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The Mavs' resident Christian prays for more playing time

For some inexplicable, confounding reason, Nellie starts Bradley, though. Nellie has thought, for a while, that he can be something special. Me? For a long time I thought Cookie Monster lived under my bed.

"I wanted to play him more," Nelson says snidely after a recent practice. "But to play him more, he needs to play better. He's not playing well at all right now. He needs to play the entire game of basketball better."

So Laettner sits, 250 pounds of paperweight. The Mavericks traded one of their best scorers to Detroit to get him, remember? Cedric Ceballos--who has since been dealt to Miami--was shipped off for the Duke grad. Mark Cuban and Nellie were so proud of themselves on that late August day. So what if they surrendered the 16.6 points per game Ceballos dropped in last year? They had spoiled a potential four-team blockbuster that would have sent Laettner to the Lakers. They grinned broadly, talked of his ability, fantasized about how they would use a guy who's almost 7 feet tall and can play inside or out.

Now? Yesterday's treasure is today's trash, apparently.

"I didn't envision anything before I got here," Laettner says after the Sonics game, clearly tempering his comments. "It would be stupid to envision anything. That's how you get burned in the end. [I] came here with an open mind to work hard so I could play a lot, but I guess I haven't done that yet."

He's not pleased. You can see it plainly. Tonight was one of those nights. There's been lots of them, and they're not any easier on him now than they were a month ago. Yet it's early in the season, so he clings to the hope this won't become one of those years, too.

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