The Mavs climb back up

Exit Interview Highlights

Check out what the players, Rick Carlisle, and Donnie Nelson had to say at exit interviews!

Mount Everest is 29,029 feet tall, the tallest mountain in the world.

Sitting on the border of Tibet and Nepal, Mount Everest is the ultimate accomplishment for people in the climbing and hiking world.

From spending thousands of dollars to months of preparation, the sacrifice humans make from around the world to accomplish the feat is unfathomable for some. According to a recent New York Times article, six people died trying to climb the mountain in 2017, a common number according to the article.

As for people who spend the money and make the sacrifices to attempt the months-long climb, roughly half of them actually complete it.

In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks completed their own climb up the mountain.

After 30 seasons as a franchise and 12 of them with Dirk Nowitzki, it was time to finally summit the mountain. The Mavericks won their first NBA championship after beating the Miami Heat in 2011.

All of the sacrifice, dedication and hard work had paid off. The Mavericks were kings of the basketball world.

But just like climbing Mount Everest, you eventually have to come back down. It’s inevitable, and never easy. And the Dallas Mavericks did just that.

“Being here 10 years, I knew there was going to be a point where things would take a downturn,” Rick Carlisle said at his exit interview. “It is almost impossible to stay really good forever. Unfortunately, at times, you have to get really bad to get really good again .”

Over the past two seasons, Dallas lost a combined 107 games, capping off the 2017-18 season with just 24 wins. It was just the eighth time in franchise history the club has finished with 25 or less wins.

“Difficult year for all of us. Coaches, players, fans, ownership, management,” Donnie Nelson said at exit interviews on Wednesday . “We do not want to go back to what we just experienced. That is unanimous from the top on down.”

Over the first month of the season, the Mavericks got off to a 2-14 start after an injury to Seth Curry in the preseason. That start put the Mavericks in a hole they could never climb back out of.

“When you have starts like that to the season it is going to be a grind after that,” J.J. Barea said. “A lot of young kids that played a lot of minutes that I think will be great for next year. But for this year, it was tough.”

The season was capped off with a 27-point loss to the Phoenix Suns and a final team meeting the next day that set the tone for the offseason. As each player took his turn speaking to the media during exit interviews, Wesley Matthews loved the demeanor from the meeting.

“Pissed off” is how he liked to describe it.

The message was simple: They have to get better as a team and it starts with each and every one of them.

But even though the total of losses is the most since the 1997-98 season, this isn’t rock bottom. This isn’t the beginning of the rebuild. This isn’t the beginning of the climb back up the mountain.

One of the first steps in the journey to climb Mount Everest is the 10-14 day hike to the Everest Base Camp which sits roughly 17,500 feet up the mountain. It is here that climbers spend time — sometimes weeks — adjusting to the altitude and preparing for the eventual climb to the summit.

The Mavericks are at base camp.

“Ironically, 20 years ago when we first got here to build this thing it started with a point guard,” Nelson said. “Started with Michael Finley, which is our modern day Harrison Barnes. And it started with a floppy-headed German that ended up being pretty good.” The excitement of the future with this year’s draft, Dennis Smith, Harrison, young building blocks. As well as Dwight Powell and some of our other young players, is an exciting part of the franchise moving forward.”

Michael Finley arrived in Dallas via a trade during his second season in the league at 23 years old. Steve Nash came to Dallas a couple of years later in a trade while entering his third year in the league at 24 years old.

On the same day the Mavericks traded for Nash, they made a draft day trade landing a German kid named Dirk Nowitzki.

Dallas had its new big three.

“The good news is we have been through the drill before. We know how it is done,” Nelson said. “We are doing it the same way we built this team 20 years ago when Mark first came in. He had Fin, his leadership piece. He had a young Steve Nash that was just coming into his own. He had Dirk. Those were the three guys we built this franchise around. We have two or three of those pieces. Hopefully in this year’s draft we get a third piece. All of them, whether they are free agents, will have that same DNA that Dirk is going to pass down.”

In fact, it started before Dirk, Fin and Nash. It has been in the DNA of the franchise since the beginning in 1980.

“When you go through retooling and rebuilding situations it is done with the right people, the right character people,” Nelson said. “I think ever since Don Carter launched this franchise back in 1980, it was done with Rolando Blackman, Brad Davis and Derek Harper. Then Dirk and Michael Finley carried the baton. That is what we are committed to. Committed to the right people in that locker room that will take this franchise to the next phase.”

It is the transitioning to the next stage in the franchise that can sometimes be the hardest part. But if you have the right people leading you through the process, then it makes it that much easier for the people behind them to succeed.

What better companion to have than Dirk Nowitzki to guide this young core to the next phase of the franchise?

