O.J. Mayo soars on his own trajectory

BOSTON -- Jason Terry has a job waiting for him in the Dallas Mavericks' front office once the man known as "Jet" finally stops flying.

That's how highly Mark Cuban and the rest of the Mavs' organization thinks of Terry, who served as Dirk Nowitzki's sidekick for the eight seasons before leaving for Boston this summer, winning a NBA Sixth Man of the Year award and a world championship during his Dallas tenure.

Of course, Terry wants more than just a job. He expects his No. 31 to hang in the American Airlines Center rafters after he retires, even pointing to a suggested spot while celebrating with a victory cigar dangling from his mouth on the day of the championship parade through downtown Dallas.

"We'll deal with that," Cuban said, grinning. "I'm not opposed to it, let's put it that way."

If Cuban's dreams come true, there will be a No. 32 up there one day, too.

Yeah, that's jumping pretty far ahead just 21 games into O.J. Mayo's one-year deal with Dallas. But the billionaire who signs the checks allowed himself to daydream about Mayo's magnificent future with the franchise as the Mavs prepared to face Terry's new team in Boston on Wednesday night.

"Jet is one of a kind, but O.J. is his own guy," Cuban said. "He'll hopefully be here longer than Jet and make his mark in the same way."

Sure sounds like Cuban is willing to make the kind of lucrative, long-term deal with the 25-year-old Mayo that he wouldn't give the 35-year-old Terry last summer.

Actually, it's almost certainly going to take much, much more than the three-year, midlevel-exception deal Terry signed with the Celtics to keep Mayo in Mavs blue. At this point, your odds of winning the Powerball lottery are better than those of Mayo exercising his $4.2 million player option for next season.

Right now, Mayo ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring at an efficient 20.8 points per game, behind seven guys whose salaries are well into eight figures. It doesn't take a salary-cap whiz to figure out that keeping Mayo would take a big bite out of the financial flexibility the Mavs created by bidding farewell to Terry and other key members of the title team.

Enough about the finances, though. Let Cuban and Mayo's agent worry about that come summer.

For now, just focus on the fact that the Mavs might have found a young foundation piece.

Mayo respectfully shies away from Jet comparisons, and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle calls it an "apple-orange kind of conversation" because the guards' styles and situations are so different. Yet there are similarities, starting with their late-nights-in-the-gym work ethic and the way they want the ball (and the pressure that comes along with it) when the game is on the line.

But Dallas doesn't need Mayo to fill the Reeboks of Jet, whom Carlisle calls "an all-time great Mav." They need Mayo to be better than Terry.

The potential is there. So is the performance so far.

Carlisle calls Terry one of the best players never to be an All-Star. If Mayo keeps this up, he ought to make his first All-Star appearance this February in Houston, where he lit the Rockets up for 40 points over the weekend.

Terry never had to carry the Mavs. That has been Mayo's task with Dirk Nowitzki slowly recovering from a knee scope.

Mayo, who is bigger and a better isolation player than Terry, gets much of the credit for the 11-10 Mavs keeping their heads above water without their only proven superstar.

"I always had the ability to shoot the ball and score," said Mayo, who has also followed in Terry's footsteps as the scoring threat who has Carlisle's foot in his rear about defense on a regular basis. "I'm trying to put it all together. This year has been pretty good, but it can get better."

This has been the Mavs' slowest start since Nowitzki's second season -- the last time the Mavs didn't make the playoffs -- but it's a heck of a lot better than the 2-7 skid they went the last time Dirk was down for a significant stretch.

That, by the way, was in the winter of 2011, months before the Mavs' championship run.

Terry was a terrific complement to Nowitzki, a phenomenal secondary scorer who excelled running the pick-and-pop and knocking down open looks created by the presence of the sweetest-shooting power forward in the history of the game. They developed an outstanding, odd-couple kind of chemistry over the years.

Even when Nowitzki is ready to make his season debut, which might happen later this month, the Mavs will need Mayo to take the lead on many nights. At 34, it's unreasonable to expect Nowitzki to continue being the man, which is why the Mavs created all that cap space in the first place.

It's important for Mayo to make it work with Dirk, but the Mavs don't need him deferring. Nor does Nowitzki want that, consistently emphasizing that he'd be thrilled to be a co-star.

Nowitzki looks forward to beginning his basketball relationship with Mayo. The big German admits that Mayo, whose game has blossomed under Carlisle, is better than he anticipated.

"Hopefully, we can build the same kind of chemistry we had with Jet," Nowitzki said recently. "That obviously took a while for us to get to the level where we were at the last couple of years. At the beginning, [Terry and Nowitzki] had some ugly times. We were yelling at each other and just didn't read well at the beginning.

"I think that's hopefully going to go quick once I get back, but it's going to take some time in games, it's going to take some time in practice. But, like I said, I like what we're seeing."

The Mavs will see an old friend wearing No. 4 in Celtics green Wednesday night.

They see their future, or so they hope, every time Mayo puts on that blue No. 32.