DALLAS — The search for a stopgap center has become an annual tradition for the Dallas Mavericks since Tyson Chandler played a key role in the 2010-11 title run during his first temporary stay, only to leave when Mark Cuban made an unpopular, post-lockout business decision.
It’s not like the Mavs weren’t looking for a long-term relationship. They danced with Dwight Howard in 2013 but couldn’t close the deal in free agency. They celebrated DeAndre Jordan‘s commitment to them a couple of summers later but were infamously ditched at the altar, as fans will rudely remind Jordan when the LA Clippers visit Thursday night.
The list of starting centers for the Mavs over the past five years: Chris Kaman, Samuel Dalembert, Chandler again, Zaza Pachulia and briefly Andrew Bogut. Dirk Nowitzki, the 38-year-old legend, now (kind of) jumps the opening tip as the Mavs open games with a small-ball look.
But there’s legitimate hope that the franchise has finally found its solution at center for the foreseeable future. The deadline-day trade for Nerlens Noel was made with the belief that it meant the Mavs’ revolving door for big men would stop spinning.
Frankly, the Mavs didn’t give up much to get Noel. Justin Anderson, the 21st overall pick of the 2015 draft, had become a fringe rotation player in Dallas and is a year older than Noel. The top-18-protected pick will turn into a pair of second-rounders. Including Bogut, who didn’t fit well with the Mavs, in the deal just meant the Sixers were on the hook for his buyout.
Of course, there were reasons the Sixers struggled to create a market for Noel. His knee issues might have been a factor. (“It’s something we’ve got to monitor,” Nelson said, but it’s not a major concern for the Mavs, who believe they have the best athletic training staff in the NBA.)
Orlando Magic will come up early in Noel’s negotiations. But the Mavs are more than willing to pay the going price for a big man who fits well, can protect the rim, provide the vertical element necessary for Carlisle’s pick-and-roll-heavy offense to hum and has plenty of room to grow.
“I definitely feel like I’m in a better position here,” Noel said. “I’m trying to maximize it. It’s definitely a good position to fulfill my potential. I’m going to continue to show Coach I can be in the game more and make a difference. I think that will take care of itself in due time.”
After five years, the Mavs finally believe they’ve taken care of finding their center of the future.
DALLAS — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he’d be willing to cut his own salary if the NBA shortened the schedule as a potential solution to the issue of stars resting during regular-season games as preventative maintenance.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it, even at the expense to my own salary, but it’s something that everyone would have to agree to,” Kerr said before Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. “I think even just going down to 75 games (from 82), I think that would make a dramatic difference in schedule. Now I don’t see that happening because there is money at stake for everybody.
“I do think this can be remedied though — maybe not remedied — but I think it can be dramatically helped with what the league is already working on for next year and the consideration of geographics when it comes to the schedule.”
The subject is a hot-button issue in part because the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers sat their best players in the past two ABC Saturday night games. Those games are showcase events in the nine-year, $24 billion national television deal the NBA signed with ESPN, ABC and Turner Sports.
LeBron weighs in on NBA’s rest conundrum
Cavs star LeBron James addressed the NBA’s growing concern over teams resting healthy players and the threat of “significant penalties” if the practice continues.
Silver sends memo to owners on resting players
NBA commissioner Adam Silver informed teams in a memo that he is planning to have a discussion about the practice of resting players in the next owners meeting on April 6.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver called the practice of resting stars “an extremely significant issue for our league” in a memo sent to team owners and obtained by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
Silver’s memo stated that the issue would be a prime topic of discussion during the league’s board of governors meeting April 6 in New York and implored owners to be involved in the decision-making process on this issue due to the impact it can have on the NBA’s “fans and business partners,” the reputation of the league and “perception of our game.”
“I thought [the memo] was smart,” said Kerr, whose team wrapped up a grueling stretch of schedule with a back-to-back in Minnesota and San Antonio when the Warriors’ stars rested against the Spurs. “I think this is something that every organization needs to partner together with the league and our broadcasting partners and figure out what’s best for everybody. We all have the same interests at heart, which is we need to do what’s best for the league. But there are great arguments on every side.
