Ex-Pitt star Blair loving life with NBA's Mavericks
DALLAS — After spending his first four NBA seasons in San Antonio, DeJuan Blair is now in Dallas, and the Pittsburgh native couldn't be happier.
Blair joined the Mavericks in August on a one-year deal at the league minimum of $1.4 million. Through 45 games, he is averaging 7.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.
“It's a good experience to find a team that needs you,” he said. “It's good to feel wanted again.”
Before last season, the Schenley High School product had settled in with the Spurs, starting 127 games over the previous two seasons. However, last season, he started just 16 games, averaging just 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. And with his minutes dropping to a career-low and his role diminishing as the season progressed, he knew his time in the Alamo City was ending.
“They have a great team, a great organization, but I had to move on to better myself and come somewhere where I could play,” Blair said.
He only has started 13 games for the Mavericks, but when coach Rick Carlisle has called on him — whether as an occasional starter or bench guy — he has been a strong rebounder who can also score in the paint.
“I don't have his stats in front of me, but he's rebounded well,” Carlisle said. “He's a crafty scorer. We're continuing to work with him on his defense. So we'll stay the course and keep working on that, but he's been a valuable guy for us.”
The 24-year-old Blair would naturally rather be a starter than someone who comes off the bench, but he's content to continue working hard, which should lead to more starts.
“I think it's an unfortunate role; just got to play my part, rebound, get on the defensive end,” he said. “It's all coming together. I think as I keep going and get in better shape, I'll be pretty good.”
After leaving San Antonio, the 6-foot-7, 270-pound former All-American needed a fresh start with a new team and that's what he's received with the Mavericks, a team loaded with veterans like Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and 2011 NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
Coming to Dallas also means he plays for one of the league's best in owners in Mark Cuban, a fellow Pittsburgh native who spares no expense when it comes to his players.
“Playing for a dude like Mark, it's good because he has Pittsburgh passion, and he wants to win every game just like I do,” Blair said. “It's just something that you want in an owner, in a coach and a GM. So, he brings it, and he makes everybody else accountable.”
One highlight of his season came against the Spurs on Dec. 26, 2013, when as Dallas' starting center he had 14 points and 11 rebounds in a 116-107 loss at American Airlines Center.
Before that game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about Blair's progression during his four seasons playing for him, and the four-time NBA Coach of the Year had positive things to say about his former big man.
“He's a really intelligent young man, and he's a good kid, and he works hard,” Popovich said. “Each year he just developed a little bit more. (He) has matured into a real fine young man.”
Along with former Pitt center Aaron Gray, who now plays for Sacramento, and Oklahoma City's Steven Adams, Blair is one of three ex-Panthers in the NBA, a source of great pride for this fifth-year veteran.
“It's a big accomplishment, especially being from Pitt and not seeing that many players come out,” Blair said. “You see that you're one of the two that's in the league, and it's a pretty good accomplishment, knowing that out of all the great players that came out of Pitt that could have been there.”
But no matter how he ended up in Dallas, Blair is ready to make the most of what is basically a one-year audition for hopefully a long-term deal with the Mavericks or maybe even another team.
“Can't wait to start really getting paid for what I do,” he said.
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer.