Nowitzki, Carter, and Pierce reflect on their careers in ESPN Q&A

The NBA Draft classes of 1984 and 1996 are perhaps the most famous in history, but the class of 1998 has to be right up there. Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Paul Pierce have each had incredible careers, and as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon writes, have combined to score 80,413 career points. The group is inching closer to becoming the top-scoring trio in NBA history (82,995 is the mark to beat).

In three separate Q&A sessions, Nowitzki, Carter, and Pierce each reflected on their draft-night experiences, weighed in on each other’s careers, and spoke about what they still enjoy at this point and what’s still ahead of them in their careers.

For example, Nowitzki relayed a story about flying to the U.S. with the Mavs’ brain trust in the days following the draft. At the time, he wasn’t fully committed to playing in the NBA, as he’d only competed in Germany’s second tier. But then-head coach Don Nelson hosted Nowitzki at his home and invited some of his teammates over in an effort to ease Dirk’s concerns.

“That’s when I met Nashie [Steve Nash] for the first time, because they flew him in for the press conference,” Nowitzki told MacMahon. “It kind of clicked from there. I think on my second night, Nellie threw a little barbecue at his house for me, and Fin [Michael Finley] came and Strick [Erick Strickland] came. Nashie was there and some of the other guys who were in town. I just got to mingle a little bit and meet them and speak as much as I could with my English.”

Then, of course, the infamous introductory press conference followed shortly thereafter, once Nowitzki had committed to the Mavericks.

MacMahon asked each player what makes the others special. Pierce showed Nowitzki great admiration in his answer.

“Dirk changed the game, man,” he said. “When you look at what he was able to bring with his versatility and his shooting as a 7-footer, to be able to put the ball on the ground, he was one of the first stretch 4s that you see more of today. I mean, he revolutionized the game. Players like that are transcendent. He was a transcendent player.”

Meanwhile, Nowitzki glowed when discussing Carter, who was his teammate in Dallas from 2011-14.

“I mean, he was a tough matchup because he could post, and he was so freakishly athletic,” he told ESPN. “He’d come off a down pick and just jump up and really nobody could get to his shot. Obviously, he’s so athletic that once he got going to the rim, you could challenge him, but he was going to put you on a poster. He was fun to watch during his prime.”

Every Mavs fan and basketball junkie would find this to be an enjoyable read. These are three basketball legends, and each is approaching the end of what will go down as storied careers. They could all wind up in the Hall of Fame together some day, too. Click here to read the full story.

Preseason Game 6: Mavs vs Grizzlies

Postgame: Tyson Chandler

Mavs C Tyson Chandler dishes on Monday's preseason win over Memphis while Jameer Nelson crashes his interview!

Jae Crowder looks to fill void of Mavs’ departing veterans

DALLAS — Although he’s yet to fully carve his own niche in the NBA since entering the league as the 34th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Dallas Mavericks third-year pro Jae Crowder has gradually began to tap into his potential.

The 6-foot-6 versatile swingman has been used in a multitude of ways by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle through his first two seasons, playing in 78 games in both campaigns while providing production off the Dallas bench. This season, however, the 24-year-old appears ready to step into his own role and out of the shadows of his departing mentors, attempting to fill the void left by Shawn Marion and Vince Carter in free agency.

“It’s a grand opportunity,” Crowder confessed while acknowledging he figures to see the most playing time in his young career this upcoming season. “It’s the best opportunity I’ve had. You know, those guys [Carter and Marion] really taught me a lot coming into it, and I just try to learn from that and build on each year I’ve been here. I think the opportunity is there, and I just have to take it.  Just being a pro on and off the court. You know, those guys are real professionals and they’ve been in the league for a long time. And just seeing how they work and how they operate day in and day out, I’ll never forget it. And I’ll take it from here until the day I retire.”

Backing up Marion at small forward the past two seasons, Crowder was often asked to defend the top perimeter scorers in the league when the four-time All-Star headed to the bench. The former Marquette standout also played alongside Carter in the second unit, learning what it takes to provide instant offense off the bench.

Now, after losing 10 pounds during the offseason while working on his conditioning, Crowder will try to step into a valuable role for the Mavericks this season.

