All the pieces are coming together for the Mavs.
While most teams are thinking money, the Mavericks are making moves.
“We have a strategy we try to stick to but where opportunities come up, you turn to tactics and you make a move if you can,” says owner Mark Cuban, “because sometimes you can have all the best plans of creating cap room for free agency but if the free agent doesn’t want to come…going by way of trade sometimes gets you players without as much risk.”
But Mark Cuban isn’t opposed to taking a risk. The 2008 deal with New Jersey not only cost the Mavericks millions in payroll and luxury tax, but it centered around the swapping of 24-year-old rising star Devin Harris for 34-year-old future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd.
After a trip to the conference semi-finals last season, Cuban put faith in Kidd by signing him to a three-year deal. While the Mavericks got off to a 22-9 start, the team went .500 in the first 20 games after the New Year.
Never one for complacency, Cuban pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Wizards before the February deadline. With new additions Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in tow, the new look Mavericks appear re-energized and ready to challenge the west’s top teams.
“The trade’s been really helpful as far as the depth of our rotation,” says head coach Rick Carlisle. “Right now we have all three guys in the trade that are playing key roles.”
“My role here is just to be a force inside on the offensive and defensive end,” says center Brendan Haywood, “as far as blocking shots, getting rebounds, taking advantage of scoring opportunities, finishing strong at the rim.”
Forward Dirk Nowitzki recognizes these contributions, saying, “Haywood’s been phenomenal for us in the paint.” After starting center Erick Dampier dislocated his finger in the first game after the all-star break, “Haywood stepped right in, averaged really a double-double since the break and really protecting the paint for us,” says Nowitzki.
“These guys only had two practices with us but they’re picking it up on the fly, you know give them a lot of credit,” says guard Jason Terry, “coming in with an open mind and a willingness to accept their roles and I think that’s huge.”
And when everyone knows and accepts a role, good chemistry is sure to follow. On the court, the Mavericks rotate, move without the ball, set each other up, and congratulate each other after big plays.
“Team chemistry is awesome just because we have a great bunch of guys,” says Haywood. “We’re led by Dirk and Jason Kidd, they’re two of the better guys I’ve ever played with in this league. They’re both so unselfish. Jason Kidd’s a great passer and on the court everything just comes together with us.”
While Devin Harris is struggling with nagging injuries in New Jersey, iron-man Jason Kidd has been a force in the backcourt for the team that drafted him nearly 16 years ago.
Both Carlisle and Nowitzki call Kidd one of the smartest players to play the game, and he now runs an offense that became instantly deeper after the trade.
“We got a couple of players out with injuries now but once we get everybody here…we’re definitely one of the deepest teams,” says forward Shawn Marion.
Guard DeShawn Stevenson mentions the Mavericks were already an established team with talented players before the trade. When asked if he’s having fun playing for Dallas, Stevenson responds without hesitation: “I love playing for them.”
“You can tell the guys who came from the Wizards, it’s kind of like a weight’s been lifted off their shoulders,” says Cuban, “so hopefully we keep on winning.”
Despite a winning stretch and a seemingly rejuvenated team, Marion is quick to remind that the hunger was always there even when the team struggled.
“We’ve been on a [championship] run. Not just now, we’ve been on there. Every team has its ups and downs, there’s nothing picture perfect. But at the same time I think it’s a matter how you get through the ups and downs…it’s our up time now, we had our down time, it’s time for us to get up now.”
With eight straight wins and a locker room full of players believing the team is good enough to win a title, the Mavericks look primed to go deep in the playoffs. Kidd has come full circle with Dallas, while Nowitzki has played his whole career for a team Cuban has tried to make a perennial contender.
Asked if he thinks this could be the Mavericks’ year, Cuban responds, “I hope so, but I never make predictions.”