By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Hello! Welcome! I see you checking out the '08-'09 Dallas Mavericks. Yessirree, they're a bee-yoot.
You know the great thing about these Mavericks? They're not used. They're gently pre-owned. Seriously, and I don't say this to just any customer, the Mavs are the best bargain on the lot.
C'mon, kick the tires.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Last time you saw the Mavs they were broke down on the side of the road in New Orleans. Stripped gears. Flat tires. Soft, exposed undercarriage. I admit, they were in worse shape than Brad Johnson's Q rating.
But of course that was the handiwork of the previous driver, Avery Johnson. Wow, was he a piece of work. Always kept one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, never allowed the team to really cut it loose. Every trip navigated 10 miles under the posted speed limit. At the first sign of a pothole, he'd stop, get out and passionately promise to proceed with even more caution.
And the lines? My God, the lines! Ya know, I'm not sure if he ever allowed the Mavericks to drive on the shoulder.
To his credit, he had them purring pretty good a couple years ago. But you just can't treat a team that way forever and expect it to keep responding. He was disciplined all right—constantly topping off fluids—but he never treated the Mavericks to RPMs or TLC, if you know what I mean.
Some call that hard drivin'. I call it operator error.
Whatever, Johnson ultimately choked a Porsche into a Prius. But this new guy, Rick Carlisle—I may be wrong, but I don't think his last name is just a coincidence—he's done some amazing things. Imagine how cool it will feel to be the first person on your block to own a re-tooled Maverick. Take it from me, with the way those fancy schmancy Cowboys are suddenly stalling and imploding, soon everyone's going to want the Mavericks.
They're overhauled. They're underrated. You'll see.
First, let me remind you that the maker of this fine vehicle is Mark Cuban, and he didn't become a gazillionaire by turning out scrap metal. You see him last week outside the American Airlines Center in Victory Plaza? After striking a deal to host the 2010 NBA All-Star Game in Arlington's new Cowboys' stadium, he was onstage celebrating with NBA poobah David Stern and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Nothing about his life says "slow." The guy even runs in fast circles.
"It'll be the biggest basketball crowd anywhere in the world!" Stern crowed of Cuban's vision to sell 100,000 tickets.
Accelerating the hyperbole, Cuban tabbed it "the biggest event this country has ever seen. Ain't no party like a D-FW party!"
The game will be in Arlington, but the superstar sideshows—3-point shooting contest, slam dunk contest and NBA Fan Jam—will inject business into Dallas' AAC, convention center, hotels and restaurants, and adrenaline into the soul of our city.
Wouldn't you feel good, much less safe, buying a team from the guy who can pull off a scene trumped only if Jesus returns and MCs an Elvis/Beatles double bill streamed live on a porn site? Best of all—proving you can trust his product to be handcrafted and not outsourced—the main Maverick showed up for the formal announcement wearing sneakers, jeans and a golf shirt.
"Well," he joked, "I had a suit in the car, but ..."
I'll be honest, the Mavericks aren't in mint condition. The oil pan still has a leak from when they totally bottomed out against Golden State in '07. The interior has been repeatedly reupholstered with an inferior material called Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop. The alternator, 35-year-old Jason Kidd, can be balky. Jerry Stackhouse is a fan belt just waiting to bust. J.J. Barea fell off a Yugo. Antoine Wright feels more like ill-fitting part than Pimp-My-Ride bling.
And that? Um, yeah I see it. Let me check with my general manager. I'll be right back ...
Okay, he says it's merely door dings from a kamikaze daredevil named Don Nelson a couple drivers back. Not to worry. When he wasn't going 123 mph backward and blindfolded he generally kept the Mavs in good condition. Besides, they're not scratches. They're character.
This incarnation of the Mavericks is the best of both worlds. Carlisle brings the foundation of Avery's discipline and defense, but accents it with Nellie's up-tempo freelance. Take a turn at Mach 2; be assured the brakes work.
Though Cuban has said he thinks this team is better than the one that went to The NBA Finals, asking the Mavs to perform at their '05-'06 Blue Book value is a little unrealistic. (Most of the original parts, but lots of physical and psychological wear and tear.) But with Dirk Nowitzki's German engineering and a re-built Josh Howard, there's no reason these Mavs can't play faster, better and be more fun to drive than last year.
"Our goal is not to make the playoffs," Nowitzki said on the eve of the opener against the Houston Rockets. "Our goal is to be a championship team. We're not that far off."
Like most of us used-car salesmen, I promise to stand behind what I sell. So I took the Mavericks for a test drive last Thursday and wound up buying one right on the spot. That night they lost the game but won a customer.
In their first two games the Mavs were, as advertised, a little cranky off the start line. Against Houston, Kidd eventually pushed the pace and Nowitzki played like an MVP candidate and Howard played with an urgency that made fans forgive, if not forget, his vulgar dissing of the national anthem last summer.
AAC was energized. The fat, gross ManiAACs performed a perfectly choreographed "Thriller" routine that somehow felt neither fat nor gross. The Platinum Club was at its frenzied best, a meet 'n' greet mini-Pavilion obsessed with the game while also oblivious to the lower-bowl snoots.
In the end, the Mavericks sputtered into their horrible habit of settling for jump shots in a 10-point loss. With 3:01 remaining fans staged a mass exodus, proving Dallas' consumers aren't yet ready to trust the Mavericks as their primary mode of transportation. Las Vegas oddsmakers agree, establishing Dallas' middle-of-the-pack win total at 46 1/2.
But for the first time in a long time, there were flashes of fun. And two nights later in a 10-point victory at Minnesota, there was more consistency. Slowly, the bells and whistles—Gerald Green creating off the dribble here, Kidd no-look passing the open court there—are starting to function.
Says Nowitzki, "I think there's a lot left in the tank. We're going to surprise some people."
So, what's it going to take to get you into the Mavericks today?