By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Aug 16 2009 1:25PM
Shawn Marion understands the rep and why he's bounced around the last couple of years. Rather than try to explain or go on the offensive, he just shrugs. Why bother?
"I'm just ready to play ball," the prized pickup of the Mavericks' offseason said.
Marion wants nothing more than to resume an All-Star career after two uneven seasons. The Matrix has gone from being a cornerstone in Phoenix, his home for 8 1/2 years, to being valuable for reasons that had increasingly less to do with basketball.
His hefty max-level and soon-to-be-expiring contract, which topped out at nearly $18 million last season, became the ticket that punched moves to Miami to Toronto in the span of a year. Dallas is his third stop since Feb. 6, 2008. The moves haven't been without baggage.
Whispers of Marion's discontent clouded his final days with the Suns when it became obvious a contract extension wasn't in the works. His last season in Phoenix was the least productive of his career outside of his rookie campaign, and Marion was shipped to the Heat as the centerpiece of the deal that sent Shaquille O'Neal to the desert.
Rumors of Marion being a problem in the Phoenix locker room only grew. Many centered on his uneasiness with several high-profile teammates, including Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, near the end.
"It's funny how they say stuff after you leave," Marion said. "So much of that stuff about our relationships, that stuff ain't true. I don't get into that. Everybody can say what they want to say. If someone doesn't want to say something directly to me, what can I do?"
Marion's numbers continued to fall in Miami, bottoming out at 12.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season before the trade to Toronto last season. They weren't much better (14.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg) in his 27 games with the Raptors. Marion bristles at the suggestion that the decline resulted from a deterioration of skill.
"If you take 10 shots away from someone who was scoring 20 points, I don't care who you are, you're not going to score the same," he said, exaggerating the drop but making his point. "It's not possible. You can break that down any way you want, but you can't score without getting the ball."
Marion had thrived throughout his career without being the featured act, but there were also plenty of shots to go around in Phoenix, especially during the Mike D'Antoni era. Playing second banana to Dwyane Wade in South Florida and Chris Bosh north of the border wasn't nearly as fruitful. Marion became expendable in Toronto when the Raptors signed Hedo Turkoglu.
The more structured sets with the Heat and Raptors didn't mesh with Marion's game. The self-confessed "rhythm player" found himself standing around in the corner waiting for the ball. His 3-point percentage last season plummeted to 18.9 percent (his lowest since his rookie season), as did his overall impact on the game. Once a 6-foot-7 wiry menace at both ends known for his versatility, Marion felt stagnant.
"People who analyze and look at stats don't look at touches," Marion said. "It's hard to be effective when you're not touching the ball for multiple possessions. Basketball is a rhythm game."
Touches shouldn't be a problem in Big D, where Marion is reunited with point guard Jason Kidd, whom he played with during his first two seasons in Phoenix. Coach Rick Carlisle has already promised that the Mavs will run as never before this season and added that Marion, more than anyone else, is the reason, likening the addition to "putting methane in the gas tank."
Marion, once a thorn in Dirk Nowitzki's side as a Sun, joins the former MVP in the frontcourt. Dallas' front office went into the offseason looking to upgrade around Nowitzki and Kidd, and Marion has been on owner Mark Cuban's radar for years. The surprise Turkoglu deal opened up a window for the Mavericks, who put together a sign-and-trade deal that guarantees Marion nearly $40 million (and piece of mind) for the next five years.
If the 31-year-old forward reverts to the form the Mavericks know all too well from their battles for most of the decade -- Marion averaged at least 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds from 2001-07 -- Dallas could be a surprise contender in the Western Conference after slipping the last couple of seasons.
Marion knows the feeling.
"We're going to go out there and play ball and jell and have fun with each other," the four-time All-Star said. "That's the biggest thing. On the court is going to be fun to watch and off the court will take care of itself. When you have 15 guys on the same page that's what it's all about, working for a championship."
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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