Gana Diop and JJ Barea signed

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July 9, 2008

Gana Diop and J.J. Barea are back in the fold, as both signed contracts Wednesday with the Mavericks. The two fan favorites, who entered the offseason as free agents, inked their deals on the first day after the league moratorium.

It’s a return for Barea and reunion for Diop. Barea spent the last two seasons in Dallas after making the team as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2006. Diop spent 2 ½ seasons with the Mavs before being traded to New Jersey as part of the Jason Kidd blockbuster.

“You’ve got to be happy,” said Diop, who was pursued by several teams. “This feels good. I felt this is the place for me to be. I’ve had a good time in Dallas. I love the city. I was back here two days after the season ended.”

Diop signed his contract at the team’s offices inside American Airlines Center. He can’t wait to start working with new coach Rick Carlisle. Diop is headed to Las Vegas, site of the NBA Summer League, this weekend to work out individually with Carlisle from Sunday to Wednesday.

“He was a big part of me coming back,” Diop said of Carlisle, who took an active role in the recruitment process.

Getting a chance to play with his former teammates and friends – Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Josh Howard and others – also played a part in his decision. Kidd was another selling point for the Senegal native nicknamed “Gana Buckets” within team circles.

“I’ve got to run the floor,” Diop said, “and get my hands up for these easy buckets.”

Diop (7-0, 280) was originally acquired by the Mavericks via free agency in 2005, played in 214 games (72 starts) and averaged 2.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.50 blocks in 18.1 minutes per game. He was part of the center tandem with Erick Dampier that helped the Mavs to the 2006 Western Conference title and NBA Finals.

“We are extremely excited to welcome Gana back into the Mavericks family,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “At the age of 26, he is a young center in his prime that also possesses significant playoff experience.

“He was a big part of our Finals run with his ability to defend, block shots and rebound. We are pleased to regain his presence both in the paint and in the locker room.”

Diop spent his first four seasons with Cleveland after being selected eighth overall in the 2000 NBA Draft. He holds career averages of 2.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.19 blocks in 434 games.

Barea (6-0, 175) played 44 games last season, starting nine, and averaged career-highs in points (4.3), assists (1.3), rebounds (1.1) and minutes per game (10.5). The Puerto Rican also shot career-best percentages from the field (41.8), 3-point range (38.9) and the line (80.0).

“J.J. has worked extremely hard and has developed into a fine young NBA point guard,” Nelson said. “We are pleased to reward his efforts and look forward to his bright future in a Mavs uniform.”

The two signings provide needed depth going into Carlisle’s first season on the bench. Diop will team once again with Dampier in the pivot, while Barea helps back Olympian Jason Kidd.