Dallas Mavericks: Chris Paul
No, they didn’t hook the “big fish” as advertised, the hope the Mavs’ brain trust sold when they made the CBA-influenced decision to strip down the 2011 championship roster instead of pay big money to keep a veteran cast together. Dallas didn’t even get a sit down with Chris Paul and got nothing but the proverbial participation ribbon for their efforts in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.
If the early returns are any indication, Ellis’ contract could end up being the bargain of the summer.
With Ellis driving relentlessly and Dirk riding shotgun, the Mavs are off to a fantastic start after the first week of the season. Ellis’ dominant performance paced a 123-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, sending the Mavs on the road with a 3-1 record.
Ellis arrived in Dallas with the highest career scoring average (19.5 points per game) of any active player without an All-Star appearance. If he keeps this up, that might change at midseason, as will his reputation as a gunner who isn’t the kind of player who can be a key piece on a winning team.
All Ellis has done during his first week in Dallas is average 25 points -- tied for seventh in the league -- while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and dishing out five assists per night despite playing solely shooting guard. He blew by the Lakers’ lead-footed backcourt on a regular basis Tuesday, lighting up L.A. for 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting with nine assists -- a night so rare it hit a trio of certain statistical landmarks (points, assists, field-goal percentage) not reached in an NBA game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"He was in the guts of our defense all night," said Lakers point guard Steve Nash, one of Nowitzki’s favorite former sidekicks. "He was getting easy buckets and creating easy buckets for his teammates all night."
Perhaps Ellis is proving that the complementary pieces, not him, were the problem on his recent teams. After all, he did average 20.2 points and shoot 53.1 percent from the floor for a 48-win team as a 22-year-old, but those 2007-08 Golden State Warriors were the last plus-.500 team to employ Ellis. His efficiency plummeted in the six seasons since as he relied more and more on long jumpers.
The Mavs have convinced Ellis to use his inconsistent jumper as an off-speed pitch again. Playing in a pick-and-roll-intensive system that plays to Ellis' strengths and surrounds him with shooters, the Mavs are putting Ellis in position to be in attack mode.
"If anything, it made me the player I used to be," Ellis said. "Continue to attack. Don’t settle for the jump shot. At times I do, but coach keeps stressing attack, attack, attack. We’ve been doing that, and it worked for us tonight."
Seven of Ellis’ 11 buckets against the Lakers came on drives. When the defense collapsed, he kicked it out to a shooter for an open look or dumped it to a big man for an easy bucket.
Ellis’ ability to do damage off the dribble adds an element to the Mavs’ offense that’s been missing in recent seasons, arguably since Nash’s departure from Dallas a decade ago. Jason Terry served as a capable sidekick for Nowitzki during the Mavs’ best years, when the franchise made two Finals trips and won the 2011 title; but "Jet" was a jump-shooting assassin.
"He’s just a different kind of weapon," coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis. "His catch-and-go ability, his speed in transition, his ability to change direction and attack the rim is unique in this league."
Carlisle put Ellis in an elite class of active players when it comes to those characteristics, naming Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook off the top of his head. There is no doubt that Ellis, as Dirk declared at the opening of training camp, is the most explosive teammate of Nowitzki’s career.
"He’s so fast to the rim that if the defense makes one little mistake in the pick-and-roll coverage, one fast dribble and he’s right up there at the rim," said Nowitzki, one of seven Mavs to score in double figures against the L.A. "It’s been impressive.
"Obviously, there are some players that are so fast getting to the rim that if they make their [jump] shot, they’re tough to guard. That’s the case with him.
"If that thing is going, he’s tough to stop."
So far, Ellis has been a phenomenal fit for a Dallas team that, frankly, didn’t have much interest in him at the beginning of free agency. Mavs owner Mark Cuban admitted recently that it "did take some warming up" from the analytics-savvy franchise once Ellis’ asking price dropped from eight figures per year into a more Mavs-friendly price range. And it took Devin Harris’ deal being voided due to a flunked physical for the Mavs to offer Ellis as much money as they did.
But the Dallas decision-makers talked themselves into believing Ellis would benefit greatly from playing for a creative coach and alongside a pass-first point guard (fellow free-agent addition Jose Calderon) and a historically elite power forward who would be the focal point for opposing defenses.
It’s hard to argue with the early returns. With Ellis putting up huge numbers and Nowitzki complementing him with 20.3 points per game, the Mavs rank second in the league in scoring (114.3), behind only the Los Angeles Clippers.
"It really starts with Dirk because defenses play him so differently and he spaces so well," Ellis said. "It’s hard for them to even stunt or try to do anything on the back side. We’ve got so many shooters on this team that can get it going any given night and make it tough on defenses."
That makes it easy for Ellis to get in the guts of the defense -- and that gives the Mavs hope they’ve found a suitable sidekick for Nowitzki’s golden years.
However, Nowitzki was pleased with the Mavs' contingency plan, which consisted of signing a crop of free agents headlined by guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.
"It was tough," Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com about missing out on a proven superstar after Cuban essentially opted to sacrifice wins for salary-cap space. "First, it was Chris Paul. We didn't get him and then obviously went for Dwight. We went all-out. We all flew out there. Cuban put a suit on, so that already showed us how bad we wanted him.
"But hey, it is what it is. We didn't get him. I was frustrated there for a while, not knowing what we were going to do. Are we going to sign nine one-year deals again? But obviously Mark decided to go a different route. The first signing I think was Calderon, who I always liked as a point guard. I think Monta was probably a surprise to everybody. I didn't see that coming. I always thought he wanted a little more money somewhere else. He did. I was fired up to play with him, even though I didn't know how he was going to fit in here, but I was excited about the possibility of playing with him.
"I think as a franchise, we've moved on. We didn't go for the whole cap space deal again, like we did last year, so I was obviously pleased to see that."
The Mavs definitely aren't done with their roster remodeling, but Nowitzki believes the new backcourt can be part of the foundation for the future. Calderon signed a four-year, $29 million deal. Ellis signed for $25 million over three years, although the last season in his contract is a player option.
Nowitzki noted that the Mavs could be active before the trade deadline, especially if the first half of the season doesn't go as well as hoped.
The Mavs are set up to have ample cap space again next summer, when the contracts of Nowitzki ($22.7 million), Shawn Marion ($9.3 million) and Vince Carter ($3.2 million) all expire. Nowitzki has committed to re-sign a two- or three-year deal at a significantly reduced salary to be determined.
"I don't see us as being stuck," Cuban said. "I see us as a team that can and will get better. We're good and we can get a lot better."
Added Nowitzki: "We're still not done building. ... Our goal obviously since 2011 hasn't changed. We're not happy making the playoffs. We want to compete for the championship."
That would have been easier to do with Howard on his side, but as far as Nowitzki is concerned, hope is still alive.
This spin won't serve Mark Cuban well.
His claim that the Dallas Mavericks are "in a better spot" than they would have been if they had signed Dwight Howard isn't what fans want to hear. Especially not after they heard essentially the same thing last summer after the Mavs missed out on Deron Williams.
If that's the case, what was the point of stripping down the 2011 title team?
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What went wrong? The circumstances changed after Tyson Chandler & Co. turned down one-year offers to stay in Dallas and got paid good money to go elsewhere. And give the competition credit for making their situations more attractive.
The Mavs hoped Chris Paul would be looking to escape New Orleans last summer. Instead, he got traded to the Los Angeles Clippers soon after Cuban made his difficult, CBA-influenced decisions. The Mavs prayed Paul would consider them this summer, but the Clippers pried open Donald Sterling's wallet to replace Vinny Del Negro with Doc Rivers, prompting CP3 to inform potential suitors that they need not even bother with a recruiting pitch.
The Mavs hoped Howard would be looking to escape Orlando last summer. Instead, he pulled an all-time waffle and made a last-minute decision to not opt out of the last season of his contract with the Magic. He regretted that enough to force a trade, landing with the Los Angeles Lakers for a "nightmare" season. That would have played right into the Mavs' hands had the Houston Rockets not done such a phenomenal job accumulating and deploying assets over the last couple of years, leading Howard to head down I-45 to team up with James Harden.
The Mavs hoped Williams would be looking to escape the Nets last summer, although he was always Plan C. The Nets made the bold, expensive move of trading for Joe Johnson, convincing Williams that he had a better chance of competing in Brooklyn than Dallas. Cuban, who had reservations about Williams all along, helped the Nets' cause by not joining the Mavs' contingent for face-to-face meetings with the All-Star point guard.
The truth of the matter is that Paul, Howard and Williams all made the right basketball decision. They all picked teams that are in a better position to contend than Dallas would have been if one of those superstars had signed with the Mavs.
In a roundabout way, Cuban acknowledges that with his annual statement that the Mavs are better off for having failed to hook the big fish. Of course, that's also acknowledging a fatal flaw with the original big-picture plan.
It's a stretch of the truth, to say the least, to claim that the Mavs benefited from those big fish picking other ponds. This is a superstar-driven league, and Dallas desperately needs to find a way to add another to give Dirk a chance to compete for a second championship in his golden years.
The Mavs certainly weren't better off without Williams last season, when a gimpy Dirk and a bunch of one-and-done temporary teammates limped to a .500 finish, snapping a 12-year playoff streak. With Williams on board, the Mavs could have easily added Samuel Dalembert as a stopgap, rim-protecting center this summer by using their midlevel exception.
Would that make the Mavs a championship-caliber team? Doubtful. But having Williams here would make the Mavs more competitive now and more attractive to free agents next summer, when the Mavs would have still had ample cap space.
This has been a better summer for the Mavs, for sure. They added a pair of potential foundation pieces for the future in guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, plus Dalembert.
But just imagine the reaction if Cuban called Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and offered Calderon, Ellis and Dalembert for Howard. Or made the same calls to L.A. or Brooklyn to try to pry away Paul or Williams.
It'd be hilarious laughter and a quick hang-up.
