DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki has reached out to Dwight Howard. The Dallas Mavericks essentially did the same thing during the NBA draft Thursday night.
On the same night the German superstar acknowledged he’s had phone contact with the free agent center, the Mavericks traded down twice to clear salary cap space for a run at Howard next week.
Dallas took Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk at No. 13 and sent that pick to Boston, then traded the 16th pick — Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira — to Atlanta for the rights to Larkin. The son of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin was taken 18th by the Hawks.
Dallas got two future second-round picks from Boston and sent 2012 first-rounder Jared Cunningham, a point guard, and the 44th pick this year (Bucknell center Mike Muscala) to the Hawks.
The Mavericks used one of the picks acquired from Boston to get Providence guard Ricky Ledo in a trade with Milwaukee, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. Ledo was drafted 43rd overall in the second round by the Bucks. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
Ledo, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, didn’t play at Providence last season because he was rated a partial qualifier by the NCAA, although he did practice.
“It was a very active and exciting and wild draft,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “The first pick all the way down. I haven’t quite seen a draft like that in a long time.”
Nowitzki was a witness to all the draft room drama for the first time. The 7-footer is in Dallas and not back home in Germany in part because he’s ready to play a role in the recruiting pitch to Howard.
The Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000 just two years after winning their first championship. The fall from title contention was tied to owner Mark Cuban’s decision not to bring back key parts of the 2011 team — most notably center Tyson Chandler — with the idea that salary cap flexibility would make Dallas a strong player in free agency.
Deron Williams spurned the Mavericks last summer to stay with the Brooklyn Nets, and Cuban chose to film new episodes of “Shark Tank” over a recruiting trip to woo the point guard who grew up in the Dallas area.
Things figure to be different with Howard. For one thing, “Shark Tank” filming was earlier this week. And the focus is particularly sharp on Howard after Doc Rivers’ coaching move from Boston to Los Angeles made it all but certain that point guard Chris Paul will return to the Clippers.
“I reached out to (Howard) and told him we’d love to have him,” said the 35-year-old Nowitzki, who is looking for help for what figures to be about two more seasons as an elite player. “That’s really about it. It’s not like we call each other every day. I didn’t write him a letter.”
The Mavericks saved a little more than $1 million in salary cap space by moving down five spots and dumping Cunningham. But it will cost them about that amount to keep Larkin, and Dallas entered the draft needing to clear about $4 million in cap space to give Howard a max contract.
“I don’t want to get into talking about that stuff because I don’t want to get fined,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we have our eye on a lot of things right now, and we’re trying to create the best position to get both younger but also be opportunistic.”
With or without Howard, the Mavericks are remaking their roster for the third straight year since winning the franchise’s first championship in 2011. Larkin is a start.
Last year, Dallas got Darren Collison from Indiana and turned over the offense to him after Jason Kidd reneged on a deal to return and went to the New York Knicks for what turned out to be his final season. Collison twice lost the starting job to aging veterans and ended up on Rick Carlisle’s bench. Since he considers himself a starter, the return of Collison appeared unlikely.
It’s even more unlikely if the Mavericks keep Larkin, the ACC player of the year as a sophomore after leading the Hurricanes at 14.5 points and 4.5 assists per game.
Larkin is quick and athletic, and the Mavericks need both. But they need a lot more. By swapping Larkin for Cunningham, Dallas still has just six players on the roster — and three vacancies in the starting lineup unless Larkin fills one of those.
“We need help left and right,” Nowitzki said.
And the Mavericks showed the draft was merely a precursor to a search for help that starts Monday.
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