LeBron James leaves his team after a deep playoff run to form a mega-team of hoop studs in the east and shift the power of balance in the NBA. Meanwhile, Dallas makes a trade for Tyson Chandler in hopes that he can anchor their defense and uses a series of savvy free agent signings to build a roster that compliments Dirk Nowitzki and allows head coach Rick Carlisle infinite freedom to tinker. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
I’m not saying that history is going to repeat itself again in June, but there are some eerie parallels. Since that 2011 Maverick team, only San Antonio and Miami have hoisted the championship trophy. What made that Dallas team special was that nobody saw them coming. All of those players were motivated by something. Some guys were chasing hard after a title that had always eluded them, some were playing to cement a legacy or justify their place in the league, still more played to prove that everyone who had ever told them that they couldn’t was wrong. They could and they did and it was amazing. If lightening does strike twice and the Dallas Mavericks can capture that magic again, it’ll have a lot to do with the chips these players have on their shoulders. Everyone has something to prove. What follows is a look into what each Maverick starter will be carrying with them this season.
Jameer found his way to Dallas via the mid-level exception after ten years with the Orlando Magic. More than ten different teams expressed interest in pursuing Nelson in free agency, but his old squad was not among them. The decision made sense for Orlando, a team that’s been rebuilding through the draft and was ready to hand over the reigns to newly acquired young guns like Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton. Nelson has never complained about the decision, but it’s unreasonable to think that he was unaffected by it. Just look at how the NFL’s Steve Smith handled a similar situation with the Carolina Panthers. Jameer is not Steve Smith, but he’s human and the natural inclination is to feel slighted when your former employer decides to move on. Also, Jameer Nelson is 6 foot tall (or at least that’s what he is listed at). This makes him of above average stature in society, but puts him at a distinct disadvantage in a league ruled by giants.
Jameer had his pick of teams in the off-season, but settled on the Mavericks presumably because of the mix of playtime and the opportunity to win Dallas had to offer. At 32 years and with a history of lower body injuries, Jameer has to prove that he can still be a quality contributor on a good team, and that he can do so while maintaining his health. He may be an after thought to many casual NBA fans, but he’s a one-time All Star with a Finals appearance on his resume. Jameer, just like many of his Maverick teammates is in the final stretch of his career. His success this season could show the league just how underrated his signing was in the off-season and validate his standing among peers and fans who may have forgotten the stocky point guard tucked away on a bad, small market team in Orlando.
Labels are hard things to shake. No matter how great his numbers are or how many late game comebacks he leads, Tony Romo will forever be called a choke artist until he can win “the big one.” It’s unfair, but that’s the cost of playing professional sports. Once someone in the media (or on the internet) gives you a moniker, it’s a tough thing to shake. Many teams shied away from Monta Ellis in free agency two summers ago and that had a lot more to do with his perceived baggage than it did with his talent. Monta Ellis collected sports clichés like unattended suitcases attract attention in airports. There were concerns about his “ego”, the fact that he was just a “volume scorer,” a guy who just puts up good numbers on a bad team.
None of these were unreasonable claims. There’s an old saying that goes something like this: If a person calls you a horse, you kick them in their shin. If someone else calls you a horse again after that, you punch them in the nose. If a third person calls you a horse, you better go buy a saddle. If everyone is calling you the same thing, then there’s a chance that there’s some validity to the name. I wasn’t excited about the Monta Ellis signing. I thought it was a stretch by an organization tired of whiffing in free agency. I doubted Monta Ellis and I was not the only one.
Monta has since made a believer out of me, but I am not everyone. There are still people who can’t see the Mississippi Missile as anything other than that headstrong slashing sixth man for Golden State or the arrogant guy from Milwaukee that claimed to “Have it all” and compared himself to Dwyane Wade. People are much more likely to remember how they feel about someone than they are recall why they feel that way. Monta had a stellar season last year. His artistic expression and ability to create around the basket is unmatched by all but a few of his most gifted peers. He proved he could carry a good team down the stretch with moments like his game winner against Portland and his solid performance in the 7-game series against eventual champs, San Antonio. But he didn’t win, and there are going to be naysayers who point to his lack of postseason success until he has some.
If you buy into the myth that athletes don’t worry about what people say or think about them, then you’re a fool. Athletes are humans just like you and me, and the natural human reaction is to want to defend your name and solidify your legacy. Monta Ellis wants everyone to see that he has it all, and it just might take a deep playoff run to prove that. Not to mention the fact that he has a player option at the end of the season and might only have one more shot a big time contract.
Have you ever run into someone in the street who dumped you? It doesn’t even have to have been an ex that dumped you outright. It could have been because you both made a mutual decision to part ways after the love had run dry (or at least that’s what you told your friends to save face). It’s a weird thing to run into someone like that, someone who you spent so much time with and dedicated so much of your life to. No matter how amiable the split, there will always be a small part of you that wants to prove that person wrong. Whether that is by your own success and personal happiness or by selfishly observing the downfall of the other party, you want to come out on top.
Chandler Parsons has likely never been in this position before (I mean look at the guy), but that is where he finds himself this season with his former employer, the Houston Rockets. Now, to be honest, it’s not as if Houston kicked him to the curb the week before prom or anything. The decision not to pick up the last year on Parsons’ contract was made to clear cap space for a third superstar, not because the team wanted him gone. To keep with the petty high school theme of this paragraph, Chandler was the nice boyfriend who always showed up and tried to be the player the Rockets wanted or needed him to be any given night. He was solid and consistent and low maintenance, but Houston wanted something more, something along the lines of the star quarterback with the fancy car and letterman jacket.
The Rockets’ gamble backfired when the max-level superstar they wanted never came and the dust cleared to reveal Mark Cuban cackling at their misfortune with a high priced three year contract in hand complete with the signature of their former swingman. Dallas had called their bluff and Houston decided to fold and save their cap space for another day.
Of course the story doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning of this saga, and the way it plays out will dictate how the legacies of all involved are perceived. If Parsons does take that proverbial “next step” to stardom, than Daryl Morey will be the one who let him get away and Cuban the wily adversary who stole him right from under his nose. But any potential backlash reflected upon the aforementioned administration will be minimal in comparison to what Chandler Parsons now faces. By signing a huge contract with a team with self-confessed championship aspirations, he has now entered into boom or bust territory. Up until this point, his career has been viewed as an overwhelmingly successful and pleasant surprise. But that is because he entered the league as a second round pick and that is the benchmark to which he was held. The measuring stick to which max contract players are expected to perform at is something entirely different.