After #DeAndreGate last offseason, the Mavs managed to cobble together a somewhat respectable center rotation, with Zaza Pachulia shining early, Salah Mejri providing a spark later on in the season, David Lee bringing a respectable presence, and JaVale McGee, well....he was there too. But there were clearly some glaring flaws, so -- looking at the past season and the season to come, what should the Mavericks be looking for at the center position this offseason?
It was surprising that Pachulia was able to play as well as he did to start the season. He was a double-double machine. However, as the season progressed, he became more and more of a liability on the floor as his performance declined and he created spacing issues for his teammates on offense. He lost his job as a starter and at one point was benched for a couple of games.
After Pachulia, though, there really wasn't a whole lot going at center for the Mavs. Sure, Mejri played well as a change of pace, high energy player but he was often limited due to foul trouble. David Lee was a great roll man in the pick and roll but wasn't great defensively. And while I still love McGee, he just couldn't find a rotation spot.
I think both Mejri and McGee will be back next season. But Zaza will probably find his way to another team over the summer. He just can't be on the floor at the same time as Chandler Parsons. And Parsons, if he re-signs, will again be a major component of the Mavs' offense.
After watching the Eastern Conference Finals, I've joked that Mark Cuban is going to throw money at Bismack Biyombo this summer. However, I'm growing more and more convinced that this could become a reality. He's played well on both ends of the floor. He's not a perfect player but he'd certainly be an upgrade over anything Dallas has right now. What it comes down to is how much money will he command after his playoff performance? Will he demand a max deal? Perhaps. The Mavs are already said to not be interested in paying Dwight Howard the max. Biyombo's max would be significantly less, though.
And also, #NeverDwight.
This might be the toughest position to fill for the Mavs this summer. Andre Drummond is the best option, but no way Detroit lets him walk. So it kind of comes down to Whiteside or Dwight Howard. As of now I believe Whiteside stays with Miami, which means Howard is the big name option for the Mavs. I don't see the Mavs giving him the max or anything close to it, so his contract demands will determine if these two sides can finally complete #PlanPowder.
But if Howard doesn't happen, the hot name right now is Biyombo. While his max isn't up there with Howard and some of the others, I don't have faith in Biyombo to consistently play at this high level we've seen during the playoffs for 82 games. I'd also shy away from Festus Ezili if he's looking for a near max deal.
I wouldn't hate the idea of bringing in a combination of Joakim Noah, Donatas Motiejunas (RFA), Timofy Mozgov, and Miles Plumlee (RFA) to platoon with Mejri, which means no more Zaza and McGee.
With players expecting to get big money, the Mavs could also look at the trade market. Tyson Chandler (third times a charm) and Marcin Gortat might be available if the Suns and Wizards are looking to get younger at the center spot.
Despite teams playing faster and smaller, having quality bigs is still a necessity. While we all would love for the Mavs to hit a homerun, getting quality singles at center might be the best short and long term option considering the uncertainty of the top tier names. Last thing this team can do is tie up money to a non-factor when there are many other holes to fill on the roster.
More youth, length and athleticism. That's what allowed Salah Mejri to eventually break into the rotation by the end of the season. There's a strong argument to be made that he should have been playing more minutes throughout March and April. It became painfully clear late in the season that Pachulia wouldn't be a longterm fit in Dallas. It sounds like the team likes Mejri enough to keep him around after this season but it's hard to imagine he's the answer at center for this team.
Throwing some resources at the position in free agency looks like the way to go. The question is whether the Mavs will target a star that spurned them before or target a guy most Dallas fans might not have heard of before this postseason.
Unlike a lot of fans, I like Dwight Howard and think he would be a good addition to the roster. But I don't know if it makes a whole lot of sense for Dallas to throw a big long-term contract at a guy whose best days are long behind him. If the team is going to prepare for life after Dirk (which they should), it makes more sense to target a guy like the Heat's Hassan Whiteside or the Raptor's Bismack Biyombo. Toronto might find it especially tough to match a big offer for Biyombo when they already have Jonas Valanciunas starting at center. Golden State's Festus Ezeli should get a look too although he's a restricted free agent.
Other than Howard, all of those guys are the same age or younger than Chandler Parsons (27). Parsons played a big part in recruiting Dwight to Houston in 2013 but he'd do better to focus his recruiting skills on a guy who could join him as a core piece on the team for years to come.
This is such a tough question for a variety of reasons. Let's start with the fact that despite the coming cap boom, we really have no idea what market centers are going to draw. With the NBA trending small, there are more available bigs than any time in the past 25 years. How much those bigs cost will matter a great deal in terms of what the Mavericks are able to do.
That also plays into the second point: how does a center fit with Chandler Parsons? Assuming the Mavericks make reacquiring Parsons their number one priority, how the center plays with Parsons is a big question. Zaza Pachulia and Parsons did not work, at all. I'd like to see them pursue a defensive-minded center with some mobility, but offensively the Mavs need a center who can role to the rim looking somewhat athletic. This could be another frustrating year for Mavs fans watching the center position.
Dallas has to pursue an athletic, rim-rolling, defensive center. That's what fits this system. That's what fits best with someone like Dirk (see: Tyson Chandler). And, that's the kind of center Parsons is used to playing with. Zaza Pachulia was great early, and did what he could. But it's very clear he's not that guy.
So, what are the options? Drummond isn't going anywhere. Festus Ezeli is interesting, as is Bismack Biyombo. But, with either of those two, Dallas would overpay for someone who hasn't really spent time as a full-time starter. They are certainly worth looking into, though.
That leaves Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard. The Mavs haven't expressed interest in either, but I'm not as out on Dwight as I once was. The Mavs have a history of rejuvenating people's careers, but they've also seen that go south on them. There's certainly risks to Howard, but I wouldn't be mad if Dallas pursues him. His asking price isn't what the Mavs want to pay, but a lot can change between now and July 1. The only other options are starting Salah Mejri full-time, which he's not ready for l. Or, they could move Dirk to center and start Parsons at the 4. They scored a lot of points doing that this season, but I just don't know how sustainable that is.
I guess it all depends on what the Mavericks team-building philosophy is going to be this summer. If they really believe in the small-ball, Parsons at the four, Dirk at center going forward, they just need to target someone to add some depth to the center rotation and to put Zaza out to pasture.
If not, they need someone who can reliably play a majority of the season. Zaza was a career backup on the wrong side of 30 and he predictably blew out his tires by the All-Star break. As much as I love Mejri, he's a 29-year-old rookie that barely dipped his toes into NBA waters last season and there's no telling how his production would hold up as an everyday starter.
Ideally, the Mavs will get one of the big names (Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside) but since we all know their luck with luring the big fish free agent, I'd rather they just not even look at those names at all and go to the second tier. While teams are falling over themselves to sign those guys (well, maybe not Dwight) the Mavs can swoop in and pry Festus Ezeli from the Warriors or Ian Mahinmi from the Pacers. Everyone is falling in love with Bismack Biyombo but he's going to be the overpay of the summer. The league is trending small but as OKC and Toronto are showing, have at least one capable defensive big is still a huge part of the game. Whether that's internal improvement from Mejri or getting one of those second-tier centers, the Mavs desperately need that to go along with their Dirk and Parsons frontcourt.