DALLAS — They were all counted upon to provide a spark off the bench during the 2014-15 season in their on unique ways. Now, the veteran reserve guards for the Dallas Mavericks again enter this upcoming season looking to contribute in order to push the team to another level.
Last season, 11-year veteran combo guard Devin Harris assumed a sixth man role while seeing time off the ball in the backcourt. Meanwhile, backup point guard J.J. Barea rejoined the team for a second stint with the franchise during the preseason and quickly picked up where he left off at as a key member of the Mavericks’ 2011 title team.
Fellow veteran Raymond Felton also found a way to contribute in a crowded backcourt, stepping up late in the season as the team made a charge into the playoffs. And despite their many naysayers entering the ’15-16 season, the Mavs’ trio of trusted veterans will again look to provide a boost off the bench.
“You know, we just go to work every day and we don’t worry about what the outside world thinks,” Harris proclaimed while assessing this year’s team. “We know what we’re capable of doing and we know what kind of noise we can make, but it kind of starts from within. And as we get better, we look forward to showing it.”
Last season, Harris certainly showed that he could be counted upon at both ends of the court, battling through nagging injuries in the process.
Harris, a former All-Star point guard, came off the bench in 73 of his 76 appearances last season prior to being hampered by a left great toe injury during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series defeat against Houston. The 32-year-old also averaged 8.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game during the regular season, working at both guard positions at times in the second unit.
Harris ranked second on the team to Barea with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. However, with the addition of three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams and the re-signing of Barea this summer, Harris now envisions the ball in his hands less this upcoming season.
Still, with his injury concerns now behind him, Harris has prepared himself to be more of a scorer while still supplying the team with instant offense off the bench.
“I’m here and I feel good. I rested the necessary injuries and took the necessary time off, coming back strong and ready to play. It’s tremendous, allowing the body to take some rest and coming in fresh, especially days where you kind of have to grind it out and have to push through to get over that hump. But it feels good to get back out here and try to get better with these guys,” Harris said while trying to contain his excitement for the season.
While Harris used the summer to rest his body, Barea’s leadership and control with the Puerto Rican national team could prove to be the perfect preparation for the undersized guard this season.
Making 10 starts during his 77 appearances last season, Barea now figures to assume the bulk of the backup minutes at point guard behind Williams. Barea averaged 7.5 points, 1.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists an outing last season prior to increasing his production in the playoffs. And after posting 11.8 points, 4.8 boards and a team-leading 7.4 assists while starting the final two games of the first-round series against the Rockets, the 31-year-old turned his concentration to trying to qualify his home country for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Barea averaged 20.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists in eight games of the FIBA Americas tournament last month in Mexico City, settling for a fifth-place finish. He then returned stateside and quickly got back to work with the Mavericks with hopes of building on last season’s success.
“I’m doing great and feel great,” Barea explained. “Just enjoying this training camp. You know, I came (into training camp) in good shape, because I was playing a lot. So, it’s just about me getting reps and going through the offense once again. I’m working in the weight room and just staying healthy.
“I come into training camp in shape, and I get a lot of reps in the summer. I get a lot of experience (with the Puerto Rican team) and I get better. I use it so I get better in the summer, so I’ll carry it over here and see if we can keep it going.”
However, while Barea and Harris figure to absorb the majority of the backup minutes in the backcourt this season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle hasn’t ruled out the possibility of turning to Felton for extended playing time.
Included in the six-player trade that brought back center Tyson Chandler from New York last summer, Felton was initially slowed by a high ankle sprain suffered in the second preseason outing against Oklahoma City on Oct. 10. He was then forced to serve a four-game suspension handed down to him by the league for pleading guilty to gun charges as a member of the Knicks before making his season debut in a 112-107 home win over Oklahoma City on Dec. 28.
All told, Felton appeared in 29 games during the ’14-15 campaign while posting averages of 3.7 points and 1.4 assists in his 9.7 minutes of work. He also had his professionalism rewarded by converting a game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds left to cap the Mavericks’ 144-143 victory during a double-overtime thriller in Denver on April 10, tallying 13 points, grabbing four rebounds, dishing five assists, collecting two steals and recording the game-sealing block in the win while starting in place of a resting Rajon Rondo.
And after producing career-low numbers across the board during his limited playing time, the former No. 5 overall pick in the ’05 draft has shown Carlisle enough in training camp to possibly see a larger role this season.
“Look, Felton has been playing good ever since he’s been here,” Carlisle proclaimed. “The only thing that’s gotten in the way was the injury last year, and we’ve been deep at that position. But I’m open to moving guys around. Some of our best players are smaller guys, which puts us in a real good attacking mode. So, there’s an opportunity to be creative.”