May 3, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; A general view of the tipoff during game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs between the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the American Airlines Center. The Thunder defeated the Mavericks 95-79. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
The SB Nation Dallas news team tries to make sense of the Thunder series and figure out what the Mavericks next moves are in the draft and free agency.
Willie Funk: A sweep it was, huh? Can't say I expected them to win, but those first two in Oklahoma offered some hope. As I mentioned before, I felt like the match-ups Carlisle created out on the floor were what killed the Mavs when the Thunder had Harden in -- something that could not have been more obvious that it was in game 4.
I guess my overall feeling was that Dallas was a good enough team to handle the Thunder, but maybe I'm just being a homer about it. That having been said, we did look old at times in the backcourt all season long, and especially in the final two games of this sweep. Moving forward, there has to be some youth infusion at the guard spots, and I don't see Jason Kidd coming back next year if he's expecting more than a minimum salary as reported earlier.
The Deron Williams move is the obvious one, but the draft pick will be key as well I imagine. Amnesty-ing Haywood seems pretty obvious to me as well. Beyond that, what do you think the Mavs need to do to avoid a similar fate next year?
Andy Tobolowsky: You know it's funny, Willie--you'll always hear pundits talk about how a hotly contested series is sure to go to seven, and we heard an awful lot of that after game one. But it wasn't meant to be--sometimes a hotly contested series is hotly contested one team has all the cards, but the other team has a lot of heart. Looking back, I sometimes find it harder to believe that three out of the four games were that close, given that the Thunder had three guys who seemed to be able to score at will while the Mavericks had one, and the Thunder kept getting unexpected performances by guys like Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha while the Mavericks didn't get an unexpected performance from anybody.
You're exactly right though, I think. When the Mavericks went small, they couldn't guard the rim, but it was their only hope to guard the perimeter. James Harden's hot streak was all it took to expose what was true all series long---the Mavericks could not match up with the Thunder one on one at any of their skill positions and they had too much offense to put full power to the forward shields, so to speak. It wasn't a bad way to lose, though, because it didn't leave any false impressions. An old team can't chase a young team without a Tyson Chandler, and a jump-shooting team can't win when its jump shooting is on the way out. So, we know what the problem is.
I think a lot about next year. I think all of us, unfortunately, started early on that one. Deron Williams seems obvious, but it's more than possible he'll want more of a future than the Mavericks currently seem able to offer him---that was the gamble the Mavericks took in not re-signing a couple of guys that may turn out to have failed most dramatically. If I'm Deron, I look at Dirk's great but possibly decline-beginning season, the fact that nobody else is going to back, and I look at Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, a high pick, more money, and Brooklyn and I think about this one a bit. And it's not so much that the Mavericks whiffed with Brendan Haywood that's the trouble, it's that it gave them two gaping holes to fill this offseason rather than one.
It's not going to matter if they get Deron Williams if the defense behind the point guard and power forward isn't better--they still wouldn't have beaten this Thunder team. Did anyone else absolutely cringe when the Mavericks actually LOST to the Nets? If ever there was a time to show they still had something in the tank... If I'm the Mavs, you know what I do? Honestly? And I had a dream about this about three months ago so, since I'm a seer, it's probably going to happen--I sign Greg Oden to a vet minimum deal. 80% chance that doesn't work out, but 1) there's no way, unfortunately, Cuban's going to blow all his cap space before 2013, I'm really sorry to say and 2) there's no way Cubes overpays for a center after not overpaying for Tyson Chandler.
Let me ask you this, Willie---you need at least SOME players on your team next year besides Dirk and a hopeful Deron---who do you keep?
Funk: I really like the Oden idea. I refuse to believe his injury issues will continue. Look, the guy managed to go through 19 years of year round basketball without any problems, and his health wasn't a red flag leading up to the draft. As far as Deron Williams, there does have to be some concern. Wherever he ends up, there's a good chance Dwight Howard will find his way there as well -- losing separately to the Heat every year is not a compelling alternative. The home ties would seem to be a big advantage for the Mavs, but they really are entering a rebuilding phase with an aging Dirk.
In light of Howard's absence from the open-market, the Mavs will have to get creative to make Dallas a destination Williams can get excited about. An interesting name would be Rudy Gay, but it's unclear whether the Mavs will have the assets to go after him. If Memphis makes a first round exit, chances are that either he or Zack Randoplh will be on the trading block. Gay's got a big contract, but he's the kind of stud wing player with the kind of length and athleticism the Mavs have been missing since Josh Howard was an all-star. If i were the combined Cuban-Nelson I would explore whether there were any feasible deals for Gay (Roddy and the team's first round pick and an expiring deal?). However, it's unlikely he'll come cheap enough for the Mavs to afford, even with a package of draft picks.
