Mavs trade for Laettner, Mills

Wednesday, August 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Now, after the Mavericks got their man Christian Laettner, the truth can come out.

The Mavericks, did, indeed, break up last week's massive four-team, 13-player trade en route to finally securing their own five-player swap with the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

So, instead of New York's Patrick Ewing heading to Seattle for Vin Baker, Laettner and Terry Mills are coming to Dallas in exchange for forward Cedric Ceballos, forward John Wallace, point guard Eric Murdock and what is becoming the ever-present maximum-allowable $3 million from owner Mark Cuban.

"We got our greasy little hands in that big trade," said Mavericks coach-general manager Don Nelson, chuckling from his home in Hawaii. "Oh, we broke it up. No question."

The Mavericks can laugh now because they got the player they wanted – Laettner – managed to add another big body who can contribute – Mills – and also somehow prevented any Western Conference foes from becoming notably stronger.

And after all this summer's wheelings and dealings, Nelson and Cuban revealed they might actually be dangerously close to the way the Mavericks roster will look by the start of training camp. With the exception of some smaller trades, the Mavericks might settle down this off-season. One possible trade involves obtaining forward Loy Vaught from Detroit in exchange for veteran guard Dana Barros, but that trade can't be completed until Oct. 16.

"I don't think you ever stop working, but we can definitely take a rest, now," Nelson said. "We have a team that we really like, and we have our problem areas identified and addressed. Something else would have to really knock our socks off for us to do it."

Even if a trade offer was that startling, Cuban said he intends to keep last year's starting five – Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki, Gary Trent and Shawn Bradley – intact and in Mavericks uniforms for next season.

They will remain, Cuban promised, even if it means forsaking other deals, such as when a player as juicy as Indiana Pacers forward Dale Davis made public Tuesday his desire to be traded to one of three teams: the New York Knicks, the Miami Heat ... and the Mavericks.

"The bigger point is he wants to come and play for the Mavericks," Cuban said. "We can pursue it, but the Pacers have to be willing to trade him. I don't know if they'd be willing to do that. But if we can figure out a way to do it? Yeah – heck yeah!"

So for now, Laettner was the final major piece in Dallas' summer plans, a veteran player who can play minutes at center for the Mavericks. Cuban said his offer for Laettner came the week before the proposed Ewing trade unfolded, but the Mavericks pressed their offer when they saw that the Pistons were set to receive several minor role players in the original four-team, 13-player trade.

"That was as bad a trade as I've ever seen come down the pipe for Detroit," Nelson said. "And we really liked Christian Laettner, so we started talking logic to them. We said, 'Why would you do a bad trade when you can do a good one?' "

Laettner, a 6-11 power forward/center in the final year of his contract, is expected to be in town Thursday. Nelson said he anticipates Laettner starting often, depending on matchups. He likes Bradley coming off the bench because of the 7-6 center's tendency to get in foul trouble.

Mills, meanwhile, can provide minutes at power forward and center. He's also a sharp outside shooter with a career .387 from 3-point range. A free agent, Mills was a sign-and-trade addition to the deal and has one year guaranteed on his three-year contract.

The Mavericks lose Ceballos, who was a valuable sixth man for them last season, averaging 16.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Wallace and Murdock were draft-day acquisitions and had not played a game with the Mavericks.

The roster movement, and the possibility that there will be no other major changes, left Nelson giddy Tuesday.

"I'm so excited, I'm ready to come back to training camp right now," Nelson said. "Man, we're going to have some fun this year."