You can make the case that the Mavs have recovered well after missing out on all the big fish, but nobody in their rational mind would believe that the Mavs are better off in the short or long term for not having successfully recruited a superstar.
Not even Cuban, no matter what he says.
Actually, sad as it is to say, that might be in the franchise’s best interest long term.
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Instead, the decline in Dallas was steep. The Mavs have a grand total of zero playoff wins in the past two seasons and zero big-fish free agents hooked in the past two offseasons.
Cuban, as stubborn as he is smart, is trying to pull off the most difficult task in pro sports: rebuilding without hitting rock bottom. To pull that off, the Mavs' front office must be willing to gamble -- and have a bet or two pay off big.
Yet the Mavs refused to take a risk on Andrew Bynum, the one potential home run left on the market this summer after Dwight Howard headed to Houston.
Here they are, stuck in the middle again.
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That’s an awfully conservative approach for a franchise that rolled the dice so boldly after the lockout.
There’s a good chance the Mavs are right about Bynum’s knees and he’ll spend big chunks of this season sporting wild hairstyles while watching from the bench. But this would have been the time for a boom-or-bust swing for the fences.
The potential reward if Bynum worked out: a foundation piece. The risk if he didn’t: money down the drain and a ticket to a loaded lottery.
It’s not as if the Mavs were going to be on the hook long term if Bynum was a bust. After all, he went to Cleveland for a two-year deal that has a team option on the second season. And the Mavs, with $35 million of expiring contracts on the roster, are guaranteed to have salary leeway next summer anyway.
But the Mavs decided not to make a bold move after missing out on Howard. They played it safe. They’ll plug in Samuel Dalembert or someone of that unimpressive ilk at center and try to make a blockbuster trade despite lacking attractive assets.
The reality is that the Mavs will have to scrap to have a shot at one of the last couple of playoff seeds in the loaded West next season. Dallas seems destined to finish around .500 again with a draft pick that isn’t high enough to get one of the can’t-miss prospects and isn’t low enough to unload to Oklahoma City, which owns a Mavs pick that is top-20 protected through 2017.
(On a related note, Cuban’s two biggest mistakes since stripping down the title team: 1. Pulling off what seemed like a steal for Lamar Odom, giving away only that protected pick, which has since bounced from L.A. to Houston to OKC, helping the Rockets land James Harden to make them an appealing team to Howard; 2. Not going all-in on recruiting Deron Williams, skipping the face-to-face meetings while filming "Shark Tank," when Cuban really preferred to make a run for Chris Paul or Howard this summer.)
The Mavs’ biggest splash so far this offseason has been signing a soon-to-be 32-year-old point guard who has never won a playoff series. Cuban has acknowledged that it’d take a two-year process to put the Mavs in position to contend again, but the strides this summer haven’t been nearly big enough to provide any optimism that the plan will come to fruition.
Cuban’s biggest fear is coming true. The Mavs might not have a bloated payroll, as the Boston Celtics did before realizing their run was over, but they’re still a noncontender that can’t find a way to get better, handcuffed by a lack of assets and a sudden aversion to risk-taking.
Dirk, as loyal a solider as you’ll see in this NBA generation, can’t put a so-so supporting cast on his back and make the Mavs a legitimate threat in his mid-30s. Hard as he might sprint, the Mavs aren’t moving forward, at least not enough to matter.
They can’t compete with the Spurs and Thunder and Rockets and Clippers and Warriors and Grizzlies. Given that reality, with Dirk, they’ll probably be too good for their own good.
The Mavs are stuck on the mediocrity treadmill. Does Dirk really want to stick around for that?
Mavs fans don’t want to hear about risk-reward ratio or financial flexibility. Not right now. Probably not ever.
Folks who pay for tickets don’t want to be reminded that, at the time Mark Cuban opted to offer only one-year deals to Tyson Chandler and free-agent other championship pieces, the Mavs had reason to believe that Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard would all be on the market last summer and looking to move.
Fans don’t care how much the circumstances changed with Paul getting traded from the franchise formerly known as the Hornets to the Clippers, Howard opting to return to Orlando before forcing his way to L.A. and the Nets making splashy moves to convince Williams how much better life would be in Brooklyn.
The NBA is a bottom-line business. The bottom line is that Cuban’s grand plan, as smart as the risk may have been, can fairly be judged as a failure now that all the big fish are gone.
Not that Cuban, fresh off losing a recruiting battle to the I-45 rival Rockets, is willing to concede that point.
“We haven't played a game yet,” Cuban replied to ESPNDallas.com via email. “Look back at the big deal that won last summer and ask how it’s working for everyone now.”
Yep, that’s an indirect shot at the Los Angeles Lakers, who won the summer of 2012 by pulling off a four-way blockbuster deal that brought Howard to Hollywood to follow in the footsteps of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.
Never mind winning multiple championships. Howard didn’t even win a single playoff game while wearing purple and gold.
