12 Mavs Players, 12 Questions, 12 Roles

Which player carries the greatest burden? Which will be the biggest surprise? Who might be the team's second most-valuable guy? Who has the most to overcome? Who has the most to prove? 12 Mavs Players, 12 Mavs Questions, 12 Mavs Roles ... in Donuts!

DONUT 1: Who carries the greatest burden of expectations? O.J. Mayo ...

O.J. tells us that he "doesn't even know what pressure means.'' It's a cool take, sort of like "I eat pressure for breakfast'' and "Pressure is my middle name.''
So, fine. Don't call it "pressure.'' Call it "expectations.''

Assorted other Dallas Mavericks either have their skins on the wall (Dirk Nowitzki) or are labeled, however unfairly, as has-beens or aren't-yets. But O.J. is a work-in-progress at 24 (it's cool that he says he's "handed over'' his game to Rick Carlisle) and is also an established NBA "name.'' He truly was a budding star in those first two years at Memphis before settling into the sixth-man job ... all the while maybe committing the crime of "ineffiency'' because of the fact he looked in the mirror and saw "superstar.''

In my one-on-one Video Visit with Mayo, he concedes that such thinking might have been an issue earlier in his career. He's willing to address the "burden,'' if you will ... a self-awareness that just might help him carry it.

DONUT 2: Who can be the surprise jump-up? Jae Crowder ...

Don't worry about scoring. Do the dirty work. Do it with enthusiasm. Show up to the gym morning, noon and night, as Jae tells me he does in my Video Visit with him.
Is there a circumstance in which a rookie can get a few minutes under Carlisle? Don't worry about scoring, do the dirty work, do it with enthusiasm and show up to the gym. Oh, and maybe listen when Eddie Najera tells you how to emulate him. That's the circumstance.

DONUT 3: Who can be this team's No. 2 MVP? Elton Brand ...

It can be argued that the race to be "Dallas' second-best player'' might end up being a six-way tie. But in visiting with Brand and in talking to people inside and outside the Mavs organization who know his game, I give him the early inside track simply because of the unique nature of his game. He is bullish but can play with finesse. He can get you easy baskets and he can rim-protect. He has seen it all and yet seems willing to learn more, here in the role of sixth man. And as we've detailed a few times now, his team seems three points better per game when he's on the floor.

The Mavs have a recent history of having a "sixth man'' who is really a "second man.'' Brand is a candidate to follow in that tradition.
DONUT 4: Who has the most to overcome? Bernard James ...

The gang at the AAC loves Bernard James, in large part because of his backstory. I mean, he represented his country -- our country -- on the ground, overseas, in the military. They took to calling him "Sarge'' on the night he was drafted.

So you root for his classy personality and you root for his shot-blocking knack. But ... on the center totem pole, he's looking up at Kaman, Brand and B-Wright. ... like a Sarge looking up to commanding officers.

DONUT 5: Who might play a large behind-the-scenes role? Delonte West ...

There is terrific understated value in Delonte -- reputed to be an NBA rebel before his arrival in Dallas -- serving as a Carlisle lieutenant. Charlee Redz' contributions won't all be on the floor because the available minutes won't allow it. But Delonte's experience as a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks can be a guiding light for kids like Cunningham (and maybe even for some of the veteran kids, too).
It's easy to forget that Delonte has been a starting point guard on a 60-win team. It's hard to forget that he'll "Wet Willie'' you if you cross him. But all facets of Delonte West can combine to serve as a properly-funneled asset.

DONUT 6: Who needs to have a bounce-back year? Dirk Nowitzki ...

I know, I know. It's almost sacriligeous to suggest that the 2011-12 version of Dirk wasn't The UberMan. But the truth is, circumstances conspired last summer to keep him from achieving his usual excellence, at least to begin the year: A title, true love, a labor dispute that seemed to have no end ... then an All-Star berth that some critics termed "a lifetime achievement award'' ... and next thing you know, it took a late surge for Nowitzki to finish as a top-10 scorer and then to average almost 27 points per in the 0-4 playoff series loss to OKC.

