While everyone was going through their exit interviews — still caught up in the thrill of the first championship for the organization and for almost everyone involved — Terry urged Dirk Nowitzki to go with him to team president Donnie Nelson’s office and lobby for the immediate re-signing of Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and the rest of the free agents-to-be.
“Some checks’ll be bigger than others,” Terry told Nowitzki, “but we’ve got to keep this thing intact.”
If only it was that easy.
Even if the Mavs wanted to keep everyone, the players would have to agree. Chandler and Barea especially raised their value this postseason and deserve to see how much they can get on the open market. Butler is a free agent for the first time, too. Backups Brian Cardinal, DeShawn Stevenson and Peja Stojakovic also might want to see if some team will offer them bigger bucks or a bigger role.
Then there’s the huge obstacle of not yet knowing what the salary cap will be because the collective bargaining agreement is expiring.
“In an ideal world, we keep it intact and we make another run,” Nelson said. “None of us knows what the market is going to be like. We’re in a holding pattern.”
Everything starts with Chandler, who is likely to be near the top of the free agent crop.
He’s an athletic 7-footer who plays a traditional big man’s game, plus at 28 is still in the prime of his career. He’s coming off both a world championship for Team USA and the NBA title, hailed as the heart-and-soul leader of both clubs.
Most of all, he’s healthy after several injury-marred seasons that included trades and skittish teams worried about his medical history. He appreciates that the Mavs took a chance on him and loved everything about this season.
But, business is business.
“You hate that it comes like this … but that’s how it goes,” he said.
Chandler said his dad recently told him his bond with his 2010-11 teammates will last forever. He agreed, calling his teammates “my brothers.”
He also said that being on another team wouldn’t change that.
“We’re all not going to be here next year. That’s the reality of the situation,” Chandler said. “But we’ll all be connected throughout our career.”
Barea wasn’t as vague.
He said he wants to stay, even though he’s likely to go from starting the finals to being a backup next season, and he could probably cash in and become a starter elsewhere.
Then again, it’s hard to complain about the niche he has here.
“I’m not going to lie, I like the role I have on this team,” Barea said. “The situation I got here in Dallas and with the coach that I have and the teammates I have, I don’t want to change it. So hopefully I’ll be here again next year and we’ll see what happens.”
Butler will be a different story.
The Mavs traded for him at the deadline in 2010, and he was their second-leading scorer when he had an excruciating knee injury on New Year’s Day. He was hailed as the team’s inspiration for the way he tried to speed his recovery to be able to play in the postseason. He was about 10 days from being ready.
It remains to be seen what the injury did to his value and whether being part of a championship team makes him want to return. The Mavs could have some leverage considering they won it all without him.
“He’s part of the family,” Nelson said. “That’s how we’ll treat all those guys.”
Stevenson is a well-traveled veteran who fell into a nice role this season. He started the first 19 playoff games, then became a key reserve once Barea took his spot. He was arrested for public intoxication Tuesday and released from jail Wednesday after posting bail, but a hiccup like that won’t diminish his value to the Mavs.
“His toughness, his performance on defense was great,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
Stojakovic helped replace some of Butler’s scoring and had some big games early in the playoffs. He faded in the conference finals and was so bad in the finals that he wound up glued to the bench.
“Even though I’m not the same player and I have to understand who I am at this point of my career, I still enjoy being out there,” Stojakovic said. “I still believe that I can have a role in this league.”
Carlisle has proof.
“Before we went on one of our last trips, I sat there and watched him make 95 out of 100 3s,” Carlisle said. “That’s ridiculous.”
Cardinal is another tough-nosed defender who can hit the 3 when left open. He replaced Stojakovic in the rotation and provided several highlights in the last few games.
A self-deprecating type, he joked about his free-agent status.
“Cash in? Geez, I’m just looking to survive another year,” he said. “I’d love to stay here. It’s the best group of guys I’ve been around. Tremendous organization, the fans are unbelievable.”
Again, it all comes down to that two-way street — the players have to want to return and the front-office has to invite them back. And they have to do it all within financial parameters that aren’t yet set.
From management’s perspective, they can offer one thing no other team can: the chance to repeat.
“Once you’ve sipped from that cup, there’s absolutely nothing like it and you want to be back,” Nelson said. “Once you’ve had a taste of this thing, you want to do it again and again and again.”
Terry thinks it will work.
“Those guys want to be here,” Terry said. “If you look in everybody’s eyes, they want to do it together with this team.”
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