“Physically, I feel great. Coming into camp, I felt 100 percent. You know, physically, I came into camp ready and I lost a little weight. I came in with a good mindset — free and with a free mind. And we’ve been playing hard and getting after it,” Crowder explained.

With Carter vacating the sixth man role in Dallas to join the Memphis Grizzlies this summer, the Mavs may look in Crowder’s direction for production with the reserves. In order to be relied upon in that role, however, Crowder knows he’ll have to step up after admittedly hitting a wall in his first two seasons.

After starting 16 games during his rookie season, Crowder saw a slight dip in his production in Year 2 while finishing ’13-14 averaging 4.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, .8 assists and .8 steals. And despite raising his shooting percent from 38.4 percent to 43.9 percent in a year’s span, Crowder continued to struggle with his outside shot while connecting on only 33.1 percent from behind the three-point arc.

“By Game 50 or 60 my first two years, I had a little drought and I think that kind of was fatigue. That’s why I changed my body a little bit, trying to fight through that as the season goes along,” Crowder explained. “(I lost) 10 more pounds, and that’s right where I want to be. I feel great, I’m flying around, I’m moving well and I’m right where I want to be.”

Still, it’s at the defensive end that Crowder figures to provide the Mavs with the most support while emerging as a lockdown defender that Carlisle can turn to down the stretch of games. And after impressing his head coach with his intensity early in training camp, don’t be surprised if Crowder is called upon to operate as the team’s defensive closer this season.

“He’s in by far the best shape he’s been in, in three years, and he’s been in good shape in other years,” Carlisle said while praising Crowder’s offseason conditioning. “But he’s trimmed down, he’s gotten leaner, he’s committed to a diet that’s really gotten his body composition where it needs to be to be at his best, and he’s just a tireless worker. I mean, he just keeps working on everything with shooting, running and movement stuff. He knows both the three and the four, and he knows the two. And he’s guarded ones, so that versatility is a key factor for us.”

“I feel like it’s a collective effort for all of us and all of us wing players,” Crowder added. “We have to hold our ground with the best scorers in the league. And it’s a collective effort, as we all know. But I just want to make it hard on guys when I match up on Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Just make it tough on them the whole fourth quarter, and maybe in the fourth quarter those shots aren’t falling for them. You know, it’s a collective effort, but I want to feel like I’m doing my part.”

Note: The Mavericks will return to the practice court before making their first road trip of the preseason, taking on four-time MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. The game will air at 6:30 p.m. CT on TXA 21.

The Mavs return to Dallas to host the Memphis Grizzlies at American Airlines Center on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
-Monta Ellis, sprained left knee, day-to-day
-Raymond Felton, high right ankle sprain, out at least 10 days

 

Who will emerge as Mavs’ sixth man after Vince Carter’s departure?

DALLAS — For each of the past seven NBA seasons, the Dallas Mavericks didn’t have to worry about who would assume the role of sixth man.

After starting for most of his first three seasons in Dallas, former Maverick Jason Terry slid to the bench during the 2007-08 schedule. The following season Terry won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, averaging 19.6 points per game and supplying the Mavs with instant offense off the bench during the ’08-09 campaign.

When Terry migrated to Boston in free agency during the summer of 2012, eight-time All-Star Vince Carter quickly assumed the sixth-man responsibilities after previously accepting a bench role the season prior. Now, with Carter also departing Dallas in free agency during the summer to join the Southwest Division rival Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavs will again look for someone to step up in the second unit this upcoming season.

But who is ready for the bulk of that responsibility?

The Mavs’ reserves finished amongst the league leaders a season ago, posting the sixth-most points by a bench at 35.7 a game to help Dallas’ offense rank eighth with a scoring output of 104.8 points a contest. Carter supplied most of that secondary scoring, leading the reserves by averaging 11.9 points per game during the regular season while appearing in 81 outings.

Still, while not putting all of the burden on one player’s shoulders to fill the void left by Carter’s departure, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will make it a shared responsibility to supply scoring and production off the bench.

