ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.
Mark Cuban claimed the Mavericks ended up putting together a better roster for this season than they would have been able to had they signed Dwight Howard. Is he right?
Gutierrez: It's obviously going to be hard to suggest that not getting the superstar is better. The Mavs would have been front-loaded with Dwight Howard. They probably could have still gotten Jose Calderon, but I don't think they would necessarily have the depth that they have at the moment. Monta Ellis already has proven that he can be an impact player for the team. With Ellis and depth, the other side of the coin isn't looking so wrong.
Taylor: I don't think there's much question about that. If the Mavs had Howard, he would be great -- but they wouldn't have an explosive scorer such as Ellis, who makes Dirk Nowitzki better with his ability to run the pick-and-roll and get him easy shots. They also wouldn't have Jose Calderon, who also makes Dirk's job easier. No doubt, Howard is easily the better player, but his game wouldn't necessarily make Dirk's life easier or the Mavs a better overall team. Besides, Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair are averaging a combined 16.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in 38 minutes. The Mavericks are doing just fine at center without Howard.
MacMahon: I get what Cuban was trying to say -- as clumsily as it came out, from a PR perspective -- and Ellis' early impact with the Mavs makes this a more interesting discussion than anticipated. Would the Mavs be better off with Howard in the middle instead of Calderon and Ellis in the backcourt? Maybe they would have shipped Shawn Marion off in a salary-dump deal and still signed Calderon, but Ellis would not have been in Dallas if Howard accepted the Mavs' max offer. The Mavs would be a much better defensive team, but they'd be counting on 35-year-old Nowitzki to carry the offense every night. Either way, the Mavs would have been one of several teams fighting for one of the last few playoff spots in the West.
Rick Carlisle referred to the Mavs' big three as Nowitzki, Ellis and Vince Carter. What do you make of Carter being included in that group?
Gutierrez: I look at it as them classifying him as a leader of the team. Marion is a Swiss army knife of a player, but he's not necessarily a Type-A leader. That's not to say Ellis is, but he's shown more than most probably expected. Carter is considered to be a warrior and the leader of that second unit. If Carlisle is saying that in terms of expecting more results from Carter, that's a recipe for danger. It's hard to expect more from a player who will turn 37 in early 2014.
Taylor: Carter still has his moments, but he's scored more than 20 points just twice this season and his game is so perimeter-based these days that his offense can be inconsistent. I'd lean more toward Marion with his all-around game being more important to the entire team than Carter. Marion can impact a game with offense, defense or rebounding. He's the best all-around player on the team, which is different than being the best player. Carter only impacts the Mavs on offense.
MacMahon: It's an awfully optimistic projection, considering that it's been five years and three teams since Carter last averaged 20 points per game. To his credit, Carter has embraced the role of a sixth man who plays about 25 minutes per night in his golden years. It's probably a stretch to include him in Sixth Man of the Year discussions, but not too much of one. It's certainly a stretch to still call him a star, although he's still capable of the occasional scoring spree.
Gutierrez: He likely will, but I see Devin Harris as the one who could truly be on the outside looking in. Carlisle likes options and versatility within the specific positions. Calderon is the pure point guard and Mekel provides some of the same at a lower level. Harris and Larkin are the speed and athleticism options. Having both of them roll would seem to be redundant. Whoever works better out of Harris and Larkin will get their share of minutes, as will Mekel.
Taylor: Larkin's play will determine how many minutes he gets. Carlisle demands accountability, which is why he's one of my all-time favorite coaches. If Larkin plays better than Mekel, then he'll get minutes. If he doesn't, he won't. But he must earn those minutes in practice and then play well, when given an opportunity. Mekel has done a solid job overall in limited playing time. It's up to Larkin to demand more minutes with his performance.
MacMahon: Let's find out how good Larkin can be right now. His electrifying quickness and explosiveness can change games. Mekel doesn't have those traits. I'd love to see Larkin get a legitimate shot to prove he can be productive in J.J. Barea's old role. (Disclaimer: I'll be hesitant to criticize the way Carlisle handles the rookie guards regardless of their roles. Call it the Roddy B. Reflex.)