“If you are going with a team like I have for so long, if that is what it takes, that is what it takes,” Nowitzki said on embracing the rebuild last spring. “At the end of the day, I can’t imagine myself in a different uniform. That is why I made that decision. Whatever comes, if we are rebuilding then I’m the face of that. If we are championship, then I’m here for that. I just identified myself with the organization so long, with the fan base, with the city, that no matter what the team or the franchise is going through, I’m right there to push it through.”

Now, after appearing in 77 games during his 20th season in the league, Dirk Nowitzki plans on being back for his 21st season in Dallas. Nelson became emotional when talking about Nowitzki’s decision to return to Dallas for another season.

“What he does for this city and this organization is unique and special, to embrace it in a period of rebuilding,” Nelson said. “For him to step up again for this city and this franchise is inspirational to everyone. That is the kind of leadership and character that Harrison Barnes has in his DNA. And Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea. Those are the things that are special and unique about this team.”

Chemistry and character in the locker room is the key to everything.

“I think if there is a common theme in what we see, it is character. Character has been there all year long in this locker room and it starts with Dirk,” Nelson said. “I can tell you that the chemistry and character in that locker room is as good as it has ever been.”

Dennis Smith Jr. was asked about his rookie season with Nowitzki this year and chose to praise the work ethic from the veteran. Even giving recent examples of seeing Nowitzki after his ankle surgery in the weight room getting in a workout with his medical boot on.

That is the character and work ethic that is contagious.

And that is beyond just the veterans. Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes have taken on bigger roles as leaders and fit exactly the kind of character Dallas is building their roster around.

“We know we have that in some of our young players like Dennis Smith Jr. as the quarterback and a first year guy that was thrown into a difficult situation. Harrison Barnes that is young, but another leader in our locker room carrying that baton through this rebuilding phase,” Nelson said.

With multiple players hitting free agency, a heap of cap space and three draft picks, the possibilities are endless for Dallas this summer. But none is more important than the team’s first round pick that will be somewhere in the top six on draft night.

Nelson, Carlisle and the organization realize the importance of this pick and the potential it has to land the third piece to the puzzle.

“It really helps when you have three or more young guys like back in the day with Dirk, Nash and Fin,” Nelson said. “To have three guys to go through those wars together. It is honestly fun to see those situations manifest themselves and those guys get better.”

How close are the Mavericks to being back in the playoffs?

“I think we are close,” Barea said . “We are a lot closer than we were a couple of years ago. With a couple of free agents we could get and with the young guys experience they had this year and the guys coming back. I think we will be fine.”

“There weren’t but just a handful of games we were completely out of it,” Matthews added. “We just lost the games we shouldn’t have lost. There were games that we had and games we let go.”

Indeed, the Mavs were in their fair share of close games in 2017-18, and the young core will hopefully learn from those experiences. With a few tweaks, some luck on the health side and a successful summer, it’s not unrealistic to see the Mavericks back in the playoffs next season. At least that is the goal.

“This is an important summer for us. Our goal is to make a giant step towards the playoffs,” Mark Cuban said.

“We are very confident. This is a situation we are not used to,” Nelson said. “It is literally a fish out of water deal…our fans deserve better than this.”

As for a message to the loyal MFFLs, Nelson gives hope that there are brighter days to come.

“My message to the fans is this season will hopefully never happen again,” Nelson said. “We are extremely excited about the draft and free agency. Hang with us. There are brighter days to come. This is the way we did this thing back 20 years ago. It has to be done with chemistry and character. Hopefully you won’t have to be too patient. I know our owner isn’t.”

The Mavericks have already begun their climb back up the mountain as bringing in Harrison Barnes and drafting Dennis Smith Jr. got them to base camp. Now it is time to add the next piece and head towards the summit.

“We are not going to have this conversation next year,” Matthews said. “We want to get back to where this franchise should be, to where we as players feel we should be. That is in the playoffs. That is fighting and competing. A chance to bring hardware back here.”

As for how long it will be before the Mavericks taste the postseason again, Smith made it very clear that it is just around the corner.

“A year. I think we will get it next season,” Smith Jr. said.

En las sombras: las historias de God Shammgod y Mike Procopio (In The Shadows: The Stories Of God Shammgod & Mike Procopio)

Si dijéramos que los Dallas Mavericks cuentan con toda una leyenda entre sus filas, lógicamente las mentes de todos pensarían rápidamente en Dirk Nowitzki, el mejor jugador europeo de todos los tiempos y uno de los mejores de la historia en la NBA, en la que actualmente ocupa el sexto puesto en la clasificación histórica de anotadores.