The deal didn’t exactly work out well for the Denver Nuggets or Philadelphia 76ers, either. Andre Iguodala was one-and-done in Denver before going to the Golden State Warriors in free agency. Bynum’s destination is to be determined -- and Dallas is a possibility -- but he definitely isn’t returning to Philly after being a $17 million spectator last season. The Orlando Magic stand as the big winner in that deal -- yet had the NBA’s worst record (20-62).
Oh, and it’s hard to laugh too heartily at the Lakers for their Dwightmare hours after he turned you down to head to Houston.
This is without question the most heartbreaking July day in Dallas basketball history. This is worse than D-Will’s decision, simply because a healthy Howard is on a different tier of superstardom. And it’s a lot worse than The Decision, because the Mavs weren’t even one of the handful of teams to get a sit-down meeting with LeBron James.
Yeah, there was a lot of pre-free agency discussion around these parts about convincing King James to join Dirk and using Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract in a sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland. But that hope never got past the point of pure speculation.
Plus, the Mavs ended up with a pretty darn good consolation prize, although nobody knew at the time that the injury-prone big man who arrived in Dallas as a Charlotte salary dump would be the final piece to a championship puzzle.
It now pains Mavs fans that the big man didn’t stay more than one season, that Chandler never got a chance to defend a championship in Dallas.
We'll spare you the talk about how the new CBA and an aging roster forced Cuban’s hands. You don’t want to hear it.
You don’t want to hear about how hard it was going to be for the Mavs to keep contending with that core. You don’t care that Jason Kidd is now Williams’ head coach in Brooklyn or that Jason Terry was dealt to the Nets as a salary-dump throw-in with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
But Boston pulled that trigger on that blockbuster deal because the Celtics had become what Cuban feared the Mavs would be: an old team with a bloated payroll and no real chance to contend or opportunity to upgrade the roster.
Cuban has vowed to never let the Mavs get stuck in NBA purgatory, a place he calls the “mediocrity treadmill.”
Well, how else to describe the Mavs’ place in the basketball world at the moment? The painful past two years have confirmed that Dirk Nowitzki is no longer capable of being the lone star on a contender. Their last playoff win was Game 6 in Miami more than two years ago. They’re coming off a 41-41 season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years.
The Mavs have a lot of money to spend but no great options to give it to. They have a lot of potential trade targets but no great assets to give up.
The Mavs, and Cuban in particular, have a PR mess. The only way to clean it up is with basketball success.
It’s going to take a brilliant plan for that to happen. And a bunch of breaks. Even a great plan isn’t guaranteed to work, as the Mavs know all too well.
Really, it’s Plan D, but let’s not get too picky about alphabetical matters at this point. The Mavs whiffed on Deron Williams last summer, never got to sit down with Chris Paul and couldn’t convince Dwight Howard to headline Dallas’ two-year plan.
All the big fish have picked other ponds. So … now what?
Here’s my suggestion: Take one more home run swing. Bet on Andrew Bynum.
The Mavs better hedge that bet, of course. They’d have to insist on language in the contract that includes a team out if Bynum’s knees keep him off the court, as they did all last season in Philadelphia. The easiest way to do that is agreeing to an Exhibit 3 protection, which allows a team to waive a player if he’s unable to play because of specified prior injuries, which is how Minnesota got out of Brandon Roy’s contract this summer. There could also be guarantees based on minutes or games played.
If Bynum and agent David Lee agree to that, go ahead and throw big money at him. He’s the one potential dominant force still available in free agency.
Hold your breath and hope that the 25-year-old 7-footer can return to 2011-12 form, that he can get back to being a big man who puts up 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Hope that athletic trainer Casey Smith can help Bynum get his career back on track, just as he did when Tyson Chandler arrived in Dallas as damaged goods a few years ago.
The Mavs should be able to sign Bynum and get a proven veteran point guard. They’ve been in touch with the agents for Jose Calderon, Mo Williams, Jarrett Jack and Monta Ellis.
Add one of those point guards and a relatively healthy Bynum, and the Mavs ought to be back in the playoffs in 2013-14 with a bunch of money to spend again next summer.
And if Bynum is a bust? Well, the Mavs will be right back in the lottery, but maybe they’ll have better luck in a loaded draft next year.
There are no easy answers for the Mavs. All those guys decided they’d prefer to play somewhere other than Dallas.
FRISCO, Texas -- Realistically, there is one superstar available in the free-agency market, but Dirk Nowitzki says this isn’t a Dwight Howard-or-bust summer for the Mavericks.
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“So there’s plenty of other options out there, I think. You can plug holes with really, really good players -- maybe not superstars but really, really good players -- and still be a playoff team. If that’s the route we have to take if Dwight says no, I’m sure Mark (Cuban) and Donnie (Nelson) will find the right mix of guys.”
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Howard and Paul didn’t opt out of their contracts, ending up moving to the two Los Angeles teams and delaying their entrance into free agency for a year. The Mavs swung and missed at Williams -- a half-hearted attempt by Cuban, who didn’t take part in the face-to-face recruiting pitch.
The Mavs’ hopes to convince Paul to leave L.A. for Dallas this summer essentially died with the Clippers’ hiring of coach Doc Rivers.
