DeSagana Diop, traded by the Dallas Mavericks to the New Jersey Nets in February, is returning to his former team sporting quite a hefty pay raise.
The 7-foot center agreed to a five-year deal with the Mavs on Wednesday and is expected to sign on July 9 for the entire mid-level exception, expected to be around $5.5 million or more for the first season. Diop, who said Wednesday by phone that he had three other offers, made about $2.2 million last season.
He headlined a shallow crop of free-agent centers and he took advantage of the timing and the Mavs need to shore up their middle, especially defensively.
"My heart has always been here," Diop said. "This is where I wanted to be."
Diop becomes the Mavs' second free-agent pickup. The team agreed to a one-year deal with fourth-year guard/forward Gerald Green on Tuesday. Mavs officials can't comment on any free agents until July 9 when players can officially sign contracts.
Diop said he spoke to new coach Rick Carlisle on the phone on Monday and that conversation solidified his decision to come back. His return pairs him with center Erick Dampier in the middle, giving the Mavs the same center tandem they've employed the past three seasons. The Mavs missed that duo in the playoffs as New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul and center Tyson Chandler exploited the Mavs' thin interior defense for easy alley-oop dunks and big rebounding games from Chandler.
"I think I could have helped," Diop said. "I'm not going to say we were going to win the series, but I'm a big body and can contest shots, maybe helped guard David West."
Diop seemed to fall out of favor with former coach Avery Johsnon during the early and middle portions of last season and then found himself included in the trade that acquired point guard Jason Kidd. Diop said he never took the trade personally and always wanted to return.
In 52 games with the Mavs last season, Diop, 26, averaged 3.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 17.2 minutes a game. His minutes and stats dropped further in 27 games with New Jersey.
"I don't know," Diop said about why Johnson cut into his playing time. "I feel like [Carlisle] is going to give me a fair chance. That's all I want. It seemed like they really wanted me, too."
Assuming that Green and Diop officially sign contracts on July 9, it gives the Mavs 10 players on the 15-man roster. The Mavs continue to sound as if they want to re-sign Devean George Antoine Wright and J.J. Barea. Of course, those players could also be used in potential trades.
Diop said he's looking forward to re-joining his old friends as well getting to know his new teammate, Kidd as the Mavs look to end a two-year run of first-round playoff exits.
"A lot of people are doubting the Mavs," Diop said. "We have an all-star in Dirk [Nowitzki], Kidd, Josh [Howard], we still have a good core out there. Then you have [Brandon] Bass. That's why I wanted to come back."
As far as signing other unrestricted free agents, the Mavs will be searching for more minimum-salary help since the club is already stretched far beyond the salary cap.
-- Jeff Caplan