There wasn’t a promise of four, five or six NBA titles during the Mavericks’ news conference and open house Thursday at the American Airlines Center, but optimism abounded from Mark Cuban on down about the new-look group.
“I love the team we have put together, not that you haven’t heard me say that before, but the reality is we’ve put together such a great complement [to Dirk Nowitzki,]” Cuban said.
Free-agent acquisitions Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Devin Harris and Brandan Wright (who re-signed) were introduced to the media and fans. The common message from all, including coach Rick Carlisle, was a desire to prove the doubters wrong.
“Everybody sitting at this table feels like they have something to prove, and they want to be a part of an organization that gets back to winning in the playoffs; right now that’s our mission,” Carlisle said.
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Since the blowup of the 2011 championship team, Dallas has swung and missed on big-name free agents each of the past two free-agency periods. Whiffing on point guard Deron Williams, who re-signed with New Jersey in 2012, and center Dwight Howard, who opted for rival Houston earlier this summer, especially stung.
After missing on Williams the Mavs cobbled a group of castoffs and failed to reach the playoffs last season for the first time since 2000. Even Cuban passed on offering a playoff prediction Thursday, but every Maverick present remarked that this is a completely different situation from a year ago.
First and foremost, Nowitzki is fully healed from right knee surgery, which caused him to miss the first seven weeks last season. Time will tell how close he can be to his 2011 NBA Finals MVP level at 35.
The signing of Ellis potentially gives Dallas a legitimate second scorer opposite Nowitzki. Ellis, who signed a three-year deal worth more than $25 million, has averaged 19.4 points, 4.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds during his eight-year career with Golden State and Milwaukee.
“It’s a great organization, a great team that we have, I’m very excited,” Ellis said. “I always dreamed of playing for an organization as good as Dallas, so to be here and to actually play with a Hall of Famer like Dirk makes everything easier and much smoother. Hopefully we can get back to Dallas Mavericks basketball.”
Ellis will be paired in the backcourt with Calderon, also an eight-year vet, who averaged 11.3 points, 7.1 assists and just 1.7 turnovers while shooting an NBA-best .491 from 3-point range last season in Toronto and Detroit.
Neither is known for his defensive prowess. That is where new 6-foot-11 center and 11-year pro Dalembert and his nearly two-block per night skill set comes in. Ellington, who averaged just under eight points a game last season, provides another perimeter shooter and athletic wing to the mix. Wright gives Dallas some much needed depth in the front court.
Then there’s a pair of wild cards in guard Harris and center-forward Blair.
Harris returns to the Mavericks after seven injury-plagued seasons in New Jersey, Utah and Atlanta. He’s expected to miss the next two to three months while recovering from toe surgery, but will be counted on to provide depth at both guard positions when he returns.
The Mavs hope the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Blair can play the role of enforcer, rebounder and space eater. At the very least he’s going to be primed to face rival San Antonio, where he spent the first four years of career, but struggled for playing time.
Blair admitted Thursday the Mavs/Spurs dynamic played a role in his signing with Dallas: “It was a real big, big part and not leaving my division, obviously. With everybody who’s in it, I already know about the players and how they play, especially with the Spurs. It’s going to be pretty nice, I can’t wait.”