Clock is ticking on Mavericks guard Mike James, who has only 10 days to make an impression

DALLAS -- Mike James had just returned to his locker before Monday night's game against Minnesota when he quickly noticed that someone -- OK, it was O.J. Mayo -- had switched his pants.

James, who always carries an engaging smile on his face, quickly had an idea who the culprit was. But he had no animosity toward what was an innocent practical joke.

James takes that same approach toward his current tenuous situation with the Dallas Mavericks. The 6-foot-2 point guard signed a 10-day contract with the Mavericks on Jan. 8, and it expires Thursday with James having no concrete explanation from the Mavericks about what they plan to do with him.

Such is the precarious life of a player with a 10-day contract.

In essence, the clock is ticking, and James' future is in the hands of Mavericks management. But he's simply smiling about the prospects of what could happen next.

"If they call you in and say you're going home, well you're going home," James said. "They always say don't worry about the things that you can't control, and the only things that you can change you focus on trying to change.

"I don't know what management is going to say or do. The only thing I can do is that when I get my opportunities, take advantage of them and practice and work hard."

Players who sign 10-day contracts -- Jan. 7 was the first day that was allowed -- are usually fringe players who want to prove they belong in the NBA. It's sort of a second chance, an opportunity to make an impression and perhaps catch lightning in a bottle and have their basketball career extended.

From the team's standpoint, if that player looks as if he can make some major contributions, they can sign him to a second 10-day contract. But after the 20 days expire, the team has to either sign that player for the rest of the season or release him.

A lot is riding on the outcome.

"Generally speaking, the advantage of a 10-day is for you and the player to kind of get to know each other," said Donnie Nelson, the president of basketball operations for the Mavericks. "There's freedom for both sides, and I think that's why that was instilled.

"Usually you have a pretty good idea halfway into it whether you want to keep that player. But there's all kinds of things that crop up that can affect it."

For James and other similar athletes, being under the 10-day contract umbrella is no more than an audition that could end at any moment; particularly because, under NBA rules, teams can release the player before the 10 days expire.

But while the stress and pressure of not knowing can be agonizing to some, the concept intrigues James.

"I try to live every day as a child of God, and I try to live every day as if it's my last," he said. "I don't worry about things that I don't have control over, and I don't even focus on them.

"So if they come and they say, 'No, we're not fooling with you,' well then that's their decision. If they say we love you, that's their decision."

Even owner Mark Cuban recognizes the unbelievable pressure players on 10-day contracts are expected to produce under with so much at stake, and how it might be unfair to the players.

"It's a lot of pressure and you've got to respect the guy's ability to deal with that pressure," Cuban said. "It's the NBA.

"I don't know if admiration is the word, but sticking it out and chasing their dreams and their goal, I mean that's admirable."

Nelson admits players on 10-day contracts are like people who speed date. They're trying to learn as much as they can about their situation in a short period of time.

"It's really a tough situation to walk into, especially if you don't have familiarity with the system," Nelson said. "You're coming into a brand new set of 14 guys, and a new coaching staff.

"You definitely have a leg up if you had a chance to be in training camp or summer league, where you had some familiarity or the head coach has worked with you in the past. Without those things it's like jumping out of a helicopter in a rice paddy, so you've got to be ready for anything."

James, 37, has some history with the 10-day contract concept. Last Feb. 14, while Derrick Rose was out nursing an injury, the Chicago Bulls signed James to a 10-day contract.

The Bulls allowed that 10-day contract to expire, but later came back and signed James to a second 10-day contract on March 14.

Again, the Bulls jostled James around and allowed that 10-day contract to expire before coming back on April 4 to sign James for the remainder of the season.

Being tossed around like a yo-yo -- which is what James experienced with the Bulls last year -- is just part of the wild and wacky journey and instability that comes with the territory of playing with a 10-day contract.

"I went through it last year with Chicago, back and forth," James said. "But if you still love the game and this is what you want to do, well you've got to do whatever it takes, and when you get your opportunities you've got to take advantage of them.

"The only thing I can focus on is being the best Mike James. That's the only thing that I can worry about is being the best Mike James I can be every day."

In four games since joining the Mavericks, James has scored four points, grabbed one rebound and is 2 of 8 from the field in 25 minutes. And that includes playing only 5 seconds in his Mavericks debut on Jan. 9 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But while James hasn't manufactured any jaw-dropping stats, Mavericks management and his teammates have noticed the calming influence he's brought to the team's inconsistent point guard situation.

Whether that means James will at least receive a second 10-day contract remains up in the air.

"It's too premature, probably, to look at that," Nelson said. "But he definitely helped us in some of those fourth-quarter minutes in Sacramento [on Thursday].

"So, while it's a big week for us, it's a big week for Mike. And so far so good."

While James is locked into a situation where his patience is tested, where his passion for the game is challenged, the tension is mounting.

Or is it?

"The only thing that you can control is playing the game, and you leave everything else up to management, and you leave everything else up to the coaches," James said. "Your biggest issue is just going out there and just doing what you love doing, and then wherever the chips fall, they fall."

Many of James' teammates are cheering him on. Even Cuban said: "I'm hoping Mike really plays well and gives us every reason to keep him for the rest of the season."

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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