Mavs' pieces finally coming together
Team excited about possibilities with returns of Stojakovic and Beaubois on the horizon
BOSTON -- When times have turned tough for his Dallas Mavericks, owner Mark Cuban has pointed to those old guys in green and white, those resilient Boston Celtics of a year ago who went from washouts to NBA Finals participants, as proof that anything is possible.
"They struggled at home and they gave up a lot of leads last year," Cuban said. "They started off great, didn't finish up so great and turned it around. That's what I mean."
Dirk Nowitzki took the comparison a step further.
"You've got veteran leadership," Nowitzki said. "They're very good defensively and they've got a lot of weapons on the offensive end."
"They want to prove a point that they're the best team in the league, and that's what we want to be," said Mavs center Tyson Chandler, whose defensive impact Nowitzki compared to Garnett's arrival in Boston. "They won a championship a couple of years ago, and that's what we're shooting for. So whenever we have the opportunity to face champions or ex-champions, we've got to take it as a measuring stick."
It's an anticipated matchup to be sure, but more and more, the prevailing theme around the Mavs revolves around what's to come. Having emerged from a dark January, the Mavs are poised to discover how two integral pieces might determine the fate of the current roster and perhaps the direction of the season.
"It's close. We're right there," guard Jason Terry said of the team's re-emergence after losing 10 of 14 games. "We're definitely one or two players away from really putting this thing together, and I don't have to tell you who the players possibly are. I think we're about a week away, so we're anxiously waiting."
Yes, the two players are easily identifiable. Newly signed Peja Stojakovic, a dead-eye 3-point shooter but besieged by a left knee issue this season and therefore a mystery as to how he'll perform, is expected to make his Dallas debut Monday night at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Soon to follow will be the 6-foot guard the franchise has billed as a star-in-the-making. The speedster with the slowest-healing left foot in the NBA could well be in uniform before an All-Star break that is now just eight games away. And for once with Rodrigue Beaubois, this does not appear to be a case of crying wolf.
"The big test for us is when we're healthy, when we get Roddy and Peja back," Jason Kidd said. "That will be our team. Hopefully we'll get them back before the All-Star break. That'll be our team, and we'll see where we are after the All-Star break."
The timing of their returns makes for even greater intrigue with the trade deadline 20 days away. Cuban holds assets, headlined by the injured Caron Butler's $10.8 million expiring contract, plus other smaller expiring contracts.
And with Cuban reiterating his certainty to the New York press corps Wednesday that he is open to deal for a certain free-agent-to-be superstar without the assurance of a contract extension, the Mavs might not be the team Kidd thinks they'll be.
Kidd himself came to Dallas in the first of two major deadline trades in the past three years, and the potential clearly exists for a third in four years despite neither past trade resulting in an extended playoff run.
"The offers were made from the other teams, meaning it was an offer we liked," Cuban said. "So, if we get offers we like, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. And if we don't, we don't."
Since Nowitzki went down with a sprained knee Dec. 27 and Butler was lost two games later with a season-ending knee injury, the Mavs' plan has been to be patient. They wanted to wait on Beaubois. They signed Stojakovic and will have waited two weeks for him to get on the court if he plays Monday. Then they'll evaluate. But the wait has lasted so long that the front office is on the clock to make a determination of exactly what it's got.
"When I came here, I felt like this could be a championship-contender team," Chandler said. "With the loss of Caron, we took a step back. Ever since I got here, I've heard nothing but great things about Roddy, so I've been waiting to see what he can bring to the table and the change that he can make for this team. I'm curious to see the impact and I just want to see guys on the practice floor so I can get a feeling of what this team can really be and an identity of what it can really be with those guys out there."
He's not the only one.
But, for now, the Celtics await.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter.