With the NBA All Star weekend officially in the rear view mirror, Luka Doncic and the 26-31 Mavericks can get back to business and continue their pursuit of a playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference. Considering they are currently 5 games back from the 8th seeded Los Angeles Clippers, it’s fair to say they have their work cut out for them. But what about tanking, I hear you say. Look, with 26 wins, the Mavericks could virtually lose out and still lose out on their first round pick this year -a top 5 protected pick dealt to the Hawks in exchange for the rights to Luka Doncic.
As of now, there are 8 teams across the league with a worse record than Dallas, leaving virtually zero chance for the Mavs to luck into another lottery pick this Summer. As such, the development of Doncic and players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Jalen Brunson will be crucial over the course of these final 25 games. And sure, with $30 million to spend this Summer in free agency, there’s a better than good chance the roster sees a dramatic overhaul before the start of next season, but if you’re going to recruit some of the game’s best talent, you can’t meander near the bottom of the standings down the stretch. But who could Dallas add to Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis next season? Here are five premiere targets the Mavericks should target in free agency.
5. Nikola Vucevic
Kicking things off with the man most commonly linked to the Mavericks this Summer, we begin with Nikola Vucevic. A 28 year old Center for the Orlando Magic, Vucevic is another European product and All Star, with career averages of 15.4 PPG, 10.1 boards, and just under 2 and a half assists per night. This season in particular, Vucevic is averaging 20.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on 52% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. He’s also a 78% free throw shooter. Needless to say, he would fit rather nicely with the Mavs offensively. The problem lies with his athleticism and defensive capabilities.
Although Kristaps Porzingis averaged 2.4 blocks/night in his last season with the Knicks, his length has always been the primary reason. It would make sense then for Dallas to pair with him a big man with solid foot step and athleticism, two traits not attributed to Vucevic. Add to the fact Vucevic averages less than 1 block per game for his 7 year career and it serves to reason he may not fit best alongside Luka Doncic and Porzingis -especially when he’s likely to command at or near max money beginning next season at age 29.
4. DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins has been on Dallas’s radar for some time and for good reason. At 6’11, “Boogie” holds career averages of 21.4 ppg, 10.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s also extended his game in recent years to become a solid 3 point shooter. In the pick and roll, Cousins can be deadly, with the ability to knock down shots and batter opponents inside with his 270 pound frame. He doesn’t average a ton of blocks but he’s formidable defensively and can wreak havoc on the offensive end.
For Cousins, the biggest question has been his recovery from a torn Achilles he suffered last year in New Orleans. Thankfully, despite a delayed debut with the Golden State Warriors, he’s shown more than enough flashes of his old self to reassure teams this Summer he’s still worth the investment. Now, whether or not he and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle could co-exist, that’s another matter entirely.
3. Kemba Walker
With Luka Doncic becoming Dallas’s primary ball handler over the past month or so, the assumption has been that the Mavs would leave the rookie sensation in that role moving forward. But the ball can’t be in Luka’s hands all the time, and having another playmaker to pair him with would go a long way toward opening up the Mavs’ offense. Kemba Walker could do just that. Like the two entries on this list before him, Kemba Walker is 28 years old and an All Star talent. He also holds career averages of 19.5 points, 3.8 boards, and 5.4 assists, spending his entire career in Charlotte. This season, he’s averaging a hair under 25 points, 4 and a half boards, and better than 5 and a half assists on 43% shooting and 36% from 3. If that first number gives you pause, consider his true efficiency field goal rating of 51.3% this season.
While it’s doubtful Walker would be an All Star with the Mavericks in a stacked Western Conference, he could fill a crucial void while adding another creator Dallas so desperately needs at the moment with JJ Barea’s season over and Dennis Smith Jr being dealt to New York for Porzingis. Kemba may be on the shorter end at 6’1, but he’s capable of some very big scoring nights. Give him teammates like Luka and Porzingis and watch opposing defenses scramble to hold him in check.
