COMMENTARY | For the first time in 13 seasons, the Dallas Mavericks didn't reach the NBA's postseason. Without Dirk Nowitzki the Mavs got off to a tepid start in 2013, going .500 in their first 20 games. And while winning streaks have become massively overhyped in the age of 24-hour media, Dallas wasn't able to put together a winning streak of more than four games throughout the entire season.
Nowitzki will turn 35 years old this June and could be entering a different point of his career, where his minutes will have to be rationed much like other mid-30s stars. Still, Dallas possess one the NBA's best head coaches, one of the more innovative front offices in the league, a plethora of salary cap flexibility this summer, and avoided the punitive measures that come with paying the luxury tax, leaving them all the financial vehicles the new CBA affords.
By the Numbers
The Mavs concluded the season with a -0.6 point differential, which by a statistical perspective isn't terrible. And while Rick Carlisle and crew finished the season with a 41-41 record, their Pythagorean win total had them winning just 39 games. Thus in non-dweeb speak, they got lucky by two games.
Despite Jason Kidd's departure to New York, Jason Terry landing in Boston, and no Delonte West last offseason, the Mavs never really sputtered on offense. They still finished in the top in the league in points per 100 possessions (103.6), played at the same PACE as last season, and as a team finished with a higher assist rate (17.9) as their championship season in 2010.
Where the high influx of player turnover (over 51 percent of their roster who played 500 minutes or more weren't on the their roster last season) showed up was on defense end of the floor. According to ESPN.com's database the Mavericks gave up the sixth-highest field goal percentage in the painted area (42.4), which was about three percentage points higher than the league average. Sans a quick-footed big, be it Tyson Chandler or Ian Mahinmi, Dallas wasn't able scare opposing teams from attacking the hoop.
The Mavericks had a hard time getting to the charity strip as well. They finished 27 th overall in free throw rate differential, letting opponents take just over five more freebies per game than they did.
Thus all the numbers illuminate the idea that last season Dallas was simply an average team with an aging star and nary a defensive anchor capable of preventing teams from thriving in the paint.
To Dwight or not to Dwight
A quick look at Dallas committed payroll next season, with all options included, is $42.205 million. According to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com O.J. Mayo will not exercise his $4.2M player option this summer and look for a more lucrative deal on the open market. While a return to Dallas isn't out of the realm of possibilities, it does give Dallas another decent amount of pocket change to work with.
And though the Mavs could be burdened by the liability of $22.95M in cap holds, Dallas could make the proper adjustments through a variety of "salary renouncements" to free themselves of enough space this summer to add two maximum level contracts.
The Mavs defense allowed opposing 5s to average a PER of 18.3. And considering they playing in a division with San Antonio, Memphis, Houston, and New Orleans -- all teams with either an established big men (or two), or a raw yet potentially franchise changing prospect like last year's top overall pick in the draft (Anthony Davis) -- it stands to reason that getting elite low-post defenders might be a priority for Marc Cuban and Donnie Nelson this summer, despite the recent media spin .
The 6'10'' 250-lb. elephant in the room is Dwight Howard. While Cuban and co. might try and dance with Chris Paul, they will certainly try and marry Howard this summer. Cuban felt they had the infrastructure to handle the train wreck that came along with Lamar Odom, and as big as a diva Howard might be, he isn't attached to a family that's as koo-koo as the psych ward at Sing Sing.
There isn't an owner in the NBA that could do more for Howard's brand than Cuban, and for those of you who are into NBA conspiracies, Howard is represented by the same agent who also reps the following: Jose Barea, Shawn Marion, Sasha Pavlovic, Yi Jianlian, Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, and Eduardo Najera, amongst others. See a trend? All of said players are or have been a Maverick at some point under Cuban.
Howard's maximum contract number this summer will be around $20,513,178. If he chooses to leave behind the stress of a demanding market in Los Angeles, he'll also have to walk away from over $20M of salary in a four-year deal per the new CBA. So, even with no state income tax, a charismatic owner, a proven star in place (and cap space for another) as well as great coach, the prospect of ceding more than $20M in salary, as well as a fifth year of financial security, is probably a bridge too far.
The Other Big Options
If it isn't Howard, then the foreign born trio of Tiago Splitter (San Antonio), Timofey Mozgov (Denver), and Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota), will all be restricted free agents this summer. And while none of them are a perfect fit for Dallas's defensive scheme, landing an established big from another western conference contender could serve as a duel incentive.
The Mavericks also have a fair amount of assets along with their cap space to try and land blue chip player in a trade.
Dallas still owns what will most likely be the 13 th pick in this summer's draft (top 20 protected until 2017), Marion's expiring contract, as well as Jared Cunningham and specifically Jae Crowder, who is coming off a solid rookie campaign. The Mavericks also have the rights to restricted free agents Darren Collison and Rodrique Beaubois, neither of whom are the most uber sexy names on the market, yet have value and could be used as chips for trade to land a player like Marcin Gortat (Phoenix), Drew Gooden (Milwaukee), or to take a flyer on a reclamation project like Tyrus Thomas.
Either way the Mavericks have the savvy as well as a decent chunk of assets to be one of the league's more active teams in free agency and trade markets this summer.
Stats compiled by hoopdata.com, NBA.com, and Pro Basketball Reference.comDave Jacober resides in New York City and has covered the NBA for seven years. He has been published by, USAToday, Boston.com, and is a frequent guest on Huffpostlive.
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