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Retooled Dallas searching for another ring

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Retooled Dallas searching for another ring

A year removed from winning the NBA championship the Dallas Mavericks still have superstar Dirk Nowitzki, but a new supporting cast is in place as they try to rebound from a disappointing 2011-12 season. Gone are Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Lamar Odom and Brendan Haywood, while Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Elton Brand join the Mavericks for the upcoming season. Yes, there were a lot of changes for Dallas after a 36-30 record and a first-round playoff exit at the hands of Oklahoma City.

Dallas owner Mark Cuban felt the biggest off-season move was the signing of O.J. Mayo to a two-year deal, and Mayo is penciled in as the team's shooting guard. Cuban blogged: I think he can be a star and I think O.J. knows that this is his make-or-break, who-am-I-really-going-to-be-in-this-league year. And Coach (Rick Carlisle) is going to give him that opportunity. Well see what happens.

Mayo was runner-up to Chicago's Derrick Rose for rookie of the year in 2009, averaging 18 points for Memphis, but his statistics have fallen every season since, and he averaged only 11.9 points off the bench for the Grizzlies last season. He gets a new lease on his NBA career as a starter with Dallas.

Chris Kaman will be the opening day center for Dallas. The former all-star Kaman gets reunited with Nowitzki as the two were teammates on the 2008 German national team that played in the Olympics. Kaman averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds for New Orleans last season after being dealt there from the Clippers.

Darren Collison comes over from Indiana and likely will be the point guard on opening day. Collison averaged 10 points and 5 assists to help the Pacers get to the second round of the playoffs.

After getting amnestied by Philadelphia, the Mavericks signed Elton Brand to a one-year deal and hope that he has some game left in him. The burly veteran power forward scored 11 points and 7 rebounds a game for the Sixers, but his salary of 16-million was too rich for the Sixers so they let him go.

The notable pick by Dallas in the NBA Draft was Jae Crowder out of Marquette who they took with a second round pick. The 6'-6" Crowder was the Big East's player of the year and would likely be used as a spark off the bench for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki is 34 years old now so the window for him to get another ring is closing fast. The Mavericks made wholesale changes this summer but it's probably not enough to make Dallas a legitimate factor in the extremely loaded western conference.

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it

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