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Thursday, June 3, 2010
Don't be surprised if Dampier is back

By Tim MacMahon

It seems that MFFLs have been counting the days to get rid of Erick Dampier since the day he signed his seven-year, $73 million deal.

Sorry, folks, but I don’t believe Dampier’s days in Dallas are done.

There isn’t a guaranteed dime in the final season of his contract, which makes him the Mavs’ most valuable trade chip this summer. The Mavs hope to move him in a sign-and-trade package for a star. If that isn’t possible, they’ll explore other ways to cash in on his creative contract. If all else fails, they’ll release him.

Regardless of how Dampier departs Dallas this summer, he’ll soon be an unrestricted free agent. At that point, it’s likely that Mark Cuban and Co. will come knocking on his door in Mississippi.

Cuban’s not crazy enough to pay Dampier $13 million next season, but the Mavs have a lot of love for Dampier. They appreciate the picks he sets to get Dirk good looks. They like the fact that he doesn’t hesitate to deliver a hard foul and embraces his role as the defensive backbone.

How much is that worth to the Mavs? The hunch here is a healthy portion of the midlevel exception.

Think of it this way: Have the Mavs ever had a better big man than Dampier? You could make a strong case for James Donaldson, and that’s it.

Better yet, think of it this way: Can the Mavs get a better big man than Dampier next year?

Go ahead and scan the list of free agents, with the understanding that Chris Bosh isn’t coming home to play center. You see any other big men worth making a sign-and-trade deal for? You see one worth giving the whole midlevel?

Shaquille O’Neal? Brad Miller? You realize how awful the Mavs’ defense would be with those guys protecting the rim?

What about Brendan Haywood? After all, he was supposed to be the long-term solution when the Mavs made the blockbuster deal with the Washington Wizards. The Mavs’ brass, including player/assistant GM Dirk Nowitzki, even called Haywood the key to the deal. He’s the guy who was supposed to erase the sting of the Magic matching the Mavs’ summer offer to restricted free agent Marcin Gortat.

But the Mavs weren’t nearly as high on Haywood by the end of the season as they were when he arrived. If he can’t be consistently motivated in the last half of a contract year, how can he be trusted when he gets a long-term deal?

Haywood is still a big man who can block shots and post the occasional double-double, so he’ll get paid by somebody. But I don’t think Cuban will be willing to get in a bidding war for a big man that left the Mavs with a bad taste in their mouths.

Dampier has been overpaid the last six years, but his bosses also believe he’s been underappreciated. Combine that with the difficulty of finding an upgrade, and it’s not hard to envision Dampier back in Dallas, as disappointing as that might be to fans.