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Legacy provides motivation for Mavs

DALLAS -- There's a reason LeBron James boldly, if not unwisely, predicted that the Miami Heat will win "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven," NBA championships before he's done, and Lamar Odom thinks he knows what that is.

"If you think about it, you think about sports and you think about the NBA," Odom said, "you don't really remember the teams that win one; they come and go."

Odom is a two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning titles in consecutive seasons. Now he's trying to become the rare player to win a third on a different team that is defending its first.

"It's a challenge to go back-to-back," Odom said. "I take pride in defending the championship, and I didn't even win it with them."

And so, what would back-to-back titles mean to the legacies of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, the veteran core of the franchise's first title, which was also the first for each?

As the Dallas Mavericks move closer to finally raising the banner on the 2010-11 championship and beginning their title defense Sunday against the Heat with a retooled roster and up against a daunting 66-game schedule, this is the question Terry is posing to teammates, both old and new.

Every champion faces a so-called hangover effect and must shape new goals and challenges and discover new forms of motivation.

If there's concern that the Mavs are fat and happy, or that Nowitzki's relief of having seized the moment once will be enough, or that Kidd drained every ounce of his late-30-something legs into winning the first one, or that the bond of never having won one before has worn away, Terry has taken the lead in providing more long-range ramifications of defending the title or letting history slip away.

"For me it's easy because what you play for every year is to win a championship and now that you've done it, if you do it again it's even more special," Terry said. "Right now the guys like myself, J-Kidd, Shawn Marion, even Vince Carter and Lamar Odom -- I talked to Lamar the other day -- it's about our legacy.

"For Lamar to be able to win it this year with the Mavericks, it would just mean he is a champion. He's done it twice with the Lakers, once with the Mavericks; I mean, that's got Hall of Fame written all over it. We talk about that -- legacy -- that's what this season is about for us. It's all about the legacy."

And that dovetails back to Odom's comment regarding one-time champions -- "they come and go," he said. Think about it. The 2006 Heat are remembered for the pairing of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, but hardly for a memorable team. In fact, the series stirs more reflection of the Mavs' collapse and controversial officiating.

The 2004 Detroit Pistons are considered the rare starless team to win it all, and they will forever be overshadowed by the Kobe-Shaq feud that officially ended a Lakers dynasty that included a three-peat from 2000 to 2002.

The 2009 Boston Celtics narrowly missed repeating, losing to the Lakers, who then repeated in 2010. The San Antonio Spurs won four titles, in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, but never could repeat.

Last season's Mavs triumph, not unlike the '04 Pistons, was often buried under an avalanche of scrutiny toward James' fourth-quarter failings.

Those Mavs often talked about that season as being the final chance for many of them to win a ring. None except for Peja Stojakovic were even considering retirement, but as veterans that had been around the block they recognized the opportunity before them and that nothing is guaranteed beyond that season.

That certainly proved true with the departures of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson. The team that won the title certainly isn't the same one that will defend it.

The primary addition of Odom softened the blow of losing Chandler, and with another veteran team buoyed by the same committed veteran core and competing in a Western Conference that lacks a dominant team, the repeat window is indeed open.

"That's what it's all about," Marion said. "When you look at the collaboration and the things the guys upstairs [in the front office] have done to put this team together -- we lost pieces and got new pieces -- and we're right there in the mix to do it again. That's what it boils down to. It's going to take a while for the lineups to get used to each other, but the focus is there and the desire is there. We just have to go out and get it done."

That is the chore and quite possibly the difference between being a nice story as one-time champs or to stamp a legacy as two-time champions.

"I tell these guys, 'You know how good it feels to win?' " Odom said. "It hurts 10 times as bad to lose as it feels good to win. Winning is relief. That's somewhere you always want to be. But to lose, that's the worst thing that could possibly ever happen as a sportsman."

The journey begins on Christmas Day under a banner that will read: Dallas Mavericks, 2010-11 NBA Champions.

Is there more to come?

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.