“I do feel bad for the fans. I also know resting those guys last week was something that was beneficial and I think it’s shown to be so this past week. You can see our guys are fresher, their legs. So what can we all do, together? And I think that’s where Adam is really good in terms of taking a lot of opinions and finding solutions. This is not a right or wrong issue. It’s what can we do to best serve the league, best serve the players’ health. Is there a compromise?
“We’re already working on that by extending the season next year by 7-10 days. I think that’s going to be very helpful and I think the broadcast partners and the league can pay closer attention to the schedule when it comes out next year as they put that together. These are all things that we all have to work on.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the league’s coaches’ association, also acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns on both sides of the issue. However, Carlisle said coaches can’t necessarily consider business ramifications when making decisions about resting players in consultation with athletic trainers, sports science experts and medical staff.
“It’s not that simple,” Carlisle said. “When you coach in this league for a while, you get a real feel for players and their levels of energy, their levels of wear and tear, both physically and emotionally. There are just times when you know a night of rest strategically spaced within a span of games is going to make a big difference in the long run.
“People need to understand that in the present structure of the schedule, there are just times when it really is the right thing to do. But I understand the outcry. It’s a completely legitimate concern, especially considering the investment that our television partners have made in the sport, and we all understand that.”
Kerr said rest will always be a necessary part of maintenance for NBA players “to keep them fresh and to keep them injury-free,” but teams and the league can work to attempt to be more selective about when stars sit.
“You have to do it, but can we make it so that there’s not as big of an impact on the national TV games, the games that people are going to notice, games that hurt the national viewing audience, the impression of our league, the opinion of people in the media about our league,” Kerr said. “I think there are ways to mitigate some of that.”
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is credited with popularizing the use of strategic rest, is happy that both sides want to find a way to remedy the situation.
“Luckily all the participants are sane people and care about the same thing and want to get it right,” Popovich said Tuesday.
“It’s not about anybody having power or wanting to issue orders. It’s about trying to get it right. That’s the great thing about the league and what we’re doing. It’s all good.”
NEW YORK — When Dirk Nowitzki returned to Dallas after a four-game road trip, the Dallas Mavericks star was hoping to see his newest possession waiting for him –- his now famous potato.
“I have never received a potato,” Nowitzki said in his first comments about the strangest thing he has ever received in the mail after Dallas beat Brooklyn on Sunday. “It is something fun, hopefully it is there when I get home. I haven’t seen it yet, we were on the road [when it was sent]. Usually fan mail comes to our office, so I have only seen pictures.”
“You don’t get a potato every day, so it’s awesome.”
Last week, Nowitzki, along with several other NBA players like Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat, Frank Kaminsky of the Charlotte Hornets and Nick Young of the Los Angeles Lakers received potatoes in the mail with either their photo on it or a message or both. They shared pictures of the potatoes on social media and suddenly the NBA had its newest fad. The spuds also reached the NFL with the Carolina Panthers also receiving a potato.
A Mavericks staffer sent Nowitzki a photo of what came in the mail for him at the team headquarters -– a potato with a picture of him on it. Nowitzki immediately posted the photo on Twitter even though he had not seen it yet in person. Nowitzki’s potato tweet blew up, receiving 120,000 likes while being retweeted 41,000 times.
By comparison, Nowitzki’s previous tweet thanking fans after he joined the rare 30,000-point club earlier this month drew 41,000 likes and 11,000 retweets.
“I didn’t know until now, I guess that is the hot thing to do — send somebody a potato,” Nowitzki said. “It was something incredibly funny, and I thought I’ll share it, and that tweet just went completely viral.”
Players wondered who sent these unique potatoes to them. Potato Parcel was behind the hot potato idea. Co-founders Riad Bekhit and Alex Craig appeared on the reality show “Shark Tank” last year, pitching their Potato Parcel business idea of delivering personalized potatoes for a fee to the business moguls on the show.
One of those successful tycoons was Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who laughed at the pitch and said on the show: “It’s just stupid on a stick right?”
Bekhit said on “Shark Tank” that the company had sold over 12,000 potatoes and made $215,000 in sales in its first 13 months. Cuban, though, passed on a chance to invest, and as fate would have it, Nowitzki was the first athlete to tweet that he had received a potato, unknowingly creating hype around Potato Parcel. Bekhit told USA Today that he sent the potato to congratulate Nowitzki for reaching 30,000 career points.
