DONUT 1: The Harden Blueprint ...
Prior to this season the Houston Rockets spent the past few years trying to acquire a superstar player and made no secret of it. Due to good talent evaluations, they did a pretty good job of collecting good assets, but the plan was to acquire a star player and they made various attempts.
Andrew Bynum. Dwight Howard. Pau Gasol. Chris Bosh and even Dwyane Wade. Houston had all of them in their sights in the last four years, but they either couldn’t convince the player to sign with them or couldn’t pull off a trade.
DONUT 2: The breakthough ...
Then just days before the 2012-2013 season, they decided to gamble on James Harden. Harden only had one year left on his contract with Oklahoma City and with Westbrook and Durant locked up there was some doubt that the Thunder would be willing to give Harden the type of contract -- likely a max contract -- he would hope for.
So the Rockets allowed them to hedge their bets.
The essentials of the trade involved Houston sending Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and two first-round picks to OKC.
While folks with understanding of the CBA understood, the Thunder were criticized by many for making the trade. But the big risk came a few days after the trade ... and it happened in Houston.
The Rockets followed up the move by locking down their projectd star to a five-year $80 million extension. Essentially they gave him superstar money.
Harden was great as a sixth man for the Thunder, but there was no guarantee that he would blossom into a player that could carry a team. It was a risk, a bet-forward on Harden's eventual greatness.
At this point, you might be able to argue the degree of success that Houston achieved with the move, but I believe it’s safe to say their gamble paid off. Harden has emerged into one of the 12 best players in the NBA and the Rockets finally have their star. ... a star they didn't have when Martin was there, a star that is the foundation of their "next level.''
DONUT 3: The Mavs in ‘chase superstar’ mode ...
The Mavs are in ‘chase superstar’ mode as well -- and have been since the dismantling of the title team. They struck out on Deron Williams. The new prizes this summer are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.
There is no better place than DB.com to learn of the basics of that chase, to learn the moving parts, to watch the development. Click here for a starting spot ...
DONUT 4: Plan Something-Beyond-A ...
But if both those players -- the only true and obvious max-money stars that will be on the July 1 market -- choose to re-sign with their respective Los Angeles teams ... then the Mavericks will need a backup plan.
“It’s a quick rebuild,'' said Mark Cuban of his Mavs goal. "It’s not a four-year rebuild recycle. I guess when you miss the playoffs, by definition you’re rebuilding. So we’ve got to get better.”
What's the "how-to''?
Cuban: "I’m not here telling you we’re only going to do it via the draft. I’m not here telling you we’re going to stick with our young guys and grow them. I’m not here telling you I won’t take back a lot more money in a trade if it gets us where we want to go. It’s all a matter of approach ... All I’m saying is we’re not going to do a traditional rebuild. That’s how we got all this cap room.''
OK. Here's a non-traditional rebuild: I say it’s worth exploring the same formula that Houston took last year ...
a) Target a young player that might be on the verge of leap from ‘very promising’ to ‘All-Star.’
b) And just as important, pinpoint one that is one year away from free agency on a team that might be afraid of losing him in 2014.
Target. Pinpoint. Recover from the seemingly inevitable snub from Howard/Paul ... and at that point, you make the trade and make the gamble.
DONUT 5: At what cost? ...
Acquiring a young star in the making would require giving up a lot, perhaps a Mavs first-round pick, perhaps Vince Carter and his favorable contract, perhaps Shawn Marion (and the $9 million left on his last year, and maybe names like Jae Crowder or Bernard James tossed in. Purely rounded-off speculation on my part, but important, I think, that we be prepared for such a cost.
It would be hard to acquire a real difference-maker with any less of a package than one including the aforementioned components.
And then the Mavericks would have to lock that young player down to an extension before he makes that next leap. It’s a financially scary notion, but that’s why it’s a gamble. It's a basketball-judgment-based notion, too, and the Mavs personnel people have to get it as right as Houston's have with Harden.
So who can be this "next-up'' guy who is well short of Howard/Paul but maybe Harden-like in his ability to carry a burden (and in Dallas, supplement Dirk Nowitzki)?