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“How do I feel? I don’t know. There were reports yesterday that we were in the lead, but I don’t buy into all that. You have to wait until he makes a final decision, and then I’ll get excited or be down.”
However, if Howard doesn’t come to Dallas, Dirk is determined not to be down for long. He mentions names like Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings, Utah center Al Jefferson and Denver swingman Andre Iguodala as examples of players who can help the Mavs return to the playoffs.
Putting together a playoff-caliber roster is apparently the face of the franchise’s standard for a successful summer.
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"Not a single discussion," owner Mark Cuban told ESPNDallas.com last week.
Marion must decide by Friday -- one day after the draft -- if he wants to opt in for next season at $9.32 million or become a free agent July 1. Marion and the Mavs would have to send a letter to the league before July 1 if a decision is made in conjunction with a trade-week trade.
To this point, though, sources say Dallas has not discussed any potential trades with Marion despite various media reports in recent days about the Mavericks shedding Marion's contract.
The reality is that the Mavericks' only incentive to trade Marion this week is if they're certain they need extra salary-cap space immediately because they know they've got a legit shot at signing Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers. And Dallas is unlikely to get a real handle on its Dwight chances until after July 1, when it's believed Mark Cuban and Co. will be on the short list of teams granted a face-to-face audience with Howard to make a recruiting pitch.
Chris Paul is the Mavs' other dream target, but the Clippers' hiring of Doc Rivers has essentially clinched that Paul will re-sign with L.A. on a five-year max deal at the first opportunity.
One more note on Marion: If Dallas does decide to move the versatile forward, he has a 15-percent trade kicker in his contract worth $1,397,519. That amount would have to be paid by the team that acquires Marion because his currenct contract was signed before the NBA's new labor agreement went into effect in December 2011. The team that trades the player is responsible for paying the trade kicker in the new collective bargaining agreement if the contract was signed from December 2011 forward.
Barring a one-in-a-million type of miracle, the Mavericks must move on to Plan B.
With Doc Rivers re-locating to Los Angeles, Chris Paul maximizing his money by re-signing with the Clippers is all but a done deal. There’s a steep drop from CP3 to the rest of the point guards available in free agency -- and maybe the Mavs acquire their starter via a trade – but upgrading this position ranks right up there with center among the Mavs’ top priorities.
A look at potential PG fits for the Mavs in free agency:
Jose Calderon: The Mavs were intrigued enough by the 31-year-old Spaniard to engage in trade talks about him with the Raptors before and during last season. Calderon, who has a career assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.2/1.7, would give the Mavs a significant boost of basketball IQ and get Dirk Nowitzki the ball at the right spot and right time on a regular basis. Calderon can also consistently knock down open jumpers, as evidenced by his career percentages that are outstanding by point guard standards (.483 FG, .399 3s).
The concerns with Calderon: He’ll remind Mavs fans of the biggest flaws of the two best point guards who have played with Dirk. Calderon has never been a good creator or defender, and that’s putting it kindly. His hesitation/inability to penetrate is Kidd-like; his 0.9 attempts per game at the rim were the lowest among starting point guards last season, according to hoopdata.com. He’s a Nash-like liability at the defensive end, especially against explosive guards. Those issues aren’t going to improve as Calderon ages.
Nevertheless, Calderon could be the best fit for the Mavs in the market, assuming the price drops significantly from the $11 million he made last season. Estimated cost: three years, $18 million.
Monta Ellis: He’s the most talented point guard in the market who isn’t a perennial All-Star. The problem: It’s a stretch to call Ellis a point guard. He’s a scorer first and foremost, probably best suited for a Jason Terry-type of role as instant offense off the bench.
The Mavs have major question marks about how Ellis would fit as the starting point guard alongside Nowitzki. Ellis is a premier penetrator in his prime, which makes him intriguing, but he’s never averaged more than six assists per game and is a high-volume, low-efficiency jump shooter. His 3-point percentage last season (.287) was the worst among any player with more than 170 attempts. He shot more long 2s than any point guard other than John Wall but hit only 34 percent of them, per hoopdata.com.
Ellis gets a lot of steals, but he’ll never be confused with a defensive stopper.
He’d give the Mavs the kind of athleticism they haven’t had at point guard since Devin Harris. Of course, you might remember Nowitzki lobbying hard behind the scenes for the Jason Kidd trade because he wanted a more cerebral partner at point guard.
The Mavs will pass if Ellis gets something close to the four-year, $40 million deal he’s rumored to be seeking. If he slips through the cracks like O.J. Mayo last season, the Mavs could be waiting with a short-term offer in the $6 million-per-year range.
Jarrett Jack: He excelled as the Warriors’ sixth man this season, often running the point next to Stephen Curry during crunch time. That’s a role that suits him well.
While he struggles to defend quick foes and isn’t a pass-first guy, there are reasons to be intrigued about the 29-year-old Jack’s potential as the Mavs’ point guard. He’s an outstanding midrange shooter (48 percent last season) and has a knack for knocking down floaters in the lane. Those are the kind of shots that come in bunches when running pick-and-pops with Dirk. And Jack has the type of tough-minded mentality that would mesh well with the Mavs’ vets and coach Rick Carlisle.
