Mavs hope to teach an old dog new tricks

LAS VEGAS -- Although forward Ivan Johnson is essentially auditioning for every NBA team during the Las Vegas summer league, it appears the Dallas Mavericks are invested in keeping the inside track on giving him a contract, should the situation present itself.

Want proof?

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle spent time with Johnson after "training camp" practices in Dallas to work on his 3-point shot.

Johnson had 19 total attempts from long range in his 125-game stint with the Atlanta Hawks from 2011 to 2013. The Mavs clearly see something in the 30-year-old forward. But the results of the work in the first two games in Las Vegas weren’t great, as he went 1-for-11 from 3-point range.

The persistence paid off in the team's final preliminary game of the summer league, however, and Johnson finished 2-for-4 from 3 in a win over the Toronto Raptors.

"Practice makes perfect," he said.

Dallas certainly will look to see if his strong finish in shooting in the preliminary round can translate into the summer league playoffs. The Mavs will stay the course with the veteran forward and continue to let him shoot those perimeter shots.

"We're going to stay positive with him," said Mavs summer league coach Kaleb Canales. "They're open looks and good looks in our system. We want him to shoot [3-point baskets] and shoot them with confidence. He knocked them down [on Sunday], and we're going to keep encouraging him to shoot that shot."

Dallas president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said before the team left Las Vegas that Johnson was "more than just a summer league guy" for his team. Based on that statement and Carlisle's time investment, Johnson could be in the process of being groomed for a roster spot -- groomed with a very specific skill added to the arsenal, that is.

Johnson is an undersized low-post player in a similar vein to DeJuan Blair. Such players are brought in the game to change the flow of the game and create constructive chaos. It's intriguing to see the Mavs trying to develop his shooting range, when he's known more as an aggressive player who gets in the middle of things.

"I'm still that same dude," Johnson said, flashing a smile that showed off his six-tooth gold-and-diamond grill. "I'm still that dude, but I'm expanding my game."

While they are trying to add a new dimension to his offensive game, the Mavs also are trying to ensure Johnson maintains the assertive identity he's known for on the defensive end of the floor and when he attacks the glass. In maintaining his style and spreading out the floor, the staff hopes to bring a different dynamic to Johnson's game altogether.

Showing he is coachable in the development of a perimeter shot could go a long way in extending Johnson's career. That's what the Mavs are envisioning with this assignment for Johnson.

"We've talked about it as a staff in terms of what we want him to specifically do this summer," Canales said. "He's doing a good job with that. We're going to keep getting in the gym with him and keep trying develop that shot for him, which I think will be a good weapon for him going forward."

If persistence and practice pay off for Johnson, he'll be able to continue his dream of playing in the NBA -- whether it’s for the Mavs or elsewhere.