Dallas Mavericks: Nikola Pekovic



(UPDATE: Howard has eliminated the Mavs from consideration)

What do the Mavericks do in the likely event that Dwight Howard doesn’t pick Dallas?

They’ll turn over every rock in the trade market trying to find a way to land a franchise-caliber player, but that’s pretty tough to do without attractive assets. That was the indirect message from Boston GM Danny Ainge when the Mavs called to send out a feeler on Rajon Rondo.

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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.

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One thing the Mavs won’t do is tank the season and hope for a high lottery ticket in the loaded 2014 draft.

To the contrary, maybe the Mavs can benefit from talking to tanking teams in the trade market. They might be able to pick up a quality piece or two from a team interested in cutting costs.

They’ll try to piece together a roster good enough to get back into the playoffs. Is that possible? Well, they were in the hunt until the final week of last season despite digging a 10-games-under-.500 hole with Dirk Nowitzki recovering from a knee scope.

The Mavs have glaring holes at center, point guard and center. They’d create a hole at small forward if they deal Shawn Marion to create more space under the salary cap.

As far as free agency goes, their priorities would still be signing a center and point guard.

There are two high-quality starting centers other than Howard who are still on the market: Andrew Bynum and Nikola Pekovic. There are major problems with the pursuit of both of them.

Pekovic is a restricted free agent, and all indications are that the Timberwolves intend to keep him. How much would the Mavs have to offer for Minnesota to decline to match? If the Mavs guess wrong and the Timberwolves match after the three-day waiting period, Dallas is pretty much guaranteed to strike out on free-agent centers.

Bynum is the biggest injury risk on the market, missing all of last season with bad knees and big chunks of five of the previous six years. Bynum, a 19-12-2 guy in 2011-12, still won’t come cheap.

It comes down to managing the risk with the language of the contract. If the Mavs have a team out (perhaps based on games played) after the first year, offering Bynum good money makes a lot of sense.

If the Mavs miss out on Howard, how attractive would they be to Jose Calderon? He just turned down an offer from the Sacramento Kings because he didn’t want to rebuild. Then again, Dirk doesn’t play in Sacramento.

The other point guard candidates – Mo Williams, Jarrett Jack, Monta Ellis – would all be in play.

Another possibility: Making a strong push for small forward Andre Iguodala, who could be considered the best non-superstar available in free agency.

There is a lot of competition for Iguodala, including the possibility of him returning to Denver. How much should the Mavs be willing to pay for an excellent defender, passer and open-court player who isn’t much of a threat to score out of halfcourt sets? Sounds like it’ll take at least $48 million over four years. (UPDATE: Iguodala is off the board. Yahoo! Sports reports that he committed to the Warriors for a four-year, $48 million deal.)

There is no perfect Plan B for the Mavs.

There are dozens of different potential scenarios. None of them would wash away the bitter taste of whiffing on a big fish again.
Another potential big-man fallback plan in case Dwight Howard doesn’t come to Dallas is off the market.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that Al Jefferson has agreed to terms with the Charlotte Bobcats on a three-year, $41 million deal. Restricted free agent Tiago Splitter, another potential Dallas target if the Mavs didn’t win the Dwight derby, committed earlier this week to stay in San Antonio for $36 million over four years.

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Starting centers remaining on the market: Andrew Bynum, an immense talent with a frightening injury history that could make negotiations extremely complicated; Nikola Pekovic, a restricted free agent who the Timberwolves want to keep; and J.J. Hickson, who is really a power forward who can play center.

There had been indications from Jefferson’s camp that he planned to wait until Howard made his decision before picking a team because he wanted Dallas and Atlanta to be able to get in on the bidding if they didn’t hook the biggest fish in free agency. However, it’s extremely unlikely that the Mavs would have been willing to make a bid in the ballpark of the Bobcats’ offer. And that’s putting it conservatively.

The Mavs were intrigued with the possibility of pairing an outstanding post scorer with Dirk Nowitzki, but they had major concerns about that duo defensively. There was also a fear that the 6-foot-10, 289-pound Jefferson’s physique would continue to fill out as he aged, causing a bad defender to become even worse.

Those are the same concerns, along with Jefferson’s high salary, that led the Mavs to look elsewhere instead of pulling the trigger on a 2010 summer trade with the Timberwolves that would have sent Jefferson to Dallas in exchange for Erick Dampier’s instantly vanishing contract and picks.

