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Roundtable: The Dallas Mavericks’ ideal starting lineup next season

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It’s never too early to dream.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks have a very important summer coming up as soon as the NBA Playoffs end, starting with the NBA Draft, then moving into NBA Free Agency. Dallas has more flexibility this offseason than they’ve had in some time. The Mavs will likely have a top-three pick in the draft, depending on what happens in the May 15 lottery. Although most people would agree that Dallas should keep the pick, there’s a lot more options when you’re picking that high in the draft. You never know what team might call in and blow you away with an offer you can’t refuse.

The Mavs are also going to be one of the few teams that will actually have a decent amount of cap space (with the ability to create more, if needed) in a free agency period that has been projected as a “nuclear winter” for players seeking their next contract. All of that, to me, says that this could be a franchise-altering summer for the Mavs, if they play their cards right. So we asked our staff:

Taking the draft, free agency and possible trades into consideration, what would be your ideal starting lineup for the Mavs going into next season?

Jordan (@Jbrodess): This all feels so very far away, but I know it will sneak up on us. I’m going to take ideal to mean dream scenario, in using the draft and free agency to build this group. In that case, my starting five for next season would be:

Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes, Aaron Gordon, Dirk Nowitzki

In an actual ideal scenario, I probably should add Clint Capela at the five, but even in a dream world my brain can’t rationalize that. Luka still remains number one on my big board, and I think Aaron Gordon would be my top target in July. It still seems unlikely he leaves Orlando, though. The truth of this scenario, should it even happen, is that Wes Matthews would most likely remain in the starting lineup, with Doncic being first off the bench (replacing Dirk, possibly bumping everyone but DSJ down a position). But I’ll worry about that once I wake up from this sweet sweet dream.

Kirk (@KirkSeriousFace):

Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Aaron Gordon, Derrick Favors

Coming off the bench will be Dirk Nowitzki and Mikal Bridges. That’s not an ideal starting line up for me, because I want the Mavericks to draft Doncic, but Matthews will be back and I can’t feel any way about draft lottery odds just yet (because I so very much want Doncic). I suspect the Mavericks make a run at Gordon just because he’s the most talented guy who fits the way they want to play, and I think Favors is the kind of hard working, effective big that might work with Dallas. It’s a bland, approaching bleak, lineup, but it’s certainly better than this year’s team.

Dalton (@dalton_trigg): For my dream scenario to come true, there would have to be a decent amount of luck involved in all 3 phases — the draft, free agency and possible trades. In the lottery (less than a month away now), the Mavs would need to to luck into the No. 1 overall pick and draft Deandre Ayton. I’ve been going back and forth between Ayton and Luka Doncic for the last month, but I think I’ve settled with Ayton. I’d be fine with either of them, though.

In restricted free agency, I’d want the Mavs to pursue and sign one of Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle or Jabari Parker. Out of all them, Parker is probably the most realistic and potentially cheaper option. The bad thing about restricted free agency, of course, is the fact that the player’s current team has the option to match any offer sheet he’d sign with another team. Even if it seems unlikely that a team would match, the Mavs’ money would be tied up for a few days until that decision is made, which can be nerve-racking. Regardless, this is definitely an avenue I think the Mavs will explore this summer, and netting one of those players above would be considered a win for the future.

To maximize this dream, I’d want the Mavs to take advantage of a Washington Wizards team that seems destined for a breakup. The Wizards currently have the fifth highest payroll in the NBA, yet they’re the eight-seed in the East. In my opinion, something has to give pretty soon, and hopefully that “give” is Bradley Beal. I’d like to see the Mavs attempt trade Wes Matthews and their 2019 first round pick, unprotected, for Bradley Beal (and probably another contract the Wizards want off their books). It’s probably a long shot that the Mavs would have the best offer for the Wizards, but again, we’re talking about personal ideal scenarios here.

If all of that comes to fruition, your Mavs starting lineup next season would be:

Dennis Smith Jr., Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, RFA PF, DeAndre Ayton

And then Dirk would become one of the best 6th men in the league, torching other team’s second units. That’s a pretty good dream scenario, no matter how unlikely it is.

Just in case that’s a little too “dreamy” for you, this would be my ideal starting lineup that has a better shot of happening:

Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, DeAndre Jordan

I know, I know — that’s a different DeAndre at center that a lot of you probably aren't as open to, but he’s still one of the best in the game, and I think he can continue to be for the next two or three years. It would be a move that accelerates the rebuild in Dallas, in my opinion.