Sin embargo, hay otra leyenda en los Mavs. Se trata de un jugador que solo disputó una temporada en la NBA, y que en 20 partidos como base de los Washington Wizards en la temporada 1997-98 promedió 3.1 puntos y 1.8 asistencias por partido para después continuar su carrera hasta 2009 con periplos por las ligas menores estadounidenses, Polonia, Arabia Saudí, China, Kuwait y Croacia.

¿Cómo es posible que consideremos a este trotamundos como una leyenda? Es posible porque el anteriormente conocido como Shammgod Wells no es una leyenda cualquiera. Es posible porque el actualmente conocido como God Shammgod es una leyenda callejera del baloncesto debido a su extraordinario dominio del bote.

God Shammgod es uno de los mejores dribladores de todos los tiempos. Creció en el barrio de Harlem, en New York, para después pasar a La Salle Academy. Fue McDonald’s All-American en 1995 junto a Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury, Shareef Abdur-Rahim o Antawn Jamison. Jugó y estudió en Providence College, y fue seleccionado con el pick 45 en el Draft de 1997, el mismo que Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady o Billups. Pero, como ya hemos dicho, su carrera como profesional se desarrolló especialmente fuera de Estados Unidos. Pese a esto, Shammgod dejó una gran huella en el baloncesto estadounidense.

Muy pocas personas pueden decir que un movimiento de cualquier deporte lleva su nombre porque lo popularizaron ellos, y menos en el mundo del baloncesto. God Shammgod sí que puede decirlo con un movimiento de dribbling espectacular: el Shammgod.

“La primera vez que la gente me vio hacerlo fue en la universidad contra Arizona en el NCAA Tournament,” explicaba Shammgod en una entrevista a Ball Is Life. “No fui yo personalmente quien lo llamó ‘el Shammgod’, fue simplemente algo que hice y no fue hasta que empecé a escuchar a la gente llamarlo así cuando me di cuenta de que se había convertido en algo. Tras unos años el nombre empezó a extenderse.”

En el corto documental “The Shammgod: How God Shammgod’s Legendary Crossover Lives on in Today’s Stars”, realizado por Bleacher Report, jugadores con un gran control del balón como Jamal Crawford, Kyrie Irving o Damian Lillard alaban este movimiento letal, y también podemos ver cómo lo llevan a cabo otros como Chris Paul o Russell Westbrook.

“El movimiento en sí es tan bueno que es muy identificable,” explica Jamal Crawford en el documental. “Sabes que es ese movimiento en cuanto lo ves. Y es suyo. He visto a gente a lo largo de los años intentar imitarlo pero nadie puede hacerlo tan bien como él.”

“Creo que es increíble que el movimiento haya transcendido generaciones,” dijo Shammgod para el documental. “Russell Westbrook es un jugador tan completo e importante ahora mismo que estoy muy orgulloso de que también lo utilice. Su movimiento contra los Suns fue legendario y me honra formar parte de ello en cierta manera.”

La calidad de los movimientos de Shammgod era tan buena ya antes de convertirse en famoso que durante su etapa en el instituto el mismo Kobe Bryant le pidió ayuda para mejorar sus movimientos de dribbling.

“Fue durante el ABCD Camp cuando estábamos en el instituto,” contaba Shammgod a Hoopist en 2012. “A él le gustaba mucho cómo botaba yo el balón, así que me pidió que le ayudara con su manejo. Jugamos en el mismo equipo durante aquel campus, y en ese tiempo le enseñé algunas cosas que parece que le ayudaron. Hoy en día aún habla sobre cómo le ayudaron las cosas que le enseñé.”

Si leéis esto desde Europa y tenéis ya unos cuantos años, probablemente estéis pensando que ese movimiento os resulta familiar. Y así es, porque aunque Shammgod lo popularizase en Estados Unidos ya habíamos visto versiones previas similares del movimiento en Europa, con el serbio Dragan Kicanovic y el croata Danko Cvjeticanin como algunos de los primeros antecedentes. Podríamos decir que el ‘Shammgod’ es para el mundo NBA algo parecido a lo que ‘El látigo’ de Dejan Bodiroga es para el mundo FIBA, pues fue este último quién popularizó su versión aquí.

También hemos podido ver al argentino Manu Ginobili hacer su propia versión del movimiento en más de una ocasión. Así que, como hemos visto, técnicamente God Shammgod no inventó el movimiento, no fue el primero en hacerlo, pero sí es quien lo ha convertido en famoso al menos en la órbita de la NBA. Y esas cualidades en el control del balón que le ayudaron a llegar a la liga en 1997 hicieron que regresara de nuevo dos décadas después.

En julio de 2016 los Dallas Mavericks contrataron a God Shammgod como entrenador de desarrollo, centrado especialmente en las funciones de bote, y el verano pasado extendieron su contrato. La llegada de Shammgod coincidió con la de Harrison Barnes, y el alero se benefició especialmente de lo que el nuevo entrenador de desarrollo pudo enseñarle a lo largo del verano. Barnes sorprendió con un rendimiento muy por encima de lo esperado para aquella temporada, y mucho tuvo que ver su mejoría en el bote y en el ataque del uno contra uno.

El año pasado los Mavs seleccionaron en el Draft al que Shammgod considera el mejor base de su generación: Dennis Smith Jr. Ambos se conocieron primero en el Under Armour’s 2014 Elite 24 Camp, y después volvieron a conectar en Adidas Nations y otros campus de baloncesto, completando siempre al menos una sesión de entrenamiento individual entre los dos. En todas las ocasiones le decía lo mismo: “eres el mejor base de tu clase”. En el Draft de junio de 2017, uno de los primeros mensajes de bienvenida a los Mavericks que recibió Smith Jr. fue de su nuevo entrenador de desarrollo.

Desde entonces, Dennis Smith Jr. se puso en manos de dos de los mejores y más reconocibles entrenadores de desarrollo de la NBA. Uno ya lo hemos presentado, God Shammgod. Es momento ahora de conocer al otro: Mike Procopio.

En el verano de 2013 los Dallas Mavericks quisieron dar una vuelta de tuerca a su trabajo de desarrollo con los jugadores jóvenes, y contrataron como director de desarrollo de jugadores de la franquicia a Mike Procopio. Mark Cuban quería al mejor, y el mejor le dijeron que era él. Aunque por fuera quizás no lo pareciese.

Darrell Armstrong, entrenador asistente y otro de los responsables del desarrollo de jugadores de los Mavs, jugó en la NBA durante 14 años, disputando en total casi 900 partidos. Mide más de 6-0 pies, lo que equivale a 1’83 metros, y basta verlo al lado de Rick Carlisle en la banda para tener la impresión de que el uniforme con el que ganó el premio al Mejor Sexto Hombre en 1999 aún le quedaría perfecto.

¿Procopio? Mide 1’70 y se pasa bastante de los 100 kilos. Es bajito y calvo. Se parece más a los vendedores de comida o a los guardias de seguridad del American Airlines Center. Durante su primera temporada en Dallas el periodista Jaime Aron hizo un perfil sobre él para la Suffolk University Magazine. En ese texto explicaba que la carrera de Procopio como jugador alcanzó su punto más alto en el instituto, cuando anotó sus cuatro puntos (ni siquiera en el mismo partido) en el equipo de Revere High, que terminó con balance 0-20. Pero Procopio entiende el baloncesto a un nivel de microscopio. No es experto en Xs y Os, pero sí en cosas como en qué posición debe estar la cadera cuando se dribla entre las piernas para ir hacia la izquierda, el correcto movimiento de los pies en ataque con el balón y sin él, y en corregir fallos en la mecánica de tiro. Dwight Powell o Dorian Finney-Smith son dos de los proyectos con los que más tiempo ha pasado recientemente, con resultados evidentes.

Kobe Bryant confió en Procopio durante un par de temporadas que terminaron en campeonato. Tim Grover, el entrenador de confianza de Michael Jordan, lo contrató para ser el responsable de la parte baloncestística de su gimnasio. Veteranos de los Celtics como Danny Ainge, ahora presidente de operaciones de la franquicia, y Kevin McHale hablan con él prácticamente a diario.

¿Cómo alguien conocido en el mundo del baloncesto como Sweetchuck (personaje de Loca Academia de Policía al que se parecía de joven) ha logrado llegar tan lejos?

Justo enfrente del Boston Garden, la mítica casa de los Celtics, vivía el joven Mike. Su padre John era un electricista. Enseñó a su hijo la humildad, lealtad y la necesidad de hacer las cosas correctas. A los doce años logró su primer trabajo en el baloncesto: llevar el marcador de la Liga de Verano de Hill Park. Aquello era como la NBA para él.

Años después, durante un verano en Suffolk, donde había encontrado un hueco como utilero mientras estudiaba, Procopio consiguió un trabajo en el Nike All-American camp. Los jugadores eran de instituto, y otros de la universidad eran sus consejeros. Mientras los jóvenes estaban ocupados, los de la universidad se unían para realizar ejercicios individuales de habilidades. Conviviendo con aquellos chicos fue cuando tomó la decisión: quería ganarse la vida enseñando a muchachos como aquellos.

Una vez graduado, Procopio se propuso ser entrenador del equipo de reservas en Kentucky. Lo intentó, pero no consiguió el trabajo en el equipo entrenado por Rick Pitino. Así que obtuvo el mismo puesto pero de nuevo en Suffolk y con el equipo junior. En 2002 logró entrar en los Boston Celtics, mezclando las funciones de recadero y scout. Durante todo el tiempo, Procopio continuó trabajando en campamentos de verano, especialmente uno en el gimnasio de Tim Grover en Chicago. En 2006 Paul Pierce estaba levantando pesas con Grover cuando apareció Procopio, y ambos acordaron encontrarse después para un entrenamiento en la pista. Grover fue testigo de esa sesión y después se acercó a Mike. Le ofreció un trabajo fijo y lo aceptó. Sin embargo, la NBA no le permitió tener un trabajo con una franquicia NBA y otro con un gimnasio privado al que acudían muchos jugadores de otros equipos, así que, con mucho dolor, tuvo que dejar los Celtics.

Como suele suceder cuando trabajas incansablemente en algo, su sudor mereció la pena. Como la mañana de verano en 2008 en la que pasó dos horas y media solo en el gimnasio con Kobe Bryant, cliente de Grover. A pesar de un buen entrenamiento, ambos fueron por caminos separados. Pero en febrero de 2009, cuando Michael Lewis publicó un artículo en The New York Times Magazine en el que nombraba a Shane Battier el “Kobe-stopper”, Bryant le dijo a Grover que tenía que responder a eso en su siguiente partido contra Battier, y que quería “la ayuda de Sweetchuck”. Procopio descubrió que el problema no era Battier, sino el propio Bryant. Battier siempre daba la salida a Kobe hacia Yao Ming, retando a Bryant a lanzar sobre el pívot de 2’28. Y él caía en la trampa muy frecuentemente. Decirle a Bryant que estaba tomando demasiados lanzamientos, y muchos estúpidos, fue difícil, pero Procopio lo hizo.

Procopio estaba visitando a Kevin McHale en Minnesota, donde entrenaba a los Timberwolves, y se escapó de una reunión de equipo para ver cómo Bryant anotaba 14 de sus 23 lanzamientos para meter 37 puntos ante Battier. Así fue como empezó a trabajar con Kobe, y con ello pasó a ser cada vez más conocido.

En marzo de 2013, estando a punto de ver rota una racha de muchos años en Playoffs, los Mavericks se dispusieron a mejorar su trabajo de desarrollo de jugadores, y la relación de Rick Carlisle y Donnie Nelson con Danny Ainge y Kevin McHale los llevó hasta Procopio. Él hizo la maleta para una semana. Hace ya más de cinco años de aquello.

“Soy como la fusión de Forrest Gump y Louie De Palma de ‘Taxi’,” dijo Procopio a Jaime Aron. “Un listillo, que parece como un mutante, y alguien que ha hecho todas estas cosas emocionantes que probablemente no debería haber hecho. Así me veo a mí mismo.”

En muchas ocasiones los fans solo nos fijamos en los protagonistas más evidentes de los éxitos deportivos: los jugadores y los entrenadores se llevan, merecidamente, casi todo el mérito. Algunos van más allá y se fijan también en los asistentes. No es casualidad que Rick Carlisle hiciera su mejor trabajo en 2011 rodeado de Dwane Casey y Terry Stotts, o los grandes equipos de asistentes que tienen otros entrenadores campeones cono Steve Kerr y Gregg Popovich. Pero incluso detrás de ellos podemos seguir encontrando personas que aportan su granito de arena al éxito desde las sombras.

God Shammgod y Mike Procopio son dos de los Dallas Mavericks más importantes de los que menos se habla, y sus historias también son remarcables. Representan a todo un conjunto de personas más o menos anónimas que trabaja a destajo por el bien de los jugadores y de la organización, una labor que entra en una de sus fases más importantes ahora que se acerca el verano. Y, aunque sea en la sombra, su trabajo es tan importante para el presente y futuro de la franquicia como el que hacen otros bajo los focos.

Mavericks win draft tiebreaker draw, hold third position in pre-lottery draft order

The Mavs won today’s draft tiebreaker by random draw and now sit third place in the pre-lottery draft order.

Both Dallas and Atlanta finished with a 24-58 record this season, tied for third-fewest in the NBA. The two teams will split the difference between the third- and fourth-place odds in the draft lottery, which will take place next month. Today’s draw was to determine pre-lottery draft order.

Dallas has a 13.8 percent chance to win the No. 1 overall pick, while Atlanta will have a nearly identical 13.7 percent chance. Both teams will have roughly a 42 percent chance at a top-three pick. (The randomized lottery drawing only determines the order for the first three picks in the draft.)

