It never looked good for the Dallas Mavericks this season.
Starting off without Dirk Nowitzki, the team had to weather a storm in the early months of the campaign and hope that they could recover when their star forward returned. They’d hoped that veteran leadership from guys like Vince Carter and Shawn Marion would steer them toward success, but it wasn’t to be.
This Mavericks team never had cohesion, grit or the necessary tools to get to the postseason. They were slapped together from the beginning, always lacking a true point guard and unable to find consistency from their big men on the boards. Defensively they are soft all around and have seen such poor play from their guards that this team barely resembles a Rick Carlisle squad.
It wasn’t all bad at times though, and that’s what kept the Mavericks hanging around this long. They rank 8th overall in offense and sixth in fast break points. They are the fourth worst defensive team in the league, but they barely commit any turnovers and are one of the best passing teams. They shoot a good percentage and can fall back on guys who have been there before when they needed a big shot.
And yet it was difficult to see the Mavs making the postseason as far back as a month ago. Seemingly every time they came within a sniff of a .500 record, they imploded. Their average margin of defeat in games where they had a chance to get back to .500 was 18 points. In the end, they just didn’t have what it took to get to the next level and if they had, it probably would have been a repeat performance of last year’s abruptly ended season in which they were swept out of the playoffs.
So what’s it going to take to fix the Mavericks? Certainly general manager Don Nelson and owner Mark Cuban have their work cut out for them in the offseason, but money has never been issue for a Mavericks GM, and with the number of expiring contracts on their books, the team certainly has the room to go out into the market and be aggressive.
PRIORITY No. 1- Big Man
Nowitzki has never been much of a rebounder or a force in the paint and the Mavericks couldn’t rely on Chris Kaman to stay healthy this season or Elton Brand and Brandon Wright to provide the presence they needed around the basket.
Dallas doesn’t really stand much chance in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, leaving them in the market for one of the free agent centers, a list that includes the likes of Al Jefferson, JJ Hickson and Andrew Bynum.
Hickson isn’t a true center but showed that he can shine alongside a jump shooting power forward like Dirk Nowitzki this season as he played alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s the type of rebounder that could help Dallas improve next season, but he has to polish his defensive skills.
Bynum is a huge risk due to his injuries, but Cuban does like having a seven footer in his lineup. If he had even an inkling that Bynum might be able to come back and make an impact, he could be willing to dish out the money.
Jefferson is the most solid candidate to come in given his impact as a scorer (17 per game), rebounder (nine per game) and defender (1.2 blocks and 1 steal per game). He’s likely to attract interest from Cuban and given that he can move out of Utah where it’s clearly not working out for him, he’d probably jump at the chance to join Dallas.
Once Dallas shores up the center position, their next biggest target is a point guard. The committee of guys they had running the show this year didn’t pan out and proved to be one of their biggest weaknesses. Cuban missed out on Deron Williams last season and was never able to recover from it, settling for Darren Collison as his point guard signing. He’ll have to do better than that this time.
The list of available guards that are noteworthy isn’t much better than the center position, but Cuban will have options. The big thing is the Mavs need someone who can play defense on the perimeter and help keep opposing guards from getting into the paint. Dallas may have a shot a decent guard in the draft, someone like Michael Carter-Williams who will go in the middle of the first round, but they may use that pick to go after a center if they fall short in the market there.
If they pursue a free agent, the best options are, assuming Chris Paul remains in Los Angeles, Brandon Jennings, Jose Calderon and Jeff Teague. The problem here is that Teague and Jennings are both restricted free agents, meaning their current clubs can match any offers made, possibly forcing Cuban to offer huge salaries in order sign one.
While Calderon is an unrestricted free agent, he doesn’t do anything to help them in the defensive department making him an unorthodox choice for this team. The one good bit of news for the Mavs is that they have money, but the lack of options in the market and weak draft class make this rebuilding process for the Mavs as difficult as one could imagine.