Newest option for Mavs: roster flexibility

DALLAS -- After a second-round playoff exit this past spring, the Mavericks' brass believed it had a nucleus capable of contending for a championship. The Mavs also recognized that the rest of the roster had a lot of flaws.

"We needed to become more athletic, more physical, tougher and better defensively," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've done that."

They accomplished that with their one big splash of the summer: a complicated, four-team sign-and-trade deal that brought high-flying forward Shawn Marion to Dallas. They also added several other pieces that could contribute, giving Carlisle creative license with his lineups.

After achieving their primary offseason goal of re-signing Jason Kidd, the Mavericks were determined to acquire two core pieces that fit well with the point guard's tempo-pushing style. They hit on Marion and missed on fleet-footed big man Marcin Gortat, when the Magic surprisingly matched the offer sheet the restricted free agent signed with the Mavs. They rebounded from losing Gortat by using most of the mid-level exception to sign Drew Gooden, a talented 6-foot-10, 250-pound journeyman the Mavs hope will win the starting job at center.

First-round point guard Roddy Beaubois, a 21-year-old Frenchman, has a chance to contribute right away because of his unique length (6-10 wingspan) and athleticism (39-inch vertical). Two players signed to veteran minimum contracts, defensive-minded shooting guard Quinton Ross and 3-point-popping power forward/center Tim Thomas, could crack a rotation that Carlisle expects to be "fluid." And rugged power forward/center Kris Humphries, considered by some a throw-in with Marion, has impressed Carlisle and the coaching staff with his work at the American Airlines Center this summer.

"Coach is going to have a lot of fun with this lineup," Kidd said, "because he can do a lot of different things."

The new additions along with the returning core players give Carlisle a lot of options. He can go very big with traditional center Erick Dampier joining starters Dirk Nowitzki, Marion, Josh Howard and Kidd. Gooden presents the option of a much more athletic, skilled threat in the middle. The Mavs' best five players -- the four surefire starters and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry -- form an explosive small-ball lineup

And the possibilities go on, depending on matchups and which reserves earn minutes.

"This team will lend itself to creative lineups," president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "Rick is second to none in utilizing that tool."

The key to that creativity is the 6-7, 228-pound Marion, whom Carlisle has confidence in to defend any position on the floor.

Marion, who has career averages of 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds and a reputation as a defensive stopper, will start at small forward with Howard sliding over to shooting guard. He'll play the bulk of the minutes at power forward when Nowitzki isn't on the floor. And he could play shooting guard or center in some situations.

"The fact that he's so versatile defensively and you don't need to run a lot of plays for him to be really effective offensively makes him an ideal fit for our team," Carlisle said. "We need him not only to be a productive player, which we expect, but we need him to be an ass-kicker -- to be a physical guy, to be a guy that brings a different personality to our group."

Added Marion, who signed a five-year, $39 million contract: "I'm a basketball player. Don't label me as this or that. I've done it all. I'm going to help this team the best way I can."

Marion's presence automatically makes the Mavs a much better defensive team, which should fuel fast-break opportunities. There will be an adjustment in their half-court offensive style when Marion and Howard are on the floor together as wings.

Carlisle said the Mavs need to take advantage of the size/strength mismatches Howard and Marion will create for other wings, as well as their ability to slash and cut to the basket, which could help create room for Dirk to work. The Mavs could "invert" the offense fairly often, which is why it's important to have big men with shooting touch and range (Gooden and Thomas) to pair with Nowitzki.

The coaching staff has spent countless hours studying film of the newcomers and discussing how they'll fit best with the Mavs. The plan is to iron out the kinks during training camp and the preseason.

"We're trying to avoid a feeling-out process," Carlisle said. "We want to be clicking as much as possible right from the beginning."

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.