A four-year, $24 million deal for Jack would make sense for the Mavs. However, it’s a long shot at best that he’d leave Golden State for that kind of money. With Golden State’s ownership promising to spend to sustain success now that the Bay Area is buzzing about the Dubs, another team would probably have to overpay to get Jack.
Mo Williams: The 30-year-old Williams is really a score-first combo guard, not a pure point. He’s a good catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter (.386 career) who also likes midrange jumpers off the dribble but isn’t much of a threat to drive. He’s an average passer (6.2 assists per game last season) and mediocre defender. And he’s injury prone, missing at least a dozen games in seven of the last eight seasons.
Williams would be a stopgap starter, not a long-term solution. The Mavs probably wouldn’t be willing to pay more than $5 million per year for his services.
Brandon Jennings: The Mavs had mild interest in Jennings before the trade deadline and he’s made it clear that he’d love to play in Dallas. Let’s hold off on the debate about how much the 6-foot-1, 169-pound, lightning-quick, low-percentage-shooting Jennings would benefit from playing with Dirk. Jennings, a restricted free agent, is expected to sign an offer sheet to play one more season with the Bucks before having the freedom to be a free agent with no strings attached. If he’s a Mav this season, it almost certainly means there’s been a trade. (Same goes with Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans, but we’ll classify him as a shooting guard.)
Jeff Teague: There’s a lot to like about a 25-year-old who averaged 14.6 points and 7.2 assists while playing good defense for a playoff team, which is why Atlanta is expected to re-sign the restricted free agent. He’s only an option for the Mavs if the Hawks strike it rich in free agency and are forced to renounce Teague’s rights. You could do a lot worse than signing Teague to a four-year, $30 million deal.
Darren Collison: He clearly considers himself a starting point guard and will search for a team that agrees with him this summer. The Mavs do not. If he slips through the free agency cracks, the Mavs would welcome him back as a backup for the kind of money that reflects that role.
Devin Harris: There’s a lot of love in the Mavs organization for Harris as a person. However, he isn’t perceived to be a starting point guard at this point of his injury-prone career. He averaged 9.9 points and 3.4 assists as a part-time starter for the Hawks last season. The Mavs wouldn’t mind bringing Harris back to Dallas, but it’d have to be as a $3 million-per-year backup.
Nate Robinson: He’s like a turbo edition of J.J. Barea with baggage that has caused Robinson to bounce around to five teams in the last five seasons. He was arguably the best minimum-salary bargain in the league last season, averaging 13.1 points and 4.4 assists off the bench for the Bulls and starring in some playoff wins. How much did Robinson boost his value? The Mavs wouldn’t spend big on him, but if he’s in the $2 million salary range, he’d be a great fit.
Chauncey Billups: His career really took off during his season playing for Rick Carlisle with the Pistons, so there’s a strong tie there. But he’s 36 years old and wasn’t close to being the same player when he came back from a torn Achilles tendon last season. The Mavs might value his veteran savvy enough to offer Billups the bi-annual exception of a little more than $2 million.
Shaun Livingston: The 6-foot-7 former straight-outta-high school high lotto pick whose career was destroyed by a devastating knee injury wouldn’t be a bad, low-dollar backup. He’s not a good shooter, but Livingston is a solid defender, passer and rebounder.
Will Bynum: The 30-year-old, who averaged 9.8 points and 3.6 assists off the Pistons’ bench last season, is a poor man’s Barea. If he’s getting offers for the minimum, the Mavs should be interested.
Mike James: The 38-year-old who ended the season as the Mavs’ starter is an option as a minimum-salary backup.
Daniel Gibson: “Boobie” is a bench shooter who would pique the Mavs’ interest as a minimum guy.
It was always a long shot to pull CP3 away from L.A., where he has a talented supporting cast and can get about $30 million more guaranteed than the Mavs could offer.
The Mavs had to hope that Donald Sterling, who has three decades of experience as the worst owner in sports, would figure out a way to screw this up. Instead, other than essentially pointing the finger at Paul for firing an over-his-head head coach, Sterling stayed out of the way and handed his wallet over to the Clippers’ competent basketball decision-makers.
Rivers’ arrival in Los Angeles will give the Clippers a coach who is immensely respected by Paul, who reportedly lobbied hard when talks with the Celtics repeatedly hit speed bumps. Paul no longer would have to relocate to play for a coach of Rick Carlisle’s caliber.
It’s to be determined whether the Clippers and Celtics attempt to make the other deal they were discussing, a center swap that would ship athletic but raw DeAndre Jordan to Boston for fiery, future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. The league office might reject that deal.
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This is a kick to the gut of the Mavs, who have been trying to get CP3 since he played for another notorious cheapskate owner (George Shinn) in New Orleans. The hope when the Mavs made their post-lockout decision to strip down the 2011 title team was that Paul would play out his contract with the Hornets and hit the open market last summer.
