DALLAS (AP) – After two years building a roster on the notion of temporary, the Dallas Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban are ready for something a little more permanent.
The question is whether finding new partners for Dirk Nowitzki — or deciding to keep some of the old ones — starts during the NBA draft Thursday night or in free agency next week.
While Cuban still believes the Mavericks did the right thing when they decided not to keep several key pieces of the franchise’s first championship team in 2011, the reality of missing the playoffs for the first time in a full season as owner had him conceding a few points.
Among them: It would be nice to plug in key players who are going to be around awhile.
“We’ve turned over pieces before, a lot of pieces before. It’s just that the remaining pieces were a little more of a core,” Cuban said when the end of Dallas’ 12-season playoff streak was all but official. “We want to add the right pieces, but corporate knowledge is always important. So hopefully part of the process is we’ll be adding guys that we know will be here and keeping guys to be here a long time.”
The Mavericks kept alive their playoff streak the first time they filled a roster with expiring or one-year contracts, but they got swept by Oklahoma City in the first round in 2012. The same approach backfired when Nowitzki missed the first two months last season, and Dallas ran out of time trying to scramble into the playoff picture.
Nowitzki, who turned 35 last week, is close enough to the end of his career that Dallas has to be thinking about life after the 7-foot German superstar, but that answer isn’t likely to come from the No. 13 pick in a draft considered weak on future franchise leaders.
What’s more conceivable is a trade down to bolster Nowitzki’s supporting cast and possibly create more salary cap space for what is looking more like a run at center Dwight Howard in free agency after Doc Rivers’ coaching move from Boston to Los Angeles went a long way toward clinching point guard Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers.
“I guess it’s like a business going out of business and I haven’t had many of those,” said Cuban, whose team was in the draft lottery for the first time since a few months after he bought the team in 2000. “The difference is in other businesses you go out and sell something, you can try to control your own destiny and hustle and do better. Here you’ve got 29 other teams trying to do the same … and beat you at it so it’s harder.”
The Mavericks have more vacancies in their starting lineup (three) than draft picks (two). They need a point guard, a shooting guard and a center after the one-year experiment of Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman didn’t work. Mayo looks like the only one of those three free agents who might come back, and his return is far from certain.
Dallas might have another starter on the roster in swingman Jae Crowder, one of three draft picks last year and the first since Devin Harris, the No. 5 pick in 2004, to play more than 70 games as a rookie. Jared Cunningham, the first of last year’s three picks at No. 24, is the only point guard on what is just a six-player roster right now, but that could change Thursday night.
With Mayo possibly commanding more than the Mavericks want to pay, shooting guard figures to be a draft target as well. Or a trade target through the draft.
“I guess if you miss the playoffs, by definition you’re rebuilding,” Cuban said. “And so we’ve got to get better. All I’m saying is I’m not making any predictions. All I’m saying is we’re not going to a traditional rebuilding. We’re going to be opportunistic.”
And hoping to end a two-year streak of temporary.
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