DALLAS -- It's easy to forget that professional athletes don't live in a sports vacuum. They have real lives and real families -- wives and children who can go weeks and months in a stretch without seeing or hugging a husband or daddy.
Take Dallas Mavericks reserve forward Brian Cardinal. After two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cardinal signed a non-guaranteed contract to join the Mavs. That meant moving his family -- pregnant wife Danielle, 4-year-old son Bryson and 2-year-old daughter Emery -- from Minneapolis to their permanent home in Northern Indiana, and then leaving them behind to join the Mavs for training camp in late September.
About a month later, just before the start of the regular season, Cardindal flew home for the birth of his third child, daughter Delanie. Home just a few days, it would be the last time Cardinal would see his wife and kids for nearly two more months.
"It’s hard just because you miss certain things, you miss certain events or you’re on the road during a birthday or during a holiday," Cardinal said. "It’s difficult when you miss the important dates, and heaven forbid somebody gets sick or is not feeling 100 percent and you’re not able to be there to help out so it makes it hard."
Because the 33-year-old Cardinal signed a non-guaranteed contract, the Mavs can release him by Jan. 10 and not owe him the remainder of his salary. So Cardinal's future has always been in some doubt, which initially made him think for stability's sake that it was wiser to keep his family in Indiana.
"That was the thought for a while, but that’s hard when you’ve got three kids," Cardinal said. "To have them down in Dallas is great."
The family made the move just a few weeks ago, a midseason transaction that has kept Cardinal smiling, if not up to his elbows in diapers.
"The crew's back together," Cardinal said. "It’s straight chaos in the Cardinal household."
The NBA schedule-makers did Cardinal and the Mavs a big favor this season with a five-day break between games over Christmas. Dallas wrapped up a two-game road trip at Orlando on Tuesday and doesn't play again until Monday night at Oklahoma City.
Such an extended holiday break is rare in the NBA. The Mavs could be playing on Christmas as they did a few years ago in Portland. Or take San Antonio, for instance. After playing Thursday in Orlando, the Spurs are back in action Sunday night.
"It’s great just to be able to spend time with them over the holidays and be home to open presents and wrap presents for mom and decorate Christmas cookies and do all the things we enjoy to do as a family," Cardinal said. "It’s great to have everybody there."
The best Christmas present Cardinal could receive now is assurances that he'll stick with the Mavs for the remainder of the season. The 6-foot-8 forward in his 11th season has not had much playing time recently, but he was an effective defender and 3-point shooter when he received his only stretch of consistent playing time in November when Caron Butler missed three games with back spasms.
Cardinal has also been an easy fit in a congenial locker room, and he is a reliable insurance policy at the forward position.
He said the club has not given him an indication of their intentions. It would seem that he and forward Steve Novak, who is also on a non-guaranteed contract, will remain with the team. However, as their contracts state, there is no guarantee.
Cardinal just knows he's not ready to move his young family back to Northern Indiana.
"Hopefully," Cardinal said, "we'll be here for the whole year."