After a surprising seven game first-round series against the defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks once again set their sights on a summer filled with uncertainty.
During the last two summers, the Mavericks struck out while trying to nab a marquee free agent. Despite that, the team was able to find a diamond in the rough in Monta Ellis. This summer, Dallas enters the fray once again as big names top the list of free agents.
Before the Mavs start chasing outside free agents though, they have to decide who, if any, from their 2013-14 roster they want to bring back for next season. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Devin Harris, DeJuan Blair, and Bernard James are all set to become free agents. The Mavericks have stated their goal is roster continuity. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see several of these players stick around for a while longer.
That will certainly be the case with Nowitzki, at least. Dirk has long said he plans on staying in Dallas for the remainder of his Hall-of-Fame career. He hasn't met with Mark Cuban or Donnie Nelson yet to discuss his future with the club, but that is just a formality at this point. The hard part will be compromising on a reduced salary that isn't insulting to Nowitzki and will allow the team the financial flexibility it needs to chase other free agents.
The re-signing of Nowitzki will take top priority for the Mavs this summer. Dirk's salary creates a cap hold of upwards of $22 million. To have any wiggle room, Dallas will need to sign him first. Marion commands about $13 million and Carter more than $6 million in cap holds. How the Mavericks approach Marion and Carter this summer will be interesting. While continuity is the plan, it seems likely that one of them will not be returning next season.
Dallas will also have to address their willingness to bring back Harris and Blair, both of whom played well in the playoffs. The series against the Spurs may have bought the pair a couple more years in Dallas. However, there will be other teams vying for their talents, as well. The Chicago Bulls are allegedly interested in signing Harris. Sadly, though, fan favorite Bernard 'Sarge' James could be an odd man out. He rarely saw playing time with the club and was buried deep on the bench.
Once the Mavs get their house in order, they will be free to chase plenty of players. This year's free agent class is headlined by names like Miami's 'Big Three' (who all have early termination clauses), Carmelo Anthony (who also has an early termination clause), Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat, and Trevor Ariza, to name a few.
ESPN's Marc Stein reported on the Mavs' offseason plans soon after they were eliminated from the playoffs. According to him, Dallas expects to be on the short list of teams trying to woo Anthony away from the Knicks and their new president of basketball operations, Phil Jackson. Generally speaking, it's harder to lure a player out of New York than to get him there. Nonetheless, the Mavs seem optimistic at this very early stage, just as they were with Dwight Howard and Deron Williams before.
As for any of Miami's Big Three, you can pretty much forget about it.
There are several centers on the market this summer that Dallas should take a look at. Greg Monroe, Gasol, Spencer Hawes, Emeka Okafor, and Gortat are all free agents. Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden will also be available, if the Mavs want to test their interest again with these oft-injured and maligned big men.
Of these players, Gortat stands out. He had a great season with the Washington Wizards, averaging 13.2 points on 54 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Gortat drew the interest of Dallas a few years ago when he was a restricted free agent with the Orlando Magic. He signed an offer sheet with the Mavs that was eventually matched by the Magic.
Gortat is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Early indications are that the Wizards are going to do everything in their power to retain him, as he played an important role on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Another note in Stein's report is that Dallas is again interested in the services of Tyson Chandler, should the Knicks decide to make him available via trade. Cuban and the Mavericks are often criticized for their willingness to let Chandler, Jet Terry, and J.J. Barea walk after winning the championship in 2011. However, would bringing Chandler back now be what the team actually needs? The team is in need of an elite (or at least imposing) defensive center. Chandler fit the mold when he was in Dallas, but his time in New York has been marred by injury. He hasn't played more than 66 games in a season in his three years with the Knicks. Last season, he only appeared in 55 games. While his offensive and defensive numbers continue to be strong, any team that wants to take a hard look at Chandler cannot ignore his injury woes at this point in his career, even if ignoring injury woes gave the Mavs a key piece to a title run when they brought in Chandler the first time.
