|Mark Cuban and the Mavs will have to recover from missing out on D-Will. (Getty Images)|
What now, Mavs?
No, seriously. What now?
The free agent prize, what they've seemingly sold their soul for, is gone as Deron Williamsre-signed with the Nets for five years. It was down to Brooklyn or Dallas. And Williams left the Mavericks hanging. All their eggs were put in the D-Will sweepstakes basket, and now they're empty-handed.
Consider what the last year has looked like for Dallas basketball. The Mavs won their first championship, and did it with an incredibly likeable team and one with an incredible chemistry and structure that lended thought to them being able to do it again.
Dirk Nowitzki was hitting a new stride as maybe the most impossible offensive player in the league, they had clutch stones galore in Jason Terry, a lockdown defender in Shawn Marion, a scrappy scorer in J.J. Barea, the best interior defender in the game in Tyson Chandler and some knockdown shooters sprinkled through the roster.
Instead of re-signing Chandler, Barea and even DeShawn Stevenson, who played a major role in their title run, the Mavs let them walk away, pieced together the roster with players like Vince Carter and Delonte West, and settled in for what appeared to be a big summer of 2012.
Free agents were hitting the market, including hometown hero Williams and the player so many assumed he was destined to play with, Dwight Howard. And the Mavericks rolled their dice, giving away a legitimate title defense in lieu of financial flexibility.
So far, 0 for 1. And with Howard in the mix for Brooklyn and at least signed in Orlando for the remainder of this season, the Mavs might as well be 0 for 2.
Terry is a distant piece of that championship puzzle, too as he's moved on to the Celtics, agreeing to sign a three-year deal with the Celtics. Now all the Mavs are left with are two major contributors from that championship team (Marion and Nowitzki). Two! And it happened only two seasons ago.
Jason Kidd is a free agent, Ian Mahinmi a free agent, Terry gone. (Brendan Haywood, unfortunately, is still under contract through 2016. The hits keep on coming, Mavs fans.) It wasn't so much that the Mavericks won a championship and then blew it all up. It's been a systematic dismantling, one that supposedly had the promise of a brighter future ahead. Instead, with Dirk at 34 and no real young talent on the roster, the lights are getting dim.
Now, here's the optimistic view: Howard is certainly an option for Dallas, and the Mavs could build some kind of ragged package for him, praying the Magic get really desperate. Next season, the Mavs only have $54 million in committed salary, so there's room to take on a bad contract (or two) to make it work. They don't have a lot of assets or enticing pieces, but who knows.
Howard or not, there's room to pursue free-agent targets. They could definitely re-sign Kidd and Mahinmi. There are players available like Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin. Feeling crazy? Lob a max deal at Eric Gordon. Go after O.J. Mayo. Goran Dragic. Heck, try and get back at the Nets and hit Brook Lopez or Ersan Ilyasova with big offers. The Mavs aren't dead in the water because they have cap room, Dirk Nowitzki and, most importantly, Mark Cuban. Despite these failures and a plan that didn't turn out as intended, the Mavs have a pulse.
There's enough to piece together another competitive Western Conference team. The window is closing rapidly on the Dirk Era, but there's time left. The Mavs have seen the writing on the wall already, which is the reason they tried to plan for this summer.
Plus, there's always next summer. Howard will officially be an unrestricted free agent, as will Chris Paul. The Mavs will only have $34 million in guaranteed salaries on the books. You see where I'm going with this.
It was a calculated risk for the Mavs to relinquish a real title defense and let Chandler and Barea walk with the dream of signing Williams. It's hard to know how the future shakes out. If Cuban knew what Williams' decision was going to be then, would he have made the same moves? Would he have let Chandler walk? I almost think he would've. It's not every day you get to make a run at a franchise changing player like Deron Williams.
Dirk doesn't have high-level play left in him much longer, and piecing together that title team again might not have yielded much. But what the Mavs have is a future in their flexibility, even if it's just been delayed.