Roster hopefuls look to make strong impressions on Mavs’ summer squad

DALLAS — Although they all come from different walks of life, several NBA hopefuls will try to make their dreams come true by impressing the Dallas Mavericks’ brass while competing with the team’s summer-league squad.

Monday, the Mavericks’ summer squad practiced for the first time at American Airlines Center to begin a four-day mini camp. The team will then leave for Las Vegas on Thursday, competing in a tournament-style schedule that will crown a champion on Monday, July 21.

In the process, several roster hopefuls will try to earn an invite to training camp this fall, looking to showcase their skills in front of the Mavs’ coaching staff and front office.

“We did a lot of installing offensively and defensively,” said Mavs assistant Kaleb Canales, who will serve as the head coach of the summer-league squad while implementing Dallas’ system. “We want to establish how we want to play at both ends.”

While all eyes will be on second-year guards Gal Mekel and Ricky Ledo in the backcourt this summer as they continue to develop in their young careers, a 6-foot-4 guard from Australia also hopes to make a good impression.

Returning stateside after limited playing time last summer with Cleveland, 25-year-old Aussie sharpshooter Chris Goulding will try to continue his stellar play after a season in which he led the NBL in scoring by averaging 22.8 points per game. He also comes highly recommended by the 18th pick in the 1997 draft and a former Maverick, Chris Anstey, who coached Goulding in Melbourne last season.

“I mean, I want to take my opportunities wherever they may come,” a modest Goulding said. “I know coming into the summer league they could be pretty scarce. So, if one pops up, I want to be ready. I’ve been here for a month already, getting close with the guys, getting close with the coaching staff and getting used to the system and the way that things are run, so that come summer-league time … if an opportunity pops up, I’ll be ready to grab it.

“Obviously, I can shoot the ball. I think that’s what I’m best known for. But I think I can bring a lot of energy and a bit of toughness off the bench and get down and do the dirty stuff that a lot of people don’t want to do, as well as the scoring and the shooting. That’s sort of the easier stuff, but it’s the playing hard, getting on the floor and doing some of the dirtier stuff that a lot of people probably don’t want to do. I take pride in doing that stuff.”

Like Goulding, big men Bernard James and Ivan Johnson will also try to curve out their niches this summer by doing much more than scoring.

James, the 33rd pick of the Mavs in the 2012 draft, enters his third summer of uncertainty as he tries to earn a contract during free agency. The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder started 11 of his 46 appearances as a rookie and played in 30 games as a reserve for the Mavericks this season. However, with an indefinite future, James knows he’ll have to fight for a roster spot once again by dominating in the summer league.

“I mean, I feel like contractually it’s the same as the last three summers,” James confessed. “The first year I wasn’t guaranteed a contract, the second year it was a team option and this year I’m a free agent, so for me it’s the exact same situation. I’m playing for a contract, so that’s the way I’m going to go out there and play. That’s my mindset.”

Meanwhile, Johnson will look to resurrect his career after spending a season in the Chinese Basketball Association.

The 30-year-old San Antonio native spent two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, finding himself in the rotation while averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 125 career games. But it’s the defensive end of the floor that the 6-8 Johnson hopes to make his calling card while competing to get back in the league.

“One of my main assets is defense,” Johnson confidently proclaimed. “That’s what I like to do. I mean, I can score and all that, but defense wins games. And that’s what I’m going to bring every game. I’m very determined. I’m here. … I want to be in the NBA. That was my dream in the beginning and that’s what it still is.”