Mark Cuban is no stranger to change. Since his team won its only championship in 2011, Dallas has had as much turnover as any team in the league. This year will be no different, as Cuban has many holes to address on the roster. His team was nowhere near the title contender he wanted it to be this season, and upgrades need to be made defensively if that’s going to change.
We know Rajon Rondo is gone. Tyson Chandler is an unrestricted free free agent. Monta Ellis will likely opt out and Al-Farouq Aminu is going to opt out, which would leave Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris as the only players of consequence under contract for next season. Raymond Felton may opt in to receive his $3.95 million, but that’s of little importance.
Fortunately, Cuban will have plenty of cap room to try and improve the roster. There’s only about $28 million guaranteed on the books for next year, and while things like possible opt-ins (Felton, Ellis) and big cap holds (Chandler) may make a decent dent into some of the space, the Mavericks should have anywhere between about $20-34 million in cap space. And since almost every team in the league will have cap room in 2016 when the cap takes a huge leap, Dallas will want to strike this summer. With the enormous leap coming, most deals this summer will look like good ones long term.
The first thing Cuban has to do is decide what to do with Ellis if he indeed opts out. All indications are that Ellis wants to stay in Dallas, but there were some locker room concerns with the guard this season. It’s also really hard to see the Mavericks building a good enough defense with Ellis, Parsons and Nowitzki involved. Parsons is an average defender and Ellis is a sub-par defender on the wing, so playing them together leaves no space for a stopper.
However, there are a few solutions that might be able to change this. The first is to hit a home run and convince DeAndre Jordan or Marc Gasol to sign. Jordan would be an ideal Maverick, as he does a lot of the things Chandler does, only better than Chandler at this stage of his career. Jordan is an expert at rolling to the rim and finishing, and he’d be able to anchor a defense by himself. The mistakes of his teammates wouldn’t look as bad with Jordan protecting the paint. It’s unlikely that Jordan is leaving the Clippers, particularly if the team continues to have success in the playoffs. But Cuban needs to make the call, especially because Jordan is from Texas and is said to have some interest in Dallas.
Gasol doesn’t seem likely to leave Memphis, either, and it’s unclear why he’d choose Dallas if he did. The other marquee big man who will be a free agent is LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge does have ties to Dallas, but the fit is unclear with Nowitzki, and Aldridge will have plenty of suitors as well.
Another possible solution to the wing issues is having Ellis play point guard. He runs the offense plenty anyway, and the Mavericks could get a solid wing to play alongside Ellis and Parsons. Dallas could gamble that Wesley Matthews returns to form as a great shooter, defender and fit in a motion offense. DeMarre Carroll has been a monster in the playoffs, and Dallas could throw a lot of money to have him play alongside Parsons. Danny Green could command a lot of money, but his shooting and defense might be worth it. Lesser options on the wing include Alan Anderson, who looks the part of a good role player if he can get on the right team. Bringing back Aminu would also make plenty of sense.
However, asking Ellis to guard the elite point guards of the NBA on a nightly basis could be too much, and none of those wings would want to do that every night. Green has done it some this year, and Matthews certainly could some as well, but it’s not like moving Ellis to point guard on a full-time basis would solve all of the Mavericks’ issues.
If Dallas does want to keep Ellis at shooting guard, the best approach might be to try and steal another player from the hated Houston Rockets. Patrick Beverley may be coming back from a wrist injury, but is a nice fit next to Ellis. He can handle the tougher guard assignments each night while Ellis runs the offense. Beverley is used to playing with a ball dominant shooting guard, and he’s a good enough three-point shooter (at least 35 percent in his three seasons) to spot up while Ellis attacks.
Beverley is a restricted free agent, but Houston may try to hit another home run this summer. Daryl Morey seems to want another shot creator on his offense, and Morey has seen his team be successful without Beverley. If the Mavericks pounce with a big offer sheet early in free agency, Morey might be fine with Beverley leaving.
Other point-guard options either don’t fit that well or seem unlikely. Goran Dragic is likely to stay in Miami, but will certainly get a call from Cuban if he wants to explore his options. Ty Lawson may be on the trade market, but Dallas has very little to offer. Jeremy Lin is a low-cost option, but would make the defense even worse. Brandon Knight would be a nice fit, but Phoenix will likely match any offer to keep him.
Letting Ellis go and signing both a point guard and a wing that fit is an option too, but Ellis does fit the offense very well. Dallas would benefit from some continuity with all the changes it has had, and Ellis has had some success there. If it’s possible to keep Ellis and make other changes to improve the defense, that’s the route Cuban will take.
The other option to improve defensively is at center. There will likely be mutual interest with Chandler to return, but he’s getting up there in age and the Mavericks may have to explore other options. An intriguing name, if he opts out of his contract in Indiana, is Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert isn’t a good fit offensively (for any team really), as he struggles at finishing and isn’t the type of player who dives to the basket quickly, which is what Dallas asks its big men to do currently. His shooting percentage is laughably bad for a man of his size, and he has regressed the past few seasons on the offensive end. But defensively, Hibbert might be exactly what the Mavericks are looking for. He’d give Dallas the rim protection it would desperately need if it trotted out Ellis and Parsons on the wing and Nowitzki at power forward.
Ultimately, it seems like Ellis will be back, and the Mavericks will pair him with a free agent who can share minutes with Harris at point guard. Chandler might end up being the best option at center as well, meaning Cuban may elect to bring in just a moderately priced point guard and fortify the bench. But everything is on the table for Dallas this offseason. Time is running out to get Nowitzki his second title, and Cuban won’t be afraid to make bold moves to make that happen.