Tinsel Burn and Reindeer Bites
Ho Ho Ho, Merry Xmas from the world's sports pages ...
Mavericks' Presence Felt All Over the League
By LIZ ROBBINS - NY Times
Last summer, Dallas was the hub of basketball business. The moves and misses by Mark Cuban, the Mavericks' owner, seemed to make him the unintentional benefactor of other teams in the league.
This season's early returns might best be viewed, then, through Cuban's ever-changing prism.
It is hard to see Steve Nash as anything short of brilliant this season. He left his best friend, Dirk Nowitzki, for greener deserts in Phoenix - nearly $30 million more than what Cuban offered him. Meanwhile, Shaquille O'Neal, the league's biggest trading piece, considered Dallas as a destination. But instead, the Los Angeles Lakers let him go wading in the warmer waters of the East.
After losing Nash, the Mavericks grabbed the coveted free-agent center Erick Dampier in a sign-and-trade deal after the 12-point, 12-rebound career year he averaged in Golden State while gunning for a new contract. Now with more than $67 million in his pocket for seven years, Dampier's numbers on the court have plummeted to what they were before - 8.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
If Nash is the biggest boon out of the summer dealings, Dampier may be the biggest bust (with special mention going to Zach Randolph of Portland). Cuban and Don Nelson, his coach and general manager, believed they had found a playoff solution to fix the small-ball problem, but Dampier has yet to find his way.
"This year we have guys who can put the ball in the basket, we have four or five guys on this team who can rebound," Dampier said last Tuesday before the Mavericks trashed the Knicks, 123-94. "I'm still trying to work through it." Dampier had a modest 11 points and 6 rebounds in New York.
In the Mavericks' letdown the next night - against Atlanta, then 4-20 - Dampier had 4 points and 8 rebounds. Antoine Walker, whom Cuban traded to Atlanta for Jason Terry, scored 25 in the 113-100 victory.
The Mavericks, having lost six home games, are 17-10, which is still better than the alternative in Golden State for Dampier. "It feels good to be on the opposite side of the spectrum," he said. "This is what I wanted. It's up to me to do the work every day to be consistent."
That is what frustrates Nowitzki most about his team. While he has emerged as the team's floor leader and the league's third-leading scorer, Nowitzki is also still searching for how to make up for Nash.
"It's a big adjustment; he's so good at penetrating and giving us open looks," Nowitzki said. "We don't really have those open shots any more. We all have to work a little harder. We have games when we have seven or eight assists, and last year that was a quarter for us. Of course we miss him, but we can't cry around, we got to do it without him now."
The Suns won 10 straight games and have the best record in the league (23-3 entering today's home game against Toronto). Nash, who had 11.7 assists during the streak, also had 18 assists and 17 points in a 107-101 victory in his first game back in Dallas last month.
Terry has been inconsistent as the Mavericks still search for an answer. The best point guard they acquired over the summer is Avery Johnson, their assistant coach and heir to Nelson, who came from Golden State in the deal with Dampier.
Cuban is sticking to the rationale he used last summer to support why he let Nash go: age and durability. Nash is 30. Dampier is 29.
"Short term, the way I looked at it, I didn't want to have a 35-year-old team," Cuban said in New York. "There was a price I was willing to pay out of loyalty. But I looked at other teams and how old they would be, that was the issue. I wouldn't do it any differently.
"I made what I thought was a very, very fair offer," Cuban said of Nash, whom he offered $9 million a year for four years guaranteed. Nash received six years for $65.6 million from Phoenix.
"More credit, more power to Steve for being who he is. But all I know, years are forgotten the minute they end. You just got to look at the bigger picture. I think we have a team better suited for the playoffs."
But so do other teams in the league, thanks to the Mavericks.
Liz Robbins is about the third NBA scribe to write that same story over the last coupla weeks. Does she not know we all have the internet? Devin Harris returned to UW over the holidays and took in a Badgers' game, even got a standing O from the home fans. Here are some quotes from the Wisconsin papers -
"I'm not a high grade like I used to be, but I'm learning, I'm getting better," Harris said. "I think (I'm) just struggling with some of the things that I was good at here."
His biggest adjustment has been the number of games NBA teams play. "I think we've played almost a whole college season right now and we still have 60-some games left," said Harris, who received a standing ovation from the crowd when introduced with 7 minutes, 51 seconds left in the first half.
And Harris is still learning, too. Although he's no longer in school at Wisconsin, Harris pointed out that he's studying as much as he ever has.
"Basketball is school right now," said Harris, who is averaging seven points, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals for the Mavericks. He's shooting 37.8 percent overall and 27.6 percent from 3-point range.
"There's so much studying involved and watching so much film," added Harris, who said all the time he spent at Wisconsin doing math and history homework is spent at Dallas "going home and watching film and studying guys and studying myself."
