March 5, 2013

Several Mavericks auditioning for jobs as season winds down

Dallas has 10 players who can become free agents when the season ends.

In difficult times such as these, Dallas Mavericks players in the final year of their contracts will be severely challenged.

With a spot in the playoffs almost out the window, do those players start trying to pad their statistics in order to get the next big contract? Or is it business as usual?

Such is the challenge for a player in the final year of his contract. And the Mavericks have 10 players who could become free agents on July 1.

“It’s a tough situation to be in; I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not,” said center Chris Kaman, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Mavericks last summer. “It’s tough to be on a one-year deal.

“If things don’t go your way or if you don’t fit in to the style of basketball that the team plays, or if you’re not getting playing time, it’s tough. It’s stress and pressure, and it’s your job and you take it serious, so it’s frustrating.”

Elton Brand, Bernard James, Mike James, Dominique Jones, Anthony Morrow, Brandan Wright and Kaman are in the final year of their contracts with the Mavericks. Although the Mavericks could retain Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois if they sign them to a qualifying offer, they could become free agents at season’s end.

And O.J. Mayo can also become a free agent if he doesn’t pick up the player-option on his contract for the 2013-14 season.

In all, the Mavericks could have 10 free agents this summer. And that could make for another summer of wheeling and dealing for owner Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson, the team’s president of basketball operations.

Coach Rick Carlisle hopes the players in the last year of their contract realize that they are being closely watched on how they conduct themselves on and off the court during the team’s most difficult time since the 1999-2000 season.

“This is a great situation in Dallas,” Carlisle said. “And the guys in the locker room that are all free agents, every second they step on the court they’re auditioning for Donnie and Mark as to whether they’re going to have a chance to be here after this year.”

Nelson believes player auditions are always part of the basketball trade, adding that the temperature is always raised a bit higher for players who are in the final season of their contract. He also said no franchise ever wants to bring in a bunch of players on one-year contracts.

“Part of that was some of the players that we were picking up wanted the flexibility and wanted to be back out on the marketplace this summer,” Nelson said. “And part of that was by design.

“But that’s not preventing us from re-signing any or all of our free agents. It’s something you don’t know until you get to the marketplace.”

Brand, who signed a one-year, $2.1 million contract with the Mavericks last summer, said that the players don’t have much room to try and think about the business aspect of the game to the point where they become a selfish player.

“We just have to go out there and play with the minutes given,” Brand said. “And as you see, Coach is not going to allow us to be selfish out there, because you get minutes by your effort, you get minutes on how you play out there and how you affect the game.

“If you look selfish out there, you’re not going to play. So guys are definitely going to be pro-team and worry about the team.”

With 23 games remaining, the Mavericks will take a 26-33 record into Wendesday’s 7:30 game at American Airlines Center against a Houston Rockets squad that beat them by 33 points on Sunday.

The Mavs are in danger of finishing with their first losing season since 1999-2000 when it was 40-42 in Dirk Nowitzki’s first full season in Dallas.

Nowitzki realizes that the Mavericks might may have to flip the roster again — and stack up with more one-year contracts — to get back into the championship conversation.

“We went for a big fish last summer [in Deron Williams] and we didn’t get him,” Nowitzki said. “We decided to go that route with a lot of one-year deals, so the situation can be completely different next year.”

That makes the future partly cloudy for the Mavericks, who hope sunny days are around the corner.

“We like a lot of the pieces, but Rick’s right,” Nelson said. “Folks are not just playing for the year now. It’s selling coaches, ownership and management that you want to be for the long haul.”

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