Drew Gooden is on his seventh NBA team. So is Tim Thomas, although you could tack on two more for the clubs he played for twice. Shawn Marion is “only” with his fourth team, but all the moving around has come in the last 18 months.
Throughout their travels, each guy enjoyed varying degrees of glory, especially the part about signing a big contract. The only thing missing is an NBA title.
Now they’re together on the Dallas Mavericks, joining Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in a locker room that’s completely championship-free. Strangely enough, that could work to everyone’s advantage this season.
The Mavs have built a deep, versatile roster that gives coach Rick Carlisle the luxury of playing all sorts of styles – big with Erick Dampier at center, small with Gooden or Nowitzki in the post, micro with Marion in the middle or jumbo with Dampier, Nowitzki and Gooden all in the front court.
Such flexibility requires sacrifices. Players will see their minutes, and all other statistics, fluctuate. That would be tough to do on a team of young guys. It’s a lot easier with this group of veterans between 28 and 36 who’ve done pretty much everything but win it all.
“I think we added some really nice pieces,” said Nowitzki, still the franchise centerpiece. “I think we’re all going to fit in well and mesh pretty well together. … It should be fun.”
Kidd, Josh Howard, Marion and Nowitzki will start most games, with Dampier or Gooden at center. That leaves Thomas and the odd-man-out at center coming off the bench, along with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, who established himself as a competent backup last season.
Also in the mix are newcomers Quinton Ross, a shooting guard whose specialty is defense, and Kris Humphries, a forward who has had a strong preseason, plus holdover James Singleton, who can play practically any position.
“What’s not to like?” owner Mark Cuban said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that everybody knows can play. We’ve got some young guys that everybody knows can play. We’ve got some veterans that are here to win. I think that makes all the difference. You can see there’s a lot more trust as opposed to uncertainty.”
The uncertainty last year stemmed from Carlisle being in his first season. Dallas started 2-7 and went through a few personality changes before hitting its stride in the spring. The Mavs reached 50 wins for the ninth straight season, then knocked off San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. They were beaten in the next round by Denver, which was deeper, more versatile and far more physical.
The new look is somewhat Nuggets-like. But Dallas also brought in guys to solve specific problems. The Mavs are now taller, more athletic and better 3-point shooters. They should be better on defense, too, to help start more fast breaks, with Kidd feeding Marion and Howard.
“Things go in cycles,” Terry said. “We’re going back to teams that can be more athletic, but versatile enough to play big if we have to. I think that’s what puts us up with the top two or three teams in the league.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of this new look is how easily it came together.
Antoine Wright is the only starter who left and Brandon Bass the most significant backup. Dallas kept intact its core of Nowitzki, Howard, Terry and Dampier – all starters on the clubs that went to the NBA finals in ’06 and won 67 games the next season – plus Kidd, who has been here since February 2008.
Nowitzki, meanwhile, is going great physically and mentally.
He was away from the court for two months this summer, his longest absence in about 12 years. He came back feeling fresh and weighing about 17 pounds less than at the end of last season.
He’s also untangled the mess caused by a fiancee who was arrested at his home during the playoffs. She lied about everything from her name to being pregnant with his child and is now serving a four-year prison sentence in Missouri on a probation violation.
“When it all went down, I thought I was going to be thinking about this every day for the rest of my life,” Nowitzki said. “After a few weeks, it got better. Now, I don’t think about it at all. From that standpoint, I’m doing better than I expected.”