We've talked about Al Horford, for whatever it's worth.
We've gotten into Hassan Whiteside, and the highest highs and lowest lows that come with...that whole situation.
We've even talked about Dwight Howard. Sorry.
After that group, the next tier of free agent centers that Dallas will be able to legally talk to starting on July 1st features a mix of familiar faces, raw but promising youngsters, and the over the hill veterans Dallas almost always ends up with.
Let's take a look at a trio of possible Dallas targets:
The good: Ian Mahinmi
"The Pretty Solid" is perhaps more apt, but that would ruin the Sergio Leone vibe we have going here. Ian Mahinmi re-enters free agency four years after Dallas executed the sign-and-trade that sent him to the Pacers for Darren Collison and Danhtay Jones. Mahinmi spent the first three seasons of his last deal backing up Roy Hibbert, catching the tail end of Indiana's rivalry with Miami. After Roy Hibbert's play nose-dived, forcing the Pacers to ship him out to L.A, Mahinmi found himself the default starting center of an NBA team.
Give Mahinmi all the credit: he rose to the occasion, posting his best season as a pro in 2015-16, with career highs in every important statistical category and -- most impressively -- not missing a beat as the replacement for Hibbert's interior defense. Among centers who played at least 20 mintues a game, Mahinmi was third in the NBA in defensive real plus-minus, after Andrew Bogut and Tim Duncan. That's pretty stunning.
With former Longhorn Myles Turner coming into his own, there are whispers that Mahinmi is interested in a return to Dallas, where he won a championship back in 2011. Given the reports from reliable sources that the Mavs might not be all that thrilled about breaking the bank for an expensive headcase like Whiteside or Howard, Mahinmi could be the perfect fit, as a center who can provide both the rim protection and pick-and-roll finishing that Dallas didn't get from Zaza Pachulia last year. Mahinmi averaged 1.13 points per possession in PnR, which accounted for over 20 percent of his offense; both numbers put him in the top third of the league.
Personally, while I admit Mahinmi is a perfectly sensible option if Dallas doesn't want Howard and the other top-tier centers stay put, I have to be honest that I'm not quite as enthralled with this route as others seem to be. I believe Mahinmi can be a part of a good defensive rotation (along with Salah Mejri), but I have concerns about the rest of his game. Mahinmi played great in a contract year, but we shouldn't totally ignore that he put up a PER of 10 three straight seasons before it. 2014-15 was torpedoed by an abysmal free-throw shooting campaign, but the two seasons prior, Mahinmi finished 48 out of 59 and 58 out of 64 among centers in rebound rate, along with sky-high turnover rates. Even with the improvements made in those area, Mahinmi is really only an average rebounder, and is very limited as an offensive player.
That brings us to...
The young: Bismack Biyombo
A couple of months ago, I thought Biyombo might be a great developmental player for Dallas to take a chance on on a mid-level, buy-low type deal.
Then Jonas Valanciunas got hurt.
Much like Ian Mahinmi, but on a smaller scale, Biyobmo was gifted with an opportunity for more playing time, and ran with it. A 17 point, 16 rebound effort in a game seven victory over the Heat, along with 26 rebound, four block performance against the Cavs, likely pushed Biyombo's asking price up significantly, and at this stage it wouldn't shock me if a team decided to offer him the restricted max.
Of course, before, after and in between those great performances, Biyombo had a game or three where he disappeared, but let's not nitpick: Biyombo is a tantalizing specimen who is still very, very young. Turning 24 in August, there are several draft eligible seniors who are older than he is, so Bismack has time to develop and turn his raw game into something more deserving of the contract he's about to get.
Since entering the league in 2011, Biyombo has developed slowly but steadily. Over-exposed initially in Charlotte, he started to put the pieces together in the 2013-14 season after being buried in the bench following the signing of Al Jefferson. When the team moved on from him the following summer, the big man from the Congo found a home in Toronto as one of several deft signings by Masai Ujiri, a native of Nigeria.
