DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks have surrounded Dirk Nowitzki with a bunch of veteran newcomers and a lot of players with one-year deals.
After being unable to persuade Deron Williams to come home to play and team up with their 11-time All-Star, the Mavericks now seem like they are holding season-long auditions. While trying to get back in the playoffs this season, they are also keeping financial flexibility if they want to take another stab at a big-name free agent next summer.
"We had some big fish available and we didn't get them. So you can do either of two things, blow the whole thing up and start over, or keep signing guys to short contracts to stay a player in the free agent market the following year," Nowitzki said. "For basically saying we still want to be a player next summer, we still put a decent product out there. We're going to compete and see what happens."
One big kink in the plan is that Nowitzki won't be playing with Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo or the three draft picks at the start of the season.
Nowitzki, 34 and going into his 15th NBA season, is recovering from his first surgery and the eight newcomers will have to start without him.
The 7-foot German had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Oct. 19 after problems with swelling early in training camp. He will likely miss at least the first 10 games, and probably more. Nowitzki had issues with the same knee two seasons ago when the Mavs won their only NBA title, then skipped a week last January to strengthen and condition that knee.
Collison, who came from Indiana in a trade with Jones, takes over as the starting point guard after Jason Kidd left in free agency for the New York Knicks.
"We have new players on the team, you have to know how to jell, that's going to be our biggest issue," Collison said. "The talent is definitely there. Everybody can score, but we've got to learn to play together."
Coach Rick Carlisle wants Collison to be like Kidd in setting the pace for the offense while calling the plays.
Kaman, when healthy, gives the Mavericks a legitimate center. Durability is an issue for the 7-footer who missed 152 games the last five seasons and was bothered in training camp with a sprained back and a strained right calf.
Before playing in New Orleans last season, Kaman was with the Los Angeles Clippers for eight years, five of those with Brand. Kaman played with Nowitzki on the German national team.
With Nowitzki out, Brand will initially be a starter instead of having to adapt right away to a role coming off the bench. The Mavs got the two-time All-Star post player off amnesty waivers from the Philadelphia 76ers, who are paying $16 million of his $18.1 million contract this season.
"Being amnestied from a team after being in the playoffs and getting to the second round, I definitely want to prove a lot, but in the right way. Not individually," Brand said. "I'm at a point in my career I'm not worried about the individual stats, but helping the team win and win big. That's my goal, just being a part of that."
While defending their NBA title last season, after the lockout and hurried start to a shortened season, the Mavericks went 36-30 and were swept in the first round of the playoffs by Oklahoma City.
Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are the only players left who were on the court when the Mavs beat Miami for the championship in June 2011. After all the moves the past two offseasons, there could be plenty more next summer.
Delonte West, a free agent who re-signed with the Mavs, Brandan Wright and Rodrigue Beaubois all have expiring contracts. Mayo, who wasn't even starting his last two seasons in Memphis, is the only of the five veteran newcomers whose contract goes past this season. He has a player option for 2013-14.
The third overall pick out of USC in 2008, Mayo will get a chance to start in Dallas in what owner Mark Cuban has described as the guard's "make-or-break who am I going to really be in this league" season.
"We have a good mix of young guys that are hungry and want to get better, but we also have some veteran guys that also want to win," Brand said. "I don't think there's too many teams with more cap space than right here. So if you want to audition, play right and play the right way."
Cuban said every season is like a trial for every player, but that he wants to find reasons to keep guys.
"We want this team to play together well and perform," he said. "You want to have a team that you can keep around a long time. You don't want to go through this every summer."