The draw had little to do with odds related to winning the lottery, but there is a significant benefit to winning in case teams behind them in the lottery order get lucky on May 15. If neither Dallas nor Atlanta wins a top-three pick, the Mavericks will pick before Atlanta on draft night. The Mavs now have a 95 percent chance to pick somewhere in the top-five and will pick no lower than sixth. Atlanta, meanwhile, will pick no lower than seventh. For a better visualization of the odds, see the chart below from the Hawks’ KL Chouinard.

By virtue of losing the pre-lottery tiebreaker, Atlanta will choose third in the second round, or 33rd overall. Dallas will select fourth that round, or 34th overall. The Mavericks also acquired Portland’s second-round pick via Denver in the three-way trade for Doug McDermott, which will fall 54th overall.

The draft lottery takes place in New York on May 15.

Above & Beyond for Military Families

DALLAS – At a recent Dallas Mavericks home game, Major Dan Rooney was emotional as he explained why he owes the Dallas Mavericks a debt of gratitude.

Rooney is the founder of Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization which provides educational scholarships to families of military men and women who have been killed or disabled while on active duty in the United States armed forces.

Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch recently challenged the nearly two dozen NBA teams that they’ve partnered with to manufacture creative ways to raise funds for those scholarships. And the Mavs wound up raising more money ($18,064) than any other team.

For their efforts, the Mavs were awarded a trophy by Anheuser-Busch during the NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles last month.

“We wanted to support (Folds of Honor) as best we can, but we didn’t really know where all the teams would fall,” said Kory Nix, director of corporate sponsorship for the Mavs. “At the end of the day we ended up being the No. 1 team out of all of them, as far as fundraising goes.”

“So when we went to All-Star, they brought us up in front of all of the other teams and gave us an award for winning the most fundraising, so that was cool.”

It was also cool, Nix said, that the Mavs received an additional prestigious trophy from Folds of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty in helping the military families.

“There are a lot of great Americans here that understand that freedom isn’t free, and having the Mavericks step up and coach (Rick Carlisle) and (owner) Mark (Cuban) and the whole organization, it’s just awesome,” Rooney said. “I think like most things in life you can’t control the outcome, but you can make sure you’re in the fight.”

“And we will continue to be in the fight on behalf of what’s now almost 1.5 million dependents – spouses and kids that have had somebody killed or disabled just in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them don’t get any federal education assistance, so that’s where Folds of Honor comes in and making sure that we’re taking care of these families, and we’re blessed to have a growing partnership with the NBA and the Mavericks are leading that charge.”

David Craig, the regional vice-president of sales for Anheuser-Busch, also gave high marks to the Mavs for reaching out and assisting those in need.

“The Mavericks stepped up and in typical Dallas fashion, Mark and the team have done an amazing job in terms of supporting the organization,” Craig said. “We couldn’t be more proud to have a partner like the Mavericks associated with us and the Folds of Honor.”

“Dallas set the bar. The opportunity to profile that is an opportunity for us to show what the people in Dallas did and how big a heart we have here and everything the Mavericks have done to support a great cause.”

Overall, the Mavs partnered with Anheuser-Busch, Levy Concessionaires, Ben E. Keith Distributors and Folds of Honor to help raise awareness, promote local events and raise funds for Folds of Honor. For example, portions of the sales of Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob Light at American Airlines Center during the month of November went to the Folds of Honor project.

Also, at a recent Folds of Honor gala, the Mavs gave them several items to auction, including an autographed Dirk Nowitzki jersey that he wore in a game, a VIP Ticket Experience and a Suite Night Experience.

“It was a Budweiser initiative and all of their member teams participated and we ended up raising more money than any other team in the NBA and thus we got the award,” said George Killebrew, the executive vice-president of corporate sponsorship for the Mavs. “We don’t win a lot of things these days, so when we were out at the All-Star game they gave us a big award and a big trophy and they sent us this really nice plaque that’s in the office.”

“Kory Nix handles the Budweiser account and he kind of made it his pet project to make sure that we did everything we could to win. And so when we were out in LA for All-Star, he accepted the award on behalf of the Mavericks because he really did all the work.”

Rooney, an F-16 pilot fighter in the Oklahoma Air National Guard who served three tours of duty in Iraq, is appreciative of the job the Mavs did in beating out their NBA counterparts for the coveted trophy.

“These scholarships honor the sacrifice that was made by their parents, and that is such a powerful thing,” Rooney said. “How quickly we forget in this here-today-gone-tomorrow world that we live in to recognize that freedom isn’t free and these families have paid a huge sacrifice for the freedoms that we all enjoy, and the least we can do is make sure they can pursue the American dream.”

