Even the most delusional Mavericks fan knows that the odds are long for Dallas to make the playoffs this year, let alone contend for a championship. When this NBA season mercifully comes to an end, the Mavericks executives will have to take a long, hard look at what decisions they want to make, because taking no action means Dallas fans will have to watch their team slowly fade away into obscurity.
There are big risks with every scenario, but here are three major directions the team could go this offseason:
Direction 1: Clear cap space and try to lure some star power.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A dominant center and point guard are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. This time instead of Deron Williams, the guard is Chris Paul, but the center available is still Dwight Howard.
Dallas wasn’t the most talented team when it won the title. What the Mavericks had was depth and unbelievable chemistry.
The Mavs have a lot of cap space opening up again this offseason, so the team could try a run at one or both of the players. If Dallas misses out on Paul, they could try for Atlanta forward Josh Smith to pair with Howard.
Reward: You get two of the most talented players in the game, and the Mavs have their own big three to make another title run.
Even getting just one player drastically shifts some power back to Dallas. As a bonus, Paul and Howard both fill a major need for the Mavericks. Josh Smith wouldn’t have the same pop as Chris Paul, but he is definitely a talented player and could convince Howard to come to Dallas.
Risk: The Clippers have screwed up plenty of times, but it would take an enormous mistake to let Chris Paul get away. Meanwhile, Howard is clearly not happy with the Lakers, so it’s very possible that he’d head to Dallas. The question is whether the Mavs should want a player with such a huge knucklehead factor after the disastrous Lamar Odom experience.
Howard has undeniable talent, but that won’t win a championship alone. Josh Smith is one of those dangerous free agents who could demand franchise-player money without the franchise-player resume. Atlanta hasn’t exactly torn up the Eastern Conference while he’s been there.
Direction 2: Try to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.
Dallas wasn’t the most talented team when it won the title. What the Mavericks had was depth and unbelievable chemistry. Every player knew his role, and coach Rick Carlisle was masterful in managing his playoff roster.
Dallas might try to put together another group of hungry players to make that same type of run, because most teams in the west have major questions. There are persistent rumors that Dallas might go after Brandon Jennings of Milwaukee.
Trading away today’s stars would speed up the creation of the next generation of Mavericks, but it would be ugly early.
Jennings could fill the Jason Terry void of a small guard who provides instant offense to the team, if the Mavericks can swing a deal for him. Dallas could also trade a player like O.J. Mayo to a desperate team like Boston in exchange for coveted role players.
Reward: The team wouldn’t be at the whim of one or two free agents, and because no team will out-superstar the Heat, maybe doing the exact opposite will be more successful. Remember, the Heat had some trouble with the starless Indiana Pacers in last season’s playoffs, so there are upset possibilities.
Risk: The key to Dallas’ championship team was hunger. Dirk Nowitzki, haunted by the failures of his post season past, was obsessed. Does he still have that tunnel vision? Is he physically capable of carrying a team again?
Then there is the Tyson Chandler effect. Defensive stud centers don’t grow on trees, and the likelihood that Dallas could stumble across another one is slim to none. Without Chandler, the Mavericks would not have won the title two years ago. Without someone like him, they won’t win one next year.
Direction 3: Hit the reset button.
It’s hard to imagine going back to the early ’90s, when the Mavericks were a listless team with no discernable future. That’s what would happen if Dallas packs it in with this crew and begins to sell off pieces for draft picks. Yet, that might be less painful than watching beloved stars get older and grow irrelevant.
In order for owner Mark Cuban to take the doomsday scenario seriously, he has to be convinced that no major talent is headed to Dallas in time to take advantage of what’s left of Nowitzki’s talents. Trading away today’s stars would speed up the creation of the next generation of Mavericks, but it would be ugly early.
Reward: Drafts would become relevant again. Assuming that Dallas gets a haul of draft picks for their current players, they could wheel and deal their away around drafts and collect talent for the future. Meanwhile, the Thunder and Heat would be old by the time the Mavericks came back into the picture, and the NBA would be ripe for a new champion.
Risk: Too many to count. The Mavs not only would have to get lucky in the dreaded NBA lottery, but they’d also have to get lucky in the right year. Get the top pick in a draft that has a Tim Duncan, and you’re set for a decade. Get the top pick in a weak draft, and you just have an expensive lower tier star.
The Dallas title was an anomaly. The vast majority of the time, an NBA champion has a top three draft pick-type superstar leading the team (LeBron, Shaq, Duncan, Jordan.) Nowitzki turned out to be a draft steal where he was taken. Chances are that won’t happen again.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Dallas Mavericks need to make a move. Make the right one, and the team could become relevant again. Make a mistake, and Dallas might just fade into old-age uncertainty. Either way, it’s going to be an offseason of tough decisions.