One of the Mavericks’ most popular players did something for the first time on Wednesday, and no, it wasn’t talking about free agency, although he did that, too.
Maxi Kleber, the German big man who has been a remarkable find for the Mavericks in his two seasons with the team and who will be a restricted free agent come June 30, highlighted the Mavs Hoop Camp at Episcopal School of Dallas, one of the biggest camps of the summer with 200 kids attending.
Kleber was a hit. He played shooting games with the kids, got beat in one of them and kept on smiling throughout.
He’s done camps before in Germany. But there, it’s just a little different.
“It’s always fun to fool around with the kids and play some Knockout games,” he said. “It’s exciting that they look up to you and feel like you’re somebody you can learn from. And they love the game of basketball. But obviously, here, the standard of basketball is different. In Europe, basketball is way smaller.
“If you bring a soccer player to a basketball camp in Germany, the kids would for sure be more hyped. If you bring Thomas Muller to the camp, they would be way more hyped than for me, but that’s OK.”
On Wednesday, the kids at Episcopal probably wouldn’t have known who Muller is. But they certainly knew about Kleber, the 6-11 center-forward who gave every indication that he hopes to return to Dallas when the free-agent dust settles.
But he also has a lot on his plate in the coming months before the Mavericks open training camp in late September.
Among the priorities is the World Cup. Kleber has not played in any major international events for Germany, but he hopes that changes. He’s keenly aware that the German national team has a warmup game with Tunisia, for whom Salah Mejri will play.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Kleber said. “We’re already talking (trash) about that. It’s pretty funny. I’m really excited because I never got to play in the European championships because I was injured or something was going on.”
Kleber, who averaged 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in roughly 21 minutes per game last season, is aware of the fact that his free agency could impact his availability for Germany, although he expects all of that to get worked out. He wants to play and with Dennis Shroder, Paul Zipser and Daniel Theis – all NBA players – expected to be on the team, this could be Germany’s best ever team, with the exception of when Dirk Nowitzki led them to the Olympics in 2008.
“The team to beat in our group would be France if you want to be first,” Kleber said. “I think we have a really good team. We don’t have to hide. But in those tournaments, a lot of stuff comes together – is everybody healthy, everybody showing up, how does everything work. Last year, we didn’t have everybody around, so we don’t even know how good we could be with everybody there. But we have so much talent that we really could accomplish something”
And if he doesn’t get signed, sealed and delivered before August when the national team would begin practicing?
“With the national team, obviously, you have to see what’s happening with me,” he said. “I would love to play with the national team. But it could always be a case where your (NBA) team says: we don’t want you to play. I’d love to play.”
Kleber went on a vacation to “relax and put my feet up” after the Mavericks’ season ended. He also went back to Germany to visit his family and friends. But he’s worked on his conditioning throughout and has spent most of his time in Dallas.
The World Cup and free agency will determine what the rest of his summer looks like.
And Kleber seems to have the right amount of excitement/trepidation about the free agency.
“It’s cool, but at the same time, it’s weird with a little bit of stress because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Obviously, you want to stay because I feel comfortable here and I love it in Dallas and I love the organization, the people, the team. I get along good with the coach. I like the system we play. But not knowing what’s going to happen is weird. And the weirdest thing is you can’t talk until July, so you just stay at home and wait.”
One thing pulling him toward the Mavericks? The promise of the future. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis could have a marvelous future together.
“I would love to be part of that,” Kleber said. “Luka and KP have a lot of talent. And I would love to see Dodo (Dorian Finney-Smith) back, too. Dodo and me because I think we play really well together and we are able to switch everything, which makes it a lot easier on the defensive end. The chemistry was nice and with that young core, you have a good group to start something big here. You want to be part of that.”