Deron Williams or Bust for Mavericks?
The 2012 Dallas Mavericks title defense was doomed from the start.
When Mark Cuban decided not to bring back Tyson Chandler, among other key contributors, Dallas took a different route this season in pursuing back-to-back NBA Titles.
According to Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler was the team’s “MVP” last postseason and without the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year – among others – Dallas lacked the personnel necessary to adequately compete for a title. It’s evident that Cuban was wrong in his assessment that bargain players on one-year deals could compete for a championship.
That being said, Dallas didn’t simply give up this season in the pursuit of Deron Williams. The Mavericks still brought in players who contributed in 2012 (Brandan Wright, Delonte West and even Vince Carter all showed flashes) and, if Lamar Odom hadn’t been a complete bust, this team would’ve assuredly gone deeper into this postseason.
But, for this veteran team, anything less than a second championship has to be considered a bust. A perennial NBA Most Valuable Player candidate, Nowitzki isn’t getting any younger, and the onus is on this team to win now before the championship window is slammed shut.
Which brings us to this summer.
The need to circumvent some of the pressure resting squarely on the shoulders of the 33-year old Nowitzki was glaringly apparent in the opening round sweep at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The trio of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ran the Mavericks ragged as each player seemingly stepped up on cue to put away the defending champs.
This fact was not lost on Nowitzki who, as usual, responded candidly when asked what he believes Dallas needs to address this summer in order to get back to being legitimate title contenders.
“We need some guys that can make plays for themselves,” Nowitzki said. “That’s pretty obvious. If you look at all the top teams now, they have at least two or three guys they can throw the ball to and they do their thing… If you want to be an elite team in the league right now, you have to have two or three guys that can go off at any time.
“We’d love to get Kobe [Bryant], [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron [James] in here,” Nowitzki joked, “but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Neither Wade, James nor Bryant will be joining Nowitzki in Dallas anytime soon – that much is assured. However, Williams is one of the best point guards in the league today and could easily be considered one of those play makers Nowitzki was harking for.
For the first time since Cuban took over as the owner of the team over twelve years ago, Dallas will likely have the cash to make a run at an All-Star caliber free agent this offseason.
Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle, who recently signed a fresh new four-year deal, believes the track record for the Mavericks’ brass suggests this will be another productive summer for the team.
“Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have a resourcefulness about them and they get things done,” Carlisle said. “They’ve done a great job of reinventing this team multiple times. The summer is going to be long and there’s going to be a lot of time to plan things.”
What’s guaranteed is that Williams will opt-out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, while the Mavs will almost assuredly be in the hunt for his services. As for the likelihood of Dallas landing Williams, the All Star point guard says he’s still making up his mind on where he’s going to sign this offseason.
“I want to reiterate, I don’t know what I’m doing next year, still, nobody does but me,” Williams told HOOPSWORLD’s own Alex Raskin. “Not even my mom, my brother, my uncle, my cousin – I haven’t talked to anybody about where I’m going next year.
“I just hate that people think they know where I’m going because I don’t know where I’m going, so there’s no way for them to know.”
If the Mavericks are unable to acquire the hometown (The Colony, Texas) kid this offseason, there are some other – albeit less appealing – options on the market this summer.
For the majority of the other notable free agents out there, it’s unlikely they’ll be available to the Mavs if Williams is signed because of the massive amount in a max contract that he will command. If Dallas hopes to sign another productive free agent to go along with Williams, that player would have to join the Mavericks for much less than they could command on the open market.
Notable Free Agency Options:
Unrestricted free agent point guards Steve Nash and Goran Dragic have been mentioned as possible alternatives should Williams go elsewhere but neither is nearly as appetizing for Dallas.
There’s no doubt Nash’s return would make a great story if he reunites with longtime pal Nowitzki and the two NBA geezers (Nash is 38 and Nowitzki will be 34 at the start of next season) compete for a title. Both are still playing some of the best basketball of their careers, but the deficiency on the defensive end both would bring starting together simply wouldn’t be worth the easy offense the duo would generate.
In terms of Dragic, I’m not quite sold on the breakout 2012 contract year, especially considering he’s been a career reserve player before injuries forced him into the starting lineup for the Houston Rockets this season. Even though he’s just 26-years old, Dragic is more of a complementary piece than a legitimate answer for Dallas right now.
Another possibility for Dallas, should Williams sign elsewhere, is making a run at likely restricted (assuming their respective teams make qualifying offers) free agent centers Roy Hibbert and JaVale McGee. Both signings appear unlikely though considering how well Hibbert has played this postseason and the fact that both the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets have the right to match any offer sent their way.
New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon, who will likely also receive a qualifying offer this offseason, would also be an intriguing possibility. It’s unclear whether or not Gordon’s checkered injury past will be a roadblock in terms of the Mavericks making a significant contract offer. The Hornets will likely also want to retain the key piece acquired in the Chris Paul trade so this is another relatively unlikely scenario.
A cheaper alternative at center, where the Mavericks will likely have a gaping hole should they decide to amnesty Brendan Haywood, is Chris Kaman. Because of his ties to Nowitzki (lest we forget Kaman became a German citizen to join Nowitzki on the German national team not too long ago), Kaman could be available whether Williams signs in Dallas or not. Kaman would be an excellent addition for Dallas, especially if he’s willing to take a pay cut to play with his buddy in Big D.
Obviously, regardless of whom the Mavericks can acquire this offseason sans Williams, plans B or C are not nearly as gratifying as obtaining a 27-year old elite-level point guard.
If the Mavericks can’t acquire Williams, the risk this team took in letting Chandler and other key pieces from the 2010-2011 championship season walk is nothing less than a momentous mistake. Acquiring anything less than a young, legitimate All-Star to pair with Nowitzki would mean Dallas threw away a shot at back-to-back championships in order to revert back to an also-ran in the Western Conference.