New-look Mavs are motivated by odds stacked against them entering ’15-16 season

DALLAS — When the Dallas Mavericks take the court for the first time as a team to start training camp on Tuesday, they will noticeably be without two of their expected top contributors. That will serve as one of the team’s many motivations this upcoming season.

Monday, the new-look Mavericks were introduced during the organization’s annual media day at American Airlines Center. The Mavs will next come together and go through their first practice as a team, stepping on the court Tuesday morning in preparation for the season opener in Phoenix on Oct. 28.

But as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle confesses, two of their expected starters will not be able to go through the team’s initial practice. And although both budding star Chandler Parsons and summer signee Wesley Matthews vow to be ready by Opening Night, the team will not rush either back into action too soon.

“You know, we have a lot of new guys, and we’ve got to integrate them. But we’ve got to move towards solving our health situation, and this is Mother Nature,” Carlisle said while addressing the media Monday. “It’s work, it’s rehab, it’s all those kinds of things, but that’s going to be a real key for us to be as good as we can be. You know, we’ve got to get Parsons and Matthews and hopefully [JaVale] McGee to where they can be on the court and participating, and we’ve got a few other guys with some minor things. We’ll get through it.”

He added: “I would say that there’s a chance that Parsons could play in the opener. That’s my understanding. But by NBA standards, we’re light years away from knowing if that’s a real possibility or not. You know, Wes is going to take a little longer. He’s not going to want to tell you that and we’re going to have to fight to keep him off the court, but we’ve got to make sure we do this the right way and make sure that he’s 100 percent healthy and conditioned before getting into an NBA game.”

Despite both Parsons’ and Matthews’ vows to be ready by the season opener, Carlisle says the Mavs won’t push the two young veterans into game action during the exhibition schedule. Instead, the coach hopes to see both properly work their way back to 100 percent to avoid any setbacks.

Last season, Parsons emerged as perhaps the Mavericks’ most versatile player while battling through his fair share of nagging injuries. Playing in 66 games during the 2014-15 campaign, Parsons averaged 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 33.1 minutes per outing. The 26-year-old then found his season ended after Game 1 of the Mavs’ first-round playoff series against his former team, the Houston Rockets, requiring what he describes as a “minor hybrid” microfracture surgery to repair a cartilage injury in his right knee on May 1.

Meanwhile, Matthews also saw his ’14-15 season cut short after suffering a torn left Achilles tendon against the Mavericks on March 5. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound swingman averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 60 games for Portland last season prior to the injury, setting the stage for the six-year pro to eventually sign a reported four-year deal worth $70 million to come to Dallas.

And although it’s uncertain when he will be cleared to go through contact drills, Matthews confidently asserts that he will return to action better than ever.

“I’m not confident that I’m going to be that player. I’m confident that I’m going to be better than that player,” Matthews proclaimed while accessing his own play from a season ago. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. … I embrace every single challenge. This Achilles injury, it was like no other challenge I’ve ever endured, because I couldn’t pin it on anybody. I couldn’t pin it on a writer that wrote and said I was overpaid and stuff like that. I couldn’t pin it on a coach that snubbed me or GM that didn’t draft me. It was against myself, and I embraced that challenge. Right now, I’m kicking its [tail], so I’m excited for anything that’s coming my way.”

The health of Parsons and Matthews will certainly impact the Mavericks’ success this season, hoping to again contend for a playoff position in the ever-changing Western Conference. The same could be said for the rejuvenation of new point guard Deron Williams and the preservation of 13-time All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki.

Last season, the Mavs recorded the 14th 50-win season in franchise history prior to falling to the Rockets in five games during the first round of the playoffs. The Mavs also made the postseason for a 14th time in the last 15 years, expecting to pick up where they left off when the regular season gets underway.

Still, despite what they feel are upgrades across the board, the Mavs acknowledge that they enter this season as an underdog. That should serve as plenty of motivation, according to Parsons, as the Mavericks look to challenge for conference supremacy.

“You’re judged off how much you win. We have a lot to prove, which I think is a great thing,” Parsons explained. “Everyone is writing us off. Nobody respects us this year, you know, with me and Wes coming off surgery and him getting a big contract. Deron Williams has a lot to prove with everything that happened to him in Brooklyn, McGee being hurt and Dirk being so old. You know, everyone’s not even talking about the Mavs, which is good, ’cause now it’s motivation. With the makeup of our roster and our guys, we have a lot of hungry and humble guys with a chip on their shoulders that are ready to prove everybody wrong.”

Williams will definitely be out to prove his naysayers wrong this season, looking to bounce back after a lackluster ’14-15 campaign in Brooklyn that led to buyout talks this summer with the Nets’ front office.

The No. 3 overall pick of Utah in the 2005 NBA Draft holds career averages of 17.0 points, 8.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 716 total games, making 664 starts during that time while with the Jazz and the Nets organizations. For his career, the 6-foot-3 floor general has shot 44.7 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three-point range.

However, The Colony native produced his lowest-scoring output since his rookie campaign last season, averaging 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 31.1 minutes an outing while appearing in 68 games for the Nets. He also shot just 38.7 percent from the field prior to inking a reported two-year deal with the Mavericks worth $10 million that includes a player option for the second season.

All of which now figures to fuel Williams this season as he returns to the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex with plenty to prove.

“It feels really good. It feels like a long time coming,” Williams said while addressing his addition to the team. “You know, I’m excited about this new opportunity. You know, I’m excited about a fresh start. My time in New Jersey and Brooklyn didn’t go as well as I think everybody hoped, and so it’s kind of just a fresh start for me. It’s a chance to just reset, and I think to refocus.”

With that said, it’s the defensive side of the ball that gives Nowitzki the most concern entering the season as the Mavs try to fill a void left by the free-agent departure of starting center Tyson Chandler to Phoenix.

Last season, the Mavericks ranked third in the NBA in scoring by posting 105.2 points per game. The Mavs also ranked eighth in the league while dishing out 22.5 assists an outing.

Vice versa, the Dallas defense finished the regular season ranked just 25th by allowing 102.3 points per game. The Mavs also had just a 103.7 defensive rating per 100 possessions, ranking 18th in that department. For that reason Nowitzki admits that the team will quickly have to find a defensive identity in order to make improvements.

And if they’re about to do so while getting healthy, Nowitzki again anticipates the Mavs contending for a spot in the playoffs.

“Well, you know, this franchise always prides itself in winning and making the playoffs, and that’s got to be the goal,” Nowitzki said. “No matter who goes out there, no matter who makes the team, we’re going to play the right way. Coach Carlisle is going to make us into a unit on both ends of the floor, and we’ve got some figuring out to do. Obviously, we’ve got a couple of guys that are a little banged up or a couple of weeks away from the action, but whoever goes out there needs to know the system on defense. And offensively, I think we’ll be fine. I always said that I think we’ve got some nice weapons. We got some shooting in, we got some playmaking, but we’ve got to be better defensively and we’ve got to get back. That’s the name of the game these days. There’s a lot of athletic teams, so we’ve got to get back and kind of build our defense out, contesting some of those good three-point shooting teams. And then I think we’ll have a shot at making the playoffs.”