Once Paul was traded to the Clippers, the Mavs knew it’d be extremely difficult to convince him to move to Dallas. The odds have gone from slim to practically none at this point.
That leaves Dwight Howard as the lone available superstar. And the Mavs will have to pull off an upset to convince him to leave L.A. and pick Dallas over destinations such as Houston and Atlanta.
The Mavs hoped CP3 would be their lead recruiter next summer. Now, they might have to compete against his persuasive powers.
Imagine how Mark Cuban would feel if the Clippers pull off a sign-and-trade deal -- swapping Blake Griffin for Howard -- and Sterling, of all owners, pulls off the CP3/D12 pipe dream.
Dirk Nowitzki, who turns 35 today, would love to get a legitimate co-star. But Mark Cuban and the Mavs’ front office have to wait another week and a half before they can go shopping.
Perhaps the Clippers’ front office gave Dirk an early birthday present by backing away from trade talks with the Celtics that would have brought Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles. That deal would have essentially slammed the door on the possibility of Chris Paul leaving L.A., but the Mavs’ slim hopes to recruit CP3 are still alive.
Dwight Howard is the more likely possibility at this point, not that it’s anywhere near to being a slam dunk that he’d choose Dallas over staying with the Lakers or signing with the Rockets or Hawks.
But there’s nothing Dirk and the Mavs can do about any of that until July 1. For now, he should just relax and enjoy his birthday, encouraged by the fact that 37-year-old Tim Duncan is a Finals force and hopeful of acquiring the kind of help that can get the big German back to that stage.
At this point, the Mavs must explore all options and at least do their due diligence on every potential roster addition. It’s imperative to be prepared for Plans C, D, E, etc. in case they don’t land Chris Paul (looking like a longer and longer shot by the minute) or Dwight Howard.
So an in-his-prime guard with a career average of 19.4 points per game is definitely going to pique the Mavs’ interest. That doesn’t mean Monta Ellis would be a perfect fit here by any stretch of the imagination.
The Mavs’ preference would be to get an established pass-first point guard to work with Dirk Nowitzki. That description definitely doesn’t fit Ellis, who has never averaged more than six assists per game and launched more shots than any player other than Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony last season. Ellis is really a combo guard, not a point guard. (He'd be a great fit for Jason Terry's old role, but that's a luxury the Mavs don't have right now.)
The Mavs’ ideal point guard would be a deadly 3-point threat who could also consistently knock down the midrange jumpers that are so often wide open when running pick-and-pops with Dirk. Ellis is a classic volume jump shooter; he fires up a bunch and a few actually go in.
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And Ellis is an inconsistent defender, to put it kindly. He gets a lot of steals, but he gets beat too often.
Why would the Mavs be interested in a player with so many flaws?
Start with the fact that Ellis is one of the most dynamic penetrators in the league. You could make a strong case that Nowitzki has never played with anyone who could match Ellis’ ability to get to the basket. Signing Ellis would immediately and significantly ease the offensive burden on Nowitzki, adding an element that has been missing from the Mavs’ offense.
And, other than CP3, it’s not like there are any perfect point guard candidates in free agency.
Jose Calderon is a great passer and shooter, but he’s a poor defender who isn’t a creator. Mo Williams is a shooter who doesn’t scare anyone off the dribble. Jarrett Jack is a combo guard who isn’t especially athletic. And on and on.
The Mavs have some interest in all of them. Which one they sign, if any of them, will depend on money among other factors.
If Ellis gets close to the $11 million salary he’d been making, the Mavs would be wise to pass. He’s far from a perfect fit for the Mavs as a point guard, so he’d better be a good fit financially.
We’ll see whether Chris Paul or Dwight Howard bite as they weigh the opportunity in Dallas against other options.
Never mind the dollar details for a moment. The Mavs must sell that their situation is more attractive than staying in Los Angeles – where the Clippers’ front office is working feverishly to upgrade the supporting cast and coaching staff and the Lakers will also have loads of cap space next summer – or joining James Harden in Houston or CP3 and D12 forming a duo in Atlanta.
Here’s the pitch …
“In essence, you get to come in and, it’s you and we have room for two more max free agents (next year),” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said during a Monday appearance on KTCK-AM. “That’s why when I talked about a two-year plan, that’s the concept there.
“So part of our sales pitch is, look, we’re not going to try to fool you and say that you and Dirk (Nowitzki) and Shawn Marion and Vince (Carter) and fill are basically a championship team. Maybe we get on a run, maybe we’re pretty good. But the reality is you’re going to work with us and Dirk to get out there and pick your team.”
Nowitzki’s intention to take a massive pay cut on his next contract is no secret. The big German has essentially hollered from the mountaintops that having a chance to win another championship is much more important than padding his bank account at this point of his Hall of Fame career.
