By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Apart from Jamison and Walker, Danny Fortson might be the most important acquisition of the off-season. He was lost in Golden State (surprising, no?), written off as a malcontent and an underachiever. With LaFrentz gone, Bradley and Fortson are the team's only true centers. Which means that Fortson is going to have to contribute, if only to keep Nellie from playing Bradley too much (and by that I mean playing him at all) or putting Nowitzki down low. At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, Fortson is exactly the kind of brute the Mavs need. He is unrepentant, ready at a moment's notice to throw a few elbows. If he does nothing more than suck up space in the interior and rebound, he'll be a fan favorite and an invaluable piece to Nellie's puzzle.
"We didn't have anybody who could put his big old butt up against Shaq last year, or at least annoy him," Cuban offers. "You talk to Danny, and he'll say that he can't stop Shaq. But Shaq's certainly not going to push him around and just have his way, either. As much as the Lakers have improved offensively or with their Hall of Famers, they're going to have a tough time guarding us. People are going to have a hard time matching up against us. I really think, when you put all these pieces together, that Danny is going to be in a position to help us."
OK, so the Mavs are deeper, and maybe even tougher. Still, you have to wonder how in the hell Don Nelson is going to manage all these players. Not that they're bad guys, because they're not. Mostly, they're good guys. But they're also mostly outstanding players. From Michael Finley to Eduardo Najera, the Mavs have a lot of extremely able bodies. How do you mold all those egos into one like-minded unit? Again, how do you take a star like Antawn Jamison, a guy who got the ball without having to ask for it, and tell him to sit on the bench with his mouth shut until someone beckons?
"I've been in a situation where I got all the touches in the world, and we only won 17 to 20-some games," Jamison says. "So for me to come in and--there's gonna be certain nights where I get the ball the way I'm used to, and other nights where Dirk is feeling it, or Mike is hot and I don't get the ball. That's fine with me. That's what I did at Carolina. We didn't care about who scored the most points or who got the most publicity. We only cared about the name on our chest. It's the same mind frame. It's like Carolina all over again. You have guys, talent-wise, who are on the same level as you, or better. There's nothing wrong with that."
Fine. Works for me. He's anything but disingenuous. But it's also very early, and stranger things have been known to happen than an athlete getting pissy about the way a coach is using him. I'm not saying that it would have to be Jamison, either. There are plenty of candidates here to choose from--a lot of players and not enough chairs when the music stops.
"I think the question everyone is asking is where are we gonna find playing time for all these guys?" Don Nelson says. "We're not. Some of them are gonna be in, and some are gonna be out. What I tell these guys is to make sure you're one of the guys who's in. We need to establish a substitution pattern--eight or nine guys. With this team, we might even go 10 guys. But we're not gonna play 12. We're just not."
There are questions then, some that might not be answered until the season is well under way, others that might not be answered until the playoffs. But even with the doubt, even with all those Western Conference bullies, you have to feel good about the direction of this club. The Mavs cast their lot exactly the way we've all been screaming for them to--with a bunch of guys who swear they'll take the heat and the grunt work in exchange for a shot at a title. For now, that's good enough.
At the news conference that introduced him as one of the newest Mavericks, Jamison sat quietly, hands folded, while Don and Donnie and Cuban absorbed endless praise from the gathered media. Jamison looked removed, like he was watching all the commotion unfold around him through your eyes or mine. I wondered for a moment if he was breathing, not because he's a bore, but because he seemed cool beyond calculation--Steve McQueen, only bald and without the motorcycle. And then someone asked him about the trade, and whether it can end the way everyone wants it to--with a parade through downtown Dallas. Jamison sat upright and beamed. He told a story next that was campy and clichéd, but it also served as his first endearing moment, one that made me and everyone else in that room wish him nothing but luck because, sappy as it was, you could tell he truly wanted to make it a reality.