The Mavericks will explore all potential avenues of improving the talent on their roster, but upgrading at point guard is the top priority.
While Darren Collison confidently declared Thursday that he believes he could start for any team in the league, the Dallas decision-makers clearly don’t share that opinion. After all, they opted to start Derek Fisher and Mike James over Collison in a season that president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson described as a “point guard odyssey.”
The Mavs might welcome Collison back as a backup, depending on the price. They’ll search this summer for a long-term starting solution at a spot that coach Rick Carlisle calls “the most important position in the league.”
“We’ve been spoiled with Jason Kidd and Stevie Nash before,” Nelson said during a Thursday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3’s Galloway and Company. “I think the quarterback position is just a really, really important one. I’d say that that’s up there.
“That’s no disrespect for anyone. Darren Collison did a terrific job with a tough situation, and we’d certainly be open to the conversation of him coming back, but (upgrading point guard) has got to be in my mind first and foremost.”
The pie-in-the-sky scenario: Sign Chris Paul. Of course, the odds of him ditching a talented, young Clippers team to come to Dallas to play with a mid-30s core are awfully slim. As Mark Cuban recently said, he’ll be rooting for teams with free agents the Mavs might target to lose early in the playoffs. Would Paul consider leaving the Clippers if they flame out in the first round?
Paul will be the perfect fit, but the Mavs must be prepared to find their point guard of the future somewhere else. They might be able to draft next season’s backup with the 13th overall pick, assuming they don’t get amazing lottery luck, but a team determined to drastically improve its basketball IQ isn’t going to hand the reins to a rookie to run the show for 30-plus minutes a night.
It’s time for the Mavs to find a proven veteran point guard to fill Kidd’s shoes.
“I don’t know exactly what style, but the guy’s going to have to be able to score,” Carlisle said on Galloway and Company. “The guy’s going to have to be able to come off screens and hit shots, because when you’re come off screens from Dirk, you’re going to be open because of the way guys play him.”
A quick look at some of the other potential long-term upgrades available in free agency:
Jose Calderon: The Mavs have been involved in trade discussions about Calderon, as recently as midseason, when he got dealt from Toronto to Detroit in the three-way Rudy Gay deal. Calderon, who turns 32 in September, is a pass-first point guard who is a very efficient offensive player. He has career averages of 7.2 assists and 1.7 turnovers per game and is an excellent shooter (.483 FG, .399 3s, .877 FT). His flaws: He doesn’t penetrate well and is a poor defender, especially against speedy point guards.
Monta Ellis: The 27-year-old is not really a point guard. He’s a scorer (career 19.4 ppg) who sometimes plays point guard. He’s dangerous off the dribble and trouble in transition, but Ellis jacks up a lot of long jumpers and doesn’t make very many. He attempted 328 3s this season despite hitting only 28.7 percent, the lowest of any player with at least 200 tries. The idea of Ellis running pick-and-pops with Dirk Nowitzki is intriguing, but can a guard who has never averaged more than six assists per game in a season be counted on to consistently deliver Dirk the ball in prime scoring situations? And Ellis doesn’t exactly have a great defensive rep, either, despite his high steals totals.
Jarrett Jack: Jack, who turns 30 in October, is coming off his best season, averaging 12.9 points and 5.6 assists as the sixth man for a playoff team with Golden State. He’s an excellent midrange shooter and very effective hitting floaters off the dribble. He has a low turnover rate, the kind of strength and toughness Carlisle wants in a point guard and hit a lot of clutch shots for the Warriors this season. But Jack is really a combo guard who has never averaged more than 6.3 assists per season and struggles defensively against quick point guards. Like Kidd, he’s actually better defending shooting guards.
Brandon Jennings: Can the former lottery pick flourish under Carlisle’s coaching? Would it be worth offering enough to the restricted free agent for Milwaukee not to match? The 23-year-old Jennings, who has butted heads with his Bucks coaches, is on the record saying he’d love to play with Dirk and for Cuban and Carlisle in Dallas. His shooting percentage might soar in that situation, but the fact that it’s 39.4 percent for his career is a red flag. So is his slender frame (6-foot-1, 169 pounds). Oh, and so is the fact the Bucks have occasionally benched him during crunch time down the stretch this season. But Jennings (17.5 ppg, 6.5 apg this season) has shown enough flashes of brilliance to at least make him intriguing.
Jeff Teague: He’s a restricted free agent on a playoff team that has a ton of cap space, so the Mavs would have to overpay to get Teague. The four-year veteran is a quality young point guard, averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists this season, but it’s difficult to envision the Mavs throwing a ton of money at him.
Mo Williams: The 30-year-old Williams is best suited as a scoring sixth man, not a starting point guard. He’s a good spot-up 3-point shooter and knocks down a lot of midrange jumpers off pick-and-rolls, but he’s never been more than an average driver or distributor. Plus, Williams has major durability issues, having missed at least a dozen games in seven of the last eight seasons, including 36 with the Jazz last season, when he averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists.
There are, of course, other ways for the Mavs to acquire point guards. Hey, maybe Cuban can come up with some kind of multi-team deal that lands Rajon Rondo in Dallas.