When the Dallas Mavericks let Tyson Chandler walk in free agency, they were making one of the biggest gambles in franchise history. Even if the team needed to be re-tooled, Dirk and Chandler, the best offensive 7'0 and the second-best defensive 7'0 in the NBA, were the foundation of a championship squad.
However, with visions of the summer of 2012 dancing in their eyes, as well as concerns about cap flexibility in the new CBA going forward, the Mavericks front office cleared salary cap space last off-season. Dallas refused to re-sign any of their key free agents while only pursuing players in trades or free agency who would be on the last season of their deals in 2011.
Combine an amnesty on Brendan Haywood's salary and a deal that would send the still productive Shawn Marion to another team and the Mavericks would have only three players -- Dirk Nowitzki, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones -- on their roster next summer. That in turn would give them the salary cap space to give Deron Williams and Dwight Howard near maximum-contracts.
Now, with the NBA trade deadline approaching on Thursday, the Mavericks will soon have a much better idea if letting Chandler go was worth it.
Howard, a once-in-a-generation big man who averages over 21 points a game and has won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, is the big catch.
If Orlando keeps him past the NBA trade deadline, Dallas will at least have a chance to try to woo the free agent. That's why the big concern for the Mavericks would be if Orlando bit the bullet and traded their franchise center before March 15.
He's recently asked the Magic to "roll the dice" and keep the team together until the end of the season, but that's such a transparent ploy to avoid being the bad guy in Orlando while trying not to damage the roster of his new team that it's hard to know whether to take Howard seriously.
And if Orlando decides to cut their losses, the deal that makes the most sense is sending Howard out to the LA Lakers for a package built around Andrew Bynum. If your going to lose the best center in the NBA and you have an 85-year old owner determined not to rebuild, than your best bet to replace him is the NBA's second-best center whose also two years younger.
Without Howard or Chandler, the Mavericks are a team with glaring defensive holes and an aging superstar in Dirk that isn't competing for anything meaningful. It's not that appealing a scenario for Deron Williams, an elite PG whose slipped out of relevancy playing for bad teams in Utah and New Jersey and will likely have little interest in signing with a team who isn't a contender.
The dream of a "Big Three" of Dirk, Deron and Dwight is still alive for now. We'll have a much better idea of how much of it was a fantasy on March 16.
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