so much a surprise, but it is a critical problem that lacks an identifiable answer — at least until guard Devin Harris can finally provide support once he returns from a season-long toe injury.

Among guards that have played at least 20 games and average at least 28.0 mpg, only New Orleans’ Eric Gordon (107.9) owns a worse defensive rating than Calderon (107.3) and Ellis (107.0). The Lakers’ Steve Blake (106.3) and Jodie Meeks (105.8) are the only other tandem to rank among the bottom 10.

Ellis logs 36.8 mpg. When he’s on the floor, Dallas’ defensive rating swells to 107.0. When he’s off the floor, it drops to 98.2. The numbers are similar for Calderon, who averages 31.1 mpg: 107.3 when he’s on the floor and 100.9 when he’s off.

“We’ve got to get it done with the lineup we’ve got,” said Nowitzki, whose on/off defensive rating is rather impressive. “I feel like we have a better team than we’ve had the last two years. I feel we’re letting some games slip away here and there and that’s going to hurt our playoff chances. But, I still think we have enough to make a push at the playoffs.”

Everybody knows from where that push must come.


VIDEO: Shawn Marion talks after the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celtics getting in Asik trade mix? | Granger, Pacers set return date | Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas | Lin to miss next game

No. 1: Report: Celtics getting into Asik sweepstakes? — In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their name out of the hat as a team interested in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik. (Basically, the Cavs would be interested in being part of a three-team deal for Asik, but don’t want him coming to Cleveland.) So where will Asik end up? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as a potential suitor for Asik, joining the Philadelphia 76ers (who remain the favorites to land Asik):

There is no hard proof yet to support the theory — first presented in this tweet from my USA Today colleague Sam Amick — that the Houston Rockets already have a trade framework in place to solve their Asik conundrum and are only waiting to see if someone else out there steps up to beat the mystery offer between now and Houston’s self-imposed Thursday deadline to deal Asik.

However …

While strong rumbles persist that the Philadelphia 76ers are the team most likely to go along with such an arrangement, given the close ties between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Philly counterpart Sam Hinkie, there’s fresh talk in circulation about another potential co-conspirator.

The Boston Celtics.

The advice offered to us on Sunday was stern: Keep an eye on Boston. The Celtics possess two players in different salary ranges that would presumably fit in useful ways next to Dwight Howard: Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. The Celts also have a spare first-round draft pick or two to plug into any trade equation to sweeten the deal for Houston, amid rising suspicions around the league that Morey’s Rockets are going to find a way to come out of the Asik saga with at least one future first.

The same Rockets who happen to have a GM (Morey) and coach (Kevin McHale) who have long-standing relationships with Celts president Danny Ainge.

So, yes, I’d say you should keep an eye on Boston.

Question here that must be asked loudly: Can Houston, in whichever Asik trade it ultimately chooses, really afford to take back a player possessing substantial long-term money like Green (two seasons at $18.4 million after this one) or Philly’s Thaddeus Young (two seasons at $19.4 million after this one) when it knows it’s going to have to give an extension bump to Chandler Parsons as soon as Parsons is eligible for the raise his play merits via extension?

Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be surprised if Young gets routed to a third team should the Rockets and Sixers officially join forces to construct an Asik deal, as some observers have been expecting all month.


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge addresses the Omer Asik rumors and more

***

No. 2: Pacers, Granger set target return date — Just last week — before the much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown in Indianapolis — injured Pacers forward Danny Granger said he pondered returning for that game, but ruled it out so as not to put the spotlight on himself over the team. On Friday, Granger ruled himself out of the Pacers’ home game with the Charlotte Bobcats, but said he was closer than ever to a return. Indiana now is hoping for an early Christmas present as Granger is planning on a Dec. 20 return, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Might this finally be the week that Danny Granger makes his anticipated season debut? That’s the plan right now for the Pacers.

“I was waiting for the Danny Granger [question],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger. We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practices goes.”

Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

“I had a good practice today,” Granger said. “It’s really just fine-tuning my game, honestly. Making sure my timing is on, making sure I know all the plays. That’s a big thing when you haven’t played in awhile. I know the plays but I haven’t repped through the plays like all the other guys constantly get a lot of reps through the plays.”

Granger said he and coach Vogel are always on the same page, and that both agreed that he needed more practice time before putting on his game uniform.