“Oh, I thought it was hysterical,” Cuban told ESPN on Sunday about seeing potatoes show up on the NBA social scene last week. “I didn’t see it as a good investment, but because it is fun and it cracked me up on ‘Shark Tank,’ I loved it.”
Cuban, though, hasn’t changed his mind about Potato Parcel. He thinks the idea of sending a personalized spud is still a dud.
“No, because the issue wasn’t would it be fun. It is kind of like when I did the ‘I Want To Draw A Cat For You’ deal,” explained Cuban, who bought one-third of a company that drew personalized cat cartoons on “Shark Tank.” “The issue was just can it scale? And it is just not scaled behind that.”
Nets center Brook Lopez hadn’t heard of the potato madness until a reporter showed him Nowitzki’s tweet. Suddenly, Lopez wanted a special spud of his own.
“I didn’t get a potato,” Lopez said. “I now feel left out. I didn’t know what it was at first, so I was just like, eh. But when I actually saw the potato [with Nowitzki’s picture on it just now], I thought it was pretty impressive. I felt like it took a lot of time for the people to send them out.”
And Lopez said he wouldn’t put the potato to waste.
“I would definitely put it to use,” the Nets center said. “I don’t know what Dirk or K.D. did with theirs, but I would take a picture, I would have that memento. But then I would make some mashed potatoes. I’d make a good gourmet meal out of it.
“I have a good foodie friend, he made French onion soup for about a day and a half. Apparently, it is a laboring process. So who knows. I might make something very impressive out of it.”
Nowitzki is looking forward to seeing his potato in person.
“I don’t know,” Nowitzki said of what he will do with it. “I will see how it looks.”
WASHINGTON — Forward Nerlens Noel scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds for the Dallas Mavericks in a 112-107 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. Noel had missed Dallas’ past three games with a sore right knee.
Dallas won despite the absence of starting guard Wesley Matthews, who was sidelined with a calf injury.
The sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Noel entered the night averaging 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds this season. He joined the Mavericks from Philadelphia in a deal near last month’s trade deadline.
Matthews strained his right calf Monday in Toronto, limiting him to 18 minutes in a 100-78 loss to the Raptors. He’s averaging 14.4 points.
USA Today’s For The Win offered an explanation for the phenomenon, noting that the company Potato Parcel — featured on ABC’s Shark Tank and ridiculed by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — is likely connected to the personalized potatoes.
Who knows: Maybe Spud Webb is involved in this somehow.
CEDAR PARK, Texas — Satnam Singh and the Texas Legends are loosening up at halftime of their NBA Development League road game against the Austin Spurs, and their 7-foot-2, 285-pound center from India is displaying a smooth shooting touch.
The 52nd pick of the 2015 NBA draft dribbles between his legs, pulls up and swishes a 15-foot jump shot from the right wing. He then steps back and swishes one from 20 feet. As Legends teammates continue to shoot, he moves toward the basket, grabs two rebounds and dishes to teammate DeJuan Blair.
Singh then steps back out to the right wing and swishes from 18 feet and 20 feet. Finally, he misses an 18-footer, but then he banks in a shot off the backboard from the same spot on the floor. Mixing shots and rebounds, he eventually drifts over to the left side of the court and buries a 15-footer.
For good measure, he punctuates the session with a deliberate slam dunk. The rim announces a loud THUNK in response, and Singh turns to join his teammates as they huddle up to receive instruction from head coach Bob MacKinnon.
Surely, a player of his size who can knock down shots, clog the lane and protect the rim will be a factor in the outcome of this game.
If it were only that simple.
SINGH IS ONLY 21, but he has been the subject of global media coverage for the better part of seven years. ESPN The Magazine tabbed Singh as a future star in a 2012 article right after he turned 16. A recent Netflix documentary, “One in a Billion,” chronicled his unlikely basketball journey up until his draft selection by the Dallas Mavericks.
For those unfamiliar with Singh’s background, here is a thumbnail sketch:
He grew up on a family farm in rural Ballo Ke, Punjab — a village with a population of about 800. As a child, he towered above his peers — his father, Balbir, is 7 feet tall — and left home at age 9 to pursue basketball at a sports academy in Ludhiana. By age 14, Satnam stood 7 feet himself and received a basketball scholarship to IMG Academy, a renowned sports training facility in Florida. After five years at IMG, he became the first India-born player ever picked in the NBA draft.
He’s now in his second season with the Legends, the Mavericks’ D-League affiliate in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, working to become the first India-born player in NBA history.
It all adds up to Singh being the dominant homegrown basketball figure in the world’s second-most populous nation.
India boasts a number of basketball talents, including Palpreet Singh, who was picked in the 2016 D-League draft, and national team members Amritpal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Amjyot Singh. But those players don’t possess the height, upside and international profile of Satnam.
After being drafted by the Mavericks, Satnam Singh was relieved to clear a major hurdle on the path toward the world’s top basketball league. He’s well aware of the popularity surge the sport enjoyed in China after the emergence of Yao Ming and would love to make a similar impact in India. Singh isn’t making any brash predictions of eclipsing Yao, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year, but he wants to play a prominent role in growing the game from niche to mainstream status on the Asian subcontinent.
“My goal is to make basketball more popular,” Singh said. “I think I’ve opened the gate for Indian kids. The gate is open, but they need to work hard. I know it’s a lot of pressure. I just think about what I need to do. I need to focus on my game for my career, for my life, for my family, for my fans, for my country.”
If there is one thing Singh has learned from all the media coverage he has received over the years, it’s that there is widespread interest as he pursues a basketball dream. He has an opportunity to inspire millions upon millions of youths if he graduates to the NBA.
“He’s got a lot of pressure on him,” MacKinnon said. “There are a lot of people counting on him. We don’t take that lightly. It’s not the normal pressure that a 21-year-old has, and there is good and bad with that. He’s handling it well. Right now, his focus is on his individual career, but he is the face of basketball in India. That is undisputed.”
SINGH LIVES a relatively quiet life in suburban Dallas and spends a lot of time at home. There is little to distract him from basketball.
He attends a Sikh temple most Sundays. He will go to the movies and out to dinner. There are a couple of nearby Indian restaurants he likes, and he will accept invitations to eat at the homes of friends. But he prefers to serve as his own chef for the most part. He eats a lot of chicken, fish, vegetables and Indian beans while closely watching his calorie and carbohydrate intake. That means no rice or naan.
“I love to cook for myself,” Singh said. “I cook every day. That’s why my body is so lean, because I’m eating healthy foods at my house that I make myself.”
All this makes Singh seem fairly normal off the court, but his life isn’t without its celebrity moments. In January, he made headlines by participating in a professional wrestling workout at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. Singh said he was flattered to be invited by the WWE and did it as a favor for a business connection, but he wants to make clear he isn’t wavering from his career path.
“I’m here because of basketball,” Singh said. “I don’t want to lose my basketball. [WWE] is a huge opportunity, but I need to focus on basketball.”
In 2014, Singh rubbed elbows with actor Akshay Kumar in Florida when the Bollywood star was visiting his niece, who plays basketball at IMG Academy. When Singh was drafted by the Mavericks, Kumar shared the news with millions of Twitter followers.
“He’s really humble,” Singh said of meeting Kumar. “I love him. He’s a great actor. It was a good surprise for me.”
SINGH HAS APPEARED in just eight of the Legends’ 42 games this season. Based on statistics alone, it might appear as if Singh is buried on the bench. He’s averaging just 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, but to hear his coaches tell it, those numbers greatly belie his progress. They insist that India’s most famous basketball player isn’t lost in the shuffle.
MacKinnon knows Singh wants to play but stresses that development comes in small increments and points out that Singh has moved up on the team’s depth chart. Less than two years removed from a postgraduate season at IMG, he’s competing alongside and against former NBA players and many others on the cusp of moving up to the NBA. It’s too early to be concerned about statistics.
“Our league is hard,” MacKinnon said matter-of-factly. “Our league is the second-best league in the world.”
Instead, Singh’s opportunities come in practice. He’s being asked to focus on rebounding, getting up and down the court and being more active on defense. MacKinnon and assistant coach Zendon Hamilton, both in their first season with the Legends, said they have seen significant progress from Singh.
