By Bryan Murphy
The Dallas Mavericks surpassed all expectations this season by fighting through key injuries and major lack of depth in certain positions to land a playoff spot.
Most experts picked Dallas to finish out of the playoff picture but making the postseason was made possible due to a weaker tail end of the usually lethal Western Conference and an over achieving veteran Mavericks squad. Although Dallas was handled fairly easily in five games in their first-round match-up with the superstar studded Oklahoma City Thunder, they still didn’t go down without a fight.
“In 18 years, I’ve never been prouder of a group,” Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson said during the teams’ exit interviews. “These guys gave it everything they had.”
Players like rookies Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson saw heavy playoff minutes because of injuries to key players such as Chandler Parsons, J.J. Barea and David Lee, and Anderson and Mejri contributed tremendously. Of course the veterans on this team gave it all they had, especially Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki, who will turn 38 in June, still carried the team on his back while averaging over 20 points per game in the first round series.
“I definitely won’t retire,” Nowitzki said when asked if he’ll be back for a 19th season. “That’s out of the question.”
Zaza Pachulia, Deron Williams, Raymond Felton and Chandler Parsons will all be free agents this off-season and all four of them would certainly love to be playing in a Mavericks uniform next season as well. Deron Williams grew up in The Colony and has laid his roots here in the Dallas area. Williams missed a lot of time at the end of the year and into the playoffs due to a sports hernia so we’ll see how that plays out during the off-season and if he’ll be back.
Felton averaged over 15 points per game while logging 34 minutes per game in the playoffs filling in for Williams and very well may be offered a substantial amount of money by other teams in the league over the summer.
“Overall I feel like I had a pretty good season,” Felton said. “I’m pretty sure I put myself in a good situation but hopefully that situation is back here again next year.”
Pachulia held the starting center role for the Mavericks for most of the season and was even a few thousand votes away from becoming a starter in the All-Star game. But, towards the end of the season, Pachulia found himself losing minutes to the plethora of other centers on this team. Nonetheless, he would love to be back next year.
“The best thing to happen to me this year was to play with this guy No. 41,” Pachulia said in his exit interview (referring to Nowitzki). “This team is all about winning so if you’re a winner, this is the place to be.”
Of course, the big question mark remains on Parsons. Will he opt out and sign a big money contract somewhere else like Orlando? Or will he stay in Dallas and try to recruit other free agents to come here?
“It’s tough to recruit if I don’t know where I’m going,” Parsons said. “I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business here and I would love to grow into the player that I saw myself being.”
Dwight Howard certainly won’t be back in Houston next season after the disaster year they just endured. Parsons and Howard are still close friends dating back to Parsons’ first few season in the league with Houston.
“I think he can still dominate the game,” Parsons said when asked about Howard. “I think he can still be a great player in this league and I think he’s going to leave Houston, so why not come here?”
Although many, many fans would be the first to say they don’t want Howard anywhere near their favorite teams’ roster, teams will still be chasing him this off-season. The Mavericks will certainly need a center so they very well could be in the race come July. But, if the price for Howard is well over the $10 million range, then it should be a no-go.
Other free agent big men that could be on the Mavs radar are Pau Gasol from the Chicago Bulls and Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks. Horford averaged over 15 points and 7 rebounds per game this season and is a decent passer and shot blocker. He’s one of those offensive minded centers that could stretch the floor and fit nicely next to Nowitzki.
Another interesting free agent possibility to explore is point guard Mike Conley. He’s an All-Star caliber player who’s never actually made an All-Star game. Another factor to consider is that Conley missed the final 24 games of the season, including four postseason games against the San Antonio Spurs. The Grizzlies went 5-19 during that stretch. Conley was nursing a lingering Achilles injury but this wouldn’t be the first time the Mavericks took a chance on a free agent coming off an Achilles injury. Cough, cough Wesley Matthews.
Who knows what Dallas will do this off-season. This team has looked virtually different, except for Nowitzki and a couple of other guys, each season bringing in all sorts of free agents to fill in holes left by players leaving and a lack of quality draft picks. This team probably won’t experience another ultimate heartbreak and betrayal they received last year from DeAndre Jordan, but if they don’t make some notable signings, that will just mean another year wasted for the aging legend that is Dirk Nowitzki.