Mavs mailbag: Better off with a lottery pick?

The Mavericks moved back a couple of hours on the clock and moved up a couple of spots in the Western Conference standings Wednesday.

Just another day in the wild, wild West.

We’ve got drama with seven games to go. The Mavs have a slim shot to finish as high as sixth and sit in a three-way tie for seventh place entering Thursday night’s road game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Will the Mavs make the playoffs or be hoping the ping pong balls bounce their way in the lottery? We might not know until their April 16 regular-season finale in Memphis ends.

On to your questions …

Q: After watching that heartbreaking loss to Stephen Flipping Curry and seeing the Mavs drop to ninth in the standings for the 76th time in the past week or so, I can't help but find solace in the fact that missing the playoffs allows us to keep our draft pick. I understand not wanting to outright tank away Dirk Nowitzki's final two or three years, but would it be such a terrible thing for us to miss the playoffs and draft a possible key player with the 14th pick? – Cole (Denton)

TM: I understand your logic, but the Mavs want to pay their bill (now owed to Oklahoma City) on the disastrous Lamar Odom deal as soon as possible.

First-round picks are among the most valuable commodities in the trade market, and the Mavs are handcuffed from even discussing dealing them because they owe a top-20 protected pick to the Thunder. That’s one reason to root for the Mavs to make the playoffs and unload that pick this summer.

Maybe a better reason: Think of the worst-case scenario. The protection on that pick runs through the 2017 draft. Imagine if the Mavs stay on the mediocrity treadmill during Dirk’s golden years – not good enough to get rid of the pick, landing in the late lottery or grabbing one of the West’s last playoff bids each season. Then Nowitzki retires in the summer of 2017 and the Mavs finally bottom out.

How sick would it make you to give the Thunder a high lottery pick smack dab in the middle of Kevin Durant’s prime?

Q: I read recently that Rudy Gay could possibly opt out of his contract. I see his reputation very similar to Monta Ellis. Any chance the Mavs would take another gamble on an "inefficient" scorer to team with Dirk and Monta? – Blake (Dallas)

TM: My initial reaction is that I’ll believe Gay walks away from his $19.3 million salary for next season when I see it. I doubt he could get that much over two years in free agency. You can point to Ellis as an example of a player who left money on the table to escape a losing franchise, but he thought he’d at least be able to get in the neighborhood of the three-year, $36 million offer he turned down from Milwaukee.

My next thought is that plugging in Gay as the starting small forward doesn’t address the Mavs’ biggest need, which is becoming a better defensive team.

Having said all that, never say never. If Gay opts out and doesn’t find much of a market for his services, maybe the Mavs could get him on a decent value deal.

Gay has a rep as a volume scorer, but he’s actually been pretty efficient since being traded to NBA Siberia, averaging 20.5 points on 48.5 percent shooting in Sacramento. He’s lit up the Mavs in their last two meetings with the Kings, and the Dallas front office has a history of signing players who have had success against them.

However, defensive issues aside, I don’t know how well Gay would fit with Ellis. They both need the ball in their hands a bunch, and neither is a good perimeter shooter. Spacing seems like it’d be a concern.

Q: The Mavs have no chance signing Marcin Gortat in the offseason. Who is best starting center can Mavs sign or trade for next season starting center position? I personally like Mavs to sign Emeka Okafor or trade for Anderson Varejao. Have one of the guys as starting center and Samuel Dalembert as backup center. Mavs can have one of best defensive center combo in the league best season. What you think, Tim? – Jason (Dallas)

TM: Why don’t the Mavs have a chance to sign Gortat? They’ve already successfully recruited him once when he was a restricted free agent, but the Orlando Magic surprised everybody by exercising their right to match the offer.

Are you assuming that he re-signs with the Washington Wizards? That’s probably a good bet given that the Wizards made great strides this season and have plenty of cap space, but it’s ridiculously premature to rule out the Mavs getting Gortat, who is by far the best big man realistically available in free agency.

Okafor? Is he ever going to play again? He’s not worth more than a minimum-salary flyer at this point. I’d be interested in dealing for Varejao despite his own injury history, but I have no idea what the Cavs would ask for him.

Don’t rule out Dalembert starting again next season.

Q: Was it too soon for Donnie Nelson to assure Dalembert of his place with the Mavs next season? Sam was probably playing for a contract in the past month or so, thus putting in tremendous effort (with results). He could either go back to the lax mode like he was in a few months ago, or full gear the way Vince Carter did last year when Mavs refused to trade him. Your thoughts? – Gnosys (East of Seattle)

TM: Well, first of all, it’s not like Nelson’s comments were legally binding. The Mavs can always change their minds, but I don’t see that happening unless they really need the roughly $2 million in cap space that cutting Dalembert would create.

I also don’t buy Dalembert being motivated that much by his contractual situation. The dude has made more money than he ever dreamed of and has been played on one-year deals the previous three seasons. It certainly didn’t motivate him last season in Milwaukee.

Q: Lance Stephenson is being called selfish publicly by his teammates and got into a push fight with George Hill during a timeout. Is he still the man you want the Mavs to target this summer with a big contract? – Tony (Dallas)

TM: Some homework certainly needs to be done before offering him a long-term deal with eight-figure salaries, but I still see Stephenson as a talented, versatile, 23-year-old quality starter with star potential.

I'm not sure the Mavs are that high on him, but one rough stretch for the Pacers shouldn't prevent a team from bidding aggressively on Stephenson.

First, I haven't read or heard anyone singling out Stephenson as selfish. I saw Roy Hibbert make a comment about "some selfish dudes in here," but he didn't attach any names to it. I'd guess that was intended primarily for Paul George, who rise to stardom might have increased his hat size.

Stephenson isn't shooting the ball more often since the Pacers' season suddenly turned south. His assist totals have plummeted, but I'd say that's probably a symptom of Indiana's major offensive issues.

As far as the heated sideline interaction with a teammate goes, that stuff happens. It's not ideal, but it's at least a sign that a guy cares when things aren't going well for his team.

Remember Jason Terry and J.J. Barea going after each other in a Mavs huddle? Considering they played key roles in a title run months later, I'd say the Mavs made the right call by not rushing to get rid of either guy.

Would it be the right call to give Stephenson the kind of deal (four years, $44 million?) it'd take to pry him away from the Pacers? I'll admit that Indiana's struggles give me some pause, but I still believe the Mavs should seriously consider making a pitch to Stephenson.

QL With his improvements this year, could Brandan Wright become a larger part of this team in the next two seasons? Is he improving enough on defense? – Jared (Richmond, Va.)

TM: It's pretty evident that Rick Carlisle has a clearly defined role for Wright, and it isn't as a starter or a guy who gets the majority of the minutes. It's a safe bet that Wright will be a valuable member of the Mavs' bench as long as he's in Dallas. Carlisle doesn't trust Wright enough defensively to expand his role.