That pesky pick from the Lamar Odom deal

The Mavericks essentially have one hand tied behind their back as they explore options for upgrading their roster before the trade deadline.

They’d prefer to be in the same situation next season, although only under certain circumstances.

That’s because the Dallas front office wants to have a first-round pick in what’s considered the deepest NBA draft in years. The Mavs still owe the Oklahoma City Thunder a top-20-protected pick, an asset the Mavs originally used to get Lamar Odom (oops) from the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded it to the Houston Rockets, who used it as part of the package to land James Harden.

It’s not that the uncertainty of their first-round pick, which forbids the Mavs from trading any first-rounders, is preventing the Mavs from making a deal. It just eliminates one major form of trade-deadline currency for a buyer. With no picks and no young talent that’s good enough to headline a package, it’s extremely unlikely that the Mavs will do anything significant before Thursday’s deadline.

As it stands coming out of the All-Star break, the Mavs have the eighth best record in the league, meaning the Thunder would own the No. 23 pick.

The Mavs obviously don’t want to drop into the lottery, which is the only way they can guarantee holding on to their pick this year. The ideal situation would be for a few East teams to finish strong enough to bump the Mavs up in the draft order.

Good luck with that. The Toronto Raptors (28-24) and Chicago Bulls (27-25) are the only East teams other than the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers who are even above .500.

This is a pick the Mavs expected to unload in the summer of 2012, but Dallas stumbled in the lockout season and ended up with the No. 17 pick, which they turned into Jared Cunningham, Jae Crowder and Bernard James after a draft-day trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Mavs ended up in the lottery last season, selecting Shane Larkin at No. 18 overall after twice trading down in cost-cutting moves.

The worst-case scenario would be for the Mavs to fail to finish high enough in any season to unload the pick before it becomes unprotected in 2018. Can you imagine the Mavs being in rebuilding mode after Dirk Nowitzki’s retirement and having to donate a lottery pick to the Thunder due to the Odom disaster?

Despite the deep draft, a strong case could be made that it’d be in the Mavs’ best interests to give up the pick this year, especially considering Dallas’ draft history the last decade.