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Mavs in need of a talent infusion

4/17/2013 - NBA Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS -- So what are Dallas Mavericks fans supposed to do now, with no playoff basketball in Dallas for the first time since 2000?

A suggestion: adopt the New York Knicks for the postseason. They're the closest thing you can find to the Mavs' championship team from two seasons ago.

The Knicks' style of play is a little different, but they're a lone-superstar squad with a supporting cast headlined by a brash, high-scoring sixth man and a couple of tough, savvy veterans named Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler.

Sound familiar?

Perhaps you'd rather just invest all your sporting emotions in watching the Texas Rangers instead of rooting for Kidd and Chandler while they wear a different shade of blue. Maybe Mavs fans will just want to ignore the playoffs for the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson need to spend that time plotting to replace the on-court brains and backbone of their championship squad. The Mavs need talent upgrades any way they can get them, but the priority list begins with finding veterans who can fill the voids left by the departures of Chandler and Kidd.

There was a Dwight Howard/Chris Paul pipe dream in place when Cuban decided, after studying the new collective bargaining agreement, that financial flexibility was more valuable to the franchise than keeping an aging roster together after the title run.

Technically, that's still a possibility. All it'd take is Howard and Paul opting to leave a lot of money on the table with their respective Los Angeles teams and the Mavs doing some major cap gymnastics to clear enough room to sign them at even a discounted rate.

OK, back to reality: The Mavs must sift through the second tier of free-agency prospects -- or strike in a trade market that could be especially active due to fear of the looming luxury-tax spikes -- to acquire players capable of at least being pillars of a supporting cast. It'll be nice if the Mavs can get a rotation player with their lottery pick, but assuming the Mavs don't benefit from a ping-pong ball miracle, it's a stretch to envision acquiring an immediate starter with the 13th pick in a weak draft, especially given coach Rick Carlisle's reluctance to rely on rookies.

(Yes, the goal is to make Dirk Nowitzki the Mavs' second-best player, but we're trying to deal in realistic expectations here.)

If the Mavs end up with the equivalent of Darren Collison and Chris Kaman again, next season will be another struggle just to make the playoffs, much less do any damage if they get there.

What better options are there?

Let's start with the available point guards. Cuban, who felt double-crossed when Kidd reneged on a verbal commitment to return to Dallas and decided to go for the greener grass of the Big Apple, has made it clear he puts a premium on upgrading the Mavs' "basketball IQ." That, along with the money it'd take to prevent their current teams from matching, would seem to make young restricted free agents such as Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings and Atlanta's Jeff Teague poor fits.

How about Utah's Mo Williams, Golden State's Jarrett Jack or Milwaukee's Monta Ellis? They're more combo guards than pure points, but it's at least worth keeping an eye on the prices they demand in the market.

Detroit's Jose Calderon, whom the Mavs were interested in when Toronto and Memphis were looking for a third team to help facilitate the Rudy Gay deal, might be the best fit. He'll be 32 next season, but heck, that's young by Mavs point guard standards. His assist-to-turnover ratio annually ranks among the best in the league, and he's one of the league's most efficient shooters at his position.

How does three years, $18 million sound for Calderon?

Of course, if the Mavs are going to have Calderon and Nowitzki on the floor for major minutes, they'd better have a pretty darn good defensive anchor. Really, they need that kind of dude no matter who is playing point guard.

That was the problem with Kaman. He just wasn't good enough defensively to succeed in Dallas. And that's why it's difficult to envision him returning after bouncing between the starting lineup and the fringe of the rotation, even if it's at a significantly reduced salary.

Will Brandan Wright be back? Elton Brand? Can the Mavs keep one or the other and still have the cap space required to sign a starting center?

Other than Howard, there are a few big men who could command eight-figure salaries as free agents this summer.

The Mavs considered trading for Al Jefferson in the summer of 2010 before the Minnesota Timberwolves sent him to Utah, but they had major concerns about how he'd mesh with Dirk defensively. Jefferson is an elite low-post scorer, but those defensive concerns haven't diminished over the past few seasons.

Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic, who averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds this season, is an intriguing prospect. There are two problems with him: He's not really a rim protector, and he is a restricted free agent, so the Mavs would have to overpay to prevent Minnesota from matching.

How about Andrew Bynum? It'll be especially interesting to see what the market bears for the ex-Lakers 7-footer after he played a grand total of zero seconds while cashing fat paychecks in Philadelphia this season.

Sure, Bynum's knee problems cause you to cringe, but he's one of the NBA's best few big men if you can get him on the floor. For Cuban to pull off his plan of a "quick rebuild," the Mavs will most likely have to hit on a major risk.

How does two years, $24 million sound for Bynum?

Hey, the last time the Mavs took a chance on a center with significant health issues, the reward was a championship ring. Just watch the Knicks in the playoffs if you need a reminder.