“Our scholarships are $5,000 a piece for the spouses and children of the vets that were killed or disabled defending our freedoms. This money raised by the Mavericks is going to help Texas families who have paid the ultimate sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy each and every day.”

Mavs saw improvement throughout the season, but know there is still plenty of work still to be done

Exit Interview Highlights

Check out what the players, Rick Carlisle, and Donnie Nelson had to say at exit interviews!

DALLAS – As the Dallas Mavericks venture into their second consecutive offseason without a playoff berth, the stern message from coach Rick Carlisle to his players and coaching staff during Wednesday’s exit interviews was direct and to the point.

“We’ve got to get better,” Carlisle said. “Everyone has to get better – players, coaches. It’s a big summer for us with the draft and free agency.

“Make no mistake, we made a lot of progress in a lot of areas this year. A lot of individual guys got better.”

Still, the Mavs finished the season with a 24-58 record – or 23 games away from the last Western Conference playoff spot. And Carlisle knows that’s not good enough, especially with the winning culture the Mavs are accustomed to.

“When you’re at 24 wins and you look at the Western Conference standings and the teams that are fighting for the eighth position are at 47 or 48 wins, there’s a long ways to go,” Carlisle said. “So we’re going to have to have a great summer in all areas and we’re going to have to come back real strong.”

Forward Dirk Nowitzki announced Tuesday that he plans to return next year for his 21st season. Meanwhile, point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who finished his solid rookie season with averages of 15.2 points and 5.2 assists in 29.7 minutes, has his sights set squarely on being a postseason participant next season.

“I think we’ll get in next season,” said Smith, who was the ninth overall pick of last year’s NBA Draft. “That’s the goal. Everybody’s looking forward to next year and we don’t want to be out at this time next year.

“I want to keep playing and make it to the postseason. That’s the goal for next year.”

Forward Harrison Barnes said it’s imperative that the Mavs find a way to punch their playoff ticket next season. Anything else, Barnes insist, is not an option.

“We have to get better,” said Barnes, who averaged a team-high 18.9 points this season. “We had a lot of guys who were here two years ago and we kind of had that progress, and then this year we weren’t able to build from there.

“So coming off this season we can’t have another 24 (win) postseason-less season.”

Fortunately for the Mavs, the odds are stacked in their favor that they’ll have at least a Top 5 pick in the NBA Draft, which will be held June 21. And depending on how lucky the Mavs fare, they could land the No. 1 overall pick when the NBA Draft Lottery takes place on May 15.

Add that high draft pick and a quality free agent, and the Mavs believe they’ll be right back in the playoff conversation as soon as next year.

“I believe that we’re going to get a pick higher than what I was last year,” Smith said. “It’s a really good draft class (with) some good young guys in college right now.

“So if we can bring one of them in, I just look forward to a big year next year. Bring some more swag in, so it should be exciting.”

Asked to explain what is swag, Smith said: “Some energy, some confidence. You’ve got to have something to you. Look good, feel good, play good.”

Looking, feeling and playoff good are also attributes Barnes cooked up for the Mavs for next season.

“We made some progress, but at the end of the day our season has to show up in the wins and losses column,” Barnes said. That’s what’s got to be our next step.

“We now have had two years of good effort, so close, building and those types of things, but eventually it’s going to have to start trending upward. Building processes are tough. There’s no easy way around that, but to hopefully cut down in that time where you’re going from competing to rebuilding is how much we can improve individually this offseason.”

General manager Donnie Nelson drew a parallel between what’s transpiring with the Mavs now and what occurred two decades ago and acknowledged that the glass is again overwhelmingly half-full.

“Ironically, 20 years ago when we first got here to start building this thing it started with a point guard (in Steve Nash), it started with Michael Finley, which is our modern day Harrison Barnes, and it started with a floppy-haired German (in Dirk Nowitzki) that ended up being pretty good,” Nelson said. “The excitement of the future of this year ‘s draft, Dennis Smith, Harrison, young building blocks as well as Dwight Powell and some of our other young players that are fighting for roster minutes and rotational minutes, is an exciting part of the franchise moving forward.”

Finley joined the Mavs in a Dec. 26, 1996 trade that involved sending Jason Kidd to the Phoenix Suns. And the Mavs acquired Nowitzki and Nash on draft day trades on June 24, 1998.

Once that particular rebuilding process was complete, the Mavs advanced to the playoffs 15 out of 16 years from 2001-’16. Fast forward to today, that’s the same path management sees the Mavs traveling starting next season.

“We do not want to go back to what we just experienced,” Nelson said. “That’s unanimous from the top on down.

