Posts Tagged ‘Shane Larkin’

Rooks Burke, Larkin Thankful To Be Healthy Again


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

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

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

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

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

He would next check into an operating room.

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

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

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

Thrown into the fire


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad breaks


VIDEO: Shane Larkin discusses his solid performance against the Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the rest of the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli Rookie Gal Mekel Emerges From Mavs Debut Ready For More


VIDEO: Mavs introduce Gal Mekel, other rookies to media

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

Before long it was time for bed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hawks Rookie Schroder Wows Countryman, Role Model Nowitzki

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DALLAS – Impressive.

The face of the German national team over the past decade-and-half didn’t hesitate to put forth the one-word assessment. Dirk Nowitzki got his first in-game introduction — a full 36-minute showcase in Wednesday’s preseason game between the Mavericks and Hawks — to 20-year-old point guard Dennis Schroder, the 6-foot-1 future of the German team.

With Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague taking the night off, the rookie got his first start of the preseason and scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting with four assists and a pair of steals. For much of the game he was as billed — quick, agile with a flashy handle, a nuisance to defend and, yes, overall impressive. His game, like the tattoos that stretch the entirety of his seemingly endless arms, screams American streetball over the German professional league he was recently shredding.

“This was really my first time seeing him go up and down, and he already impressed me in the [pre-Draft] workout,” Nowitzki said. “For as young as he is, his court presence is pretty good, the way he’s talking, just his overall — swagger is a stupid word, but it’s there. He’s got a confidence about himself. He’s fast, he’s got long arms. I think he’s going to have a good career in this league.”

If it sounds like Nowitzki, 35 and entering his 16th season, might have enjoyed having his potential pick-and-roll partner in international competition (assuming Nowitzki opts to play again) on the Mavs, there could be some truth to it. The Mavericks, slated to pick 13th in the 2013 Draft and still seeking a long-term answer at point guard, scouted Schroder during a pre-Draft workout.

It was there, on the Mavs’ practice court, that Nowitzki met Schroder. He marveled at his abundance of raw talent and handed him his phone number, telling the youngster to text him any time he needed to talk.

“I text with him a lot and he gives me advice every time when I need something,” said Schroder, who left Germany at the same age that Nowitzki once did. “His career is amazing. Every German player looks up to him, and same with me.”

On Draft night, Dallas traded down to 16th with Schroder still on the board. They traded down again to 18th and selected Miami point guard Shane Larkin, whose development has been stunted by a broken ankle sustained during Summer League preparation. Schroder was gone, taken 17th by the Hawks, becoming the first native German drafted in the first round since Nowitzki went No. 9 in 1998.

Rookie shows flashes of growth

Schroder’s preseason has been a mix of blinding promise and inevitable learning curve. His eight buckets against the Mavs was one fewer than his preseason total entering the game. He’s 17-for-45 from the floor (37.8 percent), 2-for-15 from beyond the arc (13.3 percent) and just 4-for-8 from the free throw line. His seven turnovers Wednesday, a concern going back to Summer League, jumped his preseason total to 19. He’s averaging more turnovers per game (3.8) than assists (3.4).

“It’s an amazing feeling to play in the NBA right now,” the 168-pound Schroder said. “You have to get used to it because the European leagues, how they play is completely different. The preseason has helped me a lot and the Summer League, too. Every point guard here is strong and athletic, so I have to try to get stronger and try to compete every game.”

The misfires and turnovers are buffered by the skill and raging potential: the pivot at the elbow that freed him for a jumper that swished through; the crossover dribble and step-back against Shawn Marion for another mid-range jumper that dropped; the blow-by into the lane for a layup and later for a kick out; the baseline hesitation and spin past Jose Calderon that drew a foul.

“He’s made a lot of good, positive impressions on all of us, including myself,” first-year Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Defensively he has some natural ability to be disruptive and have an impact on the game. That’s where he’s going to earn everybody’s respect and earn his minutes. But offensively his ability to use his speed and get in the paint, his decision-making, his vision, for his age we’re excited about how he can grow.”

Hard work in Germany pays off

In soccer-absorbed Germany, only now is Schroder beginning to create something of a buzz. He is also not the typical face of German basketball. One glance tells you he is not Uwe Blab, Detlef Schrempf, Nowitzki or even Tim Ohlbrecht.

Schroder was born and raised in Braunschweig, a city of about a 250,000 people located in the northern part of Germany, some 220 miles north of Nowitzki’s much smaller hometown of Wurzburg. His mother is from Gambia, a small country on Africa’s west coast, and his father, who passed away several years ago from heart failure, was German. Schroder’s first language is German and he speaks fluent English.

At 16, when he learned of his father’s failing health, he promised to abandon the skateboard he spent many hours tooling around on to make a hard push in basketball, and to take care of his mother and siblings.

He played in the top German league, one of only a handful of black German players, rising quickly from a minimal bench role his first season and later into a star. He said he hopes he’s opened doors for a rising number of young, black basketball players behind him: “It’s not easy to play in the German leagues and you’re black. My best friend, he plays in the German League, too. It’s not easy, but I hope I opened the door for him, too, so he can make it one day in the league.”

Schroder’s 28-year-old sister and her 6-year-old daughter moved and live with him in his Atlanta home. His 25-year-old brother will join them in the coming months.

A fitting reunion with a role model

Schroder officially begins his NBA career next Wednesday in the Hawks’ season-opener in Dallas. In a coincidental, if not appropriate, twist, the paths of Germany’s top basketball exports over the last 25 years will come full circle.

