Posted Jan 11 2010 7:43PM
Eduardo Najera flew back to New Jersey on Sunday to get his stuff together as he waited on the trade to the Mavericks to become official. As he was packing, he realized something.
"I could have left with nothing," Najera told NBA.com Monday afternoon before boarding a flight for Dallas.
Najera and his family still have a place in Dallas, complete with closets full of clothes. In some ways he's never left the city where his NBA career began.
The Mavericks acquired Najera from the Nets in exchange for forwards Kris Humphries and Shawne Williams. The deal, which the two teams agreed on last week, saves Dallas nearly $5 million this season when projected luxury tax payments are factored. It also opens up a roster spot for the Mavs and gives the team a $2.3 million trade exception. The Nets waived Sean Williams to make the deal work and are expected to do the same with Shawne Williams.
Najera is scheduled to undergo a physical in Dallas on Tuesday and could be cleared in time for practice the same day. The Mavericks don't play until Wednesday's home game against the Lakers in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
That's a far cry from what Najera was experiencing with the Nets. New Jersey has the league's worst record (3-34) and is on pace to break the all-time mark for futility. Najera, 33, thought there might be a chance to return to the Mavs at some point in his career, and he's kept in touch with owner Mark Cuban, general manager Donnie Nelson and players such as Dirk Nowitzki since being traded in 2004.
"I left the doors open because I always wanted to come back," Najera said. "Ever since I left, I was hoping I would get a chance to come back and play there."
Najera grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, played high school basketball in San Antonio and starred at the University of Oklahoma. But it was in Dallas were Najera forged his NBA reputation as a fan favorite playing 208 games from 2000-04. His hustling, never-give-in approach was also a hit with his teammates at a time when the Mavs were becoming a force again in the West.
He doesn't return the same player. Injuries have slowed the 6-foot-8 power forward over the last couple of years, including a sore back that's been an issue throughout this season. Najera has only played in 40 games since signing with New Jersey in 2008.
"We obviously think he can help our team," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after practice Monday in Dallas. "His health situation is he's had some injury things go on this year. But my understanding is that he's been doing better, so we'll see. He's going to be who he is. I've never coached him, but my perception is he plays one way and that's full-speed ahead. Guys like that, you always want to have as many as you can on your team."
Coming back to Dallas might be Najera's best rehab.
"Many of the aches and pains that I have are gone," the 10-year vet joked. "I think going back over there is going to be great for me. I total understand where the Mavs are. I'm just coming into help."
Carlisle's frontcourt rotation may not have room for Najera, just as there wasn't any for Humphries. Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas are getting the bulk of the minutes behind Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier. Thomas, though, did tweak an ankle in practice Monday.
"I know the situation," Najera said. "I know there aren't a lot of minutes out there, but you never know. What I know about basketball is that so many things can change. One injury to one player can open up a lot of minutes for someone else. I hope that doesn't happen.
"I'm not worried about that. I'm just happy going home. If they need me, I'll be ready."
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