“Of what import are brief, nameless lives to… Galactus?” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
In honor of Eddy Curry who played as a Dallas Maverick for only two games and was then waived to make room for the newly signed Troy Murphy, I want to offer my top-five list of Mavs who left the franchise too soon. (Eddy Curry is definitely not on the list.) These are the players we loved who then faded away, leaving fans only with an emptiness and a desire to have known them better.
It’s all too common in today’s NBA to have a revolving door of players. After all, the first lesson an NBA fan learns is letting go. Your favorite player probably won’t be wearing the same jersey forever. As Jerry Seinfeld famously observed, we’re all rooting for the laundry. Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards’ jersey may have been his final prophecy on the league. Confused by seeing Jordan in something other than red and white? Get used to it. Steve Nash is a Laker. Ray Allen is with the Heat. And Jason Terry is now a Celtic.
Nowitzki’s all-time scoring and rebounding record as a Maverick may remain unbroken, not because the franchise will never have a player of his caliber again (a scary thought, but possible), but because it’s such a rarity nowadays for an all-star player to stay with one team from rookie year until retirement. While we’re at it, we might want to throw in Derek Harper’s assists and steals record. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Pierce may be the last of their kind: the lifer.
Occasionally, a player leaves too quickly — even for the well-adjusted fan. Here’s my list of favorite short-lived Mavs, why we loved them and what they offered.
Honorable Mention: Delonte West — Delonte West helped us forget how terrible Jason Kidd was last season. West’s role off the bench was more about condolence than salvation. I don’t know if I’ll miss him as a player, but I will miss his personality. The Mavericks franchise has always had a soft spot for odd, quirky players (see Popeye Jones for another example).
Why we loved him: Because we all wanted to stick a finger in Gordon Hayward’s ear.
What he offered: In a season of dashed expectations, at least, West kept his end of the bargain.
5. Antawn Jamison – He’s the lowest selection on my top-five list, and you could probably make a stronger case for other players. But if you’re looking for an incredible talent who never really found his place in Dallas, Jamison might just be the poster child. He played with the Mavs during the 2003-2004 season and won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. And yet Jamison’s legacy of being the best player on terrible teams did not mesh with the Mavs’ rise to power. His departure brought the Mavs Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris. Two players who helped lead the Mavericks to their first finals appearance.
Why we loved him: He is the restless Highlander searching for a home, standing in the shadow of Dirk.
What he offered: The space he left behind, once filled, ushered in the Mavs’ most dominant era.
4. The 1st Jason Kidd — You might remember there were two Jason Kidds. The boyish dweeb drafted in 1994 by the Mavericks with the no. 2 pick, and the Jason Kidd who returned as an older, grizzled veteran to win a championship and win back our hearts. We never got to enjoy Kidd in his prime, a tragedy upon tragedy that the fans know as “Dallas Mavericks during the ’90s.” There was, at the time, a rumor about a love triangle between Jason Kidd, pop star Toni Braxton, and teammate Jim Jackson. Oh, how every fan wishes they could travel back to those days, send Jackson far away, and hold onto the young Kidd. Un-break my heart.
Why we loved him: We will always wonder what could have been.
What he offered: He was someone to believe in after Blackman and Aguirre left.
3. Kiki Vandeweghe — Technically, Vandeweghe was never a Dallas Maverick. But he should have been. For their first season as a franchise, the Mavericks had the no. 11 draft pick. They selected Vandeweghe, but the jerk refused to play for the Mavs and demanded a trade. This was not the start the Mavericks were hoping for. Vandeweghe challenged the status quo and was gone from the Mavs’ loving arms faster than one could say, “You can’t make me go to Dallas!” The Mavs yielded and traded him to Denver where he flourished. Throughout his career, Vandeweghe was greeted with boos from every man, woman, and child at Reunion Arena. (I think I booed him when I was five years old.) If Mavs fans have abandonment issues, it may have started with Vandeweghe.
In an odd twist of fate, Kiki Vandeweghe eventually took a front office job with the Dallas Mavericks. During that time, he helped Dirk Nowitzki adapt to life in the NBA. I guess you’re forgiven, Kiki.
Why we loved him: We didn’t. But the hate was so strong and blinding, it could’ve been confused for love.
What he offered: Redemption for his sins through the offering of Nowitzki
2. Tyson Chandler — For Mavs fans, Chandler’s departure is one of the greatest unending debates. One side argues that Mark Cuban was insane to break up the 2010-2011 championship team. Cuban’s attempt to create cap space for a possible Deron Williams or Dwight Howard was reckless speculating. Luxury tax be damned, he had a moral obligation to allow the championship team to defend its title. The other side says that Mark Cuban’s hands were tied by the collective bargaining agreement and the deep pockets of the New York Knicks. Cuban made a tough decision to secure the long-term viability of the team, acknowledging that this was not a young dynasty to be preserved but an aging veteran team in need of retooling. Regardless, no one questions Tyson Chandler’s essential role in winning the championship. Chandler was not only a force under the basket, but also a constant source of encouragement and positive mojo. The Mavs franchise has never been known for its center position. It would be difficult to call Chandler “the greatest center in franchise history,” since he only played for the team for one season. That said, who else would be worthy of the honor? James Donaldson? Shawn Bradley? Erick Dampier? Chandler was the powerful energetic center we always wanted, and before we knew it, he was gone.
Why we loved him: Bursting with enthusiasm after each dunk, he seemed even more excited than the fans.
What he offered: Like Mary Poppins, he took a dysfunctional family, taught them how to love each other, and then floated away as soon as the breeze changed directions.
1. Nick Van Exel — As with all good countdowns, the no. 1 spot might be a little controversial to some — in part because I think the heartache from losing Chandler hasn’t fully healed, and the delusional belief that Chandler could’ve redeemed last season (he couldn’t have) still persists. Nick Van Exel played for six teams during his NBA career, but Dallas loved him best. He may be most clearly remembered as a Laker where his time there was fraught with tension. He was part of the “rebuilding” process after the Magic Johnson era, a bridge between Johnson and Bryant. In-betweeners are often under appreciated. When he played for the Nuggets, they were one of the worst teams in the league. He played some of his best basketball, but it was wasted on a terrible team. In 2002, he was traded to Dallas. Here he had the best of both worlds, a great team and fans who appreciated his contributions. Van Exel just belonged in a Mavs jersey. He made the Mavs cool.
If I were a numbers guy, I’d create a line graph demonstrating the “swagger” to “skill” ratio among NBA players. Some players are all swagger and no skill. They are embarrassing to watch and shall not be named. Some players are all skill and no swagger. We’ll call this region of the chart “The Tim Duncan Contingency.” They are boring to watch, but they win games. Then there’s Nick Van Exel. He exists in an area of the graph where the lines cross and all teammates pull towards him like a red dwarf sun. Why does Dirk Nowitzki not fall into The Tim Duncan Contingency, a standard flaw among European players? You can mark the joyful 2002-2003 season for study, then thank Van Exel. Years later, when Nowitzki nailed a soul crushing three-pointer during the Finals and slowly walked away with three digits in the air and his tongue hanging out, I thought to myself, “Oh. There’s Van Exel. I wondered where you’d been.” Van Exel’s spirit remains long after he left. I half expected Nowitzki to stand an additional foot or so behind the free throw line (a Van Exel trademark), because he could and why not?
Why we loved him: He was the raging specter of showmanship and arrogance that everyone publicly scoffed at and privately adored.
What he offered: He gave the Mavs their groove.
Do you have other favorite short-lived Mavs worth mentioning? Post your selections in the comments. For the purposes of this column, I defined “short-lived” as anything under two and a half seasons (e.g., 1st Jason Kidd) although most were only one season.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He went to the game last night. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.