February 15, 2019
The Mavericks had a great offense last year, but little defense, and most of the rotation is hitting free agency.

Over the last few weeks, the BBALLBREAKDOWN team have been taking looks at five important questions each NBA team will be facing going into the upcoming offseason, continuing here with the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas had a tumultuous end to the 2014-15 season, ending in a 4-1 series loss to the Houston Rockets and the benching of Rajon Rondo. With Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki turning 37 last week, the Dallas Mavericks don’t have much time left before the end of his career and will need to make the most of his last few seasons before he retires.

The Mavericks have only five players under contract at this time and the roster could look completely different from last season. They will need to make smart decisions this offseason as they look to compete again in the upcoming season.

1. Who Is Their 2015-16 Point Guard?

Sitting with a 19-8 record and a +8.5 net rating, the front office made the call to trade for Rajon Rondo in mid-December and bolster their roster for a playoff push in a difficult Western conference. The move could not have gone worse, however, as Rondo clashed with Rick Carlisle from the start and the Mavs trudged to a 31-24 record with just a +1.0 net rating the rest of the way.

With Rondo already looking likely not to return, it was cemented when Carlisle benched him for nearly the entire second half in game two of their playoff series, before being made inactive for the final three games. Rondo, clearly, is done in Dallas. And so they must now figure out who will take over the lead point guard role from him and carry the team through next season.

Devin Harris could be serviceable in that role, and is locked up for a few more years at a reasonable contract. But while Harris has some useful NBA qualities, he may not be the quality of player to lead the Mavs next season. There is a dearth of quality point guards on the free agent market this summer, and being able to convince one of the available guards will be key. While signing Goran Dragic will be a nice coup, it is a long shot (Dragic has been expected to re-sign in Miami ever since he got there) and the Mavs shouldn’t count on him as the solution. A more reasonable scenario has them signing Patrick Beverley, someone who can fit within the offense of the Mavericks while also improving the defense. Beverley, however, is a restricted free agent, and a restricted free agent of the cross-state Houston Rockets, from whom Dallas have already poached one restricted free agent. There is politics in play there.

A trade could also be feasible, although Dallas don’t have a ton of assets to entice other teams to make a deal. The free agent market is the most viable option, but there aren’t many enticing options this season. Short of options, then, the Mavericks will have to be creative with the point guard spot and it seems unlikely they get a high production player to fill the role. More than likely, they will need to find someone who can at least run Carlisle’s offense and play tough defense within the system, better than Harris or Raymond Felton. If they can do that, they will have one puzzle piece of rebuilding their roster complete.

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2. How Do They Replace The Scoring Of Monta Ellis?

The news broke this week that Ellis would opt out of the final year of his contract and the Mavs would not be re-signing him. This leaves the team without their leading scorer from last season, as Ellis lead the team with 18.9 points per game.

While the Mavs return their second and third leading scorers in Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki to the fifth best offense in the game, they need to add another scorer to complement these two. They could hope Parsons makes a leap as a scorer and be a near twenty point scorer to replace Ellis, but even then, they will still need to find some more offensive weapons.

Dallas could chase some combo guards like Reggie Jackson or Rodney Stuckey, who could both help the scoring load and handle the ball as needed which would take some pressure off their point guards. Neither of these options are go-to scorers but could be nice complementary pieces for the Mavs, as would wing player Wesley Matthews.

The big fish would be LaMarcus Aldridge, who could slide right in as the team’s top scorer if they are able to attract him as a free agent. While it would be interesting to try the Mavs try to play him and Nowitzki at the same time, it would also allow Nowitzki to play fewer regular season minutes and hand the franchise keys over to Aldridge. Aldridge has been a twenty points per game scorer for the past five seasons, and slotting him with Nowitzki and alongside Parsons (along with any other free agent signings) would instantly make the Mavs a tough team yet again.

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3. Who Else Do They Surround Dirk Nowitzki With In The Twilight Of His Career?

With less than $40 million in salaries locked for this season, the Mavericks one again have tons of room to make a few big free agent moves to try to give their franchise player one last playoff run. Their first priority would have to be Aldridge, who could take over Nowitzki’s spot as their cornerstone and be the face of the team for years to come.

