When he was a teenager, 19 to be precise, Marquese Chriss played all 82 NBA games for the Phoenix Suns, started 75 of them and was second-team all-rookie after averaging 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Since then, it’s been a difficult journey that took Chriss to three organizations and, at the start of this season, out of the NBA completely.
On Saturday, the 6-9 forward officially got back on the radar.
Chriss, who was working on his third 10-day contract, was signed to a two-year deal after showing during his emergency time as a COVID-19 hardship allowance acquisition that he still has oodles of potential at the ripe old age of 24.
“Marquese was one of those guys who was a lottery pick and had a really good early rookie year,” Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison said. “So he was a player we were familiar with. When you find a guy who has had success in the league and maybe was undervalued – you can give him a hug and get that value back and I think that’s what he’s done for us.”
Chriss said he was hopeful that he could stick with the Mavericks, but that there are never any sure things.
“I’m thankful to be solidified on the team for any time span, but two years is a good amount of time,” Chriss said. “Being here these last, what, 30 days, has kind of shown that I do the best I can to help the team win.
“The timing was perfect. It sucked that people had to be sick for it to happen. But I’m thankful that I could show people I could still play and I was healthy. I like to think I’m pretty good at basketball.”
The Mavericks wanted to keep Chriss and cleared a roster spot by waiving Willie Cauley-Stein, who has been on personal leave for two months and while the Mavericks needed to move on from Cauley-Stein, it’s never an easy decision letting go of an asset.
“We’re going to continue to support Willie as he’s going through his personal issues,” Harrison said. “It’s tough having those conversations. But you do it, you call them and have a real conversation. That’s the best you can do.
“At the end of the day our obligation is to the Mavs and it’s the right thing to do for the Mavs.”
During his 12 games before signing his new contract, Chriss had averaged 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in about 12 minutes per game. He filled a huge void when centers Boban Marjanovic, Kristaps Porzingis and Cauley-Stein all were out.
Coach Jason Kidd, who returned from his stint in the league’s health and safety protocols, said: “He’s one of a couple guys in this league that were out and are playing at a very high level. I’m happy for him and his new deal. I think it’s great.”
That time of year: Harrison acknowledged that the Mavericks have been busy when it comes to fielding inquiries about potential trades. But that doesn’t separate this season from any other.
“How busy is it? I don’t know because this is my first time. I have nothing to compare it with,” the first-year GM said. “But I think there is a lot of conversations going on and if I go back to my old world, that was always the case.
“But a lot of the conversations that happen, most of the stuff is just conversations. That’s it. I don’t think it’s anything different than what’s happened in the past.”
No general manager can ever rule out the possibility of making deals as the February 10 trade deadline approaches.
However, Harrison believes that the Mavericks have shown in the past few weeks – winning seven of eight going into Saturday’s game – that their best days are ahead of them, particularly if they can stay healthy for an extended stretch.
“I think you can always improve,” Harrison said. “But I look at our team and we haven’t been whole for a while. I’m excited to see, as everybody’s back, how we are now that we’re whole.”
He’s back: Kidd returned to the sideline after missing four games while adhering to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Of his time away, he said: “The first day, I had a headache and that was it. I didn’t have any other symptoms. I was just at home. And just talking to the players and talking to the coaching staff.
“Physically I wasn’t there, but I was in constant contact with the coaches. They did a great job. Sean did an incredible job with the guys, so a lot of good stuff.”
Sean Sweeney, Kidd’s defensive coordinator, was the acting head coach during Kidd’s absence.
Said Kidd of Sweeney: “I trust in Sean. I’ve been with Sean every stop I’ve been except LA. When I named him the interim head coach, we knew what we were doing. He’s next in line to be a head coach in this league at some point. He’s doing all the right things. He’s well prepared, letting the guys play through some stuff. I think he showed his capabilities, his growth from where we first started in Brooklyn to where he is today. I’m happy for him, but also for the guys because they trust and listen to what he’s saying. He did great. I’m so happy for him.”
Harrison, by the way, had nothing but praise for Kidd’s first three months of the season as the Mavericks’ coach.
“Jason Kidd has been amazing,” Harrison said. “I think the team has really done well. They’ve fought through adversity. We’ve had a lot of people who’ve been out through COVID, through injury.
“And then if you look at our defense through the last six, seven weeks, the stuff Jason talked about earlier in the year, it’s holding true.”
Welcome back: The Mavericks welcomed back an old friend on Saturday as Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley led the Magic into American Airlines Center.
Mosley was a top assistant to former Mavericks’ head coach Rick Carlisle for the last seven seasons.
“It feels good to be back,” he said. “Seven years here with such a great organization, the people here and the relationships my family built. It was great to see some wonderful people here.”
While the Magic have had a rough season, with loads of serious injury problems, Mosley said the good vibes remain strong in their organization.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us,” he said. “I really think my staff and players are doing a good job of figuring things out and growing together each day. That’s the thing we said from the first day – that we’re going to grow together.”
Mosley also had praise for the Mavericks – particularly defensively.
“They’ve been phenomenal defensively,” he said. “Their pick-and-roll coverages have been spot-on.”