The Mavericks traded for veteran big man Zaza Pachulia last July in what supposedly was a patch-up job for a Dallas team depleted at the center spot following the DeAndre Jordan fiasco and the departure of Tyson Chandler to Phoenix.
Turns out Pachulia has been a success story so far doing far better for the Mavericks than anybody expected.
Why is everything working out so well for you in Dallas?
Zaza Pachulia: First of all, I’m honored to be in this kind of environment and being surrounded by experienced guys who play at a good level and who play the right way. The coaching staff is obviously one of the best coaching staffs in the league – very smart and hard working. I also love owner Mark Cuban, who’s so passionate about his team and cheers so hard for us. When you’re part of this group, the game becomes so easy. I’m really enjoying playing with my teammates because they help you a lot and it’s all about helping each other. It makes things so much easier.
Were you happy at first when you learned you had been traded to Dallas?
ZP: I had mixed feelings about it, honestly, because I’ve had a good season in Milwaukee and we had improved so much and reached the playoffs. I was hoping I was going to have an even better season with them this year, so I felt bad about leaving all that and moving to a different team. But when I started to realize where I was going, I felt more comfortable and better. I had mixed feelings at first, but now I feel like I’m in a great situation in a great place with great coaches and great teammates and a great owner.
Here it’s a totally different situation for me. I was one of the oldest guys in Milwaukee, now I’m coming here and I feel like I’m one the younger guys. So many veterans around me.
Your physical play is probably the thing people know about you. Is there one thing about your game that you think you don’t get credit for?
ZP: Yes, I’m sure there is. I’m sure when teams see me daily, they become aware I can do this and I can do that. But that’s fine. I know there are a lot of things I do for my team that don’t show up on stats.
You are known for getting under the skin and frustrating other players too.
ZP: With experience, you learn about players’ tendencies. It’s kind of becoming easier for me to do that because I know what people are going to do. Sometimes you use your strength, sometimes your athleticism, sometimes your brain and sometimes you just have to get under guys’ skin. Everybody has a different personality and knowing that can help you make your defense more effective.
Why do you think you become a fan favorite wherever you play?
ZP: Hard work is one of the things… and being professional. You have to be professional.
Which coach has helped you the most in your career?
ZP: Honestly? All of them. I really got a lot from each and every coach. Mike Woodson, Larry Drew, Jason Kidd, Doc Rivers… He helped me so much as a rookie early on in terms of motivation. I don’t want to pick one and not be grateful to the other ones.
You’re really into fashion. When did that begin?
ZP: (Laughs) I don’t know. Maybe it comes from being from Europe. These days I try to keep up with fashion, but I’m more into education and business and stuff. But yes, I try to keep up with fashion as well.
Many players were upset when the NBA implemented the dress code. Were you among the ones happy about it?
ZP: Yeah, absolutely! It’s good for the players. It makes the athletes look way more professional. It’s a great look.
Who’s the worst when it comes to fashion in the NBA?
ZP: (Laughs) I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus. Everybody has different personalities. Some guys like to dress up, some guys don’t care, some guys are stuck in the 90’s. But I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus. I know there’s a lot of guys spending money on clothes and picking up new styles… But you know, it’s very hard for some guys who are extremely tall to find something that’s really fashionable when it comes to clothes or shoes.
Is it harder for a European player to be a leader in the locker room or is it possible?
ZP: Absolutely, yeah! It’s only about the reputation and the experience. That’s what matters and that’s the leadership you need.
You’re going to be a free agent next summer when so much money is coming into the NBA? Does that cross your mind, do you think about it?
ZP: I’m glad NBA basketball is growing globally and we have so many people from abroad in the NBA and the revenue is growing with more and more people watching and paying attention and all the sponsors and the TVs. It just great to be a part of it for 13 years! I’m just proud to be part of this NBA family. Aside from this, I’m just worried about winning games for my team and honestly I don’t think about free agency.
For me, the key right now is to help the team be successful. Once you’re part of a successful situation, everything will work great. I’m not going to look eight months ahead with so many games and opponents left to play. You’re going to be successful when you concentrate on that instead of thinking about a contract. I cared years ago when I was younger, but at this age it’s about winning every single game that I can and make the playoffs. That’s way more important than free agency. That’s important too, of course, but everything in its due time.