“We’ve got to be a strength-in-numbers outfit here,” Carlisle explained during last season. “We need our bench to give us intensity, persistence and scoring. But it’s not all about those guys putting points on the board. You know, they’ve got to play hard and at full capacity within our defensive system and rebound. … We need contributions from everybody, and (last season) we got a depth of contribution from everybody.”

An odds-on favorite to assume the sixth-man title for the Mavs during the ’14-15 campaign is combo guard Devin Harris, who shook off an offseason toe surgery last year to provide the team with plenty of production off the bench.

Harris missed the first 41 games last season but battled back to average 7.9 points and 4.5 assists in his 40 outings. The cat-quick guard also provided the Mavs with a huge lift off the bench during their first-round playoff series, averaging 11.4 points and 3.9 assists as the Dallas team pushed the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games.

And after re-signing with the team this summer, Harris knows he could be asked to step into Carter’s shoes while also supplying depth to a point guard-heavy backcourt rotation that features veterans Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton.

“They haven’t really defined it as who’s going to start,” Harris explained in an interview recently with SiriusXM NBA Radio. “I know [Carlisle] wants to use a three-guard rotation to play a little (more) uptempo than we did last year. I think he likes me coming off the bench, which I’m fine with, and maybe closing out some games. But I think he’s going to use all three of us in different types of roles.”

But the Mavs may also look in a multitude of other directions to supply scoring from the reserves.

Signing 34-year-old small forward Richard Jefferson this summer, the Mavs will have a proven veteran to turn to off the bench that has averaged 14.5 points per game in his 13-year career. Jefferson started 78 of his 82 appearances for the Utah Jazz last season, averaging 10.1 points and 2.7 rebounds. He also provides perimeter shooting, connecting on 45.0 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from behind the three-point arc during the ’13-14 season.

Jefferson is now expected to back up fellow new addition Chandler Parsons at the three spot, boosting a position that lost four-time All-Star Shawn Marion and Carter’s leadership during free agency.

In the interior, 26-year-old big man Brandan Wright is expected to pick up where he left off at after averaging 9.1 points and shooting 67.7 percent from the field last season in 58 appearances off the Dallas bench. But the Mavericks may ask for other younger contributors to step up this season as well to assume the sixth-man duties, inking 23-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu this summer and looking for forward Jae Crowder, 24, to mature in his third season.

Last season, Aminu started 65 of his 80 appearances for the New Orleans Pelicans and averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. For his young career, he’s averaged 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 303 total games. Meanwhile, Crowder played in 78 outings for the second straight season, looking for a bigger role this year after averaging just 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds a season ago.

Whatever the case, it’s clear that Carlisle will once again turn to his bench for depth and scoring support this season. And with the subtraction of Carter, someone will need to step up for the Mavs in the second unit.

“I view it really the same as all the guys, even the younger guys,” Carlisle explained. “I mean, if you played them for 10 or 11 minutes in a row, it’s going to be hard for them to go full board the way they can if they go seven or eight minutes in a row. Ideally, we want a deep team. We want guys in the game playing at full capacity and till exhaustion. And then, when they get tired, we’ve got other guys going in.”

Positions of need entering draft: small forward

Mavs.com’s Earl K. Sneed takes a look at different directions the Mavs might look to go in leading up to Thursday’s draft.

DALLAS — It was a position of strength over the past few seasons for the Dallas Mavericks. However, with veteran leaders Shawn Marion and Vince Carter set to enter free agency on July 1, the Mavericks head into the offseason with questions at small forward.

Led by Marion’s versatility and defensive prowess in the starting unit, the Mavs showcased plenty of depth at the 3 this season as Carter supplied instant scoring off the bench and second-year standout Jae Crowder emerged as a two-way player. But, with it unclear whether Marion or Carter will return to the team next season, the Mavericks’ brass may look to add a young contributor into the fold via Thursday’s draft.

“We’ll be looking at the draft,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said during his exit interview last month while turning his attention from the 2013-14 season. “I know we don’t have our first-round pick, but we have an early second. That’s an important pick for us and it’s a deep draft, so we’re going to do our homework on that.”

Hoping to re-sign both the 37-year-old Carter and 36-year-old Marion, the Mavericks will attempt to retain the veterans’ services when the two hit the open market. First, the Mavs’ front office may also look to go in a different direction by adding a young forward capable of stepping in and contributing immediately.