Biyombo is on the shorter side for a center, but more than makes up for the lack of height with long arms, tremendous athleticism, and a non-stop motor. Biyombo ranked fifth in the league in blocks/minute, and fourth in the league in defensive rebound rate, which is a huge leap from his early days in Charlotte. Not too far behind Mahinmi, and ahead of Hassan Whiteside, Biyombo rated 12th among centers in defensive real plus minus. Toronto defended nearly four points per 100 possessions better with Biyombo on the court.
Of course, Biyombo gives a lot of those points back at the other end. Though he showed flashes of brilliance as a roll man in PnR (1.18 PPP), Biyombo has zero range and still makes way too many mistakes both with or without the ball. It's fair to say that where he is now represents a vast improvement over a couple of years ago, but Biyombo might still be a ways away from being a net-positive due to his offense.
Ultimately, this is why I remain fairly skeptical about Biyombo in a Dallas uniform. Is Rick Carlisle going to have the patience to let him fail and learn? Is this the type of player Mark Cuban typically splurges on in free agency? I think Biyombo could be an excellent piece in a post-Dirk era, but for the win-now Mavs, I have a feeling the price may be prohibitive, given the learning curve.
The injured: Joakim Noah
If you had asked me in October of 2015 who I thought would be the starting center for the Mavs in a years time, my answer very likely would have been Joakim Noah.
Noah entered this past season in the final year of his deal, in a very crowded frontcourt, and with new coach Fred Hoiberg in the fold, it appeared he was being phased out of the starting lineup to make room for Nikola Mirotic's floor spacing.
Noah had the rebounding/rim protecting skillset that seemed perfectly suited to Dirk Nowitzki, and Noah's passing, leadership, and general enthusiasm all seemed ideal for a club like Dallas, where team culture is considered extremely important. So, like I said, Noah would have been my guess as the Mavs' next starting center.
Unfortunately, at this stage, I'm not sure Joakim Noah is going to be a starter anywhere, let alone Dallas.
Noah turned 31 in February, and is about to begin his tenth season. Always a skinny kid, Noah logged heavy minutes under coach Tom Thibobeau, who is known for his grind it on approach. Noah had struggled with injuries at various points in his career, and it seemed that we were beginning to see the effects of those nagging issues, as Noah's shooting efficiency began to dip in Thibs' final years.
Then, the 2015-16 season hit. By late December, Noah was shooting 35 percent from the field, and appeared so terrified of missing that he was barely even looking at the basket anymore. His passing was still fantastic, and on a per-minute basis he was rebounding like never before, but it was hard to justify keeping him on the floor when defenses were basically able to play 5-on-4. The Bulls scored nearly four points per 100 possessions more with him on the bench.
A shoulder injury (suffered against Dallas) ended his campaign before he had a chance to bounce back, leaving Noah's shooting line a garbage fire mess: 38 percent from the field, 49 percent from the free throw line, 43 percent from three feet and in, 0.60 PPP on PnR. Noah had been at least a passable midrange shooter in years past, with shots 16 feet and out accounting for roughly 18 percent of his offense from 2013-15. In 2016, he attempted those shots just 4 percent of the time, despite being routinely abandoned by defenses anywhere past the free throw line.
Simply put, Noah was broken.
So where does he go from here? Noah does have plenty to offer teams, like the rebounding, passing, defense, and locker room rah-rah stuff. It's conceivable that he stays in Chicago, who likely won't have to pay mega-money to keep him. There's also Thibodeau's new team, Minnesota, who could use a backup center and mentor to emerging superstar Karl-Anthony Towns.
I don't know what Dallas' read on Noah is, but my guess is that they won't want to guarantee him a starting job after enduring Zaza's second half of "catch it in the lane, pumpfake-pumpfake-pumpfake, airball". Would Noah be OK with backing up Salah Mejri? Would he take the kind of contract you'd want to pay someone who is backing up Salah Mejri?
If I had faith that Noah's loss of explosiveness was temporary, and he could become a quasi-effective PnR option once more, I'd love to have Joakim in Big D, because I think he has all the winning traits you want. Sadly, those days may be gone for him, and in its likely in his best interest to go somewhere that won't need so much from him.