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Rodman's return would turn otherwise boring NBA into "As the Worm Turns"

Now that he's firmly ensconced as the grand poobah of the Washington Wizards, Michael Jordan won't be returning to the NBA anytime soon. But it looks like Dennis Rodman will be coming out of retirement to invigorate the Dallas Mavericks, one of pro basketball's saddest franchises. Other than His Airness taking the reins in the nation's capital, the return of The Worm could be the best thing to hit the sagging league since the slam dunk.

The perennially hapless Mavs offered Rodman, who has played only 23 games in the last two seasons, a $500,000 contract to finish out the season in Dallas, ESPN's David Aldridge reported. Rodman would have to find time in his legendarily hectic social schedule for basketball, but ever the businessman, he surely realizes no amount of off-court hijinks can substitute for on-court performance when it comes to maintaining his public notoriety.

"Dennis doesn't come with any secrets," new Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said to ESPN. "You know Dennis is about marketing who he is and what he's trying to accomplish. I told him I'll do whatever I can to help.

"He knows that Brand Rodman is going to suffer if he doesn't produce on the court. Nobody is going to care about what he has to say or what he dresses like or what he looks like if he's not pulling down a lot of rebounds. He's the first to realize that," Cuban said.

The NBA needs someone to spice up a dull season that has fans avoiding arenas like the Black Death and wistfully remembering last winter's lockout. Aside from two weeks ago, when the untimely death of Charlotte Hornets swingman Bobby Phills dominated the sporting landscape, at no other time this season have sports fans turned their gaze from Kurt Warner and the NFL to the league Magic and Bird built.

Is there really anything terribly interesting going on in the NBA right now? Other than Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant, most of today's young stars -- like Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter and Allen Iverson -- play for teams still climbing up the championship mountain. Led by flashy youngsters Chris Webber and Jason Williams, the Sacramento Kings are one of NBC's favorite teams, but they sit behind the Lakers and Trailblazers in the Pacific Division standings.

Right now, age and experience still rule in the NBA. Veteran (a.k.a. old and boring) teams like Miami, Indiana and Utah still sit atop three of the four divisions. The 38-year-old Rodman may be old, but he sure isn't boring.

The same seems to go for Cuban, a longtime Mavs season-ticket holder and Internet billionaire who bought the team from Ross Perot Jr. in a $260 million deal a few weeks ago. Rodman is a Dallas native and still has family in the area, but it took Cuban's arrival to spark the Mavericks' interest in him. Maybe the league could use a few more owners like Cuban and fewer stodgy old men like Washington's Abe Polin and Donald Sterling of the Clippers.

"We have a very liberal owner who wants excitement and wants to win and doesn't really care about off-the-court kinds of things," said Don Nelson, Mavs coach and general manager, to ESPN. "I think everybody is kind of ready for a bit of a gamble."

The 15-26 Mavericks could use a royal flush. So could the NBA in general. The upcoming generation of superstars looks promising, but elder statesmen like Karl Malone are not ready to let go just yet. Before the old guys retire to the golf course -- or in Malone's case, the cattle ranch -- and the youngsters take over, Rodman's antics could up the number of basketball fans willing to shell out the big bucks for an evening of NBA action. At the very least, he might be able to get the Mavs on national television a few times.

But Rodman's weekend plans raise the question of whether anyone would pick the NBA over the NFL. The Mavericks would love to have him right away, but the lure of pro basketball is not strong enough to divert him from his "previous commitment" to attend the Super Bowl in Atlanta.