The Dallas Mavericks won't come right out and say they believe they can win the NBA title this season. However, they are sure hinting at after making the big seven-player trade with the Wizards during the All-Star break.
"I don't know how many of you out there are going to pick us in a seven-game series against the Lakers, but in our opinion, the guys in that locker room are ready to lock horns with anybody," Dallas general manager Donnie Nelson said.
The Mavericks revamped their roster in an attempt to challenge the defending NBA champion Lakers in the Western Conference as they acquired two-time All-Star forward Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood and guard DeShawn Stevenson from the Wizards for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross.
Butler is the key to the deal for the Mavericks as he was averaging 16.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 39.4 minutes for the Wizards with a 101 Offensive Rating and a 109 Defensive Rating. Dallas should also find uses for Haywood, who had a 9.8/10.3/0.4/32.9 line with the Wizards with a 118 Offensive Rating and a 107 Defensive Rating.
"Caron is an established professional and an All-Star with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor," Nelson said. "Brendan will solidify our center position with athleticism, shot blocking and defense. DeShawn has also shown that he can be a talented asset to this team."
Howard was the Mavericks' first-round draft pick in 2003 and the second-longest tenured player on the roster behind Dirk Nowitzki. However, Howard had also fallen out of favor with coach Rick Carlisle and was removed from the starting lineup earlier in the season.
While Howard's time has passed, the Mavericks feel their time in now as they lead the Southwest Division with a 33-21 record.
"Josh was a very, very difficult decision," Nelson said. "Here's a guy who started his career with the Mavericks, was a huge part of our success, took us to the Finals. We are going to miss him on and off the floor. But, again, Caron is kind of a more natural fit, a better fit for us. It's never easy. You've got to give quality to get quality. We just thought the pieces were better fits for us at this particular time. We know it's going to be a little bit of a gestation period for us, but the fact that all these guys are veterans should expedite that process."
Jordan Trying to Buy Bobcats
Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown has let the secret out--NBA legend Michael Jordan wants to buy controlling interest of the team from majority owner Bob Johnson. Jordan currently serves as the Bobcats' managing member of basketball operations.
Brown said Jordan told him that he's "trying my hardest to get this done."
Johnson has lost tens of millions of dollars on the Bobcats since they joined the NBA as an expansion franchise in 2004-05. Jordan is one of two primary bidders along with a group led by former Rockets team president George Postolos.
Brown makes no secret of his desire for Jordan to gain ownership of the club and has all but said he will likely step down if it doesn't happen. Jordan hired Brown following the 2007-08 season to replace Sam Vincent. Jordan and Brown also have deep ties to the University of North Carolina and retired Tar Heels coaching legend Dean Smith.
"Anytime I read a possibility Michael isn't going to be involved (with the Bobcats), it impacts my family and me," Brown said. "I came here because of him--no other reason. Selfishly, I just don't want to see Michael not involved."
NBA commissioner David Stern indicated that he would like to see Jordan gain control of the Bobcats.
"I like the increased level of Michael's involvement and if Michael were to be a buyer, that would be a good thing." Stern said.
Memphis Trying to Right the Ship
The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the NBA's surprise teams of the first half of the season before losing six of their last seven games before the All-Star break. Now, coach Lionel Hollins wants to see how his team, which at 27-26 has already topped last season's total of 24 victories, will handle its first dose of adversity.
The Grizzlies' players believe they will answer Hollins in the affirmative.
"We came back from the break with a great attitude," forward Rudy Gay said. "Everybody wants the same thing. We all want to get back to winning."
The offense got out of synch in the last couple of weeks before the break. Memphis did not show the crisp passing that has been a big part of their success and players tended to be more individualistic.
"We have to get back to playing for each other and being on the same agenda," forward Zach Randolph said. "Not worrying about how many points you got and just helping each other on defense."
Guard O.J. Mayo echoed Randolph's sentiments.
"We've got to get back to trusting each other offensively and defensively," Mayo said. "We're struggling on the defensive end because it takes all five guys to come together, play hard and communicate. On offense, one guy or two guys can struggle and we still have a chance to win because of the offensive firepower we have."
Thunder's Success Legitimate
Speaking of surprises, it appears you can't call the Thunder that anymore as they are 31-21 this season after winning just 23 games last season. The Oklahoman newspaper surveyed the NBA's top players during All-Star weekend and learned that they all take think the Thunder is for real.
"They're going to be a huge problem because they have size, they have speed," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "They have a closer in Kevin Durant. They're going to be a team you have to deal with."
Of course, everyone loves Durant, the Thunder's All-Star forward.
"That guy is scoring 30 every night and the other guys are happy playing their roles," Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said. "It can make for a tough night. That team is very dangerous. I love watching them play. I love playing against them. You know you're going to get 10 guys that play extremely hard."
"They're going to be real good if they keep growing, stay together and keep that chemistry," Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire said. "They're a scrappy team. They always play extremely hard. The way Kevin Durant is playing, it's kind of hard to stop them because he scores so well."
Heat guard Dwyane Wade, though, warns that the Thunder won't have all smooth sailing as most young teams go through certain periods of adversity.
"It will take a little while," Wade said. "They'll go through some hardships, but as long as they keep believing in themselves and their abilities, they'll be fine."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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