Big Easy Buzz Blog - September 3, 2008

Southwest Division update: Dallas Mavericks

Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Posted by: recently enlisted the help of our colleagues from around the Southwest Division, to provide updates on the major offseason news involving each club. After a delay on our end caused by Hurricane Gustav, we conclude the division-wide review today with contributions from Dallas and San Antonio.
The good news is that we are close to being back to fully operational, with the Hornets’ offices in downtown New Orleans scheduled to re-open on Monday.
Tell us what you think about the Mavericks and Spurs and their respective offseasons, as well as how they match up against the Hornets, by leaving a blog comment in Big Easy Buzz.

By: Art Garcia,
Major moves

The biggest change happened at the top, with Avery Johnson let go less than two years removed from the NBA Finals and replaced by Rick Carlisle. The former Detroit and Indiana coach returns to the sidelines after a year away determined to restore the Mavericks to relevancy in the rugged Western Conference. Carlisle said this team will be built around Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, becoming an up-tempo squad that remains stout defensively.
The signing of athletic swingman Gerald Green and return of center Gana Diop headlined a relatively quiet run through free agency. Green, a high-flyer with long-distance range, is on his fourth team in a year. The 22-year-old was out of the league after being released by Houston despite averaging more than 10 points in 2006-07 with Boston. The thought of Green soaring to the rim on the break to take a Kidd lob is one that has Mavs fans salivating, but the former first-round pick needs to prove he’s more steak than sizzle.
Diop, part of the blockbuster Kidd trade to New Jersey, was the Mavs’ top target in free agency. During his first stint in Dallas, he split time with Erick Dampier. He’s carved out a niche defensively as a good shot-blocker and solid defender, but he’s struggled to develop a scoring touch in the paint. Pairing him with Dampier once again should be a competent center rotation.
The Mavs drafted Vanderbilt sharpshooter Shan Foster in the second round, but the SEC Player of the Year is headed to Europe next season. Dallas also signed former Clippers forward James Singleton, and resigned popular point guard backup J.J. Barea and swingman Antoine Wright.

Summer league synopsis
The official ledger for the Mavs at the end of summer league reads 7-4. Though winning games is always the point when they bother to keep score, the real winners are those who earned invites to training camp. The list: rookies Reyshawn Terry, Charles Rhodes and JuJuan Smith, along with veterans Gerald Green, James Singleton and Keith McLeod. Terry, a second-round pick in 2007, was expected in Dallas come October. Rhodes and Smith are undrafted free agents.
Terry (6-8, 232) showed the consistency the coaching staff hoped for during his second summer league stint. He averaged nearly 10 points and 6 rebounds. Terry benefited from getting stronger over the last 12 months and a shift in position to power forward.
Rhodes (6-8, 245) isn’t a training camp lock. The rugged forward is weighing various European offers, but the Mississippi State product impressed by averaging nearly 10 points and 5 boards, while shooting a robust 62 percent. Rhodes has been compared favorably to Brandon Bass, last year’s summer league find.
The three with NBA experience didn’t hurt their stock. Green was easily the standout during summer league, averaging 16 points and knocking down 17 3-pointers.

The Mavs are looking to return to elite status in the Western Conference. Those who run the show believe the window for a championship is still open because of former MVP Dirk Nowitzki and fellow Olympian Jason Kidd.
The trick is getting consistent contributions from the supporting cast, namely Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, Gana Diop, Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass. Charged with the task of getting it back together is Rick Carlisle, a veteran coach with an even-handed approach who led playoff teams in Detroit and Indiana.

Southwest Division update: San Antonio Spurs

Posted by:
By: David Thiessen, Spurs writer
Major moves

The Spurs were easily the NBA’s oldest team, and arguably its least athletic, last season. This summer was supposed to bring some change. The Spurs managed to add younger players, but Roger Mason Jr. (29), Ian Mahinmi (21), George Hill (22) and Anthony Tolliver (23) were not additions Spurs fans hoped for.
Like usual, the Spurs were somewhat of a mystery headed into the draft. They were heavily rumored to select Nicolas Batum or perhaps trade out of the first round. Instead they selected Hill, an undersized shooting guard from IUPUI, who they plan to use as a point guard.
Then the Spurs teased their fans by nearly signing shooting guard Corey Maggette, who would have provided that infusion of youth and athleticism desired. Maggette decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors for more money. The Spurs settled on Mason, a player they nearly signed last summer. Mason, a career 37.4 percent shooter on threes, is known for his team-first attitude and hard work, suggesting he will fit in nicely as a combo guard off the bench.
San Antonio also signed Tolliver, a 6-8 sharpshooter who fills a similar role to Matt Bonner. Mahinmi, the Spurs’ 2005 first-round pick, will also join the team after spending most of last season in the D-League with the Austin Toros, where he averaged 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds.
The Spurs said goodbye to Robert Horry, who has yet to sign elsewhere, and Brent Barry, who signed with the Houston Rockets. Michael Finley, however, signed a one-year deal to return to San Antonio. Kurt Thomas was also reacquired.

Summer league synopsis
The summer league was a chance for Ian Mahinmi and George Hill to prove themselves and convince coaches they deserved to see the court more often than just during warmups in the regular season. It was also an opportunity for second-round draft picks Malik Hairston and James Gist to play their way onto the team. Other than those four, only Anthony Tolliver received significant playing time, eventually signing with San Antonio.
Unfortunately both Mahinmi and Hill played inconsistently. Hill struggled with his shot, making an embarrassing 8 percent of his field goals. However, he showed potential on the defensive end. Mahinmi also shot poorly but averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds, but he didn’t always play with energy.
Gist and Tolliver were both pleasant surprises. Gist, an athletic 6-9 power forward, played with energy and looked like he might make the team. Instead he signed with Angelico Biella in Italy. Tolliver was the Spurs’ second-leading scorer and made 61.5 percent of his threes. The Spurs like to have a three-point shooting big man on the team and Tolliver could compete with Matt Bonner for this role. Hairston has yet to sign with anybody.
In the end, it was a somewhat disappointing showing with neither Mahinmi nor Hill having great performances, but it was a learning experience for both.

How much longer can the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker carry the Spurs? That was the question last year and it’s still here. San Antonio tried to add youth and athleticism but none of the additions should change the look of the team too much. Expect much of the same from these Spurs, although they have a little more athleticism and depth at the guard position thanks to George Hill and Roger Mason Jr. Once again, the team’s success will come down to the health of the Big Three. They should make the playoffs, but will they be healthy enough to compete for a championship?