The Mavs ended up sending the Dampier contract to Charlotte for an injury-prone, highly paid center named Tyson Chandler, with Dallas somehow dumping the contracts of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera in the trade. It was a terrible trade for Michael Jordan’s Bobcats because it was a salary dump that didn’t save Charlotte money over the long haul.

It was a terrific trade for the Mavs because a healthy, hungry Chandler was the final piece to their championship puzzle.

The Mavs can only hope the center they find this summer works out nearly that well, whether it’s the one they really want or one of the fallback plans.

Mavs contact Andrew Bynum's agent

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
9:35
AM CT


A call to the agent for center Andrew Bynum was among the flurry of phone calls the Mavericks made in the opening hours of free agency as they began doing their due diligence on potential backup plans in case Dwight Howard decides to sign with another team.

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Donnie Nelson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the crazy NBA draft, new Mavs Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo, and Dirk Nowitzki's long-term roll with Dallas.

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Agent David Lee said the Mavs and “several other teams” expressed interest in the wee hours of Monday morning. Lee declined to elaborate or specify which other teams contacted him about the 2012 All-Star who missed all of last season with the 76ers because of bad knees.

Lee recently told The Associated Press that the 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum, who averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 2011-12, expects to be healthy for the beginning of training camp. The Mavs would obviously want their own medical staff to evaluate Bynum before signing him to a contract, which would likely include language to manage the team’s financial risks if his knee problems continue.

The Mavs’ medical staff, headlined by head athletic trainer Casey Smith and Dr. T.O. Souryal, could be a factor in Bynum choosing to come to Dallas if the Mavs make a competitive offer. They helped get Tyson Chandler’s career back on track after he arrived in Dallas as a dumped salary, having missed a total of 68 games in the previous two seasons due to foot and ankle injuries.

Bynum’s missed games total in the last six seasons: 82, six, 28, 17, 32 and 47.

Utah’s Al Jefferson, San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter and Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic are the other most accomplished centers on the market. Splitter and Pekovic are restricted free agents whose teams have the rights to match any offer and are interested in keeping them.
The fifth in ESPNDallas.com’s position-by-position series previewing the free agency market that opens July 1:

The Mavericks are preparing to make their best pitch to Dwight Howard.

Dirk Nowitzki will make it clear that he’s more than willing to shift into sidekick mode and gush about how great it is to the The Man for a franchise owned by Mark Cuban. And Dirk will stress that he plans to take a huge pay cut next summer to create the cap space necessary to construct a championship-caliber supporting cast.

Proven championship coach Rick Carlisle, whose concrete job security could appeal to a superstar who is sensitive about his developing coach-killer reputation, will explain exactly how the Mavs intend to tweak their offense to get the big man a bunch of touches.

Cuban and Donnie Nelson will emphasize their experience in building and sustaining a contender around a superstar. They’ll remind Howard of the Mavs’ recent run of 11 consecutive 50-win seasons, capped by the 2011 title, and get his imagination racing about the possibilities with him as the centerpiece and unofficial assistant GM in Dallas.

Cuban, the NBA’s favorite Shark Tank star, will also play to Howard’s fun-loving personality and desire to be loved. He’ll discuss a marketing strategy for Dwight in Dallas to help boost a Q rating that has taken hits during the last two injury-riddled, indecisive seasons. Cuban will also mention his history of taking PR bullets for his players – or just creating media firestorms to shift the attention – when the heat is on.

And Cuban might just subtly hint at some reasons the Houston Rockets might not be such a great fit for Howard, such as James Harden’s Kobe-like offensive game and Kevin McHale’s lack of coaching credentials.

What if all of that doesn’t work? Well, the Mavs still need to find a starting center.

Some big man candidates who will be in the free-agent market this summer:

Chris Kaman: Just kidding. Ain’t no way he’s coming back to Dallas after last season’s $8 million disaster.

Andrew Bynum: Feeling lucky? Want to take a chance on an occasionally dominant 25-year-old center with bad knees and attitude issues?

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Dirk Nowitzki and ESPN's Chris Broussard join Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the possibility of Dwight Howard joining the Mavericks and how Dallas should approach the situation.

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The Mavs’ answer would depend on several factors: Dwight’s decision, their doctor’s opinion, the market for Bynum and how much they could manage the risk in his contract.

The 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum is talented enough to merit serious consideration even with all of those concerns. He averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 2011-12 for the Lakers before being traded to the 76ers and sitting out all of last season.