There’s no doubt that Dirk will do what he can to make sure that the Mavs are active shoppers in next summer’s market, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Danny Granger and many others could be available along with restricted studs such as Kyrie Irving, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins. Cuban’s comments are an indication that Nowitzki would be willing to play for the minimum, or close to it, if the Mavs can add multiple stars.
|Mark Cuban joins ESPN Dallas GameDay to discuss the Mavericks' plans, the free-agent market and what possibilities there are for Dallas. |
But the Mavs aren’t the favorite for either big fish.
“I can’t lie and say, 'look, this is a slam dunk,'” Cuban said.
Let’s be brutally honest. Neither one is even an acceptable shot out of a typical offensive set. Some consider Paul and Howard halfcourt heaves for the Mavs. I’m optimistic enough to call them 30-footers, with the right for revision depending on news that develops as July 1 approaches.
So it’s on the Mavs to come up with Plan C, D, E and so on. And it’s smart of Cuban to try to create a little PR wiggle room for how this summer is judged.
“If we get one of our big names, that would be successful and get us on a two-year plan,” Cuban said. “(If) we don’t get one of the two big names and we sign two or three guys that make us good this year and allow us to compete for the fifth or sixth playoff spot or better and still keeps our cap room for next year to sign … let’s just say we keep it under $18 million, $19 million and we get a lot better with those three players and we still have cap room for two max-out guys, then we’ll also be successful.”
You can question whether Dirk Nowitzki can still be an elite player, but you can't question his work ethic. When players of Nowitzki’s stature get that elusive championship, like he did in 2011, there’s nothing they want more than to get another.
The fact that he’s already working should not come as a surprise. Nowitzki’s secret is he still loves the game and it simply doesn’t feel like work to him. During the regular season or the playoffs, it’s a given that Nowitzki is the last player to leave the practice court, getting shots up after a rigorous session. When the team is on the road, he’ll get set up at the team’s hotel and find a local gym to get shots up.
At home or on the road, Nowitzki will engage in one-on-one shootouts with teammates. Whether it’s a new or older guy, they marvel at how Nowitzki motors through his shots. The competitiveness comes out during and after those shootouts. You’ll either see him slam the ball to the ground if he loses or give a loud yell with an accompanying fist bump if he’s victorious. The competitive nature and will to win has always been there, but it has taken on a new form this summer.
For example, Nowitzki joined Mark Cuban in Las Vegas during Tiger Wood’s celebrity poker tournament. No one would confuse the face of the franchise as the next part of the poker boom. One could assume that he was there to help in the recruitment process of Chris Paul, who was also in attendance at the tournament. Why is that a big deal? Where was Nowitzki during the pitch for Deron Williams last summer? He was in Germany.
Nowitzki has developed a unique stature over his career and has earned the respect of his peers. Now, he’s putting it to good use as he steps up as a recruiter. More importantly, he has realized that he simply has to participate now. Last year was different in the sense that Jason Kidd was the pitchman. Nowitzki now knows he can’t afford to sit on the sidelines anymore.
It’s an important summer for the Mavs. It’s clear that Nowitzki is doing his part to ensure the club can put together a club that can play at a high level for the city he “belongs” to, as he mentioned at the start of the offseason.
Activity breeds prosperity. Hard work and a competitive spirit have paid off for Nowitzki and his career. Turning 35 later this month, whether he’s putting up shots or getting on a plane, he’s still willing to put in the work.
Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.
What always seems to happen when two teams are playing? It seems like it comes down to execution at the end. Teams have to rely on their top option in the clutch.
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And only Chris Paul had a higher field goal percentage (49.2 percent) than Nowitzki (47.5 percent) among players who averaged at least 4.0 minutes and 2.0 field goal attempts in that situation.
If Nowitzki was such a beast in the clutch, why were the Mavs nothing more than a mediocre team?
During the four years leading up to the 2012-13 season, Nowitzki’s usage percentage rate in the fourth quarter never ranked below 13th in the entire league. He had two seasons, 2009-10 and 2011-12, where his usage percentage ranking was inside the top 10 at 29.6 and 31.9, respectively.
His usage percentage last season ranked as 21st in the league at 27.6. During the championship season, Dirk had a percentage of 29.3 in the fourth quarter, ranking 13th in the league. There are two clear reasons to see why the usage percentages are lower in those two seasons but have two very different results.
“We’ve been spoiled with Jason Kidd and Stevie Nash before,” Donnie Nelson said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s Galloway & Company as the season came to a close. “I think the quarterback position is just a really, really important one. I’d say that that’s up there.
“That’s no disrespect for anyone. Darren Collison did a terrific job with a tough situation, and we’d certainly be open to the conversation of him coming back, but (upgrading point guard) has got to be in my mind first and foremost.”
Dallas and Nowitzki’s success have been tied to the point guard position. At the very least, the Mavs need to secure a point guard who can deliver the ball where it needs to go.
The collective success has also been linked to quality depth. During the championship year, the Mavericks had multiple weapons that could do multiple things and they had specialists that could be depended on.
Yes, Nowitzki's knee injury got in the way of his productivity, but the flawed roster also got in the way of the team’s success, as well as his. Nowitzki is a once in a lifetime player, but he still needs help around him.
Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.