Below are a few players that might be worth considering:
*Note: Harden, while he made a huge jump this year, was widely regarded as an emerging star before the trade. So while an $80 million extension was a big risk, it was at least fathomable. The players below would probably demand a smaller contract -- still a risk, but not a max contract. Also notable: A couple of these guys may be coming up on team-options in '14. But this exercise about both the concept and the player.
DONUT 6: Eric Bledsoe ...
Bledsoe is at the top of this list for a reason. The 23-year old point guard has skills that are incredibly hard to come by. He’s extremely athletic, fast and explosive. He is fearless in transition and he bangs his way to the rim like a bowling ball in the half court. But in a crowded backcourt that features Chris Paul, Bledsoe gets limited minutes and Paul even said it’s unlikely that the Clippers are able to keep him past next season.
If the Clippers are able to resign Paul then the next move might be to try to get value for Bledsoe through a trade.
DONUT 7: Greg Monroe ...
DeMarcus Cousins might get more attention. In fact, we at DB.com have given him so much attention that we assume you know he's already on this list inside Mavs HQ.
But we're trying to unpeel newer ideas here, so ... Greg Monroe is arguably the best young big man in the NBA. As a 22-year old last season he averaged 16 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He also has pretty smooth passing skills and awareness for a 6-11 player.
Last year, the Pistons drafted another promising young big man in Andre Drummond who is even more athletically gifted than Monroe. If the Pistons think they can go forward with a Twin Towers approach then acquiring Monroe is unlikely. But there still may be the possibility they feel they should commit to Drummond and move Monroe before he becomes a free agent in 2014.
DONUT 8: Klay Thompson ...
Thompson is only in his second season, but already has established himself as one of the best shooters in the NBA. But he’s not just a spot up shooter, he’s a natural scorer, who averaged 16.6 points per game this season.
The amazing shooting combo of Curry and Thompson has worked wonders for Golden State. But if Thompson keeps up his good play in the postseason and into next season he could potentially demand a lot of money in 2014. The Warriors are committed to Curry and will likely resign Jarrett Jack this offseason. The emergence of rookie Harrison Barnes may lead them to believe Thompson is expendable for the right value.
DONUT 9: Terrence Ross ...
How good Ross is or will become is certainly an unknown. What we do know is that he is a skilled shooter (despite a low 3-point percentage his rookie year) and an athletic dunker. Those two things don’t always translate to success, but they sure are nice to have as foundation pieces -- especially for a team like the Dallas Mavericks, which coach Rick Carlisle admits is the dregs of the NBA when it comes to raw athleticism.
We also know that Ross barely got any playing time last year and with Toronto locked up with Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozen playing basically the same position as Ross, they are likely willing to get rid of him for the right offer.
DONUT 10: Jimmy Butler, Bulls ...
Butler is the type of player that contributes to winning basketball. He’s a second year player who is 6-7 and 220 pounds. He plays great lockdown defense and will guard the opponent’s best wing player. He’s also a great rebounder and drives to the rim with force. The best comparison would probably be a young Josh Howard.
The Bulls ownership is not exactly the most free spending group, so the thought of Butler’s looming 2014 free agency likely scares them. And having a player like Luol Deng might make Butler that much more expendable.
DONUT 11: Want more Mavs? ...
the best and deepest coverage of the Mavs available anywhere ... take our free seven-day trial and then get your Mavs gold for pennies! ... Go Mavs and Go Premium!
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
This isn't the end of this list, of course. It's just the beginning.
“We decided to swing for the fences five years ago when we had all of our contracts run out in two years,'' said owner Mark Cuban, tracing back to the original "beginning'' of where we now are. "That’s when we swung for the fences. So we just stuck to our plan.”
This is the start of a list of a sort that may be critical if the Howard/Paul level thoughts don't come to fruition. Another "plan,'' if you will. It's a way of moving forward while taking a risky commitment -- something that, after these last two Mavs seasons, seems pretty inviting.