Cuban proudly considers his medical staff the best in the NBA. Look at how Tyson Chandler thrived after arriving in Dallas with major foot and ankle problems. That could – and should – be appealing to Bynum.

As far as money goes, Bynum lost a ton of leverage when Philly’s new management pulled off a draft-night blockbuster deal to acquire Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. Will somebody still pay Bynum in the range of $12-14 million per year? Probably.

If that’s the case, the language of the contract will be key. It’s hard to imagine Cuban paying that kind of money to an injury-riddled headcase without team outs in the deal, perhaps with guarantees based on games played.

Al Jefferson: The Mavs almost traded for him before acquiring Chandler. Nowitzki has mentioned his name several times this week as a potential backup plan if the Mavs miss out on Howard.

The 6-foot-10, 289-pound Jefferson, who averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Jazz last season, would be by far the best low-block scorer to ever be paired with Nowitzki. He’s vastly improved as a passer out of double-teams the last couple of years, increasing his assists and cutting down his turnovers. He’d take a ton of pressure off the 35-year-old face of the franchise on the offensive end.

What about defense? Oh, boy, a Dirk/Jefferson pairing might be a disaster. Despite being a little short for a big man, Jefferson is an adequate rim protector, but he’s Kaman-esque as a pick-and-roll defender. That isn’t going to get any better if his ample backside expands as the 28-year-old Jefferson ages.

The defensive concerns, along with dollars and the draft picks Minnesota was demanding, caused the Mavs to back away from trade talks involving Jefferson in the summer of 2010. But he might end up being the Mavs’ best big-man option this summer, especially if the price tag is around $10 million per year.

Tiago Splitter: The Mavs and their analytics really like the 28-year-old Brazilian. But so do the Spurs, and they’ll have the right to match any offer to the restricted free agent.

The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Splitter (10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds in 24.7 minutes last season) isn’t a go-to guy but is an outstanding roll man on pick-and-rolls. He has defensive limitations due to a lack of mobility, but Splitter’s toughness and intelligence also fit the mold of what the Mavs want.

Would the Spurs match an $8 million per year offer? We might find out.

Nikola Pekovic: There are a lot of reasons to love a rock-solid, 6-foot-11, 290-pound 27-year-old who averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. But Minnesota is expected to match any offers for the restricted free agent unless perhaps a team decides to max him out. That won’t be the Mavs.

J.J. Hickson: He was a $4 million bargain last season, putting up 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds for Portland. He’ll probably get at least a 100 percent raise. But Hickson is far from an ideal fit for the Mavs. At 6-foot-9, 242 pounds, he’s really a power forward who has played a lot of center. His size is a problem defensively as a center, and so is his tendency to make a ton of mental mistakes.

Brandan Wright: The Mavs and Wright have expressed mutual interest in him returning as a high-flying weapon off the bench. This could happen even if the Mavs sign Howard.

The Mavs have Wright’s Early Bird rights, so they can exceed the salary cap to sign him to a contract up to the league average ($5.3 million last season). They probably won’t go that high in the bidding for him, but if he ends up in the Ian Mahinmi range (four years, $16 million), there’s a better than average chance that Wright returns to Dallas.

Greg Oden: It sounds likely that the Oden reclamation project will happen in Miami, but the Mavs have been tracking his progress since he left Portland. They’ll continue to do so and could make a bid on him, depending on their doctor’s opinion. Obviously, they wouldn’t count on Oden to come in as a starter.

Elton Brand: The Mavs have much respect for the 6-foot-9, 254-pound Brand. He was a good solider and great presence in the locker room while averaging 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds as an undersized backup center last season. They wouldn’t mind having him back in that role, but they just wouldn’t pay much to bring him back. Maybe not more than the minimum.
The Mavericks’ backup plan if they miss out on a big fish apparently doesn’t recruit chasing restricted free agents.

At least, that’s what Mark Cuban indicated during his radio appearance Monday afternoon.

“I don’t know if there are any free agents that are requiring offer sheets that are on our radar right now,” Cuban said, pointing to the process of waiting for the player’s previous team to exercise its right to match as the reason.

The most intriguing restricted free agents: Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic, Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings and Sacramento combo guard Tyreke Evans. Hold off on custom orders for any of those guys in Mavs jerseys, no matter how well the burly Pekovic's low-post game might mesh with Dirk Nowitzki's shooting skills.

