Mavs' camp mission: Jell in a month

DALLAS -- The Mavericks' attempt to mesh on the fly turned into a mess last season.

The Mavs stumbled out of the blocks with an 0-3 start and finished with their worst winning percentage in more than a decade before being swept out of the first round. They never really resembled a defending championship team after letting Tyson Chandler and other key pieces leave and trying to replace them with Lamar Odom and Co.

And here the Mavs go again, hoping to contend with a roster made up mostly of Dallas newcomers, opening camp Saturday and jetting off to Europe next week to begin the preseason.

"The good thing is we have a whole month," Dirk Nowitzki said, referring to the length of prep time between Saturday's opening of training camp and the Oct. 30 season opener against the loaded Los Angeles Lakers. "Last year, we had a friggin' week and then we had to get started."

The Mavs actually had eight days of camp last season. Of course, the roster was being remodeled during that wild time after the lockout was lifted.

Another major difference between the Mavs of last season and this bunch: It appears that all the Mavs' newcomers actually want to be in Dallas.

That obviously wasn't the case with Odom, who moped his way through the motions for about three-quarters of the season before the Mavs decided just to dump him and mail his paychecks to L.A.

Elton Brand crossed his fingers that the Mavs -- and not some lottery-bound squad -- would claim him in the amnesty waivers process. He's excited about the opportunity to play with a power forward whom opposing defenses must make their priority.

Point guard Darren Collison and shooting guard Dahntay Jones were pleased to land with another playoff team after being moved by the Pacers. Collison, in particular, is happy to be with a franchise that wants to hand the keys of the offense to him.

And shooting guard O.J. Mayo and center Chris Kaman chose to come to Dallas when they had other options in free agency.

Coach Rick Carlisle prefers to compare these Mavs to another team he coached: the 2002-03 Detroit Pistons, who had eight newcomers and ended the season in the East finals.

"We've got a similar situation here," Carlisle said.

It's one thing for these veterans to say the right things, but they've already shown the kind of attitude the Mavs want with their actions.

The Mavs have never had better pre-camp attendance. The newcomers have been in Dallas for weeks, working out with the coaches and playing pickup games to try to expedite the jelling process.

"We've got guys who know how to play," said Collison, who called the Mavs' video staff as soon as he was traded to request film of his teammates to study. "It won't take long."

It'd be naïve to simply dismiss the potential chemistry issues that could be caused by having so many players in contract years, especially after the way a similar situation bubbled in the Mavs' locker room last season.

All the veteran newcomers are on one-year deals with the exception of Mayo, who had a player option for a second season that he would realistically exercise only if he has a disappointing year. But they all seem to be approaching their uncertain financial futures with a heavy dose of common sense.

"It's definitely a challenge," Brand said. "Guys are thinking, 'OK, I need to audition.' But I don't think there's too many teams with more cap space than right here. So if you want to audition, play the right way.

"That's fitting into the system and doing what ownership, management and the coaching staff wants."

That process officially starts Saturday morning, although the Mavs have tried to get a head start.