Stein also mentions that the Mavs could be interested in trading for Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders. Sanders is about as athletic as they come, but off-court issues set back his development last season and have led to many red flags. On the court, though, he is a shot blocking machine, averaging 1.9 per game for his career. Still, he only played in 23 games last season after an injury during an altercation in a nightclub.
Other big men options that Dallas may want to explore are Channing Frye and Josh McRoberts (both of whom have player options for next season), as well as Ed Davis (who is restricted) and Jordan Hill. These aren't the flashy names that go above the fold; however, each is a quality player who can contribute to what Dallas is trying to build. Frye and McRoberts likely won't leave their current situations in Phoenix and Charlotte, respectively. Davis, though, is kind of an odd man out in Memphis. He has solid Per 36 numbers of 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds for his career, but is mired behind the likes of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for playing time. Any team that wants to wrest him away from the Grizzlies is probably going to have to overpay just a bit.
Hill, though, is an unrestricted free agent coming off a season with the Lakers where his rebounding and hairstyles were some of the bright spots in what amounted to a disaster in Los Angeles. Dallas is in desperate need of rebounding, especially if the team loses Marion. Hill averaged 9.7 points (while shooting the highest field goal percentage of his career) and 7.4 rebounds last season, mostly off the bench.
Aside from big men, it is widely believed that the Mavericks will also look at acquiring another wing. Dallas' starting backcourt of Jose Calderon and Ellis is porous defensively. The team needs to invest in a wing that is athletic enough to guard two-to-four positions, like Marion is often asked to do. Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza are frequently mentioned as potential targets for the Mavs to fill this need.
While many may welcome Deng's possible addition, he should be viewed with a level of trepidation. Despite being only 29 years old, Deng is beginning to lose a step. He has suffered back and Achilles injuries, as well as being run into the ground by Tom Thibodeau during his time with Chicago. Beyond that, his shooting numbers are not that great.
Ariza, on the other hand, is not as adept defensively as Deng, but he is the better shooter of the two and has the athleticism to defend guards, if need be. Tim Brown of Mavs Moneyball breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of both players in great detail here.
Other possible wing targets are Thabo Sefolosha, P.J. Tucker, Al-Farouq Aminu, Wesley Johnson, and (just because the Mavs like veterans), possibly even Richard Jefferson.
At 6'7', Sefolosha may be a dark horse addition if he doesn't re-sign with the Thunder. He is a defensive-minded player who is long and athletic. Though he isn't going to light up the scoreboard, Sefolosha can knock down a 3-point shot when given the opportunity.
With the Mavs' defensive needs so apparent, it is almost astonishing that Stein reports that the team has no interest in Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. This summer, Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent. That is almost unheard of for a player of his caliber who is just 23 years old. The Mavericks aren't getting any younger, and their reluctance to invest in young talent continues to result in an aging cast surrounding Nowitzki in his waning years.
Bringing in Stephenson would break up the backcourt duo of Monta and Calderon -- and that isn't a bad thing. Starting Stephenson alongside Ellis could pay dividends, as Stephenson can defend either guard position, allowing Rick Carlisle to hide Ellis on defense. On offense, Ellis works best with the ball in his hands and was frequently the team's ball handler in the half-court last season as Calderon shifted into a role of floor-spacer. Stephenson is also capable of being a ball handler, if need be, as he currently plays with another non-traditional point guard, George Hill, in Indiana. He is also capable of spacing the floor and knocking down outside shots.
There are questions about Stephenson's character, though. He got into an altercation before a playoff game with teammate Evan Turner recently. In 2010, he was arrested on assault charges. Yes, he comes with warning signs and the Mavericks, a disciplined team and organization, don't put up with much. However, to dismiss a player outright who on any given night can lock down an opponent's best guard and record a triple-double seems shortsighted.
Needless to say, the Mavericks have their work cut out this summer. Not all the players listed above will be available, and those that are will garner some of the most attention. Dallas wants to keep a core group together during the twilight of Nowitzki's career, but at what cost? The Mavs must make smart additions this summer without leveraging the future of the team for a short-term fix.
Got a pressing Mavs offseason question? Ask Doyle on Twitter at @thekobebeef.