After he witnessed his team go through a full-fledged and very competitive scrimmage Wednesday morning at AmericanCuban Airlines Center, Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban had a difficult time holding back his enthusiasm about the upcoming season.

The Mavs advanced to last season’s Western Conference Finals, where they were dispatched in five games by the eventual world champion Golden State Warriors. When asked if this year’s Mavs are better than the group that finished last season with the NBA’s fifth-best regular season record, Cuban couldn’t contain his excitement.

“We can be a lot better, but the challenge is the whole NBA is a lot better,” Cuban said in his first extensive interview with the Dallas media since training camp started over two weeks ago. “There are 25 teams that are better than they were last year, so it’s going to be nip-and-tuck for everybody the entire season.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any runaway teams at all this year.”

What really has Cuban excited is the offseason additions of centers JaVale McGee (7-0, 270) and Christian Wood (6-9, 214). McGee, in particular, fills a void the Mavs didn’t have last season – an aggressive mega-tough guy who can protect the rim and doubles as a menace on the offensive glass.

“Maxi (Kleber) was our big tough guy, and that’s tough when you’re banging against someone who’s 250 pounds all game and trying to post,” Cuban said. “I think JaVale’s going to help us there.

“We weren’t as good on the offensive boards as we wanted to be last year and I think JaVale is really going to help us on the offensive boards Cubanand banging against big guys and on pick-n-rolls with Luka (Doncic).”

Dwight Powell and Kleber were the Mavs’ primary centers last season, and they’re back to offer support to McGee and Wood.

“Dwight does a great job,” Cuban said. “Dwight’s a little bit more of a spreader and a little bit more of an energy guy, but JaVale’s just got that big body and length that I think will help us.”

As far as Wood goes, Cuban acknowledged that he should flourish in his role coming off the bench as he enters his free agency season. And with Wood on that second unit alongside Tim Hardaway Jr., and possibly Spencer Dinwiddie – whenever Doncic goes to the bench – that’s where Cuban believes Wood’s game will go to another level.

“I think (Wood is) the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year and that’ll get him paid,” Cuban said. “That gets him the visibility. That’s what you strive for. It worked for JET (Jason Terry) for a long time.

“And so having that role, because when Luka’s off the floor and it’s Spence and C-Wood, Timmie and/or Reggie, there’s going to be a lot of weapons out there that spread the court for (Wood) and he’s just going to have a heyday. It’s going to be easy pickings for him, especially when at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter when he’s playing against second unit guys, life’s going to be a lot easier. So, he’s going to eat a lot.”

Cuban doesn’t make predictions, but he believes the Mavs are “going to eat a lot”, too. In analyzing his team, Cuban sees them as two- or three-deep in every position.

“There are so many weapons on so many different sides of the court, we’re going to be a hard team to stop,” Cuban said. “Like anything else, if somebody gets hurt, then everything changes.

“If your best player gets hurt on any team it’s a different world. But we’re going to be able to score and we’re going to be able to defend.”McGee and Wood

Cuban added that there are two seasons during the course of an NBA season that folks lose sight of.

“There’s the regular season, which is completely different from the playoff season,” he said. “So you’ve got to have two teams.

“One (team) that can deal with the slog and the duration of the regular season, and one (team) that is all match-up driven in a (playoff) series

where you make adjustments every single game, and sometimes quarter-to-quarter and half-to-half. So, you have to be able to have the tools to do that, and I think we do.”

One of those “tools” in the toolbox the Mavs have comes in the form of rookie guard Jaden Hardy. Cuban is very high on Hardy, saying: “He’s got some (exceptional talent) to him, doesn’t he? He’s not afraid. It reminds me of Devin Harris when he first came here (in 2004). Devin would take some bad shots, but he just had that (aggressive mindset) and vinegar to him. Jaden’s the same way.

“Jaden is more of a shooter than Devin was, and Devin was faster. But Jaden can get to the rim, he can finish, he’s worked on his body, and he’s more explosive than he was this summer. He’s learning the game, he wants to defend. He doesn’t want to not get on the court because he doesn’t defend. He’s got length to him, and he just turned 20.”

Cuban is also thrilled about third-year guard Josh Green, who the Mavs exercised the fourth-year team option on his contract for $4.765 million earlier this week.

“He’s really worked on his shot,” Cuban said. “You can see the consistency of his form and his shot, the confidence that it’s going in, the arc on the shot. He worked on his ball handling even more.

Josh“Josh, the only thing really now that he’s got to still do is he gets caught up in the air sometimes. But other than that, he makes plays on both sides of the ball. He’s going to be a contributor.”

Cuban didn’t downplay the loss of guard Jalen Brunson, who signed a four-year, $104 million free agent contract with the New York Knicks over the summer.

“JB was great,” Cuban said. “There’s no way you can replace JB, because he could create his own shot all the time. There’s always value there.

“But we have more size now. Spencer will get more minutes, Josh will get more minutes, Frank (Ntilikina) will get more minutes. No disrespect to JB, but that makes us better defensively at the same time.”

Brunson was elevated to the starting lineup last season after Hardaway underwent season-ending fractured left foot surgery on Feb. 1. Thus, Hardaway missed out on the Mavs’ impressive playoff run, but has fully recovered.

“Timmy was a guy that we would give the ball to and let him create his own shot,” Cuban said. “He would get a pull-up, he would get to the rim, and that pull-up might be from 25 feet, it might be from 10 feet, and it might finish at the rHardyim.

“JB got the chance to step up when Tim got hurt, and it wasn’t because of anything Timmy did wrong. If Timmy was still playing, a lot of those chances that JB would have had, Timmy would have been able to convert. Timmy was our second-best player when we took the Clippers to seven games (in the 2021 playoffs).”

Asked if he expects the Mavericks to be playing defense this season like the Dallas Cowboys are, Cuban playfully corrected his listener and said: “The Cowboys are playing defense like the Mavericks.”

Then, Cuban got serious about his stout defense and said he likes “just the depth and our ability to just match-up to pretty much anybody. Now with JaVale, if there’s a big (player) down there, JaVale can put a body on him. And if a team plays five-out, we can play Christian out there.

“But with JaVale, we can run six, seven, eight guys between Maxi and JaVale that can shoot, score, attack closeouts and defend.”

And defense is the name of the game, as was the case when the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title. When asked if this team is as talented as the 2010-’11 squad, Cuban said: “It’s not even how talented we are. It’s really just the state of the NBA. There are some seasons where there’s Tima lot of good teams.

“In the past, we’ve talked about the Western Conference having eight, nine, 10 teams winning 50 games, and then there would be six teams that were awful, and that’s what everybody loaded up on.”

Most NBA followers know some teams are hopeful of finishing this season and being in the NBA Draft Lottery so they can position themselves to land France center Victor Wembanyama in next summer’s NBA Draft. The Mavs certainly are not one of those teams.

“There’s those teams and then everybody else, and everybody else is pretty good,” Cuban said. “So, I don’t think — unless there’s injuries like there were last year — that there’s going to be a couple of 60-win teams like we saw the year we won.

“But it really comes down to the teams that stay the healthiest. I really think that’s going to be the big difference-maker this year.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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