In an effort to keep the discussion going, I sought out ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon for his opinion on pressing issues for the Dallas Mavericks. You can view MacMahon’s coverage of the Mavericks at ESPNDallas.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @espn_macmahon. Periodically, we are going to touch base and discuss topics with our own unique point of view.
MacMahon likes to call it like he sees it. That perspective can hover on the other end of the spectrum from my optimistic viewpoint on things. You could say it’s a classic case of good cop, bad cop. Our different perspectives should make for an interesting conversation on hot topics revolving around the Mavs. This round of bloom and doom really hits the crux of it all with the team. Everything is right in MacMahon’s wheelhouse, and the second-to-last question might be the hardest one I’ve had to answer.
Q: Brandon Jennings is the hot trade rumor. What do you make of him as a player and would he make sense as a Maverick?
MacMahon: He fits the profile Mark Cuban mentioned of possible Mavs targets: a young, talented player who might blossom with the right coaching/system/culture. But I don’t like Jennings’ game at all. Sorry, but itty-bitty shoot-first point guards with poor shooting percentages don’t do much for me. Especially if they’re expecting to make eight figures on an annual basis beginning next season. In baseball, .200 is considered the Mendoza line. A .400 shooting percentage could be called the Jennings line in basketball – and he’s only been on the right side of that in one of his four NBA seasons. Maybe it’d be worth the minimal risk to take a look at Jennings for the final couple of months this season if all the Mavs have to give up is Darren Collison and, say, Jae Crowder. The Mavs should hang up the phone, however, if the Bucks ask them to take back Drew Gooden or any other bad contract. I just don’t see Jennings as a centerpiece for a contending franchise.
Gutierrez: I see him as a player who has a poor shooting percentage as a player. That is very troubling when looking at him moving forward. The upside when looking at him is that he’s a player that thrives in the pick-and-roll game. Throwing him on the floor with Dirk Nowitzki and O.J. Mayo with him as the initiator is intriguing. The main intriguing factor with him is his age. At age 24, Jennings still represents a point guard who can still improve. The talent is clearly there (21 games in his career where he’s dropped at least 30 points), so you would want to see if his talent could be harnessed by Rick Carlisle. We’ve seen it with O.J. Mayo to where Carlisle has helped developed Mayo’s game. If Jennings can buy in on learning from Carlisle, Jennings as a finished product makes for an interesting player. I don’t mind a rental look at him, but I’m hesitant at making a long-term investment on Jennings.
Q: Darren Collison has carved out a nice stretch of games during January and the first portion of February. Has he shown enough to see him as an investment to bank on going into next season and beyond?
Gutierrez: Recently, Collison’s shooting numbers have been off the charts and he’s been relatively efficient with the ball. The biggest issue I have with him is his pick-and-roll game. He still keeps his head down when he comes off the screen. Collison knows he has the ability to get to the rim, but he needs to use his vision to see if there’s a look (possibly an open Dirk or Mayo) that might present something better. The point guard position is stacked in the league. His performance as of late maybe has him in the parking lot of the ballpark of being a top 15 point guard. He’s worth looking at as a long-term investment if he can develop his play-making skills for other guys. If he can become a top-level facilitator and keep his aggression, then the Mavs have something. If not, they need to keep looking elsewhere.
MacMahon: I know Collison has said he hopes to be back, but I’d be very surprised if that happens. And I’m not sure if I believe it when he says it. He wants to be a starter. He’s made that clear and worked very hard to prove he’s capable of that role. I just can’t see the Mavs committing to Collison as a starter for the next three or four years. Think about it – they recruited Derek Fisher out of his rocking chair to replace Collison and are sniffing around the Jennings situation now. My hunch is the Mavs see Collison as a J.J. Barea type of player – an outstanding backup, but not an ideal starter. That’s not an insult at all, but Collison considers himself to be better than that. He’ll try to find a team in free agency that agrees with him.
Q: Imagine a run where the Mavs actually do capture the 8th seed. They would currently be slated to face the San Antonio Spurs. Assuming no trades are made by the Mavericks, what is the furthest in the playoffs an 8-seed Mavs squad could possibly reasonably go (if they even get there)?
