"I don’t think that we’re going to come out of this draft with an impact starter on this team next year, but we absolutely will come out of this draft with a player that can be a rotation player for us whether it's next year or in a year or two remains to be seen." -- Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations.
DALLAS -- It's not the boldest proclamation ever uttered by a general manager on the eve of the NBA draft, but for the Mavericks, it's been a dozen years since they could make such a claim without holding their breath and crossing their fingers behind their backs.
The Mavs, barring a trade up or down, will select at No. 17 tonight (the draft starts at 6 p.m. on ESPN), their highest draft position since 2000. While that fact might make for a more intriguing night than normal for the Mavs' front office and the team's fans, it also means the club faltered last season.
The Mavs, swept out of the first round for the first time in the Dirk Nowitzki-Mark Cuban era on the heels of claiming the franchise's only championship, is at a crossroads. Nowitzki is the lone Mav guaranteed of returning next season. Others could leave via free agency or trade or the amnesty clause.
"No sacred cows," Nelson said.
The top priority is free agency and the pursuit of All-Star point guard Deron Williams. But, that chase doesn't officially begin until Sunday, so the Mavs don't have the luxury of picking tonight knowing whether Williams and Kidd will run the point or one or none.
So if the Mavs stay at No. 17 -- and indications are that they will unless they are truly enamored with a player that could go a few spots higher and they can make deal to move up, or can hit their target a few spots down -- they could pick from a deep field a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward or a center, and be satisfied that they've added a player of need.
"We haven’t picked this high in a while and the higher you go in a draft, I think the less risky you are with those picks," Nelson said. "We’ve rolled the dice on some guys in the late first and some have panned and some have not, and in the second round, but when you’re talking about the middle of the draft or the lottery, those are situations where you need to come away with a player."
As for trade possibilities, Nelson has fielded a number of calls about the No. 17 spot because of the depth of the draft.
"That area is very popular because it’s a delta area, it’s where the talent breaks," Nelson said. "It’s like bass fishing, you go for those deltas and where the shoreline breaks that’s where you cast your line. We’re kind of in that area."
But, again, Nelson said this is not the time to get cute or risky as the Mavs begin the re-making of their roster. If they make a move up or down it will be for what they believe to be a sure thing, a potential All-Star, not a flyer on upside.
"I think it’s a combination," Nelson said. "The draft is important. The free-agent period is important. But, this is an important draft for us."