Surrendering their first-round pick, the No. 21 selection overall, to Oklahoma City via a top-20 conditional protection in the Lamar Odom trade with the Los Angeles Lakers back in December of 2011, the Mavs will now try to make a splash with two picks in the second round. That puts more importance on landing at least one player that can step in on Day 1 of training camp with the 34th pick overall and 51st selection, assuming the Mavericks stand pat and don’t make a move into the first round.

“I don’t know of any young guys outside of the lottery that are going to be impact players, but it is a deep draft,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in regard to the second round. “You know, the difference between the early 20s and the 40s, I think most NBA guys have that kind of being the same pool of players. So, we’re fairly well-positioned with the [34th] pick. It’s almost like it’s got first-round potential, and then of course we’ve got our later second-round pick. And so we’ll be aggressive as always, whether it’s free agency or the draft, to put the best possible product on the floor next year.”

Do the balanced Mavs need a third go-to scorer to regain the title?

DALLAS — It was the birth of a new dynamic duo in the NBA this season in Dallas as the Mavericks paired 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki with new addition Monta Ellis.

Looking to add a potent scorer on the perimeter to assist Nowitzki at the offensive end of the floor, the Mavericks’ front office inked Ellis to a multi-year contract last summer during free agency. The two then quickly formed one of the most lethal scoring tandems in the league, highlighted by the Mavs’ come-from-behind 123-120 home win over Houston on Nov. 20 when Ellis posted a season-high 37 points on 13-of-18 shooting and Nowitzki added 35 points on 13-of-20 from the field.

“If me and Dirk are going like that, you know, the other teams have a problem,” Ellis said after the Mavs overcame an 18-point deficit in the third quarter to capture the win. “And not just because we’re going like that, but because that means they’re going to pay so much attention to us that it opens it up for Vince [Carter], Jose [Calderon], Shawn [Marion] and guys like that.”

“Look, they’re both stars in this league,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle added in regard to his 1-2 scoring punch. “In big games and big moments your stars have got to be stars, and they were. You know, we had a good balance of them playing off of each other and them getting other people involved. And they’ve got to do a lot of work at both ends, ’cause teams are trying to attack them. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve done some good things and we’ve got to keep riding the wave here.”

However, in an era where superstars are aligning across the league, do the Mavs need the emergence of a third go-to scorer to get them back to a championship level? 

With Nowitzki and Ellis shouldering most of the offensive burden, the Mavericks returned to the playoffs for a 13th time in the last 14 seasons following a 49-33 campaign. Perhaps more importantly, the Mavs also relied on their depth as five scorers averaged in double figures during the regular season.

Led by Nowitzki, who averaged a team-best 21.7 points per game this season, and Ellis’ 19.0 points an outing, the Mavs saw a drop-off to Carter’s 11.9 points off the bench. But the shared scoring responsibilities didn’t seem to slow down the Mavs’ offense at all. And after ranking eighth in the league while putting up 104.8 points a game as a team, the Mavericks more than made up for not having a third go-to scorer.

“We have a lot of scoring on this team and a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” Carter foreshadowed heading into the season. “With the amount of scorers we have and the guys that can do a lot of things, we believe in each other. I think everybody has bought in from the beginning on sharing the ball, and you’re starting to see that. That mentality in the very beginning of the season is going to carry us through the rest of the year.”

That was certainly the case.

Pushing the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, the Mavericks continued to rely on Nowitzki and Ellis while adding additional scoring down the roster. But, with the Spurs’ Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili eventually having their way, the Mavs would find themselves on the losing end of a competitive series.

Still, the Mavericks believe that they’re built for success as they attempt to take another step forward next season, looking to continue to rely on their depth as they pursue a second championship in franchise history.

“I think we’ve got a team that knows how to play basketball,” Calderon confidently said. “There’s other teams that just rely on good players, but I think we can be a really good basketball team. And when we play as a team, it’s going to be easier to get to where we want to be.”

