03-02-2001, 01:47 PM
Mavericks extra: Waiting game
Mavericks' 12th man Mark Bryant prepared for when call comes


By Gerry Fraley Staff Writer

The lot of a 12th man can be trying. Look at what the NBA has done to a basic of the game: the bench.

Hungry for revenue, teams sell high-priced courtside seats that eat into bench space. The well-heeled spectators bump the reserves. In many arenas, some bench players must sprawl on the floor to see the game.

Not Mark Bryant, the Mavericks' 12th man.

"I'm always going to get a seat," Bryant said. "Veteran privilege."

A season ago, Bryant battled heavyweights as a muscular but undersized center with Cleveland. This season, he fights for a prime spot on the bench while handling the difficult role of last man on the bench.

Bryant has 30 of the dreaded "DNP-coach's decision" in 43 games since joining the Mavericks. He has one start, which is 49 fewer than he had last season for the Cavaliers.

This for a player who has twice appeared in the league finals. More accomplished and more experienced than most 12th men, Bryant handles the new role the same as he has dealt with every other aspect of his career.

He does the job.

Bryant works hard, stays late after practice, offers counsel to younger frontcourt players and speaks with the voice of wisdom to the entire team. He is the old man on this team at age 35. He is the voice of reason after 13 years in the league.

When "Big Daddy" talks, everyone on this club listens.

"You can complain your way out of this league," Bryant said. "I've learned that if you keep your body in shape, keep your mouth shut and work hard, you can play in this league a long time."

Stuck to the bench

Every major sport has different substitution patterns.

In the NHL, a team dresses 20 players, and all but the backup goalie usually participate. The same holds for the NFL, which allows 53 players per game with the backup quarterbacks playing the role of backup goalie.

In Major League Baseball, at least half of the 25-man roster appears in every game, with the numbers rising in the National League because of pinch-hitters for pitchers. Only the NBA creates a scenario in which several players know they have almost no chance of leaving the bench.

Most NBA teams use an eight- or nine-man rotation. That leaves three or four players to pick up spare-change time in blowouts "garbage time" in the vernacular and serve as sparring partners in practice.

"It's a very hard thing to do if you've been used to playing," said former NBA center and 12th man Greg Dreiling, an adjunct to the Mavericks' staff. "All you can do is stay ready and be prepared to play. I respect Mark for what he's doing."

That is Bryant's job. He makes the veteran big men work hard in practice and counsels younger big men in post-practice workouts. Bryant prepares for each game as if he were to play and then waits.

"It's been difficult, but I can handle it in a professional way," Bryant said. "I haven't been in this situation for a long time, but I want to make the best of it."

Bryant started as a rookie with Portland in 1988-89. He was primarily a reserve on the deep Blazers for the next six seasons but received 14 to 20 minutes per game annually.

Bryant moved to Houston for a season then spent two years in Phoenix and one with Chicago. While Bryant played for the Bulls in 1998-99, Cleveland's Shawn Kemp recruited him for the Cavaliers.

Kemp wanted help in the frontcourt. Cleveland gave Bryant a two-year, $4.2 million contract before the 1999-00 season.

"I've known him for a long time, and he's a tough guy," Cleveland general manager Jim Paxson said.

With 15 players under guaranteed contracts, Cleveland had Bryant start this season on the injured list because of knee tendinitis. Seeing no chance at playing, Bryant asked out of Cleveland and was released early in the season.

Several clubs wanted Bryant when the Cavaliers made him a free agent. He chose the Mavericks because of a good relationship with assistant coach and director of player personnel Donnie Nelson from their time together with Phoenix, and for the chance to play on a winner again.

The Mavericks wanted Bryant as protection for the frontcourt. Gary Trent and recently traded Christian Laettner had a recent history of injuries, and the club wanted one more big body in reserve. Bryant also offered the potential of a low-post scoring threat.

"He's an insurance policy," general manager and coach Don Nelson said. "If there is an injury or a trade, he's a veteran player who can step in. He knows what he's doing out there."

Nelson said the club would like to use Bryant more often but cannot find room for him in the frontcourt rotation. The minutes have come in dribs and drabs: five to use all six fouls as part of the "Hack-a-Shaq" tactic in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers; a season-high 14 minutes in a rout of Vancouver; six in the start at Milwaukee.

"If you give it your all, things will work out well for you," Bryant said. "I started my career thinking that way, and that's the way I want to end my career."

Experience pays

Bryant brings a valuable intangible: playoff experience.

He reached the Finals with Portland during two of his first three seasons in the league. He has played in 65 playoff games. Guard Howard Eisley is the only Maverick with more playoff experience, with 79 games for Utah.

Eisley leans toward being introspective. If the Mavericks reach the playoffs, Bryant can tell novices Shawn Bradley, Greg Buckner, Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki about the experience awaiting them.

"The playoffs are totally different from the regular season," Bryant said. "Every possession counts. Every shot is important. The guys should know that going into the playoffs."

"Big Daddy" will tell them. The 12th man can be helpful without ever leaving that comfortable seat on the bench.


POSITION: Power forward-center

HT./WT.: 6-9, 250

AGE: 35

COLLEGE: Seton Hall

NBA HIGHLIGHTS: Started career-high 50 games with Cleveland last season. ... Averaged career-high 26.8 minutes with Chicago in 1998-99. ... Went to Phoenix before 1996-97 season as part of Charles Barkley trade. Missed 26 games in first season with Suns because of injuries. ... Had career-best 30-point game against Mavericks while with Houston in 1996. ... Started final 22 games of 1992-93 season at center for Portland, averaging 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in that span. Averaged 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds against San Antonio's David Robinson in four-game playoff loss to Spurs to end that season. ... Selected by Portland in first round of 1988 draft.

03-02-2001, 01:48 PM
I'm glad we ditched Curley for Bryant, but I wish we would have kept my man Vaught i/expressions/face-icon-small-sad.gif

03-02-2001, 01:51 PM
Yeah, we shoulda kept both Big Daddy and Vaught and ditched Curley.

04-16-2001, 07:30 PM
Was Bryant on the Rockets for one of their titles?? I think he was but I'm not positive.