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Zaza Pachulia was a rock in uncertain times for the Mavericks

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The fallback plan for the Mavericks became an unexpectedly key piece.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back

From 2011 to 2015, the Dallas Mavericks had 10 different players start games at center. Entering the summer of 2015, Dallas seemed poised to finally land the young free agent long sought after, this time in the form of DeAndre Jordan. We all know how that turned out.

Enter Zaza Pachulia, who came to the Mavericks by way of Milwaukee essentially for free, with Dallas sending out a future second round pick with insane protections. It feels like a long time ago now, but the days after the DeAndre incident were dark. It felt like the season was over before any basketball had been played. The signing of Zaza, while not a total game changer, breathed life into team in a way that's hard to describe months later. Zaza wanted to be in Dallas and we were so glad to have someone who wanted to be a Maverick.

The 2015-16 season was a productive and interesting one for Zaza. The Mavericks were very limited with Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews on early restrictions and the other options at center being untested at best. This meant that Pachulia played minutes totals from the start of the season in November to the end of February that were well north of his career average. For much of those four months, he approached nearly 30 minutes a game. The last time he approached those minutes totals was in the 2011-12 season, where he played 18 fewer games. Though Zaza finished the year grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game, he spent much of the season grabbing over 11 rebounds a game. Pachulia also chipped in around 8.5 points a game. The only area he struggled from all season was shooting 15 foot jump shots, where he clanged in a mere 28 percent of his attempts. Zaza ended up being better than most Mavericks fans could have hoped for, fitting into the free-flowing Carlisle offense with ease.

Zaza's season really went downhill in March. A whispered (but never officially confirmed) Achilles injury seemed to limit his movement. Injury or no, the Mavericks wore Pachulia down asking far too much from a veteran player who had mainly been a career back up. His 2,004 regular season minutes were more than he had played in any season since 2005-06 when he was a spry 21 year old. In March and parts of April, fans turned on Pachulia a bit, not understanding his situation or the repercussions. Zaza rebounded a bit in time for the playoffs, but was thoroughly outmatched by the Thunder's young and physical front court. But he did have a magnificent game 5 against the Thunder where he scored 12, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished out a whopping nine assists, including a look away I will never forget.

Contract status

Zaza Pachulia is an unrestricted free agent.

Looking forward

During his exit interview Zaza Pachulia mentioned how much he liked Dallas, the Mavericks and the fan base. As a big man facing what could be his final contract, Pachulia may be looking for one final pay day.

Do the Mavericks want him back? As a starter, I think it's safe to say neither Zaza nor the Mavericks are interested. Any return to Dallas would be in a reserve role where he's spent most of his career. Which means it could come down to money, either for the Mavericks or Zaza, as well as opportunity and timing. Free agency is pretty wild, so I'd suspect the most likely outcome is Pachulia finding a new home before the Mavericks are able to fit him into their always complex plans.