Now that the dust has settled on the Dallas Mavericks' season, ESPNDallas.com will explain the big-picture outlook the Mavs need to analyze as they look ahead to the offseason and beyond.
Shawn Marion has been the anchor for the Mavs’ defensive approach since he arrived in 2009. Over time, he emerged as one of the most versatile options on the team, both offensively and defensively. Alongside Dirk Nowitzki, he is one of the lone pieces remaining from the 2011 championship roster. He now approaches free agency, a place he hasn’t been since 2009. Having been able to rely on Marion as a constant at small forward, the Mavs will have to decide if they need to start anew at the position.
Along the lines discussed earlier in this series, bringing Devin Harris back and possibly inserting him into the starting lineup creates new opportunities, but it also creates more problems. While he will boost the team’s versatility, speed and defensive disposition, he shrinks the floor in terms of perimeter shooting. Both Harris and Monta Ellis will cause chaos for the opposition with their penetration, but coaches can counter that by giving them space, daring them to shoot. At that point, it’s essential to have a small forward who can space the floor. You can’t expect Nowitzki to be the lone weapon who consistently stretches the floor.
To his credit, Marion expanded his game and tried to stretch the floor this season as he hit 58 3-pointers. That’s a tremendous uptick in production from beyond the arc as he made a total of 51 treys in his previous four seasons with Dallas (23 in 2012-13, 20 in 2011-12, five in 2010-11 and three in 2009-10). Marion’s 35.8 percent shooting from 3-point range was his highest since he shot 38.7 percent for the Phoenix Suns during the 2002-03 season.
The problem is, Marion is 36 and has already said he’s willing to consider retirement after two more seasons. That means Dallas has to consider moving on from Marion to find the heir apparent at small forward. There have been options linked to the Mavs such as Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, both as potential replacements for Marion. There have been pie-in-the-sky options such as Carmelo Anthony and other options such as Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Thabo Sefolosha, P.J. Tucker and Al-Farouq Aminu, but it likely comes down to Deng and Ariza as the primary targets.
Deng would likely come with a heavier impact on the salary cap for Dallas, but at 29 years old, he provides a much younger option. He is a legitimate two-way player and a strong veteran presence in the locker room. Unfortunately, there are concerns about his durability. On top of that, he didn’t exactly turn things around in Cleveland with the Cavaliers when he was traded there in January. While he is versatile, he doesn’t have the same elasticity that Marion has when it comes to defending smaller players, though he’s skilled against small forward-like options in a variety of defensive settings.
Ariza played the probably best stretch of basketball of his career during the Washington Wizards’ playoff run. He was a skilled defender on the perimeter and shot an incredibly efficient 44.6 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs. There is concern because his 40.7 percent shooting from long range this season was a career high. Was it a turning of the corner or a contract-year aberration? Where Deng might struggle with smaller players on defense, Ariza can be effective. Taking size and versatility into account, Ariza might be the best defensive option of the three.
Marion said it wouldn’t take Dallas “too much” for him to return during the team’s exit interviews. That might be the case, but teams such as the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers could easily come and call, offering championship contender opportunities. Marion and the Mavs are at a crossroads, and both must decide if it is best to part ways. If that decision is made, it will have a ripple effect on the entire roster.