It was far from a noteworthy Mavericks season as far as fans were concerned. The Dallas Mavericks, buoyed by the return of a former MVP, limped to a .500 record to close the season. Though this was not the worst season in Mavericks history - far from it, actually - it was the first time the team sputtered to an early summer since Mark Cuban bought the franchise thirteen years ago. While the outcome may be a solemn reminder of just how hard it is to maintain a playoff caliber team, it came as no surprise.
Dallas was operating on a hunch. A hunch that they could maintain a decent team, not a great one, filled with short, inexpensive contracts that would enable the organization to save money under the new collective bargaining agreement. Though the season may have been for naught, the financial plan is still in place.
Of course, the plan to save money is based on the free agents that will be available in the summer of 2013 and 2014. Some of the biggest names in the league will be on the market. This summer, Tony Allen, Andrew Bynum (yes, some still consider him worth the risk), Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Manu Ginobili, Dwight Howard, Jarrett Jack, Al Jefferson, Carl Landry, Paul Millsap, Chris Paul, Nikola Pekovic, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, David West, and Mo Williams. Next year the list, which can be boiled down to just a few names, includes Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. With a cast of characters like this on the bill, it is no wonder the Mavs chose to hedge their bets and wait for the main acts.
Some of the names listed above are not in the same caliber as others. They are grouped as such because they pose possible, if not likely, targets for Dallas. However, the Mavericks will probably not even get a chance to pitch to some of the superstars who will test the market, namely Howard and Paul. Nor has Dallas shown that they have the gumption to draw any major talent via free agency, with last summer s whiff on signing Deron Williams serving as a prime example.
Yet, there is still a decent crop of players available for the Mavericks to pursue come July 1. First of all, they must decide who they want to retain from this season as nine players are either restricted or unrestricted free agents.
Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Shawn Marion, O.J. Mayo, and Brandan Wright all enter this summer as free agents. Collison is a restricted free agent and Marion has and early termination option in his contract if he chooses to use it. Mayo has already used his player option to opt out of the second year of his contract, in which he would have earned approximately $4.2 million, to test free agency. This was unsurprising, given his short two-year deal and improved, if spotty, play this season.
These are the five players that Dallas should focus on bringing back for next season. None of them are remotely perfect and each had stretches in 2012- 13 where they either played inconsistently or lost time due to injury. Nonetheless, they contributed to helping a maligned Mavericks team shoulder the burden of Dirk Nowitzki s injury and were the most used players, of the ones eligible for free agency, in Rick Carlisle s various lineup shifts.
Due to their time as the starting backcourt, Collison and Mayo were heavily scrutinized throughout the season. Collison lost and gained his starting job on several occasions while Mayo, as detailed here saw his production dip as the season wore on. Despite this, their overall contributions to the team were not insignificant, with Collison posting a Win Shares mark (a basketball-reference.com metric designed to measure overall value) of 5.6 and Mayo logging in at 4.2.
The main issue with these two players was when they shared time on the floor together. Collison and Mayo saw time on the court together for 81 of this season s 82 games. However, their overall Net Rating as a duo was -1 per game with a season mark of -85, per NBA.com/Stats. The Mayo-Collison duo logged 1,893 minutes, the most of any pairing on the Mavericks, on the season. This is one of the reasons why Mike James was inserted into the starting lineup to close out the season.
Despite their difficulties together, both Collison and Mayo could be worth re-signing, Mayo to a new reasonable contract and Collison to a reasonable matching offer to whatever he gets on the open market. Collison may not be the starting point guard the team is looking for but against second units he can be quite valuable.
As for the rest (Brand, Marion, and Wright), Marion is a no-brainer. He likely will not terminate his contract -good news for the Mavericks, since he was the most consistent player on the roster. As for Brand, Dallas should offer him a two-year contract with a team option for the second year. Brand proved his worth several times this season as the only player on the team willing to battle and scrap in the middle against the more league s more imposing frontcourts. He did grow fatigued in the latter part of the season but that is nothing that cannot be solved with more conditioning despite his age. Plus if the Mavericks can bolster their frontcourt it will be possible to limit his minutes to prevent a repeat of his onset fatigue.
Brandan Wright is an odd case. He found himself in an out of Carlisle s doghouse throughout the year, much to the chagrin of the Mavs Twitterverse. What the Twitter Mafia saw was his raw athletic ability and the excitement it brought to the fans. Sometimes that is all it takes to win skeptics over, but head coaches are another story. Luckily, Carlisle eventually came around on Wright and paired him with Nowitzki for heavy minutes, 386 to be exact, to finish the season.
Wright is still an experiment. He does not have the girth to battle with the likes of the Howards, Noahs, or Chandlers, but when the Mavs play small his length, ability to stretch the defense and decent midrange jumpshot, combined with his shot blocking prowess, makes for a formidable player. Not to mention that he, and players like him, are becoming more valuable as the dynamics of the league change. More and more, teams are implementing smaller, more agile big men in order to stretch the defense and get centers of the ilk mentioned above out of the paint - opening it up to slashing or cutting guards and wings. Wright more than fits this mold.
In part two of this breakdown, we'll look at the Mavericks' external targets - the guys most likely to have big press conferences in which they pose with a new jersey.
Follow Doyle Rader on Twitter for Roy Hibbert observations, LeBron James superlatives and Mavs offseason thoughts. You can find him at @TheKobeBeef.