- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.
Has Monta Ellis taken the torch from Dirk Nowitzki as the Mavs' best player?
Gutierrez: It may pain some fans to hear this, but Ellis is the team's best player through 15 games. That's not to say that Dirk is done. This is the plan the Mavs have been looking to implement for quite some time: reducing Nowitzki's role. Ellis' ability to penetrate and finish in addition to making his teammates better with his facilitating is the perfect companion to Nowitzki's offensive game. Ideally, the plan would work out perfectly if they run neck-and-neck with the torch.
Taylor: I'm not ready to go there yet. Not when the Mavs have played fewer than 20 games. He's off to a fantastic start, but just like I said about Jae Crowder a couple of weeks ago, consistency is the key. We need to see a body of work from Monta that's three or four months of the same aggressive, attacking style, while making Dirk and others better. Do that, and he might supplant Dirk as the best player. He's headed in the right direction.
MacMahon: Wonder why Ellis is so much better in Dallas than he was in Milwaukee? The big German has a whole lot to do with that. Ellis/Nowitzki is by far the Mavs' best plus-minus duo this season at plus-81. Nowitzki is half of the Mavs' five next best tandems, too. Nowitzki is part of eight of the top 12 duos; Ellis is half of only two of the top 12. Plus-minus isn't a perfect stat, but it makes it pretty clear that Dirk remains the Mavs' MVP.
On the heels of Kobe Bryant signing a two-year extension worth $48.5 million with the Lakers, what should the terms be for Nowitzki's next deal with the Mavs?
Gutierrez: Nowitzki said he's not thinking about the next deal now, but that certainly can't stop us from thinking about it. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are great references to figure out what Nowitzki will do. I wouldn't be surprised if he agreed to a deal in the range of three years/$36 million with three years/$30 million being the floor. That's a big win for the Mavericks. He wants to win and do it in Dallas. If things are on course, he'll comply with a team-friendly deal in order to have one more chance for a great run.
Taylor: Tim Duncan signed a three-year, $36 million deal last year. It came a year after he earned $21 million. If Dirk would agree to a similar type of deal that would allow the Mavs to add another key player or two and take even more pressure off him, it would be great. But he's been such a selfless star; I'd essentially let him name his own price if he's taking a pay cut because I don't think money is a motivator for him. Like all folks, he wants money and needs it, but I think he's the kind of guy who would say $10 million is plenty for me and it can help the team.
MacMahon: It depends on what moves the Mavs are able to make early in the free-agency period. Dirk should tell Mark Cuban to make the best possible significant upgrades and then give him whatever money is left under the salary cap. Maybe that means signing for the mid-level exception of a little more than $5 million per year. Maybe it's closer to the Duncan/Garnett deals. The one certainty is that championships, not money, drive Dirk 16 seasons and more than $200 million deep into his career.
Who is the best bargain on the roster right now?
Gutierrez: If I said Ellis has taken the torch for the first 15 games, I have to say he's been the best bargain. DeJuan Blair has been a nice addition for the minimum, but Ellis is providing so much explosiveness on the offensive end of the floor. Last year, O.J. Mayo played for half the money Ellis is making now and I would say Dallas is getting its money's worth in that department. If he can keep this pace up, the Mavs have an incredible bargain on their hands.
Taylor: Joe Johnson makes $23 million. Monta Ellis makes $8 million. No doubt, he's the best bargain on the Mavs and, maybe, the entire NBA. To get him for three years appears to be a real bargain. He's scoring, passing the ball, making others better and ranks somewhere between 60 and 80 on the highest-paid list.
MacMahon: If we're judging by dollars, it'd be Ellis. If the Mavs knew he'd be this good, they'd have given him the four-year, $48 million deal he wanted instead of the three-year, $25 million deal he settled for. If we're judging by percentage of his worth, it'd be Blair. He's making less than $1 million on a minimum deal. The banger is worth at least the $2.65 million Wayne Ellington got via the cap room mid-level exception.