“When you go through re-tooling or rebuilding situations like we’re going through now, it’s done with the right people (and) it’s done with the right character pieces.”

Guard Wesley Matthews was adamant about the challenges facing the Mavs next season, saying, “We’ve all got to look in the mirror and get back in the gym, get back to work — top to bottom. And make a stand right now and say that we’re not going to have this kind of conversation next year.”

Live: 2017-18 Exit Interviews

Dirk announces plan to return for 21st season

2017-18 Exit Interview: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on the season, his summer plans and more.

DALLAS – With a keen eye on getting the Dallas Mavericks back on a championship path, Dirk Nowitzki announced Tuesday that he’ll return next season to play a 21st season with the Mavs.

Nowitzki underwent left ankle surgery last Thursday with the sole purpose of being ready to play again with no problems by the time training camp starts next fall.

“That’s why I went ahead and got the surgery to kind of get the whole process started, get the rehab process started early, and I plan on coming back,” Nowitzki said during a packed press conference at American Airlines Center. “I didn’t really miss a lot of games this year (and) I felt fine most of the time.

“I always said all year that I want to fulfill that two-year contract if possible. I saw nothing this year that was going to stop it, so as of now I’ll see how the rehab goes in the next few weeks and how the ankle responds, but obviously I’m going to work towards another season.”

Nowitzki’s announcement came prior to Tuesday’s Phoenix Suns-Mavs game, and it put coach Rick Carlisle at ease to know that he’ll again be drawing up plays for the greatest player in Mavs history.

“I couldn’t imagine being here and Dirk not being here, so I feel very relieved that its looking like he’ll be back,” Carlisle said. “It’s great news.

“The timing of everything makes perfect sense to him and to all of us. He’s been able to play with the ankle, but it’s just bothered him for the last several years is what my understanding of it is.”

Nowitzki, who signed a two-year contract with the Mavs last summer, didn’t even rule out the distinct possibility of playing another season past next season.

“I’m hoping the ankle will be tons better than this year and then I’m hoping that I can play some decent basketball next year and then kind of go from there,” Nowitzki said. “I always kind of leave the end open.

“It’s hard for me, at this point, to commit farther than one year, or one year is it. I just kind of want to see how it goes. I’m hoping that this ankle will give me a lot of relief next year and then we’ll go from there.”

Nowitzki is currently wearing a walking boot and also walked into the press conference with the help of crutches. He said he’ll be in the boot from three-to-four weeks.

Then, the recovery period and rehab will start in earnest.

“Like I said, that’s also a reason I went ahead and got a head start on it,” Nowitzki said. “At my age, of course the recovery takes a little longer, and I had bone spurs taken out of this ankle early in my career.

“I think maybe after my third or fourth year in the league, so it’s been a long, long time and the recovery, I’m guessing, was a little shorter. Now I’ve just got to be smart, take my time.”

Time is indeed of essence for Nowitzki, who holds nearly all of the Mavs’ major franchise records. He even said he’ll come off the bench next seaosn if that helps the Mavs become more efficient.

“I’m hoping to get out of the boot in a few weeks and then start slowly rehabbing every day, getting some more motion back,” he said. “And the rest will be all summer working out and getting back to where I want to be strength-wise and agility-wise, and afterwards obviously basketball-wise. So it’s going to be a long process, it’s going to be a summer with some frustrations here and there, as I’m sure some things just don’t progress like you want at 40. But I’m willing to fight through it and give it another shot.”

In 77 games for the Mavs this season, Nowitzki averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes, and shot 45.6 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range. Not bad for a guy who turns 40 on June 19.

“I played with (Larry) Bird in Boston and I coached Reggie Miller and Ben Wallace and a lot of guys that had a reputation for being mentally tough,” Carlisle said. “Dirk’s right up there with any of them.

“He played hurt an awful lot in his career, probably has played injured at times. Some athletes just have a different sort of threshold for those kinds of things. Any time there’s an opportunity to relief some of that, that’s great.”

That relief, thanks to the surgery, has Nowitzki thinking like he was still the 19-year old kid the Mavs acquired in a draft-day trade in June of 1998. However, as reality sunk in, Nowitzki knew he couldn’t continue doing the same thing on the same weak ankle and expecting different results.

Thus, surgery was imminent.

“At times I was limited in a lot of my movements, especially,” Nowitzki said. “I was never a great lateral movement guy in my entire career in my 20s, but at times this year it was just non-existent.

“It was frustrating at times, but I kept fighting through it and I wanted to fight through it, and now at the end I had actually some knee problems there the last few weeks, I had some problems with the ankle. So that’s when we decided to go ahead and do the surgery earlier.”