- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Which teams are the biggest threats to the Mavs' quest to make the playoffs?
Gutierrez: The only team behind Dallas right now that might bring some cause for concern is Memphis. That's due to the fact that Marc Gasol, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, returned to action after spraining a left knee ligament less than eight weeks ago. Their defensive tenacity can help them get back in gear, but they may be too far behind in the pack. I'm going to take an indirect route for the answer and say that the Mavericks themselves are the biggest threat to their quest to make the playoffs. They have the ability to score on any given night, but their own shortcomings on defense and in terms of rebound really derail their potential. It's up to them to decide how far they can really go.
Taylor: Denver and Minnesota are the best bets to improve and get better over the course of the season, which makes them the biggest threats to the Mavs. Denver has a new coach in Brian Shaw and it always takes teams time to adjust to a new coach and a new system. It takes time for all the players to find a role and get comfortable in it. The Nuggets are just 11-8 at home, where they have traditionally been outstanding. Once they play better at home, they'll start putting some winning streaks together. Minnesota's biggest problem is it doesn't know how to win. Kevin Love is among the league's best players. If they can continue to get strong performances from Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, they will eventually make a push for the playoffs. Rick Adelman is a terrific coach and sooner or later he'll get the most from that team's talent.
MacMahon: The Grizzlies are by far the biggest threat with Gasol back. I figured Memphis as a playoff lock before the season started. The Grizzlies got off to a disappointing start and struggled without their best player, but they are only one game below .500 and completely capable of still getting to 48 or 49 wins. The Nuggets and Timberwolves can't be discounted, but the Nuggets' inconsistency and Timberwolves' stunning inability to win close games (0-11 in games decided by four points or fewer) make them lesser threats.
2. Should the Mavs want Andrew Bynum if he'll take the minimum?
Gutierrez: Hypothetical or not, Dallas doesn't really need to go after Bynum. Do they need a legitimate big man? The answer is obviously yes, but I don't consider Bynum to be that anymore. Mark Cuban has created a culture and locker room over the last decade-plus that has withstood a lot. The only thing it can't seem to withstand is when former L.A. Lakers have to change colors and become Mavericks. Dallas hasn't had any significant luck, mainly just aggravation, when it comes to bringing in players who used to wear the purple and gold. Fans who remember see Bynum as the "thug" who took a cheap shot on J.J. Barea during the conference semifinals of the 2011 playoffs. For those who haven't really kept up with him this year, the analytics say that Bynum isn't worth the hassle, even at the minimum. He doesn't radically improve the team defensively or in terms of rebounding. The culture has worked with various players, even this year with Monta Ellis, but past results in a specific category suggest that this isn't worth the hassle.
Taylor: I wouldn't want Bynum under any circumstances. He has a loser mentality and there's been no indication he loves the game -- only what it can prove him materially. The Mavs under Cuban, and especially under Carlisle, has been a franchise that plays with maximum effort. Lamar Odom drove Carlisle and Cuban crazy. Bynum would do it faster.
MacMahon: Yes. The Mavs were right -- and I was wrong at the time -- for not making Bynum an offer this summer when it would have taken significant guaranteed money to get him. Bynum obviously wasn't worth that risk. But there would be no risk with a minimum contract. The best-case scenario is that you get a center who can provide scoring punch, rebounding and an interior defensive presence for around 20 minutes per night. If he causes problems, cut him. For me, it comes down to this: Would you rather have Bernard James or Bynum?
3. Should the Mavs be buyers or sellers in the trade market?
Gutierrez: They should be buyers, but I don't really see what they can buy that makes a substantial difference. They have nice assets, but the assets likely won't fix what ails them unless they radically shift the makeup of their roster. Defense is clearly the issue, so they would have to give up key pieces to their offense to fill that void. It doesn't make sense to trade pieces such as Jose Calderon or Monta Ellis because they're new pieces to your core. When you look on the other side, guys such as DeJuan Blair, Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert and Shawn Marion have contracts that are expendable, but they all provide something of substantial value to the team. It's a precarious spot for the Mavericks. They can't be sellers because they have a solid chance to be a playoff team, but their assets don't provide the foundation to provide a quick shot in the arm as buyers.
Taylor: This depends on what they're getting. If it's a high-end lottery draft pick, then be sellers because they have zero chance to win a title this season. If it's a low first-round pick, then the Mavs might as well try to have the best season they can and ruin someone else's season in the postseason.
MacMahon: They can't be sellers. Not if they want to avoid the wrath of a certain 7-foot German. Cuban is too competitive to do anything to reduce the Mavs' chances to get back in the playoffs anyway. But I don't think it's realistic to expect the Mavs to be buyers, either, unless a team is really motivated to dump salary. The Mavs just don't have the assets to be aggressive in the trade market, especially because they can't trade future first-round picks since they're still being handcuffed by the Odom deal.