MacMahon: “Anything is possible,” is the company line we’re hearing in the Mavs’ locker room a lot lately. But anybody who thinks the Mavs could actually pull off a first-round upset, much less do any further damage, bleeds blue. It’d be a miracle for the Mavs to even make the playoffs, considering they’re six games below .500 at the All-Star break. They’d probably have to play at a 60-win pace the rest of the season to give themselves a realistic shot. If the Mavs matched up with the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers right now, I’d predict them to be swept for the second consecutive season. That’s not exactly going out on a limb, considering the Mavs are 0-8 against the three teams with a decent shot of landing the West’s top seed.
Gutierrez: First, the Mavericks would have to be on a heck of a run to get in as the 8th seed. I actually think they match up better against Oklahoma City opposed to San Antonio. I just think the Spurs’ system is stronger than the one the Mavs have. The coaching battle would be incredibly fun to see. I just think the chemistry and cohesion with San Antonio would present major issues. Though it’s not likely, I think it’s possible for the Mavs to get a game out of that series against San Antonio but that is probably all they can get. For the record, I think they could possibly get two if they played Oklahoma City. They just seem to hang tough with the Thunder.
Q: Who is more valuable to the Mavs for the remainder of their contract: Shawn Marion or Vince Carter?
Gutierrez: Man, this is a ridiculously tough question. Marion is constantly undervalued in terms of what he brings to the Mavs. Carter clearly brings bang for the buck with his contract and performance. You can easily make a case for either of them in terms of overall level of play or in terms of attractiveness in the trade market. I’m going to go with Marion based on the fact you have a better idea of what you’re going to get with him. Carter is playing well, but father time could seize control in a hurry. In terms of trade value, I think it’s harder to move Marion and trading Carter has you likely receiving a draft pick that leaves you wondering for a while on whether or not it pans out.
MaMahon: For the next year and change? Hmmm, that’s a tough call. They’ve been two of the Mavs’ biggest bright spots this season, and I think Marion has better odds of maintaining this level of play throughout next season. Carter’s contract, however, is one of the most team-friendly for a proven veteran in the league. With a salary of a little more than $3 million, he should be very attractive in the trade market. The hope, at least here, is that the Mavs will be able to flip him for a decent draft pick or quality young project. Marion will have value, too, but it could be tough to move his $9.3 million salary for next season without taking back some salary filler.
Q: Will Dirk Nowitzki average 20.0 points per game over the final 30 games of the season? And does he still hold cache as a player guys outside the league see as someone they’d love to play next to?
MacMahon: I strongly believe that he will put up 20-plus per night the rest of this season and have actually made a few friendly wagers on the subject. I go back to last season, when Dirk got off to a dreadful start and finished strong. He averaged 16.2 points on .430 shooting in the first 19 games; those numbers shot up to 24.0 points on .467 shooting the rest of the season. His long recovery from a knee scope and struggles so far this season might have killed the Mavs’ playoff hopes, but it’s premature to declare Dirk’s days as a 20-ppg scorer dead. His last two performances before the All-Star break – when he totaled 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting – are a sign of what’s to come from him down the stretch.
Having said all that, I don’t see Dirk as a recruiting magnet despite the respect he’s earned around the league. After all, he’ll be 35 this summer. Guys aren’t going to sign with the Mavs just because they want to play with Dirk during his golden years. The Mavs’ front office has to be able to convince big-fish free agents that they’ll be able to put together a good enough supporting cast to sustain success after Dirk is done.
Gutierrez: In regards to the first question, the Mavs probably need Dirk to get to 20.0 points per game if they want a real shot at making the playoffs. He can be a decoy when he’s not scoring, but things will really open up when he’s scoring. That will really force the defense to suck in on him. Will he score 20.0? I actually think he will. The last three games going into the break suggest that he’s rounding into form. He went to the line, showed the hard fakes that trick defenders and his shot is coming back.
In regards to whether or not he still can be an intriguing piece to a potential free agent, he should but he probably doesn’t. Look at the situation with Deron Williams this past summer. He saw Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace as pieces that were good enough for him. While they have name recognition, they’re not guys that can easily put you over the top if you dig in and evaluate them. They’ve put up numbers but they haven’t done it on the biggest stage as Dirk has. He may be heading towards his twilight, but Dirk is still a player that can make you better. Even if he was hurt for the first part of the year, the front office can’t afford to let another year go by with Dirk just standing out in the wind. They’ll need to crank up the urgency in order to make the final years of Dirk as a Mav better than what this year has been.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.