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Slacking Off: Exploring the Oddities of the Maverick Centers

Who should start and is this group up to the challenge?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks-Media Day Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As we sit here just minutes away from the first pitch of the Rangers Orioles game 3, David Trink and I are kicking off our new series “Slacking Off” with our first guest from the MMB staff Matthew Phillips. This is a chance for our readers to catch a glimpse of our Slack discussions as we fire off hot takes on the Mavericks. Tonight we are focused on the Dallas Mavericks center rotation in all its relative glory.

Brent Brooks: We are just a few more preseason games away from the season opener, so David and Matthew - chime in for me on where your confidence level is in the 5 spot and who you believe should be the starter.

David: My confidence level is at a pretty steady level, none of the preseason games have changed my stance. Lively has got to start from day one, but not necessarily because he’s the best option.

Matthew: On a scale of 1-10, my confidence in the Mavericks center position is a 4. Dereck Lively has upside and I believe that he will provide the Mavericks real value maybe even by the end of this season. Dwight Powell is still who he’s always been and he’ll provide the Mavericks with effort and being in the right spot, but Maxi Kleber is still the Mavericks best center. Kleber has declined a little athletically and is always a health question. The Mavericks essentially have a solid backup rotation and no starter. Given the options, Kleber should be the starter for the simple reason that he is the best player.

Brent: If Lively isn’t the best option David, who is? And are they on this roster? And Matthew, Kleber’s hamstring is on line one asking if you remember last season at all.

David: A version of Lively who doesn’t foul every 3 seconds is our best center. The reason I would start him is simply to get the experience of playing against other teams' best players. Tell him to be free for 5 minutes, then bring Powell in to play against the other teams' backups, where he’s better anyways.

Matthew: I argued multiple times that Kleber was done last season, much like the Baltimore Orioles who just got shut down in the first inning of a game they desperately need to win. Kleber isn’t what he once was, but neither of the other options are either. Kleber has been the third-best player on the Mavericks in a playoff series win against the Utah Jazz. None of the other options have anywhere near that level of success.

Brent: Agreed, all we need is a Tardis to jump forward about three years and start that version of Lively. Side note: super excited for the 60th anniversary of DW with the return of David Tennant. Matthew, the Mavericks view Kleber as the closing Center and place such high value on what he brings there that I cannot imagine they would want those minutes near the start of the game. Do you disagree?

Matthew: David, I would argue that the best chance for Lively not to foul is to get as many minutes as possible against bench units early. Imagine the Mavericks are playing the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis is in attack mode. Lively is going to pick up 2 fouls in the first minute. Is that more beneficial to him than getting minutes against a bench unit that might let him play more without foul trouble? They believe he should close because that is the highest ceiling lineup. There is no reason to intentionally hamstring yourself at the beginning of the game by starting fewer options.

Brent: Oh, hamstring, I see what you did there. As an organization the Mavericks have approached the post-Tyson era with a patchwork quilt approach and Lively is the first meaningful departure from that theory of the case. Does it help or hinder his development to throw him right into the fire?

David: I think it helps. And Matthew to your point Lively is only playing 15 mins a night max anyway, why not let 5 of them start the game every night?

Brent: What was more predictable - Corey Seager’s first-inning bomb just now or the re-signing of Dwight Powell?

Matthew: Lively is going to develop well and be a very useful player next to Doncic. It is simply unfortunate that they waited this far into Doncic’s career to procure a potential defensive anchor behind him. His passing specifically is going to help. And David, confidence is a funny thing. Getting dusted early may not be the best way to develop him. There will come a time when Lively needs reps with the starters, but I would prefer them to come later in the year when he is ready for them. Resigning Dwight Powell was more predictable because it is absolutely shocking that the Orioles were brave or foolish enough to throw Seager a strike.

Brent: Maybe they decided five walks in a row was enough?

David: I disagree. Getting dusted early only won’t help if the coaching staff expects him to perform. If they tell him that he has no expectations and will only be able to build on his role then he should be able to play freely and develop. It’s only when the burden or fear of losing your job is added that being killed early won’t help.

Matthew: That’s fair though I think he would be better served by waiting to start. Bill Simmons used to compare impatient coaches to someone who ate a frozen pizza too quickly after heating it resulting in burning their mouth. I believe starting Lively from day one has the possibility of the team having the equivalent of a burnt mouth, resulting in the rest of the pizza being worse, or in this case Lively’a development being stunted.

Brent: The offseason included rumors for (amongst others) Ayton and Capela with those deals never materializing - obviously either of those would be the starter and would have allowed Lively to come off the bench. Are you wistful that those deals did not manifest or did the Mavs dodge some bad outcomes?

Matthew: I will refrain from using an expletive in front and just say no very firmly. Neither of those players gets the Mavericks to a championship and there is no reason to utilize assets for them. Ayton is an insane talent but he simply doesn’t want to be utilized in the manner that most correlates with winning. Capela is aging and struggled last year.

