A Mavericks makeover nothing new to Carlisle

DALLAS -- Rick Carlisle has done this makeover drill before.

Much like taking a jackhammer to a non-load-bearing wall, Carlisle has dealt with the complete reconstruction of his roster and come out the other side with something more livable.

Feng shui, meet NBA.

The Dallas Mavericks have spent consecutive off-seasons changing out significant pieces, leaving Carlisle to piece together a new contender. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has about as much interest in rebuilding as Dallas Cowboys counterpart Jerry Jones.

Carlisle, to his credit, shares Cuban's conviction. Going into his fifth year as Mavericks coach, Carlisle embraces the talk of another championship despite suiting up three new starters and revamping at least half of the rotation.

Not only has Carlisle presided over overhauls in Dallas, he did this a decade ago during his first NBA coaching stop.

"We had eight new players in Detroit and we made it to the conference finals," Carlisle said of the 2002-03 Detroit Pistons. "It helped that three of those players were Billups and Hamilton and Prince.

"We have a similar situation here. We've obtained three or four guys that are going to be in our rotation somewhere and two of them are former All-Stars."

The Mavericks didn't add Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince, but the summer's spoils have rekindled optimism after last season's title-defense dud.

A fresh starting backcourt is in place with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo, with Chris Kaman, who has been slowed by a strained right calf, joining the first team at center.

Elton Brand, a former All-Star like Kaman, will be the first big man off the bench. Dahntay Jones adds another perimeter defender to the mix.

And three rookies -- guard Jared Cunningham, forward Jae Crowder and center Bernard James -- will be vying for playing-time scraps.

"We've got a lot of potential," Dirk Nowitzki said.

As far as the learning curve for the newcomers, the Mavericks (and the rest of the league) aren't under the same constraints as last year's lockout.

Players hit the American Airlines Center practice court in the months leading up to training camp to familiarize themselves with their new teammates and the coaching staff.

Several first-year Mavericks also have experience playing together in other locales.

Brand and Kaman spent five years together with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Nowitzki and Kaman teamed up on the German national team culminating with the Beijing Olympics.

"When Brand and Kaman are out there together, they're in lock-step with what they're doing," Carlisle said. "When one guy zigs, the other knows to zag. They know how to play together and that's going to be something that helps us.

"The whole thing about Dirk and Kaman, there's a familiarity there. That's a plus the fact that there's a relationship there. They went through something that's pretty special together. I view that as positive, too."

Collison and Jones were Indiana Pacers teammates for two seasons. Collison and Mayo spent much of this off-season working out together in Los Angeles, where each played college ball.

While Carlisle acknowledges that past ties should help, he added it "guarantees you nothing."

The players still have to make it work, meshing quickly with the returnees to form a unit that functions as one.

"When you have new players on the team, you've got to know how to jell," Collison said. "I think that's going to be our biggest issue. We have the talent. The talent is definitely there. Everybody can score, but we've got to learn how to play together."

Western Conference favorites are in various stages of cohesiveness. Defending conference champ Oklahoma City returns basically intact, as does San Antonio.

Kobe Bryant's Lakers are gunning for another title after bagging Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

The Mavericks deem themselves on par with the above group. From a star-power standpoint, they don't quite match up to the West's best, but the Mavericks believe they're building a true team.

They just have to get there.

"Guys understand what we're trying to do," Mayo said. "We want to prove we can play with anybody in this league and we can win in this league."

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