“Me and Frank talk after practice — he’ll call me in or he’ll call me over,” said Granger. “Just because I said ‘Hopefully I can play on Friday,’ I was thinking hopefully. And then when I came and I practiced, and I dribbled the ball off my foot twice and I shot an airball on a layup, me and Frank met again and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ ”

Now in his ninth NBA season, Granger has typically been a slow starter. It’s fair to expect that again, though he doesn’t anticipate it.

“In the past in preseason, I always would tinker with different things in my game,” he explained. “I always used it as a time to do the things you’re good at, but just experiment with other things and notoriously I would always have a slow start. I’m trying to avoid that this year.

“I don’t know if (fans) think we’re just machines that you just turn on and all of sudden we’re playing in rhythm. Every basketball player is a rhythm player. It’s takes awhile. That’s why we have a preseason.

“I’m hoping the practices that I’ve been getting now, and the playing that I’ve been getting now is very similar to what I will do in a game. Obviously, when you get in a game you got adrenaline that you have to account for and that changes things a little bit. Just me practicing fullcourt, playing everyday, playing one-on-one, shooting a lot of shots, doing ball handling drills, I’m hoping that’ll be my time where I can get some of these kinks out.”

The team’s medical staff continues to keep a close eye on Granger.

“They’re not out of it,” said Vogel. “They’re still very much involved because part of the final process of recovery from a calf strain is, is his body going to respond to the extra work? Is the calf going to flare up? They’re still checking it everyday and not ruling him 100 percent healthy until they see he can go through added work and the calf can still respond the right way.”

Should Granger step onto the floor Friday night, as hoped, it’ll be his first regular-season appearance since March 3, when he left the game (also against the Bulls) due to soreness in his left knee, which kept him out all but five games last season. The knee is really good, according to Granger, and he’s motivated more than ever to return to game action.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger addresses is potential return on Dec. 20

***

No. 3: Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks signed big man Samuel Dalembert in the offseason in hopes of seeing him provide the kind of interior defense and paint protection that Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs during their run to the title in 2011. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as Dalembert has gone from starting 16 of Dallas’ first 19 games to seeing his minutes cut as coach Rick Carlisle has given DeJuan Blair the starting job. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more on how the return of Brandan Wright may force Dalembert even further out of the rotation:

The return of Brandan Wright had a ripple effect on the Mavericks’ interior rotation, though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Saturday night because Dallas was playing without Dirk Nowitzki.

On this night, at least, Samuel Dalembert dropped to fourth-team center, behind starter DeJuan Blair, second-teamer Brandan Wright and late third-quarter sub Bernard James.

Dalembert started 17 of Dallas’ first 18 games, but Saturday marked Blair’s sixth straight start. Dalembert did not play.

Dalembert, who as a free agent signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract over the summer, is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“He’s shown his moments,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I just don’t think he’s been in a position where he’s been expected to perform to help a team win since his first or second years.”

Last season, the Mavericks signed Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million contract and anointed him the starter. Though he wound up starting 52 games, his minutes decreased as the season wore on and so, it appeared, did Kaman’s effort level.

In other words, rather than inspiring Kaman, cutting his minutes seemed to have an adverse effect. Are the Mavericks concerned the same will happen with Dalembert?

“No, I think Sam is the exact opposite,” Cuban said. “Sam is figuring out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed in himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well. He wants to get better.”

***

No. 4: Rockets’ Lin expected to miss game vs. Bulls — A knee injury in November kept point guard Jeremy Lin from the Rockets’ lineup for six games. Although he returned to play in Friday’s win over Golden State, he suffered a back injury when he collided with Warriors big man Andrew Bogut. Lin sat out last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings and seems sure to miss Houston’s date with Chicago this week, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut.

Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee.

Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out.

In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out.

“I only played him 14 or 15 minutes in Portland because you could tell he was out of rhythm,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The game kind of dictates your substitution patterns, … but I certainly made an effort against Golden State to get him more minutes. He needs to get in a rhythm.

“We’re disappointed that he’s out, not nearly as disappointed as he is, I’m sure.”

Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat might be looking to work a trade for the Celtics’ Jordan Crawford … Good look at how rookie point guard Trey Burke has proven to be worth the Draft-day gamble for the Jazz … Magic rookie swingman Victor Oladipo got some preseason pointers from fellow a guy he long looked up to: fellow D.C.-area star Kevin Durant

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You all know we love Kenneth Faried around these parts, so here’s the latest must-see alley-oop from “The Manimal” last night …


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried gets up high to finish off the Randy Foye alley-oop