NBA Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks

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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.

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.