Then comes the issue of who to let go. Jet Terry is the big one the team will have to let walk. He's been a steady source of offense off the bench, but he's a defensive liability and age is sure to catch up with him soon. What makes him difficult to keep is the contract he'll demand. Anything north of a 2-year $10 million dollar deal shouldn't be considered by the team. It'll be tough to see him go and replacing him could be a chore. Then again, Roddy has been groomed to be an impact backcourt player for the past three years. If he can earn Carlisle's confidence, it would be a potential game changer for the Mavericks. A scoring wing could also come in the draft (Jeremy Lamb, Dion Waiters, Terrance Ross and Darius Miller are all exciting prospects that could fill a real need).
Vince Carter is under contract, but he's all but done as an NBA player. He's out of shape, and simply too old to be more than a bit player at either end of the floor. At the point, Jason Kidd is gone for anything above the minimum. He was great for the team in the past, but sentimentality can't hide what having him and Terry allowed James Harden to do in the fourth quarter of game 4. Delonte West is a solid combo guard and would provide depth at both guard positions, but it's unclear what he'll demand in terms of money and whether the opportunity to start is a priority.
Beyond Oden inside, the Mavs will probably have to part with Ian Mahinmi if the contract offers get out of hand. Brandan Wright should be around next year after his energy off the bench was a big boost to the Mavs' bigs. Haywood will be gone as either an amnesty casualty or an expiring contract trade piece. With all the possibilities in mind, how do you see the offseason ultimately working itself out? Do the Mavs win the Deron Williams sweepstakes? What do they do if they don't?
Tobolowsky: Here's what I keep thinking about: The Mavs still need to fill out 15 player slots, but what order are they going to do it in? Obviously you would think nailing down Deron Williams is the first thing you'd like to do because it's only before you commit significant cap space that you can sell a guy on a VISION of a franchise, right? Well, the guys who the Mavs currently have under contract for next year are: Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Brandan Wright (I think? His is a 1 year deal, but the salary site I found says he's signed through '13, so I'm not sure). Possibly, even probably, they amnesty Haywood, but not if they don't have a back-up plan, right? We often say anybody would be better than Haywood. Would "nobody" be better than Haywood? I just don't know. So will the Mavericks get creative to get Deron? Or will they have to sell Deron on future creativity while bluffing with an ace and four threes? It could make a lot of difference.
Here's my worry. Mark Cuban is going to try to sell Deron Williams on a dream for the future. And Mark is a really strong-willed individual. He's let Steve Nash go, he's let Tyson Chandler go. Does he feel like he made a mistake in offering Tyson a 20 million one year deal, or does he think that Tyson did? Is he going to ask Deron to take a little less and play on a crappy, skeleton crew team for a year so they can make a splash in the summer of 2013? He's gone on record as saying that he thinks 2013 is the summer when cap space will REALLY be king, and I don't think he's bluffing.
Cuban tries to marry Moneyball with superstars, something Darryl Morey has never succeeded at, but even though I think Dirk is going to have a bounceback year next year (he'll have played a million less games and get a real offseason), he's getting older and no amount of business savvy can grow a Dirk. We saw it--and it worked out--when he was unwilling to trade for Al Jeff for not very much. That would have ended the Mavericks flexibility, and made their frontcourt super porous defensively, for all the benefits of having our first post scorer ever, and Cuban said no. And it worked out. But let's not forget that he was PLANNING to use Tyson Chandler to swing a blockbuster deal of some kind. Can we trust that he's going to make the kind of "whatever you want, Deron Williams" deal that all other GMs who want him will offer without thinking about it? I doubt it.
In short, it's really hard to imagine the summer, because it's hard to get into the head of our front office. They had a year of being lauded as geniuses for Tyson Chandler, Peja and Marion--well-deserved. But this year and the three years before the championship saw the Mavericks win exactly one second round playoff game. They've seen Steve Nash become a double MVP and Tyson Chandler become DPOY--and I'm not overstating Tyson Chandler's importance, he's not, as Donnie said, Michael Jordan, I'm just saying that a top four defensive center in the league REALLY wanted to be a Maverick, which is a hole the Mavericks have had since Roy Tarpley couldn't play any more, and the Mavericks thought they could do better. I don't trust Mark to do what it takes to get Deron Williams because I don't trust that he believes Deron Williams is as important as some mythical, never to be caught fish, as yet unobserved who will not cost excessive flexibility. The basketball Higgs-Boson, if you will.