Harris is learning and getting better under the guise of Mavericks coach Don Nelson, who has developed a reputation for being hard on rookies.
"He's only hard because he knows how good I can be and the potential I have," Harris said. "It doesn't bother me. It just means he cares about how much of an impact I can have on the team."
Harris admitted he misses everything about his experience at Wisconsin.
"Just the excitement of it, being out there with the guys, being with a coach like Bo (Ryan)," he said. "You don't get many coaches like that. And just being home....Wisconsin, you can't any better than that."
Harris said there have been moments when he wished he could return to the Badgers. But reality always sets in. "It crossed my mind but the deed is done," he said. "There's nothing I can do about it now but concentrate on what I need to be doing now."
All things Badger ... the Dallas Observer's John Gonzalez wrote about Devin Harris this week as well. Here's an excerpt before you head over to read the article ...
"I haven't gotten much feedback from him," Harris says when asked whether Nellie talked to him about sitting down for a while. He says it softly, speaking the way he looks--like a kid who is unsure of his surroundings. "We really haven't gotten into it like this is what's gonna happen. But I didn't really need to get much to know that I wasn't performing. That's not his fault. He's the coach, and he needs someone to step up. I needed to step up. That's what I'm going to try to do."
Xmas? Me? I got a robe, 3 breakfasts and my photo taken waaaay too many times. What'd you get? Well, Dirk got interviewed again by the German press. Same old same old, but this excerpt might interest some ...
ABENDBLATT: Also are the many personnel changes in the summer a cause of the inconsistent start? With nine gone and eight joined, the team was completely restructured.
NOWITZKI: Naturally that's tough. In the past it was our strength that the core with Steve Nash, Michael Finley and me remained together, new players just came in around us. Now Steve is gone (moved to Phoenix; ed. note), and we have three new guards who don't get along right with coach Don Nelson's system. But they have potential. I hope that they'll get their act together as quickly as possible.
ABENDBLATT: Who are the surprises of this NBA season from your view?
NOWITZKI: Absolutely Phoenix and Seattle. I would never have thought that they'd break out like that, I never saw them as playoff candidates. But the new rules, where they decide faster on fouls, seems to suit both teams.
ABENDBLATT: Do they have also what it takes for the championship?
NOWITZKI: I have my doubts. The past has showed that in the playoffs, another, slower and more physical kind of basketball is played. Small teams are usually not as successful there. And under the baskets they don't have much to counter with.
ABENDBLATT: And Dallas?
NOWITZKI: The way we're playing right now, definitely not. For example, San Antonio showed us our limitations already twice this season. But there's a lot of talent on our team. If we succeed in playing up to our potential, we can play to the top.
Stop me if you've read this story before - how Holger discovered, created, and now guides Dirk's talent. You probably have, but Germany's Der Spiegel offers it up again for Christmas. Not my translation. A few new tidbits ... at least it's not that long ... sorta ...
Nowitzki's mentor Geschwindner -
Philosopher in the lumberjack shirt
By Andreas Kröner
Critics accused Holger Geschwindner of incompetence, megalomania and youth seduction. For German basketball star Dirk Nowitzki, the ex-national player is for him "manager, mentor, coach, friend and sometimes also second father". Portrait of a man who is glad to annoy.
Würzburg - Operation NBA begins for Dirk Nowitzki in March 1998 like a scene from "Aktenzeichen XY". A big man with light hair drives the car one evening and takes the 19-year-old to the airport. Both disappear. Only when the blond boy, a few days later at the "Hoop Summit" in San Antonio, as a player from a world selection shoots the best up and coming US talents out of the arena with 33 points in an almost single-handed attempt, the disconcerted German squad coaches know where their most talented player is off to.
Private life in the castle
"Despite the sum of my inabilities, I didn't succeed in destroying his talent," Geschwindner says today and grins, when he thinks back to the "somewhat substantial detractors" in the beginning. The satisfaction is not overlooked by the 1.95- meter-tall man, who is usually to be found on and beyond the basketball court in lumberjack shirts or sweaters. Indeed there are repeated inquiries by players and teams, but "the attempts to pull me in a little deeper into the basketball world have no chances of success. I have enough other things to do apart from basketball."
Geschwindner never committed himself to sport. In the Hessian Laubbach he went to school and did his first dribbling. After Abitur (a type of German high school - trans. note) and the German National Armed Forces he moved to MTV Gießen. With the Hessian traditional club he became German champion three times; at the same time, he studied mathematics and physics. He went to Munich in 1971, dedicated himself to philosophy and researched at the Max-Planck-Institut. With his later teams Bamberg, Göttingen and Köln he could always be assured of sufficient freedom to be able to participate concurrently with research orders. Although Geschwindner was Most Valuable Player of the European Championship in 1971 and after his strong appearances as captain of the 1972 German Olympic team was compared with Soviet and American players, the NBA was never a goal for him - contact to US professional sports would have cost him clearance for the summer games.