“Mostly this year, I have worked on my speed work and footwork,” Singh said. “I know I can shoot anytime, but mostly I need to [work on] my post movement and get faster on my feet around the rim. More rebounding and finishing the shot.”
In order to reach those goals, the team wants Singh to become lighter, which will increase his speed and reduce injury risk. It used to be that centers pushing 300 pounds and more, such as former pros Eddy Curry, Oliver Miller and Stanley Roberts, could enjoy productive careers.
“That’s the old NBA,” said Hamilton, who played six seasons in the league. “Those days are over.”
NBA players are more athletic than ever now, and big men are expected to keep up with smaller players and react quickly to the ball. If big men are slow of foot, they are a major liability in transition.
Longtime NBA forward Eduardo Najera, who owns a stake in the Legends and works as a scout for the Mavericks, has insight on this evolution of the game. He played for the athletic Mavericks and Denver Nuggets teams that ran the court with abandon in the 2000s and helped usher in a faster style of play.
“Now the center position has become more of an athletic, long shot-blocker that can run with everybody else,” Najera said. “It’s been kind of frustrating for some of the centers in the league, like Satnam. So it’s just bad timing for him, because he does have a lot of talent. … If he would have come in a decade before, he probably would be an NBA player.”
Singh is seemingly left with a paradox. While he works to shed unnecessary weight, coaches don’t want him to lose the strength he built with years of grueling work in the IMG weight room. Singh has taken boxing classes in addition to his regular work with the team, and MacKinnon and Hamilton said the results are apparent.
“He’s lost 40 pounds and become quicker,” MacKinnon said. “He can run the court much better now. He reacts to plays better. He’s in more plays in practices, and when he gets in games, he gets in more plays now because he can move better.”
SINGH HAD ALWAYS intended to play college basketball, believing that was the natural path to the NBA. But speaking only Punjabi when he arrived at IMG in 2010, he faced a steep academic climb. It was years before he was fluent in English, which slowed his scholastic progress.
Dozens of Division I universities were interested in Singh, notably Central Florida, Miami, Pittsburgh and South Florida, but he was unable to gain NCAA eligibility. He instead made himself available for the draft despite being considered a relatively raw prospect. Fortunately for him, the Mavericks took a flier in the second round and are providing Singh with a structure for improvement. But the jump required him to grow up quickly in a basketball sense.
“It was a huge step for me, because I don’t have college experience,” Singh said.
It’s fair to wonder if, given the option, Singh would have been in a better position to develop at the collegiate level. Have his NBA chances been hurt because he didn’t get that opportunity?
“Absolutely not,” said IMG basketball development specialist Dan Barto, who has worked extensively with Singh. “The Legends have said they’re focused on his development. I think probably long term, it gives him a better chance of potentially being in the NBA from age 26 to age 35.”
Barto believes the college basketball system can actually hurt some players who have legitimate NBA potential. In addition to the academic demands required of college athletes, NCAA rules restrict the amount of practice time. By contrast, Singh is completely immersed in basketball with the Legends.
“He will have all the chances and opportunities he wants as long as he continues to work,” Hamilton said.
That bodes well for Singh, whose dedication draws ardent praise from his coaches. Just as his height was inherited, Singh credits his father for instilling his work ethic.
“He’s in a minority of how hard he works compared to anyone else,” said John Mahoney, who coached Singh at both the varsity and postgrad levels at IMG. “We’ve had pros come in here, but I haven’t seen anyone work like he does. Just tremendous work ethic.”
LOOKING AHEAD, Singh wants to play for the Mavericks in the NBA Summer League, which provides an offseason opportunity for young players and free agents to gain experience and showcase their potential, for the third consecutive year. After that, he hopes to join India’s national team for the first time since 2013. The FIBA Asia Cup will be held this August in Beirut, and Singh said there is an “85 percent” chance he will be there.
So while Singh ultimately didn’t see any action in that game against Austin, which the Legends lost 115-109, it shouldn’t be perceived as a reflection of his progress or potential. Rather, it indicates he still has a lot of work ahead of him. But thanks to the habits instilled by his father, there is perhaps no one better equipped for it.
“He’s determined to make it,” Mahoney said. “He’s going to make it.”