2. Julius Randle
Ah, Julius Randle. The Dallas kid the Mavs essentially shunned last offseason. Although Randle has routinely torched the Mavericks throughout his five years in the NBA, the Dallas brass didn’t feel the 6’9 power foward fit within their system, possessing little outside shot and flashing less than stellar defensive tendencies. But something appears to be different with Randle with the Pelicans this season. Playing less than 30 minutes a night, he’s averaged better than 20 points and 9 boards on 54% from the field and 34% beyond the arc. He’s also dishing out 3 assists a night.
The current buzz around Randle suggests that he has privately expressed interest in playing for his hometown Mavericks, and with the drastic change in Dallas’s course following the drafting of Doncic and acquisition of Porzingis, he may actually fit into their future plans. The fact that he’s been able to address one of their significant doubts about him in New Orleans this season is another strong plus. Last Summer, Randle signed a 2 year, $18 million contract with the Pelicans, which included a Player’s Option in year two. Regardless of where Randle goes, he’s clearly outplayed that contract and is sure to opt out in search of a bigger payday.
Should he be Dallas’s top option this Summer? No. But he would make for a solid secondary move or potential fallback.
1. Klay Thompson
Look, you may wonder why I have Klay Thompson on here instead of Kevin Durant, the biggest free agent in this upcoming class but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. If KD leaves Golden State this Summer, he’s going to command top dollar. And while the Mavs are capable of paying him that top dollar, the murmurs around the league suggest he’s most likely to go to the Knicks with another star. If that’s the case, the window on Golden State’s dynasty could begin to close, making it harder to pay guys like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson their super max money. Klay has said all the right things about wanting to stay in the Bay area but at 29 years old, he could conceivably look elsewhere having already won at least three championships with the Warriors.
By now, we’ve all seen the crazy performances Thompson can put up, 57 points, 4 dribbles. He’s the ultimate catch and shoot player with an underrated defensive game to boot. As such, pairing him with Luka, who as Dallas’s primary ball handler this season has skyrocketed the Mavs up to 3rd in the league in “unguarded” attempts would be lethal.
Thompson averages 21.9 points, 4 boards, and 2 assists this season for Golden State, and is shooting an absurd 39.6% from range. Oh, and 46.9% from the field. He’s good. Really good. So if Dallas is smart, they’ll throw big money his way while KD is pondering his next move. Is it a slim chance? Sure. But it’s one Dallas needs to take.
Bonus option: Khris Middleton
I didn’t initially include Khris Middleton on this list because he, like Randle, has a Player Option for next season. However, unlike Randle, he’s not as likely to opt out of his deal, and his temptation to do so is far lesser with Milwaukee holding the best record in the NBA and being rated in the top 5 both offensively and defensively. Sure, his numbers have dropped off a bit this year due to a reshaped and slightly reduced role within the offense, but Middleton is a 6’8 Small Forward who last year averaged 20 points and 5 boards on 48% from the field and 36% from behind the stripe. For his career, he’s a 39% three point shooter and is 48% from the field. He can play defense, and he can extend the defense.
The downside of this possibility is the aforementioned likelihood (probably not great, Bob) of luring him away from Milwaukee and the Greek Freak. Aside from the easier competition in the East, he’s playing on the best team in the league right now with one of the five best players in the world as he just begins to scratch his full potential in Giannis Antetokounmpo. There’s also the fact that the Bucks can go over the cap to sign him while offering a fifth year to his offer sheet no other team can match. This makes Milwaukee’s $19M in cap room this Summer less formidable despite having free agents like Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Brook Lopez, and potentially Middleton. If the Bucks make a deep playoff run, rest assured their management will break bank to bring the squad back next year.
To get Middleton, Dallas would have to pay the max, something Milwaukee could at the very least match and easily one up, should they feel so inclined. In doing so, the Mavs would be forced to overpay somewhat, though his fit with Luka and KP would be fantastic. In the end, it would likely boil down to this: if Milwaukee were to let Middleton walk due to undercutting him in their offer, the stabilization of their franchise could quickly come into question. As we saw with the Anthony Davis saga, letting a star player and friend of your franchise’s cornerstone can have serious repercussions. New Orleans learned that after letting DeMarcus Cousins go, and if Milwaukee declines to meet or surpass Dallas’s offer, they may learn it as well with Giannis. So if Middleton is going to end up in Big D, it’ll likely be only because he chose Luka and KP, as well as the city of Dallas, over Milwaukee.