Of course, the Mavs radar can change at a moment’s notice once the free agency frenzy gets going.
The buzz coming out of Minnesota is that O.J. Mayo could be a prime summer target for new Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders.

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The Mavs would like to keep Mayo, but all indications are that they won’t be dragged into any bidding wars for him.

Mark Cuban is likely to have a set price in mind for Mayo – the midlevel exception ($5.35 million salary next season) is an educated guess – and wish him well if the shooting-starved Timberwolves or another team offers more.

The Mavs’ priorities this summer are to make upgrades at point guard and center, whether it’s pie-in-the-sky free agents Chris Paul and Dwight Howard or other more likely options. It’s difficult to envision the Mavs committing huge money to a shooting guard who had some great moments during his season in Dallas but was inconsistent and sputtered to the premature finish line.

Minnesota’s interest in Mayo, however, could benefit the Mavs. One of the major decisions Saunders must make this summer is whether the Timberwolves are willing to pay what it takes to keep restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic, a 6-foot-11, 290-pound 27-year-old who averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds last season.

The Timberwolves have the right to match any offer for Pekovic and some wiggle room under the salary cap created in part by shedding Brandon Roy’s $5.3 million nonguaranteed salary, but Saunders can’t just be thinking about next season. Can the Timberwolves afford to continue paying Kevin Love’s max deal, re-sign Ricky Rubio to a huge contract in a couple of years, add Mayo and keep Pekovic?

If Mayo is a higher priority than Pekovic in Minnesota, the Mavs might be able to benefit by signing the big man.

W2W4: These Wolves are no longer pups

February, 10, 2012
2/10/12
9:00
AM CT


After stringing together a few wins after the Dallas Mavericks stumbled to a 1-4 start following an embarrassing 15-love skunking to end their New Year's Day loss at Minnesota, Jason Terry had this to say:
"The loss to Minnesota was our wake-up call. Any time you lose to that ballclub it's not a good thing, not when you're a championship team."

And who could really blame him? That Minnesota win halted a nine-game losing streak to the Mavs, who had won 18 of the previous 19 meetings.

And then three weeks later those Wolves did it again, only in Dallas, thumping the Mavs by 15 points to spoil their championship ring celebration. A three-game win streak followed for the Mavs, but there were no proclamations about how losing to a perennial doormat served as another wake-up call.

Well, here we go again with a third and final meeting of the regular season between these two clubs, and Dallas is fully aware that these Wolves are young and hungry and pretty darn good. In fact, this one in Minnesota -- 13-10 since an 0-3 start -- is a pretty important one for both squads.

Dallas just snapped a three-game skid at Denver and must play Portland on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday and Denver again on Wednesday. Minnesota is at .500 for a second time and would close to within one game of Dallas in the standings as it fights to remain a legitimate playoff contender heading to the halfway point of the season.

It should be fun.

Records: Mavs (15-11); Timberwolves (13-13)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Target Center

TV: FSSW

Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: J.J. Barea wasn't healthy with a bum hamstring the first time the Mavs played up north on New Year's Day, but he have it a go and scored eight points in 17 minutes. The hamstring (and ankle issues) kept Barea out of the Jan. 25 game at Dallas when he picked up his championship ring and then took a seat on the bench in a suit. Now, the diminutive guard is raring to go against his old mates in an important game for both teams. He's been back for five games and is coming off his best game of the season Wednesday night at Memphis with 17 points -- 6-of-8 from the free throw line -- and six assists in 23 minutes. Barea will be looking to remind his former team how to break down a defense.

Key matchup: Nikola Pekovic vs. Brendan Haywood/Ian Mahinmi/Brandan Wright
Surprised? Yeah, well Pekovic has been just that of late. Consider that in the first matchup on Jan. 1, he didn't get off the bench. In the second meeting, he had 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line, plus six rebounds. In his last five games, the 6-foot-11, 290-pounder from Montenegro has scored in double figures in each, has two 20-plus scoring games and three double-doubles while averaging 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. In a nutshell, the three-headed monster Rick Carlisle talked about at the center position has to enforce the middle and can't let Pekovic join the double-double lineup with All-Star Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

Injuries: Mavs -- G Jason Kidd (right calf strain) is questionable. Timberwolves -- C Darko Milicic (sprained right ankle) is questionable.

Up next: Portland Trail Blazers at Mavs, 7:30 p.m., Saturday

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Marion 6.5
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9