Dalembert’s disturbing tendency to be late has twice resulted in him being benched -- for a quarter the first time and a game the second -- but that’s not the only thing about the big man that drives his coaches crazy. His frequent lackadaisical play is just as frustrating because they know how much of a difference Dalembert can make for the Mavs when he’s intense and aggressive.
The Mavs’ 107-90 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night provided a perfect example.
Dalembert returned to the starting lineup and responded with the kind of game Dallas desperately needs from him. He scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots in 18 minutes. The Mavs outscored the Pelicans by 27 points with Dalembert on the floor.
"Dalembert played big," coach Rick Carlisle said, bringing up the 6-foot-11 center before being asked about him. "He didn’t play a lot of minutes tonight, but his energy and presence were high-level. He brings our rebounding and our rim protection to another level when he’s rested and energetic and playing at a high level. It’s good to have him back playing like this.
"We’ve got to have him again tomorrow night the same way."
That leads to the big question about the only traditional, experienced big man on the Mavs’ roster: Can Dallas depend on Dalembert to perform with any kind of consistency?
"As you can see, when they call my name, I’m out there and I’m going hard and I’m giving all I can to help win the game," Dalembert said. "When they do call my name, I’m ready."
That, of course, really isn’t the case.
There are good reasons Dalembert’s playing time has been so sporadic, much like there are good reasons why he’s playing for his fifth team in five seasons.
It’s unacceptable for a 12-year veteran to have so much trouble showing up on time, but it’s not surprising considering Dalembert’s reputation before he arrived in Dallas. The same is true for his up-and-down performance.
Dirk Nowitzki made a point to say Dalembert was "actually active" against the Pelicans, indicating a certain degree of surprise. His teammates are practically pleading with Dalembert to play with such effort and energy on a regular basis.
"That’s what we need from him," Monta Ellis said. "When he does that, I hope he understands that we’re a way much better team on offense and defense."
Dalembert seems to be in denial about the trust issues his teammates have with him. "Nobody’s perfect in this league," he pointed out, adding that he never had any problems with his teammates because of their communication.
Perhaps he should listen to the face of the franchise.
"He’s just got to be a little more professional and show up on time like everybody else has to, but I still like what he brings to the team," Nowitzki said. "We’ve kind of got a three- or four-headed monster there at [center], but his length and ability to jump, none of the other guys got. I still like when he’s active, defends and rebounds and changes shots. That makes us a different team."
The Mavs don’t have much choice but to do everything possible to make this work with Dalembert, who this summer signed a two-year, $7.6 million deal, with the second season partially guaranteed.
DeJuan Blair and Brandan Wright are nice role players, but neither is built to be an interior presence like Dalembert when his switch is flipped. And the Mavs aren’t going to suddenly fall into a decent center; because they can offer only the league minimum, they’re extreme long shots to land Andrew Bynum, who has his own long list of issues anyway.
"We’re all about second chances and getting it right," Carlisle said. "He’s doing his part and we need him. Trust and respect universally have to be earned, and he’s earned a lot back here in the last couple of games. Sam’s a good guy. We all like him. Tonight he showed what he’s capable of."
It’s time for Dalembert to prove the Mavs can depend on him to perform like this.