Dallas players Carter, Marion, Nowitzki, Odom, Kidd, and Terry pose for photos during media day at the team's headquarters in Dallas, Texas

NBA Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks


Last season: 57-25, good enough for the third seed in the West, but then all the pieces clicked at the right time. The Mavericks rode a great post season from Dirk Nowitzki plus key contributions from Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and others — they got a depth of contributions no other team could match — all the way to the NBA championship. Finally a ring for Dirk and Jason Kidd. Well deserved.

Head Coach: Rick Carlisle, who finally seemed to recognized for how good he is during the finals last year. Fantastic coach for a veteran team.

Key Departures: Tyson Chandler (that one hurts), Caron Butler, J.J. Barea. The changes — the guys brought in are on shorter contracts — is because Mark Cuban is trying to make sure they have cap space for next summer (to go after Deron Williams or Dwight Howard).

Key Additions: Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West

Best case scenario: They rise up and win the NBA title again. If you are the defending champions that has to be the goal, right? Even if the team chasing the title looks a lot different than the team that won it. Dallas is still very good and very deep (something that matters in a condensed season).  You know they will get great play out of Dirk Nowitzki, solid point guard play from Jason Kidd, fantastic bench scoring from Jason Terry and good minutes from Shawn Marion. Plus, teams coming off a title tend to play with a real confidence, as if they are playing with house money and know the can win. These Mavs have that going for them.

For that to happen: To win it all a few things have to happen. First among them is Brendan Haywood is going to have to have the year of his career. He is the new starting center with Tyson Chandler in New York City. Haywood is a solid NBA big man — good rebounder, could score a little, played within himself and was a big body in the paint on the defensive end. The thing is Chandler was elite defensively and Haywood is going to have to bring his game up to that level for the Mavs to get another ring (or whatever Mark Cuban would give out).

Also Lamar Odom is going to have to play with the consistency and energy he did last season, Vince Carter needs to play within himself and like a veteran, and Roddy Beaubois is going to need to have a bounce back year and live up to the promise of his rookie year.

More likely the Mavericks will: Look like the Mavericks of earlier this decade. They will be good but come deep in the playoffs they will seem to be missing that something that gets them over he hump.

You know Nowitzki is going to put up numbers and maybe we’ll appreciate it a little more. With Jason Terry and Lamar Odom coming off the bench this is a very dangerous and versatile team that can attack you any number of ways. And coach Carlisle is good at putting his players in matchups they can exploit.

But when it gets to the second round of the playoffs or the Western Conference finals, the Mavericks are going to miss Chandler’s elite defense. They will be good but will miss the way he changed things on one end of the floor.

Prediction: 46-20. Dallas is in the same position as last year — they are a good team who needs to get hot and have a lot of thins go right for them in the playoffs to win it all. It could happen, lighting could strike twice. But more than likely they revert to form, bow out in the second round or conference finals, then stare longingly at what Tyson Chandler is doing in New York.

Byron Scott: Kobe Bryant “at peace” with decision to retire after season

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant was never going to go quietly into that good night. He would rage, rage against the dying of the light — and torn Achilles, knee ligaments, shoulders, and everything else holding him back.

But now, the end is near, and Kobe will face the final curtain at the end of this season. And he is at peace with it, if you ask his coach.

“It was so matter of fact, and he was so at peace with (the decision),” Lakers’ coach Byron Scott said of when Kobe told him this season would be it. “After I thought about it, I felt better about that. It wasn’t like he was agonizing over it or anything, it was like ‘I’m announcing I’m retiring’ and just kind of went on from there.”

Bryant told Scott before anyone else in the Lakers’ organization, and told him sometime Saturday (when the Lakers played and lost in Portland).

“I said, ‘what?’ He just told me at a very awkward time; we started laughing about it,” Scott said. “He said ‘you looked like you were saying ‘what they hell are you talking about’ but it just caught me off guard.”

It’s been an ugly season for Kobe, his body can no longer do what he expects of it — he can’t get the separation, the lift needed for his shoots. He was shooting 31.1 percent on the season going into Sunday’s game against Indiana, and he started 1-of-11 from the floor Sunday night. Yet he kept gunning.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

Kupchak added hoped this decision would ease the pressure on Bryant.

“I would hope that he has more fun, and appears less frustrated, and also gets more appreciation,” Kupchak said. “He’ll get it at home, but on the road too, because people will have to recognize this is his last year and they are watching one of the all-time greats.”

Kobe got plenty of appreciation from Lakers’ fans on Sunday night with a massive ovation when he was introduced. Kobe had wanted to avoid a Derek Jeter style farewell tour, but with that announcement and the Lakers playing 13-of-17 on the road in December you can bet there will be some of that.

“One of the best ever to play the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said pregame. “I don’t know if there’s any one moment, just throughout the course of his career you didn’t want him to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, period. Because you knew he was going to beat you.”

No doubt Kobe goes down as one of the game’s all-time greats — five-time NBA champion, MVP, two Finals MVP’s, 17 All-Star Games, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg — but what Scott ultimately wants is Bryant to leave the game on his terms.

“What I want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.


Here is Kobe Bryant’s letter given to every fan at Lakers’ game Sunday

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.

Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):

When we first met I was just a kid.

Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.

But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.

You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.

Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.

You witnessed my fears morph into strength.

Your rejection taught me courage.

Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.

What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.

I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.

I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.

My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.

Thank you for this incredible journey.

It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.

But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.


Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


LOS ANGELES — It has seemed like this has been coming for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck. All that surrounded him was talk of his play and speculation about the future he didn’t want.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Ad we’ll all be watching for those flashes of vintage Bryant we have hoped to see more of this season.