The Mavericks' French Misconnection Marks More of the Same on Draft Day
That's how many foreign players—with a basketball pedigree void of a U.S. college—have excelled for the Dallas Mavericks. Granted, it was a biggie. In fact, the greatest player in franchise history and the best foreigner in NBA history: Dirk Nowitzki.
But the number of failed experiments is considerably higher. Try 11. And counting.
Nobody knows beyond-our-borders basketball like Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson, who has coached Lithuania in The Olympics and is the brainchild behind the annual Global Games at SMU and each summer's Italian Eurocamp, a collection of top prospects on display for NBA GMs. Nonetheless, for the Mavs last week it was another draft, another pronunciation guide and more question marks.
This time—on a night when they desperately needed real-time help for an aging roster to keep up with the Joneses and the Spurs and the Nuggets—Nelson presented us with a Frenchman who will next season be a third-string point guard and likely has a ceiling of Dee Brown.
So, coach Rick Carlisle, can Rodrigue Beaubois be a rotation player in 2009-'10? That is, among your eight best?
"I don't know if I can say that," Carlisle said in the American Airlines Center's Old No. 7 Club last Thursday night.
Responded Nelson, "I think talking about this year, that may be asking a lot."
Translation: While the Mavericks make one last desperate attempt to slither through their rapidly closing window barely held ajar by a core of 30-somethings, they spend a first-round draft pick on a guy who next year will be backup point guard J.J. Barea's backup.
The 50 or so fans that came to Chili's at the intersection of AAC and the ghost town known as Victory Park wanted a wow factor. At least a now factor. Instead, the Mavericks drafted Beaubois in the first round, and picked twice in the second: again a point guard, Nick Calathes, who will spend next season playing in Greece and forward Ahmad Nivins.
Explained Nelson, "This is the draft of futures."
Though Beaubois and Tony Parker are both from France and play the same position with similar skill sets, by the time the Spurs' Parker was 21 he had three seasons under his belt, a championship ring on his finger and Eva Longoria in his sights. By contrast, Beaubois averaged 10 points a game last year for a mediocre team in a mediocre French league. As a rookie, he'll be little more than French dressing.
"I've been waiting for this moment all my life," said Beaubois, who last Friday attended an introductory press conference wearing a dress shirt accented with French flags on the cuffs. "I'm ready to learn from Jason Kidd."
Bet you 100 Euros that by 2012 Beaubois (bo-BWAH or, for all I know, it might be RICK-ee BOO-bee) doesn't remind us of Parker, but more of Dallas' long lineage of foreign failures. Don't tell me you've forgotten (acquired via trade, draft, free agency or just really shitty luck) the likes of Chris Anstey ('97), Sasha Danilovic ('97), Martin Muursepp ('97), Bruno Sundov ('98), Wang Zhizhi ('99), Mladen Sekularac ('02), Jon Stefansson ('03), Antoine Rigaudeau ('03), D.J. Mbenga ('04), Pavel Podkolzin ('05) and Renaldas Seibutis ('07).
Why was Beaubois a bad draft pick? Because the Mavericks aren't a better team now than they were before selecting him. I know he's a Greek Rod: 6-foot-2 with long arms (6-foot-10 wingspan) and mad hops (40-inch vertical) and a YouTube highlight video appropriately set to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." (Think Brown, or the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, with more talent but less refined skills.) His athleticism might temporarily help the Mavs against Western Conference point guards such as Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Parker, but by the time Beaubois reaches his potential, Kidd will be gone, Dirk will be old and the glory days of 2006 will feel so long ago we may no longer be sure it actually (almost) happened.
You'd think the Mavs would've learned lessons from their unsuccessful offshore investments in China (Zhizhi), Iceland (Stefansson), Australia (Anstey), Estonia (Muursepp) and, yes, even France (Rigaudeau). You'd think they wouldn't pass on Pitt four-year starter Sam Young in the wake of their regrettable skipping of Glenn "Big Baby" Davis two summers ago. You'd think the Mavs would exclusively buy American.
That's not jingoistic, it's realistic.
Since the Mavericks didn't abruptly improve via the draft, how then? When then?
After delivering the draft-night downer, Nelson did his best to tackle those of us lunging for the panic button. The Spurs found a way to acquire Richard Jefferson. The Nuggets drafted North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson. The Warriors are working on trading for Amare Stoudemire. The Magic got their hands on Vince Carter, and Shaquille O'Neal—with a long history of flirting with Dallas—is headed instead for Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the Mavs' best transaction of the off-season is Nowitzki cutting ties with ex-fiancée Cristal Taylor.
"Don't," Nelson cautioned, "confuse silence with inactivity."
Fine, but are we free to confuse inactivity with inactivity?
Coming off another 50-win season and their ninth consecutive playoff berth, the Mavericks remain a viable, relevant team on the NBA landscape. With Nowitzki, they have a Hall of Famer in his prime. Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Brandon Bass are above-average pieces on a championship-caliber team. They remain, unless we're all reading them wrong, in a go-for-it mode aimed at winning right here, right now.
That premise, of course, hinges upon re-signing 36-year-old free agent Kidd. He's no longer a consistently elite point guard, but if he walks, the Mavs dive immediately into rebuilding mode. Even with Kidd's return, the Mavs need help just to tread water in the competitive, improving Western Conference.
With no immediate impact from the draft, the Mavs must hocus-pocus Jerry Stackhouse's market value into a front-line addition, trading him for a productive player.
"You never really know when the time will come," Nelson said in reference to Dallas' path to improvement. "But when it does, we'll be ready. We're preparing for a very active summer. "
NBA free agency began yesterday, and with Stackhouse—who has an attractive $7 million contract with only a $2 million buyout—the Mavs have the perfect bargaining chip. The Mavs' answer to Jefferson and Lawson and every other team questioning their loitering lies in trading Stackhouse. Doesn't have to happen today, but it has to happen.
"We're fully aware of the moves being made, but we have no urgency to do something just because someone else does something," Nelson said.
Bobcats center Emeka Okafor would look resplendent in a Mavs uniform, and there are attractive free agents on the market such as Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Ben Gordon, Shawn Marion, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Andersen. With another draft that feels like a foreign lesion, the Mavericks got younger. It's time for them to get better.
The French Misconnection notwithstanding, it actually could've been worse. When NBA commissioner David Stern initially announced the Mavs were choosing 7-foot Ohio State center B.J. Mullens, the AAC's modicum of frustration manifested itself in a palpable groan. But just as fans began reciting the gruesome graveyard of big white stiffs such as Uwe Blab, Loren Meyer, Cherokee Parks, Nick Fazekas...a reprieve.
Because the only thing worse than the Mavs' history with foreign players is their history with Great White Nopes.
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