Time Warp

For the Mavs, the faces change, but the song remains the same

The day the Mavs introduced their newest players--all five of them--was strange and unsettling. I wasn't sure what to make of any of it. They came in, single file, accompanied by head coach Don Nelson, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and owner Mark Cuban. The last one really threw me. Sure, Cuban is the owner, but continuing to pretend as though he cares about professional hoops seemed a bit disingenuous. After all, he's the star of a "hit" reality TV show, so why would he slum with a bunch of non-Jenga-playing basketball goofs? He could have been kickin' it with that spiky-haired guy or that annoying fat guy, but, instead, he was talking about how excited he was for the season. At first I thought he meant the television season, but then I realized he was talking about basketball. Odd, right?

That was when I began to think, with relative certainty, that there was something wrong with me. (I put that one on the tee for you; you can now begin knocking out easy jokes at my expense.) My eyes and ears were deceiving me, I was sure of it. That was the only explanation--I just wasn't processing the information correctly. The people I saw in front of me weren't actually saying what I thought they were saying. They couldn't be. It just didn't make sense.

"Last time I looked, we have nine new players, so there's a lot of work to be done," Nellie said, clearing something up for me. For the last month or so I tried to add up all the new faces, but there were so many that I inevitably gave up out of frustration. I'd look at the roster and count on my fingers. Nine new players on a 12-man team? That couldn't be right. Surely I'd erred. "The acceptance of roles is very important. That's why when Jerry [Stackhouse] talks about him accepting a new role, it gets me excited. It's not gonna work if the players don't accept their roles, and...there are sacrifices that need to be done in order to maximize our talent. Every player is going to have to do some of that. Jerry probably has the toughest role changing to a sixth man--he hasn't done that before. I think that's going to work out fine; if it doesn't, we'll try something else. But I think that he's willing to try is important."

When Nellie finished, I was really freaked out. I had one of those déjà vu/my-mind-is-playing-tricks-on-me moments. I knew that he was talking about newly acquired guard Jerry Stackhouse, but it sounded eerily reminiscent of something he'd said in the past. It sounded almost exactly like what he said last year when Dallas traded Nick Van Exel to Golden State in exchange for Antawn Jamison. So I went home and looked at my notes from last year, which made me feel better. Because it turned out that it wasn't in my head after all. He did say almost all of those things last year.

A brief review of points made in the Jamison news conference: 1.) They were excited to have Antawn. 2.) Antawn was excited to be on a winning team. 3.) Antawn had never been a sixth man before, but he was willing to give it a try. 4.) Nellie believed it would work, and he was excited.

I bet if you go digging through Nellie's desk, there's a template for this sort of thing--probably along with a note from one of the PR guys that reads: "Nellie, just plug the player's name in where it says (insert player's name here) and you're good to go."

So we've done this before, which is why I was so confused that day. I'm still confused, really. I can't understand why they're trying the whole insta-team (trade for a host of new players, mix, let stand) formula again. After the season ended, I advocated a shake-up, but I wasn't thinking about anything this radical. I was thinking that they'd break up the Big Three--Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley--ditch the other Antoine (Walker, that is) and try to pick up some interior help. But I expected the core to stay intact. I didn't expect them, for the second straight year, to alter the roster beyond recognition and, in the process, try to shoehorn players into roles that they probably won't embrace over the long haul. They tried that experiment last year, and it failed miserably.

It's October, and training camp just started. There's a long way to go before any of us will know how this incarnation of the Dallas Mavericks will perform. But in terms of making Stackhouse the sixth man, I'm not overly optimistic.

My skepticism doesn't stem from some surreptitious dislike of Stackhouse. On the contrary, I liked watching him in college at North Carolina, and I was a fan of his when he played for the Sixers. But I learned something about Stackhouse during his time in Philly: He doesn't like to share the ball. That's why he couldn't coexist with Allen Iverson--not enough shots to go around. It's been like that throughout Stack's career. He's happiest when he's the focal point of the offense and he can jack shots up at will. Which is fine. He can certainly score, and there's nothing wrong with having him on the roster if you put him in the right situation. But I'm not sure if this is the right situation. The sixth man is asked to provide offense and a spark off the bench, which Stackhouse can do. But the sixth man is also asked to sit on the bench, which I don't think he'll be too thrilled with come April. Being the sixth man takes a certain selflessness. It requires that the player be more interested in team goals than playing time. They are role players, and they have to understand that for it to work out.

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