From All-Star to sixth man, Vince Carter transitioned seamlessly for Mavs

DALLAS — He’s made the transition from being an eight-time All-Star to a sixth man look seamless. However, as Dallas Mavericks veteran swingman Vince Carter would tell you, it’s been anything but easy.

Putting aside his pride when he joined the Mavericks, Carter would eventually accept a bench role while shedding his past accolades and All-Star seasons for Toronto and New Jersey. For the betterment of the team, he then took on the role of sixth man entering the 2012-13 season when former Mav Jason Terry migrated to Boston during free agency. Then, after disappointing stops previously in the later stages of his career, Carter would quickly develop into a star for the Mavericks off the bench.

It’s a role the 37-year-old Carter now says he was destined to play.

“It was just a great situation and opportunity,” Carter explained while reminiscing back to unsuccessful stops in Orlando and Phoenix prior to coming to Dallas. “I mean, when you get in a great situation, players get in great situations and the best comes out of them. And I just think it didn’t work out or it just wasn’t the right situation.”

Just a season after joining the Mavs and starting 40 of his 60 appearances, Carter fully embraced a bench role and emerged as one of the NBA’s best reserves, averaging 13.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 25.8 minutes of work an outing while playing in 81 games during the ’12-13 campaign. He again played in 81 contests this season, taking the court as the team’s elder statesman and averaging 11.9 points, 3.5 boards and 2.6 assists.

But it was Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer as time expired to clinch a 109-108 Game 3 victory in the first round of the playoffs against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says embodied the 16-year veteran’s leadership the most.

“He’s such a pro and always early and just all that kind of stuff,” Carlisle said of Carter following perhaps his signature moment in a Mavericks uniform. “He’s constantly preaching the message of what we are trying to be as a team and things like that. I don’t want to get too hokey with it, but he’s been that good for us. And not just on the floor, but in the locker room and all of that kind of stuff.  So, I’m very happy that he knocked that shot in and it’s great.”

“Once I got here and I think understood who Coach [Carlisle] was and what he wanted from his team and from me as a player, we sat down Day 1 and I told him I’m willing to do whatever it takes,” Carter added. “Whether that is a starter, sixth man, seventh man, whatever, I didn’t have a problem with that. I could put pride aside. I mean, I had my moments and I could still have my moments, because what he wanted from me was to keep the same starter’s mentality, a scorer’s mentality, Vince Carter’s mentality … coming off the bench and to elevate our team in different situations. I took that to heart and I sat back and I watched a lot of film. And I really tried to figure out my approach, ‘How do I go about this?’ So, I watched the Jason Terrys and how he worked with his team. I watched the Vinnie Johnsons and guys like that and just how they were always coming in ready to go, coming in shot-ready. You know, as soon as I came in the game, I was shot-ready. Sometimes, I’ll tell you what, I faked it to make it, because sometimes as I was walking in and it was like, ‘I feel terrible.’ But once I stepped on that court it was the mentality, and it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy as far as just understanding it and making it work. But, I think once I figured out the offense and just learning how to go about it, it worked out.”

Entering free agency on July 1, Carter hopes to return to Dallas in order to help the Mavs take another step forward after pushing the Spurs to seven games prior to falling in the first round of the playoffs. He’s also committed to keeping his ageless body in great shape this offseason, looking to treat the Mavs’ fans to more theatrics next season.

However, Carter knows he’ll have to continue to step up if he does in fact return to the Mavericks as he continues to chase the elusive championship that has eluded him his entire career.

“Just the right situation is what it’s all about,” Carter said of his thinking as he heads into free agency. “You know, at this point in my career, I just want to play for teams that compete for a championship and I just want that opportunity. So, that’s what I’m looking for.

“I’ll tell you, first of all, it’s hard to believe that it’s been three years already (in Dallas). I guess it’s like they say, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’ I mean, I’ve had a great time here. It’s one thing coming in as an opponent and you see the fans, and it’s tough to play here. Now, being on the other side of it, there’s great fans and they’re very loyal. It’s just been fun to go out there and go to work every day. I’m very appreciative. They make it easy to come to work and play hard and do what we do every day, because they appreciate what we do and the product that’s been put out on the court. I mean, I think they see hard work out there and guys are going around laying it on the line. You feel the response. It’s great to come to work here.”