Two days into training camp, the Mavericks are free from the dour vibes or controversies that have plagued the Phoenix Suns, the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets or the Los Angeles Lakers, to name a few.
But a couple of comments from and about a newcomer have piqued attention as a possible source of disconnect — or, the Mavericks hope, a chance to reinforce the standout communication tactics Jason Kidd established in Year 1.
Will trade addition Christian Wood as Dallas’ sixth-man center off the bench — and his implied disinterest in the role entering the final year of his contract — disrupt the close-knit chemistry and selfless culture the team has fostered?
Or will the Mavericks’ recent history of buy-in and enthusiasm for unglamorous contributions rub off on one of the team’s most intriguing rotation mainstays?
So far, the Mavericks expect the latter.
“I’m asking C-Wood to be himself,” Kidd said. “I’m not asking him to do anything that he hasn’t done. He’s been in this league. He understands how to score the ball. Team defense is something that we’ll help him with as we go along here, and he’s capable of doing it, so we’ll hold him accountable to that. But I think being able to just play his game, I don’t need him to be The Microwave. I just need him to be C-Wood.”
To recap: The Mavericks’ annual preseason media day Monday ended with Wood at the podium, first fielding two general questions and then a third about how he feels about coming off the bench after starting all but one of the 109 games he’s played since 2020.
Kidd had hinted at Wood’s chance since declaring free-agent center JaVale McGee the starter after his signing. He confirmed in his media day press conference, hours before Wood’s.
But Wood said “this is my first time hearing about it, but thank you” after the reporter asked.
Kidd followed up Tuesday.
“When you use the term, ‘When you check in [at] six minutes…’, that means you didn’t start,” Kidd said. “We’ll get to talking about his role as we go forward, but I’ve never coached him, so I want to first see what he’s capable of doing in the different lineups and different combinations here in the preseason.
“Then we’ll make a decision on where he’s going to play — if it’s coming off the bench or starting. But right now he will not start.”
Some followers immediately assumed disgruntled friction.
After all, Wood’s starting streak ended last year when Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas benched him for failing to report for daily COVID-19 testing, forcing the team to delay a shootaround.
During that Jan. 1 loss, Wood appeared to pout at Silas’ discipline when asked to check into the game.
Silas suspended him for the next outing.
Some Mavericks fans wondered this week: Was Wood’s “Lol” tweet Monday a cryptic look at his dissatisfaction already?
Use his “Everything earned , never given” Instagram caption Tuesday as a more likely gauge for his mindset so far.
Recall last year when the Mavericks turned their 16-18 start, mid-COVID outbreak, into a 36-12 close to the regular season and the franchise’s first conference finals appearance in over a decade.
Luka Doncic starred and Jalen Brunson rose to $100-million prominence, but some of the most crucial contributions to the turnaround came from those with less-heralded roles.
Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock excelled as high-minute, 3-and-D wings, reserve Maxi Kleber provided key spacing and torched the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns from three in the playoffs, and Spencer Dinwiddie hit consecutive game-winning threes in March despite transitioning from Washington Wizards starter to Mavericks back-up.
That wasn’t an accident.
“We bought into chemistry and accountability and fighting for that singular goal of winning games,” said Dwight Powell, who lost his starting spot amid the Mavericks’ frontcourt moves this offseason. “As the season went on and roles were more clearly defined, and we found success in the situations we found ourselves in, guys got excited to contribute in whatever way they can.”
A new addition to Kidd’s “leadership council” with Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr., Powell expects that to continue.
Kidd and his staff spent time receiving screens Wednesday, for example, reminding players that whether the move resulted in them receiving the ball or taking a shot, the pick was integral to the play design.
In front of a large invite-only crowd that included Dirk Nowitzki, former Lakers coach Frank Vogel, former Maverick Devin Harris and coaches from the SMU men’s and TCU women’s basketball programs, Powell recognized “guys receiving information as it is and not being emotional and understanding it’s all toward the common goal of winning games.”
Afterward, Wood spent time shooting with lead assistant coach Sean Sweeney in a rotation with Finney-Smith and two-way guard Tyler Dorsey and interrupted rookie Jaden Hardy’s interview with playful praise.
No resistance to detect.
“It’s not really worried about who starts the game, more so who’s finishing the game,” Wood said Monday. “If people were asking, ‘How would he feel coming off the bench?’ I’m not worried. It’s something that most likely will happen in talks with extensions and talks with free agency, but during the season, it’s not going to get me off my pivot.”