Sam (@SamGuertler): Here’s the thing: this is an ideal scenario and there are no limitations, so here’s my absolute ideal offseason. It starts with the Mavs getting some draft luck and landing Luka Doncic, wherever that is in the draft. Immediately, the Mavs would have two dynamic playmakers in Dennis Smith Jr. and Doncic, something all teams have to have. Then (I think Jordan wanted to keep his ideal scenario somewhat realistic, but I’m not doing that) the Mavs throw the max at Clint Capela and snatch him away from the Rockets. Capela is a 23-year-old averaging nearly 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game. He would be the perfect rim-rolling, paint-defending big man the Mavericks thought they had in Nerlens Noel. With that offseason, Dallas would be equipped with a promising point guard, the most accomplished European prospect ever and a young center capable of changing the game on both ends without taking the ball from Smith Jr. and Doncic.

Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes, Clint Capela

Ian (@SmitheeMMB): The most important question that needs to be answered when addressing what should be done with the roster for next season is: just where are these Mavs going? They still have Dirk Nowitzki, as well as a few other playoff-tested veterans, and a coach who was brought in to help the team contend. At the same time, overall their talent level is bottom third of the league, and chances are good that the 2018-19 season will be Dirk’s last. As painful as it might be, I don’t think Dirk is going to get to ride off into the sunset with one last playoff appearance, and going out and overpaying mid-tier free agents and tying up cap space in an attempt to make that happen seems shortsighted and foolish, in my estimation.

Rebuilds tend to take 3-4 years, and at most Dallas is halfway through that process. They will pick top-six this summer (two picks in the top 40, in fact), but in all likelihood they’re going to need to get another pick in that range next year to really establish a potentially contending core, at which point then you go and spend that cash in free agency, to get the final piece.

Since this is my ideal, we’re going to pretend Dallas gets supremely lucky in the lottery, and end up in position to take Luka Doncic. Since a high second-round pick is a useful asset in its own right, let’s further turn the luck-dial to their favor and say with their second rounder they select Jontay Porter (might need to trade up to top of the round to get him). Porter will benefit greatly from NBA quality strength training and as the youngest college prospect in the draft, he’ll have time to ease into the NBA game and learn. Doncic, meanwhile, slides immediately into the starting lineup.

Next, free agency. I’ve already explained why I’m not splurging on anyone (assuming the cream of the crop won’t be interested in Dallas, because they shouldn’t be). However, I am interested in retaining some cheap bench depth, like Seth Curry, Doug McDermott, and Yogi Ferell. The Nerlens Noel boat has likely sailed and with Jontay in the fold, Dallas has moved on to another young center as a developmental project.

Finally, the trade market. The real life Mavericks will be active in exploring trade options, with what’s expected to be a seller’s market this summer. Since I’ve decided that – unlike the real life version - I’m focusing on rebuilding, my goal is to find trade destinations for Wes Matthews, and J.J. Barea. Both are quality players and by all accounts quality people, but with Doncic being drafted and hopefully the healthy return of Seth Curry, I need to go younger in the backcourt.

That leaves my starting lineup:

Smith, Jr Doncic Barnes Powell Nowitzki

And off the bench:

Ferrell Curry McDermott Kleber Porter

Josh (@Boweman55): There are two possible fantasy starting lineups I have bouncing in my head, assuming the Mavericks hop into the first or second spot in the draft:

Smith, Wes, Barnes, Aaron Gordon, DeAndre Ayton

—Or—

Smith, Wes, Doncic, Barnes, Clint Capela

Both are definitely fantasy-tier, but they fit what the Mavericks want to do — make this the last tanking season. Mark Cuban and the front office are hell-bent on digging the Mavericks out of the muck as quickly as possible and signing a max-level free agent, whether it’s Gordon or Capela, and slotting that player next to a top-two draft pick would certainly fit the bill. Even if the Mavericks stick at three, you can follow the same logic — maybe instead of Doncic, you have one of the Bridges or Michael Porter Jr. Instead of Ayton, maybe slide in Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba. But whichever way the Mavericks go in the draft — big or win — expect them to target whichever position they don’t get in free agency. The Mavericks sat on cap room last summer and it feels like they’re ready for a spending spree this summer. I think the Mavericks need to be ready to be patient with this rebuild, but I wouldn’t put it past Cuban to try and sky rocket past the normal steps.