By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Jul 17 2009 7:48AM
LAS VEGAS -- Gregg Popovich feels the pressure of winning a title. Well, kinda.
"If we don't win it, I should probably be fired," San Antonio's coach quipped Thursday. "Without a doubt."
The Spurs emerged from their first-round loss to Dallas knowing they needed more. The Mavericks felt the same way after they were ousted. Now they've each gone out to get it, undergoing the most radical roster updates in the Western Conference with an eye on the champs.
"We're all gunning for the Lakers," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
San Antonio's haul, at least on paper, appears more impressive of the two Texas rivals. Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, a pair with plenty of postseason skins, were added without comprising the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili nucleus.
The Spurs followed their uncharacteristic first-round loss (to Dallas) with a spree that puts them, in the minds of many, back in their usual spot again with the Lakers at the top of the conference heap. Jefferson adds a scorer and potentially takes pressure off Ginobili, who has grown more injury prone in recent years. Duncan needed more bangers down low and he's getting a couple in McDyess and second-round steal DeJuan Blair.
"We couldn't have painted it any better," Popovich said during his brief stop at the NBA Summer League. "For us getting healthy is the most important thing, to make sure Timmy and Manu are straight, obviously. You have to have your horses to get it done these days.
"The part that you can try to control, as much as you can, is the Draft and free-agent signings and trades. We've done a little bit of each. We were able to make a good trade, we were able to make a signing and we had a good Draft, so all three came forward and presented an opportunity this summer and we were able to take advantage. That doesn't happen every often to get something in all three areas. With that I'm thrilled."
So is George Hill, the second-year backup to Parker who's back at Summer League to work on his game.
"Pop and [general manager R.C. Buford] do a great job in the front office," Hill said. "They're bringing in a lot of talent and great guys. I can't wait to get out there and put all the chips together and compete for a championship."
The Mavericks felt their summer had slam dunk written with a pair of potential starters coming into the fold and bringing back Jason Kidd. Shawn Marion is still on the board, but the losing out on Marcin Gortat does sting. Gortat was penciled in as the starting center before Orlando stunned Dallas and league observers by matching the $34-million offer given to Dwight Howard's backup.
Though the Mavs aren't exactly scrambling after losing out on Gortat, the front office is working overtime in search of other difference makers. Dallas still has its midlevel exception intact to use in a dwindling free-agent market.
Team president Donnie Nelson has seen his priorities shift during his stay in Las Vegas. Nelson had hoped to watch more basketball, especially promising first-round pick and potential Kidd successor Roddy Beaubois. Nelson also wanted to check out the other teams here, and with mingle with fellow league executives, agents and coaches in the relaxed atmosphere of the stands.
Instead, he's spent most of the week holed up in his hotel burning up the phone lines while $5.8 million burns a hole in his pocket.
"We're good to go with what we have," Nelson said, "but we'll keep poking around."
Free agent Lamar Odom is on Dallas' radar, though team insiders believe he's headed back to Los Angeles. The Lakers have hardly stood pat, swapping out promising Trevor Ariza for proven Ron Artest. The other contenders in the conference have taken a more low-key approach. After their trip to the West finals, the Nuggets seem content to let their roster ferment for another season with Chauncey Billups in the fold from Day 1. The Blazers have been busy courting Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap, and have neither to show for it. Retaining players is more of a priority than adding in places like New Orleans and Utah.
"Denver had a great year and extended the Lakers," Buford said. "Houston has had a tough summer athletically, but I think they've added some good pieces. Dallas is going to be significantly different with Marion and that athleticism is never easy to match up to."
Carlisle has already begun studying the personnel combinations for a roster that includes Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Kidd, Kidd and Marion. After winning a Playoff series for the first time in three years, the Mavs could be poised for a return into the West's top four.
"Right now it's about who we surround Dirk with and who we put out there with Kidd," Carlisle said. "We have to make sure Kidd has enough weapons and we have to make sure Dirk has the right guys around him.
"Marion is one of the really unique players of the last decade. He can do so many things defensively. He can do so many things offensively. He plays multiple positions. He runs, he rebounds and he's just a terrific basketball player. For us it's like putting methane in the gas tank. It juices up our team."
It took a change of heart in the Pacific Northwest for Marion to land in North Texas. Turkoglu's decision to spurn Portland in favor of Toronto started the chain of events.
"If Hedo doesn't go to Toronto, we're not looking at any opportunity to get Shawn," Carlisle said. "We could have seen a situation where Portland adds an All-Star caliber guy at forward and Marion stays in the East. There are a lot of things that operate in a fragile way with respect to each other.
"If you work hard enough, you fall into some breaks."
And maybe catch the Lakers.
"They're the best, but there are five or six other teams in the West that are just as good as each other," Popovich said. "Everybody is trying to gear up for the Lakers, so I think it could be one of the best seasons ever. And we've had some good ones for the fans the last four or five years. There are so many good teams that I think it could be a great year for fans watching the NBA."
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