I think the Mavs are looking at a second summer of insulting players with bad contract offers. I think you're right that that's what they offer Terry and it's not hard to imagine 15 teams offering him a third year and a little bit more cash. I think they don't necessarily see any of these guys as a solution for the future so even your comparatively young dudes like Delonte aren't like to see enough years. But they're going to need to sign somebody, and whether or not Deron works out, if they're looking at the summer of 2013, the odds are good that not even this year's underwhelming crop of Vince Carters and Delontes are going to be around for one year, minimum deals.
And by my count they have 11 roster spots to fill. It may all come down to how Cuban thinks of the summer of 2013, whether he thinks he can sell Deron on a dream without offering him much reality for a little while, and whether there really just are minimum year minimum salary guys available that a long range strategy is feasible. Unlike the Miami Heat, with just Dirk, there aren't going to be a lot of guys lining up looking for a ring like there were last year.
Would you be willing to tell us more about your thoughts on the draft? College basketball is not something I know much about, and it's been years since the Mavs have drafted an impact player. What are they looking for, and what might they get?
Funk: If Dallas hangs on to their pick, I think it's pretty clear they have to go after an impact athlete on the wing who can come in and give them serious minutes and potentially start. Luckily, this is the deepest draft in a long time. With the Mavs sitting at 17 in the first round and 25 in the second, they should be able to get value at both spots.
The top shooting guards available are (in no specific order) Bradley Beal out of Florida, Jeremy Lamb from UConn, Dion Waiters from Syracuse and Washington's Terrence Ross. Baylor's Quincy Miller is a good looking 3 that could also be around when the Mavs go on the clock. Each of those options should excite fans. Beal will be gone before the close of the lottery, so he's not a real option. The rest of the pack are still a possibility, but I'd be mildly surprised to see Lamb still looking for a team in the late teens. He's a silky smooth player with a fairly extensive offensive repertoire complete with a quick and clean release jump shot. He is my personal favorite of the group.
Waiters was a big-time recruit who struggled his Freshman year with inconsistent minutes but stuck it out and flourished as the key scoring threat for a team ranked in the top 5 all year long. He's not terrible long, but he has a thick frame, a good shooting stroke and surprising explosiveness. He's a guy that could come in early and fill Jet's role of instant offense off the bench. Terrence Ross is a guy who would be much higher on many draft boards if he hadn't been overshadowed by his ball-dominating teammate Tony Wroten. Wroten is a Tyreke Evans clone (needs the ball to be effective, score first point not quite good enough to do it at the next level and win). He may well be around when the Mavs pick and fans should keep their fingers crossed that Wroten isn't the Mavs' consolation prize. Ross is a smooth and effective wing player with good length and athleticism. He is a talented scorer when he gets the chance.
Miller is the big question mark here. I've heard some people talk about him as a Tracy McGrady type. At 6'9" he has a nice handle, decent shooting touch and sees the floor well. However, he blew out his knee his senior year of high school and never seemed to regain confidence or explosiveness in that knee. I think the fear of becoming a Robbie Hummel story (two ACL tears in the same knee) played a significant role in Miller's coming out early after initially saying he'd be back with the Bears. I don't know that he'll ever regain full strength, but a full recovery can take up to 18-months, so it's a real question mark. The team will have to consider him on raw talent alone, and do their due diligence on his health.
The Mavs do have some flexibility, however. If all those guys are gone by 17 (an outside possibility), there will likely still be quality interior size on the board. In that case, a Festus Ezeli (provided his knee checks out) would be an option. As would Iowa State's Royce White who dominated Kentucky for stretches during the NCAA tournament. Arnett Moultrie, a UTEP transfer who landed at Mississippi State, may be available as well. Each has issues. Ezeli with the knee, Royce White with severe airplane anxiety, and Moultrie with his slender frame.
What gives them this flexibility is Khris Middleton's tumultuous season at Texas A&M. Before the season, he was considered a first round pick. First he got a new coach. The mid-season knee surgery left him playing at half strength and shooting too many jumpers. So he declared early with his stock at its low point. But his size (6'7", 215), athleticism and skills are first round quality. Luckily for the Mavs, he's considered a late second round pick at this point in the game. Unless he can wow teams at individual workouts, his potential availability at 55 overall gives the Mavericks the flexibility to get quality size and ready to contribute youth at the wing. Regardless of how the draft plays out, it's hard to imagine the team's future not looking substantially brighter.