Brent: ...and yet some of the fanbase and some of the Mavs media ecosystem seemed to be clamoring for such a trade because the Mavs have this all too apparent need at center that signing the ghost of JaVale McGee inexplicably did not solve (insert eye roll here) - from my vantage, it was not pulling the trigger on this sort of move that gave me some hope this offseason when combined with other moves. This offseason felt like a conscious choice to build a young core around Luka rather than the win-now moves of the recent past that were - in reality - serviceable stop gaps at best and at worst, well, McGee.

David: Yeah I agree, I’m glad the Mavericks did not exhaust any resources on Ayton or Capela. This is not the year the Mavericks break through so doing what they did and building a young core while adding veteran pieces was a great move.

Matthew: The primary concern would appear to be that the Mavericks are attempting to serve two masters. Doncic is great enough that going for it immediately seems viable, and young enough that building seems viable. The Mavericks appear to be attempting to thread the needle and do both. Essentially Lively makes sense or Irving makes sense, but they don’t really make sense on the same roster.

David: And it isn’t like there’s a center in the league they can get to stop Jokic anyways, so you might as well try to develop your first-round pick into that guy.

Matthew: The Orioles are cowards and they were punished for their fear by Garver.

Brent: Well, David, the Mavs did resign Markieff Morris - pretty sure that is the secret plan to handle Jokic.

Matthew: You think the goal is to get him ejected?

Brent: In a dual-ejection game 7 playoff scenario, I’ll take that trade-off. Gosh, I hope sarcasm translates well from Slack to an actual post on MMB. Garcia just crushed Baltimore’s cute little season btw.

Matthew: As a fan who watched his brother try those antics against Doncic in the playoffs, let’s just say I would hate to see the Mavericks attempt the same thing.

Brent: Let’s talk about Richaun Holmes. Best case he is an unearthed gem wasting away in Sac town and now free to push shot his way into our hearts. Worst case, he turns into a pumpkin that Dallas can’t trade at the deadline. Which is it gonna be?

David: He’s better than Javale McGee so I think the latter is unlikely.

Matthew: I have zero expectations for Richaun Holmes. He was the tax the Mavericks paid to get Prosper.

Brent: How do we feel about the small ball five options? Maxi, Grant, and DJJ.

Matthew: DJJ had a small run where he was effective in Miami as a small ball five. He is a breathtaking athlete who can provide vertical pop the Mavericks have not seen recently. Maxi has had great success as a floor spacer. Grant is intriguing but his inability to provide shot-blocking concerns me. The Mavericks will definitely try it at times, and his jumper is more trustworthy than Maxi’s.

David: Grant is the best option in my opinion. He is very good at guarding larger players so he can handle KAT at the five or players like that. Maxi scares me because he’s cooked, and DJJ scares me because I just don’t know how good he really is now.

Matthew: The concern with Williams isn’t him guarding bigs. Despite his size, he can handle defending up. The concern is he can’t provide good enough rim protection as a back-line defender. His block numbers don’t fully tell the story, because he is one of those annoying guys who will draw a charge rather than try to block a shot. But the Mavericks' perimeter defense will give up penetration, and I’m not sure Williams is the answer to fixing that.

Also if Grant is playing center he is not guarding big wings, and that is what he was brought here to do.

David: In an ideal world I think either DJJ or OMax emerges as a strong bench player and their small ball lineup features one of them with Luka Kyrie and Josh Green. Maybe even Tim instead of Green depending on matchup.

Brent: Do you envision the Mavs going after a center at the trade deadline or before and will that go better than Dean Kremer searching for outs in Arlington tonight?

David: I really don’t think they will. Unless it’s a cheap Capela deal, I don’t think there’s anyone else out there available.

Matthew: I’m not sure the Mavericks signing Toby from the Slovenian national team would go worse than tonight went for Kremer so things can’t possibly go worse. Nico Harrison has made a splash at each of the last two deadlines but I don’t expect a big move this year because the Mavericks are trying to straddle both timelines. They might move Tim Hardaway Jr in an attempt to rebalance the roster but as David said, there isn’t much out there.

Brent: And yet, Mavs content creators will still pine for Myles Turner deals that will never happen. Fake trade blog posts are a cottage industry and must be sustained.

Matthew: They are more fun for fans to imagine. Who cares if they are realistic? Sports are for fun and escapism. I once dreamed up a trade built around Samaki Walker for Tim Duncan when I was young. So if you can convince yourself that the Mavericks can trade Hardaway and Holmes for Turner or something like that, good for you. Enjoy it and the imaginary team that might come later.

David: They’re important to keep a tab on what won’t happen. If you see a fake trade online, strike that player from your list.

Brent: Precocious imagination I am all for but unrealistic trade posts to beg for clicks grind my gears but that is why I am the resident curmudgeon around here at MMB.

Matthew: David is right, although once upon a time I proposed a Kristaps Porzingis for Kyrie Irving trade in Slack. And essentially that is what happened with extra steps.

Brent: Guys, I’ve enjoyed it. Any final thoughts about the Mavs centers?

Matthew: The centers will do the best job they can, and that is all we can ask from them. But they will probably be asked to do too much will result in frustrated fans.

David: The Mavericks are doomed to a lifetime without good centers, it just is what it is.

Brent: We will all hope for a Walker Kessler sort of rookie season from Lively and anything short of that will make Matthew’s statement absolutely accurate.