When the Methuselah at 42 years ends his active career as oldest Bundesliga player, he already has his own project management enterprise. Today his office is in an industrial park north of Bamberg, privately he lives in a castle in the surrounding countryside. His company works as a management consultancy, "where we not only tell how it can go, but also lead the projects through," explains Geschwindner. Just now he is about to draft a computation and a calculation program for an aerial ropeway manufacturer.
"You have to meet the right people"
Geschwindner is happy in the workaholic stereotype. If one converses with him, the cel phone rings frequently. Basketball is only in the center in the summer when he prepares Nowitzki for the NBA season. During the season both call almost daily, discussing training, games, and problems off the court. If Geschwindner's assistance is wanted, it happens very quickly: "One call is sufficient; I buy a plane ticket and I'm there."
When Nowitzki had problems in his first year in the NBA, Geschwindner visited him eight times in Dallas. And today he visits often. "He comes during the season for all of one to two months. He's known me for such a long time that he immediately recognizes little mistakes that creep in now and again," Nowitzki tells SPIEGEL ON-LINE. "We then practice for a half hour and the mistakes are worked out again." Although the last year passed very well for him, "It's very important to me that Hodge" - which is Geschwindner's nickname - "comes by like before".
On addressing future German NBA professionals, Nowitzki gives his considerations: "It's easy to find a 14-year-old who has talent. But to make an NBA player out of him is the real task. You have to meet the right people, who help you - I had great luck with Holger." In 1995 Geschwindner played with his "Band of retirees from Eggolsheim", as he calls his old men's team, in Schweinfurt. Before the performance by the seniors he sees a youth match "There was a tall, skinny guy running around who did everything right, that a good basketballer has to do. He had still no technical tools." When Nowitzki left the court, Geschwindner asked him. "Who is giving you the baskic skills?" "Nobody," answered Nowitzki. "If you want, we can do that," Geschwindner offers.
"82 million people, one NBA player"
When his "oldie troop" is to visit Würzburg three weeks later, Nowitzki expects him, along with his father, mother and sister. On the next day the unusual duo begins to train systematically. Geschwindner's methods are unorthodox, but successful. Dirk does push-ups on his fingertips to be able to accelerate the ball better in the shot and learns a completely new shooting technology, which Geschwindner developed at his desk: With differential and integral calculus as well as some derivatives he computes a shot curve in which the ball falls into the basket if Nowitzki makes mistakes. A friendly physician accompanies Project NBA.
Individual training in the team sport of basketball doesn't provide a contradiction for Geschwindner. The sequence is crucial: First the player must be brought to a certain level, then he can help a team. "Most teams have a firm concept. Whoever doesn't fit in there, tough luck. We go from the individual outward." Already in youth there is a team, a regional, and a federation coach, complains Geschwindner, "the classical systems aren't suited for the top talents - not just in sport." In addition, in Germany many teams deliberately kept players at a certain level, so that they wouldn't become too good and abandon the team. "That out of 82 million inhabitants in Germany we have only one NBA player says it all!"
For Nowitzki he has created a seven-stage plan. The goal: a basketballer who can play in all positions and is unpredictable for the opponent. Geschwindner measures the speed according to the development of his favorite: "When it went badly in school, we were even disengaged in the Matheaufgaben gym." The coach wants the basketball talent to develop also beyond the sports arena, "Even if that isn't easy for a person of the rap generation." He gave Nowitzki a saxophone and numerous books. "The requirements of an NBA professional today are not limited to ball dribbling. The stupid prejudice of the intellectuals who have nothing going physically, and the athletes who don't have anything in their head, is stupid stuff," Geschwindner says. One must also remain mentally mobile, in order to be able to function on a long-term basis in high level sport.
Although Nowitzki will earn an estimated 100 million dollars over six years, his coach refuses any payment for his services. "I have a company and can live well on it. That additionally has the great advantage that I can speak my opinion with controversies and not have to worry about my check coming the next month," Geschwindner says.
Don Nelson, Nowitzki's coach in Dallas, has known Geschwindner since 1998. "When Ben Franklin discovered electricity, he certainly looked pretty stupid, the way he did it with the kite and key in the thunderstorm. But then Edison continued the whole thing and everyone knows the result," Nelson says. On the narrow ridge between genius and insanity, in the long run the result is decisive, says the NBA coach. "there are some unorthodox things about Holger," Nelson admits, "but it's like this: If a coach loses, you can criticize him; if he is as successful as Holger, you can't."