DALLAS — Just last week, the lockout was sapping Jason Terry's usual optimism.
DALLAS — Just last week, the lockout was sapping Jason Terry’s usual optimism.
This was the first fall since he was in fifth grade, more than 20 years ago, that he wasn’t part of a basketball team. It was especially agonizing because it was his most anticipated season yet. Months after winning his first NBA championship, and the first for the Dallas Mavericks, he was supposed to be on the court with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, trying to defend their title.
As the Mavs’ player representative, Terry had been part of several high-level meetings. So he knew just how dire things were. When his brother went to play in Japan two weeks ago, Terry was so distraught that he considered joining him.
Standing on the Mavericks’ practice court Thursday morning, Terry was sure glad he didn’t. A deal is so close to being done that teams were allowed to let players return to the facility, and the smiling shooting guard was the first one through the door.
“I’m glad my card worked so I can get into the gym,” he said. “I was a little nervous out there at the front gate.”
Terry was expecting to be joined later in the day by Shawn Marion, Corey Brewer and Dominique Jones. His bigger concern is who will be joining the Mavericks when their season opens, likely on Christmas against the Miami Heat.
Center Tyson Chandler is among the top free agents, and it remains a toss-up, at best, whether he returns.
Giving Chandler the kind of long, lucrative deal he can likely get elsewhere could mean severe luxury tax ramifications for Mavs owner Mark Cuban, and it would limit their ability to chase the crop of coveted free agents available next offseason.
Then again, there’s the lure of defending their title.
“You can’t see my fingers or toes, but they are crossed hoping that Tyson’s coming back,” Terry said. “He was a big part of what we accomplished here. We’ve laid a foundation. To take a step backward would be terrible. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t have a chance to win this year if Tyson doesn’t come back, but it definitely puts things up against us.”
Terry said he’s spoken to Chandler every day for two weeks and believes he wants to return.
“It’s up to ownership to make it happen,” Terry said. “We’ll see.”
J.J. Barea, the backup point guard who proved to be an invaluable offensive sparkplug in the postseason, also is a free agent. So are Caron Butler, the team’s second-leading scorer until an injury in December; DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojakovic.
Terry knows they won’t all be back to make another run at a title together.
But he hopes Cuban doesn’t let the 2012 free agent crop detract from their chances this season.
“I think people put too much emphasis into next year,” said Terry, who happens to be going into the last year of his Dallas contract.
As the player rep, Terry said he attended four or five meetings. He learned a lot about the business side of basketball, and it wasn’t always pleasant. His biggest surprise was “just how ugly it can get.”
“People like to say ‘it’s business, never personal,’ but it did get personal at times,” he said.
Terry said there were meetings with everyone from guys making the minimum to Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. He liked hearing all the different perspectives. And, of course, he tried to make his own voice heard.
His main theme?
“Make the deal right so we could bring our team back — make it so we could sign Tyson, bring (back) J.J., DeShawn, Caron, that was my main thing,” he said, acknowledging that he didn’t really get it.
“Right now I’m glad I’m a player and not in (management’s) shoes because it is going to be a tough decision,” Terry said. “But we definitely want Tyson Chandler back.”
The proposed plans are for training camps to open next Friday, with a 66-game season tipping off Dec. 25.
Consider that Terry, Nowitzki and Kidd are all in their 30s, there’s a theory that the late start and shortened season will help Dallas’ title defense. Another theory is that a condensed season will be tougher on older bodies.
“Some people say it helps, some people say it hurts,” Terry said. “I think mentally we’re one of the strongest teams in this league, so whatever the schedule is this year, whatever presents us, I believe our core guys will be ready for it. … For me, I’m tired of just working out. That’s getting old. It’s time to play some games and get after it.”
Terry also is continuing a chip-on-his-shoulder attitude.
“Nobody is picking us anyway to do anything this year,” he said. “So you can only imagine how we’re going to feel, like we have something to prove again. ‘Can these guys do it again? Are they too old?’ All those questions will have to be answered.”
Another pending question is how Cuban plans to commemorate the championship. He’s talked about wanting to do something different from the traditional ring. He tweeted recently, “Almost there Mavs fans! Can’t wait to present solid gold commemorative mouse pads I got the guys!”
“Who knows what it’s going to be,” Terry said. “I think he is waiting for Dirk and I and J-Kidd to come up with something.”
As for the championship robe he was wearing — and vowing to keep wearing — in the days following the championship, Terry said there was a reason he wasn’t wearing it Thursday.
“The robe is retired,” he said. “Time to go get another one.”