Another day, another rumor, this time less of the free agent variety. From Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas:
The Dallas Mavericks’ search for help to support star forward Dirk Nowitzki included inquiries about Minnesota Timberwolves center Al Jefferson prior to last week’s NBA draft, according to sources close to the situation. Sources with knowledge of the Mavericks’ thinking, however, told ESPNDallas.com that Jefferson is a “down the list” target for the team who is unlikely to be pursued further until after Dallas makes a series of sign-and-trade bids for top free agents.
Two sources said the initial round of Mavs-Wolves discussions never got beyond the preliminary stage. Minnesota still wants more than mere salary relief for Jefferson, and Dallas is not willing to part with any of its prime trade assets — such as Erick Dampier’s $13 million non-guaranteed contract — to acquire a player with proven low-post scoring skills but a troubled injury history. Sources with knowledge of Minnesota’s thinking told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that the Wolves are determined to move Jefferson before the start of next season, seeing Kevin Love as a better (and more cost effective) fit.
Al Jefferson has long been a popular solution for armchair GMs who diagnose the center position as the Mavs’ most glaring weakness. That it may be, but acquiring a scoring 5 without considerable defensive abilities could be a mistake that would lock-up Dallas’ long-term options. I know the Mavs are in win-now mode, but it’s important that they don’t disregard their evaluation of skills in their acquisition of talent. Jefferson is a terrific back-up plan, and the fact that the Mavs have him somewhere down the list of their preferred targets is an encouraging sign.
At this point, the inner-workings of a Mavs trade are fairly well established: Dampier’s contract would be the centerpiece, with complementary talent or picks thrown in to sweeten the pot. With Jefferson, a line would need to be drawn: if a trade would include Rodrigue Beaubois or multiple first rounders, the Mavs would be wise to walk away. If not, aiming for Jefferson is worthy of consideration.
Al is a fine scorer, and one of the better face-up post threats in the game. Yet his defense could end up holding the Mavs back from truly progressing. It’s no secret that Dirk Nowitzki’s defensive abilities are a bit lacking, and even though he’s worked on that part of his game and become a decent (if unimpressive) defender, he needs a center beside him that can not only guard the most imposing big the opponent has to offer, but also protect the rim from penetrating guards and wings. Jefferson just doesn’t do that. He’s improved his defensive fundamentals since his early days in the league, but at best he’s a passable one-on-one defender in the post. At worst, he’s slow on his rotations, biting on fakes, and failing to use his size to his advantage.
The Mavs can’t afford that. Kidd is too slow, Terry too unreliable, Beaubois too green. The Mavs’ perimeter defenders need a safety net behind them, and Jefferson is talented enough to demand big minutes without providing it. That’s the problem with Al; he’s too good to leave off the floor and not a good enough defender to substantially improve the Mavs while on it. Plus, if Dallas acquired Jefferson, it’s highly unlikely that Brendan Haywood would re-sign with the team, regardless of the offer.
The question then becomes whether or not Dallas could be a dominant enough offensive outfit to make up for their other deficiencies. Without seeing how a Dirk-Al tandem would operate, it’s impossible to say for sure. While I’m confident that the two could coexist (Nowitzki and Jefferson are simply too versatile not to), additions such as these are hardly quantifiable. The Mavs would definitely be a better offensive team, but the trade talks haven’t developed enough to warrant a serious and specific analysis.