1. What's the best hypothetical deal you can come up with for the Mavs before the trade deadline?
Gutierrez: I would call Boston and see if they're interested in Shane Larkin and Bernard James for Avery Bradley. Dallas has two second-round picks -- one of them due from Boston -- in this upcoming draft, so those could be further chips to use. The logic I see in this is Boston would be acquiring a young asset they presumably liked in Larkin and Bradley turned down an extension with Boston, so the Celtics may look to just get an asset for him now. They're in tank mode, so getting worse and acquiring cheaper talent would be optimal for them. Bradley doesn't fix a lot for Dallas, but one player can't fix what ails Dallas. Presented with an option, I'll go for a defensive-minded guard.
Taylor: I'm not interested in any trade the Mavs could make because this game has evolved into a league where the team with the most superstars win -- unless you're Indiana or Chicago and you supplement your one true superstar with suffocating defense and two or three guys who are almost stars. Those types of players aren't available for what the Mavs have to offer. Evan Turner or Omer Asik aren't going to turn the Mavs into legitimate contenders. Dirk Nowitzki is still a star, and Monta Ellis is really good, but he's not a star. The Mavs' defense is worse than abject. They're a fun team to watch, but they have not chance to win a title and they're merely delaying the inevitable, while Dirk is still on the team.
MacMahon: It will probably be a disappointing trade deadline for Mavs fans. As JJT mentioned, this team simply doesn’t have enough assets to have any confidence in Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson pulling off a blockbuster deal. A Dahntay Jones-for-Anthony Morrow type deal is much more likely, but I’ll stick with my pie-in-the-sky scenario of the Milwaukee Bucks being motivated enough to dump talented but troublesome big man Larry Sanders before his four-year, $44 million extension kicks in. The purely speculative three-way proposal I came up with would bring Sanders and throw-in power forward Ekpe Udoh to Dallas, send Omer Asik and DeJuan Blair to Milwaukee and Shawn Marion to Houston. Too bad Sanders would likely have to get in another bar fight in the next couple of weeks for this to have a chance of happening.
2. In terms of your confidence level in the Mavs making the playoffs, how meaningful is Wednesday's game in Memphis?
Gutierrez: Dallas won the first two games of the series earlier this season, but those were played without Marc Gasol involved for Memphis. It will be a good test for the Mavs to see how they fare against a team that’s physical and loaded with talent in the frontcourt. That said, there is still a trade deadline and 31 games to be played after the game against Memphis. That means there is still a lot to be decided between now and then.
Taylor: One game in early February is not some kind of must-win. Too much of the season remains. Sure, it would be much better for the Mavs to win it than lose it, but there are about two months left in the season, which means there's a lot of basketball to play. Too much basketball to place too much emphasis on one game -- even if it's against a team that trails the Mavs by just one game in the standings for the eighth spot in the playoffs.
MacMahon: It’s as big as a game could possibly be for the Mavs in the first week of February. No, it’s not a do-or-die game. But if the Mavs don’t beat a Memphis team missing star point guard Mike Conley, this might be the last time all season the Mavs are ahead of the Grizzlies in the standings. It’s an opportunity to interrupt the momentum of a rival that has won 11 of 14 games and create a two-game cushion in the standings. It’s also important for the Mavs to start a tough stretch of schedule -- seven of the next nine games on the road -- on a strong note.
3. The Mavs are 7-1 with Jae Crowder in the starting lineup. What do you make of that stat?
Gutierrez: It is fool’s gold. If you look deeper at the stats, it’s not necessarily due to the impact Crowder has at the start of the games. Five of the seven games were played within the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center. In addition, heading into Tuesday’s action, the combined record of the teams Dallas faced in those eight games is 89-201. Dallas faced five of the six division cellar dwellers during the games Crowder started. Crowder has the potential to be a Jack-of-all-trades type player and is currently one of the team’s better defenders, but this is a situation where Dallas simply had to handle its business against inferior competition. Let's pump the brakes on assuming that this means Crowder needs to be placed into the starting lineup.
Taylor: Nothing. The sample size is too small. Crowder is an eighth, ninth or 10th man on a championship team. He's decent at a lot of things, but doesn't excel at anything.
MacMahon: Rick Carlisle’s answer: “Not much,” although he noted that Crowder had done a solid job as a fill-in starter, which wasn’t the case during his rookie season. Marion’s starting job obviously is not in jeopardy for the rest of this season. But Crowder’s development as a dirty-work guy who has the best net rating (plus-9.4 points per 100 possessions) on the team among players who have made at least a dozen appearances has me wondering whether he could be an option to start at small forward next season if the Mavs make their summer investments at other positions. However, Cuban didn’t seem keen on the idea, saying his long-term vision for Crowder was as a key reserve whose defensive versatility could be utilized best coming off the bench.