1. Of the top four teams in the West, which one would the Mavs have the best chance to upset in a playoff series?
Gutierrez: In terms of an actual upset, I'm going with Houston. That's a true shootout waiting to happen. There might be some lingering doubt with the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, but I don't see any trickling in against the Rockets. There's no immediate history of backlash or devastation against Houston. That's a group that has gotten to the playoffs but they still don't have an extended run on their resume. Dwight Howard is going to be a force, but I think the matchup motivates Samuel Dalembert to where he can have an impact. The coaching advantage also is in favor of the Mavericks. Houston has the athletes, but if things begin to get dicey in a series, I actually trust the veterans on Dallas more.
Taylor: The Mavs would have the best chance to upset the Clippers. After all, they've led each of their three games against the Clippers in the fourth quarter. They just haven't closed the games out. There would be no fear about their ability to compete against the Clippers, so the mental part of the game would be OK. The Clippers wouldn't be easy, but I could see the Mavs pushing Los Angeles.
MacMahon: I’ve seen Chris Paul destroy the Mavs in a playoff series. Different team for him, different coach and roster for the Mavs, but I think the result would be similar. The Mavs’ two March wins over the Thunder exposed OKC’s issues defending the 3 -- and the Mavs sure can shoot -- and eased the utter hopelessness if those teams meet again in the playoffs. But I can’t see Kevin Durant, the world’s best player at this point, letting the Mavs pull off the upset. I’ll also go with Houston, which has some significant health concerns. I could also see Dwight Howard getting distracted by Mark Cuban’s mind games. The Mavs would have to score a ton of points to keep up with the Rockets, but they’d at least have a shooter’s chance in that series.
Gutierrez: In terms of priority, I'll go with Harris, Marion and Carter. It's a tough call because those are three key guys at distinctive positions of need for the team. Carter is a bench scoring leader, but he can be replaced if necessary. It's hard to not put Marion at the top because he's done everything for the team over recent seasons. With that said, Father Time is slowly creeping up on him and the Mavericks need to start looking for a younger defensive stopper who can be relied on to handle heavy minutes. I'll favor Harris mostly due to the tangible evidence that shows the team has been better by adding him as the final piece to the bench puzzle. The team still doesn't know what they have in rookies Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel, so having the veteran Harris gives them necessary insurance at the point guard position.
Taylor: Devin Harris is easily the guy to lock up because he gives the Mavs a couple of quality players at point guard. Harris and Calderon each have different strengths and if one gets hurt, the other is more than good enough to help the Mavs survive as we have seen this season. Harris' quickness also allows the Mavs to play at a level that Calderon doesn't, but Calderon's shot-making has been outstanding all season. Harris makes the Mavs' point guard situation strong. Without him, they'll be trying to sign a dude just like him.
MacMahon: Harris, Carter and Marion. Just a hunch here, but I don’t see Marion returning to Dallas. The Miami media is already speculating about him replacing Shane Battier on the Heat roster, and that makes a lot of sense, and not just because Marion never sold his place down there. I expect the Mavs to make a serious run in free agency at Luol Deng, who has Matrix-like defensive versatility, is a much better offensive player at this point and is seven years younger. If the Mavs are successful upgrading at the starting small forward spot, I’m not sure how Marion would fit. With both parties publicly expressing strong mutual interest in Carter’s return, he’ll likely sign a one- or two-year deal in the same relatively low salary range he’s making now and continue as the Mavs’ sixth man, playing most of his minutes at small forward. The Mavs want Harris to also come back and be a weapon off the bench again. The three-year, $9 million-plus deal they agreed to before discovering his toe problem sounds good.
3. Dust off the crystal ball: What will Dirk Nowitzki’s numbers look like in 2016-17?
Gutierrez: My initial thought was to see what Sam Perkins did when he was 38 years old. He played 20.0 minutes a night and scored 6.6 points and pulled down 3.6 rebounds. I don't see that steep of a drop off for Nowitzki at age 38, provided he's still healthy. If the Mavericks made him a true complimentary player three years down the road, I can see 20-22 minutes for him and anywhere from 12-15 points a night. Rebounding? That's optional at that stage in his career, right?
Taylor: He'll be first guy off the bench, though he'll be on the court at the end of games. He'll be averaging 14 points a game but still shooting 50 percent from the field and 35 percent on three-pointers. Dirk has been so good for so long, it's hard to envision a time where he won't be able to score.
MacMahon: Sam Perkins?!?! All due respect to Sleepy Sam, who had a solid NBA career, but that’s a slap in the big German’s face. Dirk guru Holger Geschwindner says he believes Nowitzki has at least three or four good years left. That wouldn’t surprise me one bit, because he’ll still be 7 feet tall with a sweet stroke when he’s 38 and 39. If Nowitzki decides he wants to play in 2016-17, I’d bet on him putting up an efficient 15-plus points per game. Ideally, he’d spend much of his time as a weak-side spot-up shooter at that point of his career, and he’d be a major weapon if the Mavs have a good guard/big pick-and-roll tandem. The big question: Will Dirk still want to play then? I have my doubts if the Mavs can’t build a team that’s competing for more than one of the West’s last playoff spots.