DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd are at the point in their careers where the only thing they care about is winning a championship.
Luckily for them, their teammates feel the same way.
From Shawn Marion to Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler to Brendan Haywood, Peja Stojakovic to DeShawn Stevenson, the Dallas Mavericks are a collection of guys who’ve played at least 10 seasons and made tens of millions of dollars without winning a title. Their willingness to accept whatever playing time and other individual stats they pile up is a major reason Dallas is in the NBA finals.
“This is a bunch of veterans who want to play and are unselfish,” Nowitzki said. “I think that’s what makes this group special, I mean, everybody sacrificing for each other and we just want to win. It’s been fun to play with these guys all season long, so hopefully we can have a great series.”
The finals are an interesting clash in team-building formulas.
The Miami Heat have three main stars — Dwyane Wade, and the pals he lured last summer, LeBron James and Chris Bosh — plus the best role players they could afford with the remaining room under the salary cap.
Dallas was built to be deep and versatile. The Mavs knew Nowitzki would be the main option every night, with Kidd guiding the offense, but the No. 2 scorer and other roles would depend on matchups or who had the hot hand.
That kind of uncertainty is unusual for playoff teams. Guys like knowing what to expect. That’s why it was a struggle making it work at times last year, and why it’s so important everyone has completely bought into the team concept this year.
“It’s been an ebb-and-flow type of thing,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “In the playoffs, we’ve gotten some traction. But again, we’re never quite sure who are going to be our top three or four scorers. And often times we’ve going to need six guys scoring seven or more points.”
It wasn’t always easy, even for the guys who dealt with Carlisle’s ever-changing rotation last year.
Haywood signed a lucrative contract last summer to be the starter, lost his job to Chandler and was so uncomfortable as a backup that he was suspended for a game in November. In December, he got the dreaded DNP-Coach’s Decision, with several more in the months that followed. But in the playoffs, he’s done everything a backup big man should.
Stevenson also has been in and out of the lineup. A defensive specialist and 3-point shooter, he starts each half, then gives way to Terry. Having that instant offense from the bench has been a huge boost for the Mavericks.
Marion is a four-time All-Star who became a backup for the first time in his career when he joined the Mavericks last season. This season, he went through several stretches of flopping between reserve and starter. He became a starter for good in late March and has had some big games in the postseason, especially the last round against Oklahoma City.
“There’s a point in everybody’s career where you’ve got to make certain sacrifices if you really want to get to that ultimate goal,” Marion said.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do certain things you probably don’t want to do, or make changes you’ve never done in your whole career just to make something work. At the end, when you can get that prize, that’s all that matters. ... This is definitely amazing what we’re seeing right now.”
Carlisle has been forced to make so many changes because his preseason plan went into the shredder.
Second-year guard Roddy Beaubois was supposed to provide the speed and athleticism this aging group sorely needed, but he broke his foot playing for the French national team last summer and wasn’t ready until February. He tried living up to ridiculously high expectations and wound up losing confidence. Carlisle stuck with him through 26 straight starts, then benched him for the season finale. He got hurt in that game and hasn’t played a minute this postseason.
Then there’s the sad story of Caron Butler.
Acquired at the trade deadline in 2010, along with Haywood and Stevenson, Butler was supposed to be the second scoring option most nights and a top defender — and he was, until tearing a tendon in his right knee on Jan. 1.
Losing two expected starters, Carlisle’s trial-and-error with his starting lineup seemed as if he was picking it from a hat sometimes. Sasha Pavlovic started six games while playing under 10-day contracts. Brian Cardinal started four games and fourth-string center Alex Ajinca started twice before getting traded.
A younger team might have buckled.
But these veterans have taken it in stride, and made the most of it.
At season’s end, Dallas had 57 wins and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Team president Donnie Nelson didn’t get a single vote for executive of the year, but he and team owner Mark Cuban are much more interested in the prize the club is still chasing.
“I like the team,” Nowitzki said. “I think we’re deep and we can play all sorts of styles. So, we’ll see what happens.”