None of the big fish the Dallas Mavericks failed to catch in free agency advanced to the conference finals.
Of course, that’s a hypothetical that’s impossible to answer. Who knows how the Mavs’ roster would look if their recruiting pitch to one of the max-salary stars was successful? But pointless speculation can be pretty fun, so we’ll do our best to guess the Mavs’ odds of being in the NBA’s final four with each of the big fish that got away.
Williams: A falling out of bounds full-court heave.
It’s gotten so bad for Williams in Brooklyn that there’s talk about the Nets trying to trade the five-time All-Star point guard this summer. That’ll be tough to do considering that Williams’ contract is considered toxic with him being owed $63.1 million over the next three seasons.
The Mavs certainly wouldn’t trade Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon for Williams. They’re much better off with their current starting backcourt -- with combined salaries significantly lower than Williams' -- than a former star whose bad ankles have caused him to fall a couple of tiers.
Williams, 29, had his least productive season since he was a rookie, averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 assists while missing 18 games. His shooting percentage plummeted in the playoffs, when he made only 39.5 percent of his field goal attempts.
Maybe the Mavs’ medical staff, considered one of the league’s elite, could have prevented Williams’ ankle problems. But Mark Cuban, who has all but admitted sabotaging the Williams recruiting effort by refusing to meet face to face with the native north Texan, must feel like he dodged a bullet by not making a max investment in Williams.
Paul: A contested 3-pointer.
Given the way things have played out in scandalous Lob City, you think Paul wishes he would have listened to Cuban’s planned pitch about the dangers of committing the prime of your career to a franchise owned by Donald Sterling?
Satisfied by the hiring of Doc Rivers, Paul never gave the Mavs a sit-down meeting. From a basketball and business standpoint, his decision was certainly understandable. He got an extra year of security by staying in L.A. He’s playing for a proven championship coach who is comparable to Rick Carlisle with a co-star a decade younger than Dirk Nowitzki and a roster good enough to contend.
The Mavs, on the other hand, would have admittedly had to scrape the bargain bin to put a supporting cast around Paul and Nowitzki had the perennial All-Star point guard come to Dallas. But that CP3/Dirk pick-and-pop would have had magical potential.
Bringing Paul to Dallas would have given the Mavs a legitimate chance to contend in the West this season, but it’s hard to argue that his odds would have been better in Dallas than in L.A. right away.
With Paul and significant cap space this summer, the Mavs would have really had a chance to do something special. But CP3 is stuck dealing with the Sterling drama and still waiting for his first appearance in the conference finals.
Howard: A contested 3-pointer.
The Mavs definitely wouldn’t have been one of the NBA’s bottom 10 defensive teams with Howard protecting the rim. How good would they have been offensively with Howard at center and Ellis playing for somebody else? That’s hard to say.
An educated guess is that the Mavs would have moved Shawn Marion to make room to sign Howard and still bring in Calderon to play point guard. Who knows what they would have done at small forward?
Like with Paul, the Mavs probably would have been another summer away from constructing a roster that would have been a realistic contender. But Howard’s addition helped the Rockets improve by nine wins this season. Putting him next to a healthy Dirk probably puts the Mavs somewhere in the middle of the West playoff pack.
Say the Mavs got the same playoff Dwight as the Rockets, a dude who averaged 26.0 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the first round against Portland. You can’t just dismiss the Mavs’ chances of advancing a couple of rounds if they had a big man that dominant next to Dirk.