To some degree, Dirk will be free to pace himself this year. And even when he does that, no one in basketball will more effiently make 15-foot jumpers than him. But he'll be the first to say he'd like the pace to be higher and faster than it was in the first half of last season.
DONUT 7: Who is the most interesting one-year-contract guinea pig? Darren Collison ...

Darren Collison is at the dead center of the Cuban/Donnie/Carlisle "Plan Powder'' approach. Not only is he one of the many fellas under a one-year contract -- the sort of circumstance that can cause a guy to either feel motivated or unloved -- but as the point guard, he's also the glue that must orchestrate all those one-year guys, all those motivated guys, all those unloved guys.

This is about "flow'' and pick-and-rolls and assists totals, sure. But in my conversation with Darren, we talked about "quarterbacking'' ... and he knows that being a quarterback in any sport is about leading a team into being bonded.

And of course, before the other fellas decide whether they'll act as if they're "motivated'' or if they're "unloved,'' Darren Collison will have to decide it for himself.
DONUT 8: Who will set the defensive tone? Shawn Marion ...

The Mavs truly believe he should've been a Defensive Player of the Year finalist last season, and here's one of the many things we know about Trix: he spends offseasons combining zany fun with insanely brutal workouts. Therefore, he will assuredly show up to camp in outstanding shape, a little stronger, a little fitter, a little better than so many of the guys he will be asked to guard.

Oh, and he's asked to guard them all: Waterbugs like Chris Paul. Bulls like Blake Griffin. And everybody in between. As with Nowitzki, 'Trix is a guy who on the first day of camp will set the tone by trying to lead those sprints, by trying to be first into work.

And eventually, by trying to collect those elusive Defensive Player of the Year votes.

DONUT 9: Who has something to prove? Chris Kaman ...

New Orleans handled him in an ungentlemanly way. The NBA followed suit this offseason as it didn't bang down the former All-Star center's door with multi-year offers. So the idea here is to get him comfortable (as he long as been with buddy Dirk) and keep him healthy (too often a nagging issue) and let him turn back the clock to just two years ago, when he was an 18-point/nine-rebound full-time standout.
The reports I'm getting from the basement tell a story about two different sides to Kaman: the goofy public side that makes self-effacing jokes and poses in photos with his hunting conquests, and the in-the-basement side that wants to punish foes who believe he's done. Dallas believes it'll happen in subtle ways (watch those positive plus/minus numbers, they say) and in ways obvious enough that Kaman will eventually be lauded as a genius pickup.

DONUT 10: Who is going to have to wait his turn? Jared Cunningham ...

It doesn't have to be an indictment of the drafting of Jared Cunningham if he doesn't play right away; check out our review of the minutes available to the eight Mavs guards and you see how crowded it is. For now, look for Jared to spent a lot of time after practice working on that jumper, getting the same sort of tutoring the Mavs hope brings DoJo along as well.

DONUT 11: Who is getting one more chance? Roddy Beaubois ...
Final year of a contract. So much promise unfulfilled. So much competition down in that basement. It's Roddy B, and he addresses some of these issues frankly with me in my exclusive one-on-one for Premium Mavs Fans .

DONUT 12: Who is the wild card? Vince Carter ...

B-Wright, Dahntay and DoJo could all deserve mention here. (And if you're a Premium Mavs Fan, you probably want to know about campers all the way down to Akognon, Tu Holloway & DJ Mbenga and only DB.com can help you there!) But on this roster, no player's role is more flexible than Vince's ... and maybe fortunately, few players are more flexible, either. Last year, Carter started 40 games and played 25 minutes per while from the very start completely buying into Carlisle's program. He spent the year alternating between go-to guy and afterthought, and this summer expressed a great desire to stay in Dallas even though "afterthought'' again seems his fate.

Yet there are a handful of guys who can only dream of accomplishing what Carter has. He remains a rare combination of reliability and explosiveness ... an asset on a team that hopes to employ at least 12 of them.


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