Where do the Mavericks go from here
By: Dustin Dietz
The Mavs tumultuous roller coaster 2011-2012 season ended last weekend with an expected first round loss to a younger and more athletic Oklahoma City Thunder team. What was not expected was the Thunder handing the Mavericks a first round series sweep. Dallas became the first defending champion to be swept in the first round of the playoffs since the 2007 Miami Heat.
The Mavericks did not resemble anything close to a team defending their title in the short four game series as the Thunder outplayed the Mavs in the fourth quarter in all four games, the fourth quarter of Game 4 being the most obvious example.
Dallas entered the fourth quarter of Game 4 with a thirteen point lead before Oklahoma City’s sixth man James Harden took the game over. Harden scored 15 of his team high 29 points in the final period as the Thunder outscored the Mavs 35-16, and won the game going away 103-97. The Mavericks had no answer for Harden as he attacked the rim with relentless fervor throughout the fourth quarter.
If Mavs fans needed any further proof how much this team missed Tyson Chandler, Harden’s performance in Game 4 exemplified it. With the Mavs lacking a presence in the middle, Harden and the entire Thunder team took advantage throughout the four game series.
Mavs center Brendan Haywood scored 13 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and blocked two shots, in the entire four game series. No team will succeed with this miniscule amount of production from the man in the middle. If the Mavs are to once again be a legit championship contender, they must find a way to generate more from the center position.
What happens now?
The question on all Mavs fan’s minds now is, “Where do the Mavs go from here?” Mavs owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson made the prudent business decision to not resign Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler, or DeShawn Stevenson last December in order to have cap room to sign a marquee free agent this off season.
After Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard exercised his option to stay in Orlando next season, the decision to not resign Chandler now seems quite questionable as Chandler is only 29 and just won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the New York Knicks. The Mavs could have used Chandler’s force in the middle in 2011-2012, and in future years to come.
Once the Mavericks decide to use the amnesty clause this summer on center Brendan Haywood to save them over $27 million dollars the next four years, the Mavericks will be left with Brandan Wright as the only center option most likely to return to the team next season because Ian Mahinmi is a free agent unlikely to be resigned. Wright’s option will be picked up for next season as he is a bargain, but he cannot be relied on to start and give the Mavs thirty minutes a game.
With Dwight Howard no longer an option, the best free agents at the center position this summer are Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby. Both players are over the age of 30 as Kaman just turned 30 in April, and Camby is an archaic 38. Kaman is the better long term option as he is only two years removed from averaging 18 points and 9 boards a game, but reading Kaman and Camby are the two best options at center should make Mavs fans wish they had chosen to resign Tyson Chander. Chandler is both younger and more athletic than both Kaman and Camby.
Who do Mavs keep?
The Mavericks have several key free agents from their own team to consider resigning this summer. Jason Terry is almost certainly gone. Unless, Terry agrees to take a substantial pay cut from $11.5 million dollars. Jason Kidd would love to be a back up point guard, but he has made it clear he will not resign for the veteran minimum. Delonte West played brilliantly at times this season and was the kind of gritty player Dallas needed after the departure of DeShawn Stevenson.
The most important free agent from the Mavs does not even play for the team. Head coach Rick Carlisle is a shrewd and astute court general who helped lead the team to the NBA championship last season. The team has said they would like to retain Carlisle as the coach, but many are perplexed as to why the team has not yet offered Rick an extension. Carlisle might be waiting to decide on staying in Dallas to see if the team can land a star player this summer to team up with Dirk Nowitzki. If Dallas fails to sign a star, Carlisle might seek other attractive head coaching positions.
2012 NBA Draft
Dallas has the 17th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The Mavericks were able to keep the selection because the pick is top 20 protected (Remember the Mavs traded a future first round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for the enigmatic reality television star Lamar Odom). The Mavericks could use some help at every position, and with the draft being incredibly deep for the first time in many years, the Mavs have an opportunity to land an immediate impact player.
The mock drafts I have seen have Dallas selecting from a group including Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, Kentucky guard Doron Lamb, and Washington guard Terrence Ross.
Jones has the most potential for stardom out of the three as he has the size (6’9”) and rebounding ability (7.2 RPG) the Mavs crave. Jones can also score as he averaged 12.3 PPG this past season for the Wildcats.
Ross would be an ideal fit for the 2-guard spot as he is 6’6” and averaged 16.4 PPG with the Huskies. With the likely departure of Jason Terry, Ross could fill the role Terry will be vacating.
Lamb is a 6’4” shooting guard who averaged 47 percent from beyond the arc at Kentucky. Lamb played in all 38 games this past season for the Cats, averaged 12 points a game, and who John Calipari believed is the best overall player at UK.
The Mavs have to start hitting with their draft picks, and with the amount of depth in the draft this year, 2012 is the year they must do it.
Must sign Deron Williams
Deron Williams is the marquee free agent available this summer, assuming he opts out of the final year of his deal with the now Brooklyn Nets. Williams is from the DFW area (he went to The Colony High School), and is part of the reason Mark Cuban wanted to have salary cap room this summer. Williams is a scoring point guard, and would be the ideal fit to team up with Dirk Nowitzki for the next few seasons.
However, if one thinks Williams will sign with the Mavs just because he is a huge Rangers fan and is from here, one assumes incorrectly. Williams wants to get paid, and Brooklyn can offer him the most money. Playing for Jay-Z and in the New York market is very appealing. Plus, the Nets have the assets to possibly trade for Orlando center Dwight Howard. The Mavs do not. If Cuban does not sign Williams, the 2011 off season will look completely ignorant.
If Williams goes elsewhere, there are a couple of point guards the Mavs could sign. Houston’s Goran Dragic is coming off a career year in which he averaged 18 points and 8 assists in his team’s final 28 games. Some guy named Steve Nash will also be available. While both of these players are great options, neither one of them is Deron Williams.
The summer of 2012 will be the most crucial off season in the Mark Cuban era. If Cuban does not add impact players to the roster, the Mavs are in serious peril. We will soon find out if Cuban’s business this past off season was genius, or completely foolish.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18