“I told him that it’s actually funny, my first game in the NBA was against Schrempf, and I was the young guy, he was the old guy playing in his last couple years,” Nowitzki said. “There was a bunch of German media and this year is the same thing. I was on the road back then, too, and he’s going to start here against me and I’m obviously the older guy now and he’s the younger guy. He’s impressive. He’s only going to get better. He’s obviously got to learn to shoot off the dribble a little better, shoot the 3-ball, but everything else is there.”

Whether Nowitzki and Schroder ever play together on the German national team remains to be seen. Nowitzki opted not to play in last summer’s European championship coming off the first knee surgery of his career. Schroder passed up his first opportunity to concentrate on settling into his new city and team. At the European championships last month, the undermanned German squad failed to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and is unlikely to receive one of the final wildcard spots.

That halts the country’s international competition likely until 2015 at the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Nowitzki, who guided Germany to the 2008 Games but didn’t get back in 2012, has expressed a desire to make one last run at Olympic glory. Noting that he will be 38 in 2016, he isn’t making any promises just yet.

“I hope he plans [to play] so we can play together,” Schroder said. “Every German player wants to do that, to play with him, and that is my dream.”

Ellis’ Hot Start Now Waits On Calderon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m down with that.”

Mekel Gains, Earns Confidence In Vegas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mavericks’ Plans Change At Point Guard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellis Gives Dallas A Badly Needed Jolt

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks finally appear to have their big-name free agent and Monta Ellis finally gets his big contract.

Only neither is as big as originally hoped. The Mavs dearly wanted Dwight Howard. He’s in Houston. Ellis opted out of $11 million with the Milwaukee Bucks for one final season. He didn’t find the market he expected. Now he’s headed to Dallas for a reported three years at between $25 million and $30 million.

He joins a roster under extreme reconstruction that, at the moment, is stacked with newcomers in the backcourt. The athletic, volume-shooting Ellis figures to start at shooting guard next to high-IQ point guard Jose Calderon, who signed on for four years and $29 million. Dallas will pay those two around $15 million next season.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the Ellis agreement. Stein also reported that the three-year deal that Devin Harris (who has dislocated toe) and Dallas agreed to has been shelved.

Sixth man Vince Carter is the lone returnee and only producer from last season’s train-wreck backcourt. He enters the final year of his deal at $3.2 million.

Dallas also brought in guards Wayne Ellington on a two-year deal, plus rookie free agent Gal Mekel and draft picks Shane Larkin (who will miss possibly three months with ankle injury) and Ricky Ledo. After realizing top free agents (Deron Williams last summer and now Howard) weren’t enamored with a thin roster that wasn’t winning any trades either, the Mavs are in the asset acquisition business.

It’s a different approach than the last two offseasons when owner Mark Cuban sought short-term bang for his buck, and consistently said he would save his money for foundation-type players. Perhaps the Mavs now believe that the 27-year-old Ellis, who has played in two postseasons in his eight-year career, is one. He was certainly the last remaining “impact” free agent on the market.

At the moment, eight of the 12 players Dallas has or soon expects to have under contract are guards. Talk about going small-ball. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jae Crowder fill the forward position and second-year center Bernard James, a low-minute player when he got off the bench, is the only big man in the middle.

That has to change, although how is the big question considering the Mavs’ cap situation. Dallas remains in pursuit of stop-gap veteran Samuel Dalembert (a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee could be an option) and they’ve been in discussions with their own hybrid forward-center Brandan Wright. Elton Brand also remains a possibility.

The agreement with Ellis seemed unlikely just a couple days ago when president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said he didn’t expect more backcourt additions. With all eyes focused on the depleted center position, Ellis did perk up a fan base wondering where the franchise was headed after missing out on Howard a week ago.

Ellis doesn’t turn the summer around for the Mavs, but he does bring with him some needed swag back to Big D. The roster had been virtually bare of playmaking electricity. He gives Dallas excitement, if not also unpredictability, and he’ll happily fill the role as the second — and sometimes lead scorer — the Mavs so desperately need next to Nowitzki.

The 6-foot-3 Ellis averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.0 apg sharing the backcourt in Milwaukee last season with Brandon Jennings. He shot just 41.6 percent overall and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc, but he can light it up on any given night and seemed to have a knack for fireworks when he played Dallas.

A rim protector must be on the way, though, or the Mavs’ defensive standing at No. 27 in scoring (101.7 ppg) last season could get worse. Ellis’ defensive efficiency last season benefited from the Bucks’ swat machine Larry Sanders. Ellis consistently ranks high in steals, but his overall defensive prowess is not considered a strong suit, and starting next to Calderon could cause coach Rick Carlisle to go completely bald.

The Mavs aren’t done massaging their roster. Friday at least provided a jolt and a little more intrigue for a proud franchise that was quickly looking lottery-bound for a second consecutive season.

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOUSTON ROCKETS (14)

PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

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

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (12)

PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic

DALLAS MAVERICKS (11)

PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

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

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

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

Busy Saturday Of Free-Agent Deals

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Plenty of free-agent action swept through the Association on Saturday, headlined by power forward Josh Smith going to the Detroit Pistons and cashing in on the type of contract he’s dreamed about.

Others also reached verbal agreements with new teams, but keep in mind none of these deals become official until Wednesday when the league’s moratorium on signing new contracts and finalizing proposed trades is lifted.

Some of the other notable activity from Saturday:

  • Earl Watson agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.