Long story short, the only thing a The Dallas Mavericks observer can be 100% sure of for next year is the return of Nowitzki. The rest is up for grabs.
I hope I’m not breaking this news to you, but the Mavericks are interested in superstar free agents Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Their respective disasters in the playoffs helped things from Dallas’ perspective, but they both remain long shots to join Dirk Nowitzki next year.
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Here, I’ll rank those two fellas and a few other free agents this summer on a scale of “I’d kill a human to see them in a Mavericks uniform” all the way down to “Bruce Bowen.” Largely sidestepping the finances of each move for a moment, this ranking system is mostly in a vacuum just based on fit and overall desire.
(Name, Position, Age by the start of next season, Type of free agent)
DONUT 1: Chris Paul, Point Guard, 29, UFA ...
If you had asked me last if I would’ve rather seen Howard or Paul on the Mavs, I would’ve said Howard. Howard’s injuries and a year’s worth of watching Paul drag the Clippers’ overrated roster and clueless coach to their best ever record helped me reconsider. (Oh, and DB.com's exclusive report of Dallas' own ranking of Paul above Dwight influences me, too.)
Thinking about what Paul could do with Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle instead of Blake Griffin and Vinnie Del Negro is what dreams are made of. Paul’s unmatched combination of scoring and facilitating would make Nowitzki’s life on the court as easy as it’s ever been. In ever.
DONUT 2: Dwight Howard, Center, 27, UFA ...
Howard signifies what the Mavericks have never had in a combined offensive and defensive skillset at the center position. The NBA’s three-time Defensive Player of the Year has had a down year and a half or so (compared to his standards), but that doesn’t change what a perfect fit he would be next to Nowitzki. Prone to being a baby at times when he doesn’t feel the love, Nowitzki would let him have the limelight of being “The Man” and Carlisle would be smart enough to know how to get the best from one of the best. Oh, and to put his “down years” in perspective, he led the league in rebounding the last two seasons.
Side note: Anyone who says they don’t want Howard after his performance over the last couple of years is a massive idiot.
DONUT 3: Nikola Pekovic, C, 27, RFA ...
Big Pek is a restricted free agent meaning Minnesota has the right to match any offer sheet the Mavs signed him to, but man, it would be nice to see this beast of a human stomping around the American Airlines Center. He’s gotten better statistically every season as he now averages 16 points and 9 rebounds a game, but that’s only part of what he brings. His defensive force and intimidation in the paint makes every opponent terrified of this man. I get scared just watching him through a television.
Not only would he come in to Dallas as an immediate second-best player, but he’d also be a threat to kill anything and everything that got in Dirk’s face. Pek would become a fan-favorite that I say would be worth overpaying in order for Minnesota to shy away from matching an offer sheet.
DONUT 4: Andrew Bynum, C, 26, UFA ...
The formally dominant Lakers center was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason and hasn’t been seen on a basketball court since. At his best next to Pau Gasol in Los Angeles from 2007-2012, Bynum was just as important to the Lakers’ most recent championship run as Kobe Bryant. Bynum could be a poor man’s Howard alongside Nowitzki, with a more refined back-to-the-basket game.
He has all the physical tools to be a great fit, but can mentally check out for seasons at a time. Just ask Philadelphia who didn’t get to see him on the court for them for one minute after knee problems and ensuing surgery. Signing Bynum would be taking a risk based on his potential and a gamble that Rick Carlisle could reel him in to get the most out of tools.
Also, he once tried to assassinate JJ Barea and then he took his jersey off.
DONUT 5: Lamar Odom, PF, 33, UFA ...
Just kidding. Never.
DONUT 5: Brandon Jennings, PG, 24, RFA ...
In case you can’t tell yet, I REALLY think the Mavericks need to focus on a point guard or a center this offseason. I saw one too many ‘piece-of-S’ entry passes into Dirk and easy lay ups right through the middle of the Mavs’ defense to think otherwise. Bringing in Jennings would be a significant move toward youth and high potential at point guard.
There’s no doubt about the skill and speed Jennings possesses, especially considering he was able to display that in the quicksand that is the Milwaukee Bucks offense. The wart on Jennings’ game is the inefficiency he shoots with, having a career field goal percentage of 39%. Having all the potential in the world combined with a quick trigger finger would once again test the managing prowess of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
DONUT 6: Tyreke Evans, PG, 24, RFA ...
At 6-6, Tyreke Evans is one of the bigger point guards you’ll find in the league. At that size, he’s able to be an all-around force from a position where that is a rarity. Evans came into the league like gangbusters in 2009 by averaging 20 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds for Sacramento and won the league’s Rookie of the Year. Since then, Evans became injury prone and hasn’t come close to matching those same numbers with anything near his rookie-level efficiency.
Never a great shooter (Sub 45% FG and 28% 3PT), Evans is capable of overpowering his usually smaller defender to get to the free-throw line. Again, Evans would be a gamble in the sense that hopefully a new setting would revitalize his career. Though a good player, Evans would be tough to invest heavily in simply on “hope.”
DONUT 7: Josh Smith, Power Forward, 27, UFA ...
An undersized power forward at 6-9, Josh Smith makes up for his height disadvantage by being possibly the most athletic player in the league this side of LeBron James. Smith would be higher on this list if he were a better fit for the roster. As you may be aware, the Mavs are currently set at the power forward position.
Still, with Dirk aging and his contract expiring after next year ... we've got to put Josh on the list.
Considering last season, the Mavericks can’t exactly be beggars and choosers when it comes to acquiring talent. Smith is also capable of playing small forward, where Shawn Marion currently resides. It would be thrilling to have Smith come in to Dallas with his 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks per game, but moves would have to be made in order to be efficient with the minute distribution for the Mavs’ best players. (See: Trading Marion).
We'll examine Josh-to-Dallas in Tuesday's Donuts, with a warning: Nobody around here envisions him as a max guy -- but I think Josh does.
DONUT 8: Monta Ellis, PG, 28, ETO ...
Monta Ellis plans to opt out of his current deal with the Bucks, making him a free agent this offseason. The Mavs and their fans have always seemed to have a fascination with Ellis’ unreal scoring runs and for good reason. He especially seems to turn it on to another level against Dallas and he can single-handedly turn the momentum of a game with some of his hot streaks.
Just like the other Milwaukee point guard on this list though, Ellis can get pretty wild-ass with his shot selection. Factor in the 41% field-goal-shooting clip he posted last year and his 19 points and 6 assists per game don’t seem quite as valuable. That being said, don’t count Ellis out as a darkhorse to be an option for Dallas. The attraction seems to have always been there.
DONUT 9: Al Jefferson, C, 28, UFA ...
No, this isn’t 2010 and we’re not discussing a trade that would bring Al Jefferson to Dallas from Minnesota. If you’ll recall, that move was heavily discussed before the Mavs backed off to make a trade for Tyson Chandler instead. That one seemed to have paid off, but I digress.
Jefferson has always had the elite skill of post scoring, but his size and lack of defense have never been ideal to be a fit next to Nowitzki. He will be had by someone for significantly less than the $15 million salary he made last season, but it likely won’t be the Mavericks unless they can get him at an unbelievable salary cut. (Or maybe you prefer Utah's Paul Millsap?)
DONUT 10: Tony Allen, Shooting Guard, 31, UFA ...
Getting a little long in the tooth, Tony Allen would be a guy the Mavs could bring in not only for his incredible defensive chops, but to help change the mindset of the whole franchise. Due to his age and lack of offensive game, the Mavs would have to target him only for a discounted rate. That would be tough since he is a perfect fit in Memphis and seems to love it there. As we speak, Allen is leading the emotional charge through the playoffs for a Grizzlies team that is as tough as they come. Allen’s ‘Grit and Grind’ philosophy is the fuel for their engine.
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DONUT 12: Manu Ginobili, SG, 36, UFA ...
I'm MFFL. Therefore, I’d rather drink a cup of urine.