By Darreck Kirby
PSDC Dallas Mavericks Beat Writer
It’s hardly a secret that Dallas’ frontcourt has been glaringly thin since the Mavs were forced to send away backup center, and pogo-stick extraordinare, Brandan Wright in the Rajon Rondo deal back in mid-December. What’s even less of a secret is Dallas’ once highly efficient bench became an inconsistent, unreliable mess due to the lethal dynamic of Wright’s outragious scoring efficiency, athleticism and general production.
For several months the word was that Mark Cuban’s plan to fill this void would be through the addition of head coach Rick Carlisle’s former Indiana star, Jermaine O’Neal. Unfortunately that never happened. O’Neal had said all along that he planned to return this season after the new year, but when a trip to Germany for some unique treatment on his knees didn’t yield the desired results, the 36 year old attempting to play in his 18th season was forced to forfeit this season entirely.
Thankfully for Dallas, another unique opportunity has fallen into their lap. After months of speculation, the New York Knicks have officially bought out the final year of Amar’e Stoudemire’s five-year, $99.4 million contract from 2010. Stoudemire, being a 6’10 forward/center, is hardly the player he was five years ago when he first signed with the Knicks. Once a 25 PPG and 12 rebound machine, the six-time All Star has seen his career derailed by a number of knee and back issues over the past few seasons. This season, Stoudemire has played in just 36 games for the NBA worst Knicks, averaging 12 points and just a shade under seven rebounds in 24 minutes a night. To say this would be an upgrade for Dallas’ bench would be a massive understatement.
Dallas for the past month had been considered the most likely landing spot for the 32 year old, given their exemplary training staff led by Team USA’s head trainer, Casey Smith. This connection is further noteworthy due to Smith working in Phoenix during Stoudemire’s rise to stardom around 2004. Add in the fact that both Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler are former teammates and friends of Stoudemire and his eventual signing becomes academic.
Amar’e’s agent Happy Walters has done a lot of great work with the Mavs in recent years, including players like Chandler Parsons, JJ Barea and Monta Ellis (see the trend?).
Dallas is currently the fifth seed in the Western Conference, sitting at 36-19, but if you believe Tyson Chandler, that may soon change for the better.
“He would fit in great because we play a lot of pick-and-roll,” Chandler said recently. “Coach does an excellent job understanding scorers and how to get them the ball and putting them in position to succeed.”
Technically Stoudemire can’t sign with the Mavs until he clears waivers at 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, but given the hefty price tag with what is perceived as damaged goods, no NBA team would willing pickup the Knicks’ check to make Amar’e a bench player. Once clear of the waiver window, Stoudemire can sign with Dallas at their pro-rated veteran’s minimum, which won’t be a problem since NY already paid him the rest of his $23 million for this season.
Amar’e’s signing does come with some risk, but then the Mavericks always have loved their “fallen angels.” Under Mark Cuban, the Mavs have a history of taking players who were considered “done” and helping them find a solid role. This list includes names like Nick Van Exel, Jerry Stackhouse, Shawn Marion, Monta Ellis and Vince Carter. The lone exception, of course, would be Lamar Odom.
While Dallas’ ideal scenario would’ve involved signing both O’Neal and Stoudemire, they’ll have to settle for just Amar’e to backup Tyson and Dirk for the stretch run. Stoudemire is a pick-and-roll veteran and Dallas’ offense is built around just such players. Whether it’s Rondo or Monta, look for Amar’e to get good looks around the rim – just don’t expect him to leap out of the building like the old days.
Although there’s an outside chance Amar’e could resign after this season, odds are this is a rent-a-player scenario in which Dallas is hoping to fortify its frontcourt depth for the postseason.
According to Mark Stein of ESPN, Amar’e has officially committed to sign with the Mavs at just $477,150 with a salary-cap number of just $301,492. For 12 points and seven rebounds out of a backup center, that’s hard to argue with. The only task now will be for Dallas to decide which player, most likely Bernard James, will be cut. Amar’e could join the team as soon as Thursday when Dallas returns from the All Star break to head North up I-35 and face the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder.