Commentary

Mavs must find a contributor at No. 17

Nelson, Cuban know new CBA means they can't afford to whiff on first-round pick

Updated: June 27, 2012, 1:48 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

A more restrictive and more punitive collective bargaining agreement convinced Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to re-formulate his approach to doling out free-agent contracts last offseason.

The new CBA has also increased the importance of nailing the draft.

With the No. 17 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft, Dallas' highest selection in a dozen years, the Mavs know they must come away with an instant contributor.

[+] EnlargeMark Cuban
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokOnly two picks acquired on draft day by the Mavericks during Mark Cuban's ownership were on the 2011 championship roster.

This Mavs could have as many as 10 roster spots to fill when free agency begins Sunday. The team is as financially aware as ever under Cuban as it seeks to maintain the flexibility to add star-caliber players through free agency (i.e., Deron Williams) while keeping future trade options and exemptions open, goals made far more difficult now for teams exceeding the luxury tax.

It certainly is a new world order for a once unapologetic chronic taxpayer who, until now, has never known cap space. For that matter, Cuban hasn't been through many significant draft nights while overseeing a team built on big trades and veteran free agents.

Consistently selecting late in the first round will take a toll on any front office's draft record, but with a pick in the middle of the pack and a CBA that practically dictates adding quality young players at low cost, hitting the mark on Thursday is critical.

"Draft picks are definitely worth more," Cuban said.

Added president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson: "The flexibility rules changed. You certainly don't want to be top heavy in terms of big and long contracts; that really straps you.

"It's making good decisions, picking your spots a little bit more. It's nothing that's new to the game, but I think you're going to see GMs keeping an eye toward the bottom line this year, certainly toward next summer."

That's when the harsher luxury tax rules kick in. Even a billionaire like Cuban won't be comfortable paying the heavier fines, and definitely not the crushing penalty levied if a team tops the luxury tax in any four years in a five-year period.

Nelson We'll certainly pull the trigger on the guy that we think makes the most sense and has the most upside, not really with an eye on a position or position-specific.

-- Donnie Nelson, Mavs president of basketball operations

It is a good time to hold the No. 17 pick. The draft is deep, particularly with wing players and big men. Dallas, which can use an infusion of young talent at every position, would be hard-pressed to come up with assets enticing enough to trade into the top 10, and they need a young, athletic contributor badly enough to keep from trading the pick away.

Nelson said the club plans to pick the best player on their board regardless of position.

"Where we're picking, we're hopeful that we're going to get a guy that's going to be a rotation player," Nelson said. "There's a little of everything. It's interesting. There's point guards all the way to centers, so it's kind of a full mixed bag of tricks.

"We'll certainly pull the trigger on the guy that we think makes the most sense and has the most upside, not really with an eye on a position or position-specific."

Beyond the New Orleans Hornets taking Kentucky's Anthony Davis No. 1, there's no way to predict how the draft will shake down through pick No. 16.

The Mavs, and most draft experts, believe more than one quality player at multiple positions will be on the board at No. 17. Possibilities include Kentucky power forward Terrence Jones, Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross, Baylor forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, Mississippi State forward Arnett Moultrie, Illinois center Meyers Leonard, Syracuse center Fab Melo and North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, among others.

Beginning a trend of building through the draft would certainly set a new standard for Dallas. The 2011 championship team included four players drafted (or acquired via trade after being picked) by the Mavs, and two came pre-Cuban. Dirk Nowitzki was acquired via a draft-day trade in 1998 and Jason Kidd was the No. 2 overall pick in 1994. Of course, Kidd wasn't long for Dallas the first time around.

Otherwise, the list included 2009 and 2010 first-round picks Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones, both taken with the 25th pick. Beaubois played 12 total minutes in this season's first-round sweep to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jones was inactive for all four games.

The jury remains out on those two, but it's not a progression that the Mavs can afford with the No. 17 pick Thursday night.

"We've got a veteran group of guys that have been scouring the country and the world all year and we've been together here what seems like weeks now studying this stuff and watching film," Nelson said. "We'll be ready and are ready. We certainly feel prepared and we're ready for this thing to get kicked off."

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