White Elephants

Mavs' draft gifts usually pale in comparison

Faster. Quicker. Meaner. Stronger.

Whiter?

Exposed, humiliated and dismissed by the athletically superior Golden State Warriors two months ago, the Dallas Mavericks entered last week's NBA Draft with attitudes to tweak, limitations to minimize and physicality to enhance. So to complement Dirk Nowitzki, they choose a shorter, skinnier, softer Caucasian?

Nevada rookie Nick Fazekas: Dirk Lite or the next Great White Nope?
Nevada rookie Nick Fazekas: Dirk Lite or the next Great White Nope?

Perfect, another Great White Nope.

With his feathery shooting touch and committed rebounding, Nevada forward Nick Fazekas may develop into Dirk Lite, the final piece to Dallas' complicated championship puzzle. But with his finesse skill set and pale skin, I fear he's more likely to deteriorate into the latest Casper for an organization that has produced more white stiffs than a Viagra-sponsored Congressional orgy.

They can upgrade owners, graduate eras, improve buildings and reverse records, but still, no NBA team drafts, acquires and gets disappointed by more white elephant gag gifts than your Mavericks. Bookended by Fazekas and original draft pick Kiki Vandeweghe in 1980, Dallas' lineage reads like David Duke's fantasy team.

The laughable legacy of wholly unathletic Ivory Towers commenced in '80 with Tom LaGarde and Ralph Drollinger, followed by Scott Lloyd, Pat Cummings, Kurt Nimphius, Charlie Sitton and Bill Garnett. In '85 the Mavs' infamous draft included first-rounders Detlef Schrempf (chosen over Karl Malone), Uwe Blab and Bill Wennington. The rock-bottom early '90s were anchored by Hall-of-Fame near-misses like Jim Grandholm, John Shasky, Radisav Curcic, Walter Palmer, Greg Dreiling, David Wood and Darren Morningstar. Sprinkled about in the last 15 years: Cherokee Parks...Loren Meyer...Chris Anstey...Bruno Sundov...Martin Muursepp...Eric Montross...Raef LaFrentz...Christian Laettner...Evan Eschmeyer...Keith Van Horn...Austin Croshere...

And, of course, the poster boy for the big, soft, white, harmless Dallas Marshmallows—Shawn Bradley. In a league dominated by George Jefferson, the Mavs keep trotting out Archie Bunker.

Not that Dallas is a racist organization. To the contrary, it's an equal opportunity eff-up, totally whiffing on black front-court draft choices such as Doug Smith, Randy White, Roy Tarpley and Samaki Walker (taken over Kobe Bryant).

But let's face it, the franchise has a storied history of telling us little (big) white lies.

Sure, Brad Davis has his retired number hanging from the rafters and Nowitzki is the Mavs' all-time best player, but when the latest, greatest draft pick is a 6-foot-11, 240-pound white guy who lacks strength and a low-post game, it rekindles skepticism by invoking the past.

Give me Nick Fazekas and—founded on equal parts stereotype and fact—I immediately envision a modern-day amalgamation of ghosts gone bad.

"Our fans are really going to be excited about this young kid," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said after the draft. "We think he can step in and contribute next year."

I've seen Fazekas on TV several times and, yes, he has some unique, polished skills. He shoots effortlessly beyond the 3-point line and could make free throws all day with his eyes closed. I don't doubt that he was one of the three best shooters in the draft. He's got soft hands, a little jump hook in the lane and isn't afraid of traffic rebounding. He was one of only three college players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds last season and was named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year and second-team All-American.

"There's a premium on shooting, and it's incredible what he can do from the outside," said Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson on draft night. "Defensively, he's a lot better than you think..."

But, like the aforementioned pale plodders, Fazekas seems more likely to sell you term life insurance than dunk in your mug.

In an NCAA Tournament game against fast and furious Memphis last March, Fazekas was overwhelmed, missing 11 of 18 shots, committing three turnovers and generally resembling a 72-year-old man trying to outrun a swarm of bees. He's slow afoot. He's not a good one-on-one defender. His disposition is about as edgy as a morning snowflake. He seems nothing more, really, than another bowling pin for Golden State to zig around and ultimately knock down.

I've seen the same guy for 28 seasons, and it rarely works. I've seen the same guy the last three seasons and, especially in crunch time, he never produces.

Austin Van Fazekas?

Fortunately, there are reasons to avoid running up the white flag at the first sight of another red one.

Fazekas is hardly a high-risk gamble, taken with the 34th overall pick. He's only 22, with time to expand his game beyond that of Van Horn and Croshere. And most of all, he's joining a team that won 67 regular-season games last season.

The Mavericks' success in 2007-'08 is not directly dependent upon Nick Fazekas. Even if he flops, they can remain elite by standing pat.

"It's sexy to talk about big changes," said Nelson, whom Sports Illustrated recently ranked as the NBA's second-best GM. "But we won 67 games. We were in the Finals last summer. We love our team."

The subtle improvements will come via tiny internal tweaks. Paul Westphal, who interviewed for the team's head coaching job in 1996 before somehow losing to Jim Cleamons, takes over for Del Harris as Avery's top bench assistant. Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and Moe Ager have to make significant strides. Owner Mark Cuban and his new surgically replaced hip need to focus less on frivolous, embarrassing lawsuits against former coach Don Nelson and more on re-signing Jerry Stackhouse and adding a free agent with interior toughness (like P.J. Brown) or perimeter athleticism (like Gerald Wallace).

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