Their next big decision would have to be whether to bring back Tyson Chandler for another contract. Chandler, who will be turning 33 this season, can still provide defensive value, but his defensive effectiveness it is slowly slipping away and he cannot be the dominant rim protector on a regular basis any more.

Enter perhaps DeAndre Jordan, a player who could fill Chandler’s shoes. Although his defensive impact was routinely overstated last season, Jordan has the potential to turn into a tough defensive player, especially playing alongside Nowitzki. This is a risk, however, because if he struggles again to protect the rim and play within the team’s system, the pairing of Nowitzki and Jordan could be a disaster.

With the cap room they have, many other players will be on the table for the Mavs, including Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll and others. They will need to make smart moves to fill out their roster. They have some big holes to fill and need to surround Nowitzki and Parsons will capable offensive and defensive players to compete in the West.

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4. Do They Get An Impact Player In The Draft?

After not having a selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Mavericks hold the #21 pick in the first round and the #52 overall pick this year, and should be an interesting team to watch in the draft. While there is a clear possibility that they may look to trade their pick for immediate help – the Mavericks have plenty of form on this – we’ll have to work under the assumption that they will be keeping their pick until a move is complete.

With so much of their roster in flux, they could go a variety of different ways here. If they want to try to find a fix at the point guard spot, Duke’s Tyus Jones, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant or Utah’s Delon Wright should all be available and have the potential to turn into at least possible backup options at the point guard spot. They could also look to shore up their defense by selecting Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Arkansas’ Bobby Portis, on the off chance he falls to #21.

If they want to look more long-term and starting building a roster for the future, there are plenty of collegiate players who may need a year or two to develop. UNLV’s Rashad Vaughn, Syracuse’s Chris McCullough or Kansas’ Cliff Alexander don’t appear ready to contribute this upcoming season but could contribute down the road. If the Mavs let them get playing time in the D-League, it may end up looking like a smart pick in a few years.

The Mavericks have been very reluctant throughout the Donnie Nelson era to spend much time on youth and young projects, having very few draft picks in the first place, routinely trading away their first round picks to facilitate other roster moves (Jordan Hamilton, Shane Larkin), and using their second picks to either trade long term projects who rarely pan out or sell them outright. They invariably pick low down in the draft, yet not since 2003 and Josh Howard have they had any success at doing so. This might be the time that has to change.

5. How Do They Improve Defensively?

For as good as the Mavericks were offensively, they were just as bad on the defensive side of the floor and will need to make some serious upgrades defensively to improve the 20th ranked defense. Nowitzki’s mobility is fading by the game, and he will need to be surrounded by top defensive players to give them any chance to be an average or above defensive team.

There isn’t much wrong with Carlisle’s defensive system, but there is with those trying to play it. Much of the struggles had to do with the team personnel last season. The Mavs do have a bunch of poor defensive players they can upgrade immediately, such as Rondo, Ellis or Amar’e Stoudemire. If they can replace these three with better defensive players, they will be well on their way to becoming a better defensive team. They have a decision to make about Tyson Chandler as well, who is also on the downswing of his career and losing some defensive ability as he ages.

One of the few stand out defensive players they had last year was Al-Farouq Amin. With a great post-season performance, Aminu will now look for a bigger contract, and Dallas should try to bring him back to help anchor its defense on the wing. Signing Beverley as a free agent will be a big help and could anchor their defense from the point guard position. So while the Mavericks will need to bolster their offense, they need to consider the defensive side of the ball as well, as they have major strides to make if they wish to win a playoff series next season.

The Mavs have a long road uphill to climb this offseason to continue to be a contender in the Western Conference. They have a large amount of cap room with just a few players under team control and the space to make some free agent splashes and Mark Cuban will need to roll out the red carpet to attract the big names to surround Nowitzki. If he can make some big moves, the Mavs could be a playoff team once again but if they strike out, they may miss the playoffs for just the second time since 2000-01.

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Joshua Riddell

Josh is also a writer for DraftExpress and enjoys watching both college and professional basketball.

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