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Mavs Transition From Nowitzki to Barnes

Mark Cuban discusses Dirk Nowitzki’s legacy, Harrison Barnes’ emergence and more.

Michael Scotto



When Dirk Nowitzki began his NBA career, nobody thought the seven-foot German with long blonde hair would become the league’s sixth-highest scorer all-time and redefine the stretch forward position – least of all, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Cuban spoke with members of the media courtside before his Mavericks faced the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. In that huddle, I asked him what were his first impressions of a young Nowitzki.

“I came in right after him and I beat him one-on-one, and I’m like this guy’s a burger,” Cuban replied with a smile.

Cuban claimed there was video footage of him beating the future Hall of Fame forward, 2-0. However, Cuban took a more reflective tone when asked if Nowitzki is synonymous to the Mavericks in the same breath as Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls and Tim Duncan with the San Antonio Spurs.

“Dirk is everything for the Mavericks,” Cuban said. “We are who he is. We’re the house that Dirk built. You can’t play down everything he’s been to this organization. We’ll see it for another 10 years and we’ll see how he does.”

Nowitzki is Dallas’ all-time leader in games played, minutes played, overall field goals, three-point field goals, free throws, points, offensive win shares, offensive rebounds and PER. On the defense, he leads the Mavericks in defensive rebounds, total rebounds and defensive win shares.

“Dirk, I think, deserves credit for defining what a stretch four can do,” Cuban said. “Not just shooting threes but being able to be physical, rebound, pass and shoot. For Dirk it’s not even about the threes, it’s about how well he shoots the ball from anywhere on the court. That ability to draw a double-team away from the basket is what was unique. You really didn’t see guys on the elbow drawing a double-team before Dirk.”

Nowitzki, 38, is nearing the twilight of his career. Cuban knows he’ll need to find a new face of the franchise to carry Dallas for the future.

“That happens to every franchise,” Cuban said. “Father Time is undefeated and we’ll have to deal with it. I think Harrison [Barnes] is showing a lot of signs that he can be that person. Not to try to put too much pressure on him, but it’s a job he wants and he’s willing to work for it. Hopefully, we’ll be able to add other pieces that are on the same plane.”

Barnes replacing Nowitzki – a former league MVP and 13-time All-Star – is a tough act to follow. However, Barnes has shown the offensive firepower that made him the top high school recruit in 2010.

“Harrison definitely has that quality,” Cuban said. “He has that gene. He’s focused, he’s intense, he works hard. He works as hard as Dirk. I think in the system he’s played in, though, he’s played to the system and now he’s got to be the system in a lot of respects. That will be his challenge. Does he have that ‘f— you’ [attitude] in him?”

Barnes is averaging a career-high 22.3 points per game on a career-high 49 percent shooting from the field.

“We felt like he was a system player that when you gave him the opportunity to be himself, he could be much bigger and much better,” Cuban added. “If you look at his first year and his first playoff run as a rookie against Denver I think it was, he was dominating. He was their best player. We thought that was still there, we just had to take the opportunity to bring it out of him.”

While Nowitzki has been out with a sore right Achilles, he’s had a seat on the bench to watch Barnes’ exponential growth in Dallas.

He’s been phenomenal for us,” Nowitzki said. “We isolate him some and we post him some. He’s been shooting the ball well. He’s been the real deal for us, and he’s only 24. He’s a workhorse. We’ve got to lock him out of the gym, at times, he’s in there so much. He just works it all the time and it’s paying off for him. On top [of that], he’s a nice guy, wants to get better, wants to help the team. We’re all happy for him and we’re happy with his play, obviously, and he’s got to keep it going, obviously, especially now.”

The Mavericks are in a transition period with Nowitzki in the twilight of his career and fellow starters Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut and Wesley Mathews all over 30 years old. There has been a more concerted effort to play young talent such as Justin Anderson, Dwight Powell and Seth Curry while continuing to try and win. Granted, some of that is out of necessity due to injuries to Nowitzki, Williams and Bogut.

“I think we’re still not all the way there in having an identity as a team,” Cuban said. “Three of our top guys are hurt, but it’s given a lot of time to our young guys, which will hopefully pay off dividends over the course of the season. There’s a long way to go. The last couple years, we started fast and then faded a little bit. Now hopefully we’ll do the opposite and have more momentum going into the playoffs.”

At 2-7, Dallas is currently second to last in the Western Conference ahead of only the equally underwhelming New Orleans Pelicans.

“If you fall behind too early in the West, it’s going to be tough to recover,” Nowitzki acknowledged.

Despite the sluggish start, Nowitzki believes his eventual return will lead to better offensive production for the Mavericks.

“We go through stretches where we just make some mistakes and I feel like we’re stagnate a little bit, we can’t score enough,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, that’s the one thing I can still sort of do. I might not be good at many other things anymore, but I can still score a little bit and help the team spread the floor and just help offensively as much as I can, so it’s tough. It’s tough to sit over there and watch us go through stretches where just nothing really goes.”

The Mavericks appear to be headed for the lottery due to the aging roster, as I noted in a previous Basketball Insiders video. With that in mind, the Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season when he’ll be 39.

Last summer, Miami Heat franchise star Dwyane Wade left to join the Chicago Bulls in free agency over a disagreement regarding his value. Would Cuban be willing to pay a 39-year-old $25 million?

“Did you see what I paid him this year?” Cuban said. “He got maxed out except for one contract and then he opted out of that contract and more than made up for it. He is the franchise. Any money I didn’t give to him, I put in my pocket so I was fine with giving it to him.”

I asked Cuban if there was any doubt in his mind whether Nowitzki would ultimately retire in a Mavericks uniform?

“No,” Cuban replied. “I don’t see why it would be any other way. He’s had plenty of opportunities to leave and he’s chosen not to.”

“I have all kinds of pictures and dirt on him that would probably be very uncomfortable if he did [leave]. And vice-versa,” he joked.

Cuban believes Nowitzki should be held in the same regard as a long-time in-state rival when he retires.

“I think he and Tim Duncan are very similar in a lot of respects,” Cuban said. “We had such a great rivalry over all those years. Steve Nash, same thing. Michael Finley. Those are guys that stop to take pictures and realize the value of nice. They aren’t self-promoters and they don’t have to be. They let their game speak for itself. I think more guys are like that now. When you walk on the court, it’s scoreboard. When you walk off and have the satisfaction of winning and playing the way you feel you should have played, what more is there? Being appreciated by your teammates and your fans. Dirk never tried to get big endorsements or be a big make-money-off-the-court type of guy. He just wanted to play, win, enjoy himself and just be Dirk. He did it on his terms and that was more important than anything.”

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.


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PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

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NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue

The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.

Buddy Grizzard



The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.

The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.

“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.

“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”

There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.

Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.

“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”

Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.

“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”

While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.

In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.

After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.

The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.

With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.

What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.

For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.

“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”

On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.

“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”

With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.

Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.

“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”

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A Breakout Season for Joe Harris

Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.

David Yapkowitz



The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.

Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.

During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.

After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.

“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”

Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.

In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.

“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”

Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.

He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.

“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”

When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.

However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.

“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”

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