THE MAVERICKS are getting up there in age, but that doesn't seem to bother point guard Jason Kidd, whom they re-signed for three years in the off-season. Kidd, 36, sees no problem with a rotation that will lean heavily on five players that are 31 or older—including forward Dirk Nowitzki (31), sixth man Jason Terry (32) and center Erick Dampier (34). "I think it's great," says Kidd. "Jay-Z said 30 is the new 20."
The newest of Dallas's "new 20" set is 31-year-old Shawn Marion, who signed a five-year, $39 million contract as a free agent. The forward is playing for his fourth team in as many years, but to G.M. Donnie Nelson the reasons to acquire the four-time All-Star were obvious. "Here's a guy who's a double double man in his sleep," says Nelson. "And he's got such an upbeat bounce about him. Even in practices, he shows up, and all of a sudden an average practice will turn spirited and lively."
An energy boost is just what the Mavericks need. After making it to the Finals in 2006, Dallas has a total of one playoff series win in three years. Coach Rick Carlisle praises the flexibility of the 6'7" Marion, who can play either forward position, allowing Dallas to go big or small. "He can really guard positions one through five," Carlisle says. "He's a unique weapon to have." While Marion may see time at center when the Mavs go small, even in a big lineup Dallas will often opt for what Nelson calls a "more versatile, athletic look" by deploying 6'10" free-agent signee Drew Gooden at the five in place of longtime starter Dampier.
In Gooden the Mavericks get more of an offensive threat at center, especially away from the basket. Of course Marion, the career 17.8-points-per-game scorer, can also contribute as well. Nelson envisions charges being led by Kidd in the middle with Josh Howard and Marion on the wings. It may not be the youngest group—but, says Nelson, "I think for what we want to do, experience is extremely important."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
got off to a better start. Howard has the ability to be a higher-scoring version of Bruce Bowen, but when they revamped their roster, he saw the opportunity to score, and some of that emphasis on defense went away.... Jason Kidd isn't as good defensively as he used to be, obviously, and with the explosive guards in the West that's a problem. But he still pushes the ball, he's still strong, and his three-point shooting has improved dramatically to where you can't back off him or close out late. He still has the quick first step; he just doesn't have the second or third step to get all the way to the basket anymore.
NED DISHMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (MARION)
SHAWN MARION Now playing in Big D: the Matrix, reloaded.
GREG NELSON (KIDD)