For what felt like the 20th consecutive season, the Dallas Mavericks approached free agency hoping to land a quality center. The only franchise-altering center available in free agency was Dwight Howard. The Mavericks were never mentioned as favorites to sign the seven-time All Star so there was no real shock when he joined the Houston Rockets and passed on the opportunity to play in Dallas.
The problem with missing out on Dwight Howard was the enormous gap between Howard and the remaining centers available in free agency. After enduring a season with Chris Kaman manning the position, Dallas was desperate for an upgrade in the paint. Without any other viable alternatives, the Mavericks signed free-agent center Samuel Dalembert to a two-year contract for $7.5 million. Dalembert’s contract pays him $3.7 million this season and only $1.8 million is guaranteed in year two.
Even though Dalembert was joining his fifth team in five years, he brought career averages of 8.0 points and 8.1 rebounds-per-game. While Dalembert had limited offensive game, his rebounding and defensive presence in the post looked like a great fit for a Mavericks team that was strong offensively, but lacked defense and rebounding.
As of Jan. 8, the Mavericks have played 33 games and they are still struggling to find someone capable of manning the center position. Adjectives like disappointing, lackluster, frustrating and ineffective properly define what Dalembert has been to the Mavericks to this point.
How Bad Has It Gotten?
Dalembert failed to exceed 10 points or 10 rebounds in any of the games he played in the entire month of December. Since the beginning of the season, the Mavericks starting center has ONE double-double. His averages for the season sit at a paltry 6.1 points and 6.2 rebounds-per-game. Even worse, he is now trending down. His averages since Dec. 3 are 3.9 points and 5.2 rebounds-per-game while playing slightly over 17 minutes per game.
Dalembert’s statistics fail to tell the entire story of why this has been such a disappointing free agent signing. Dalembert has slept in and missed not one, but two practices. Dalembert cited difficulty sleeping as the reason he was late to the Mavericks recent practice. As a diciplinary measure, the Mavericks held him out of their Dec. 5 matchup against the New York Knicks.
The Knicks managed to defeat the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center by a score of 92-80 and outrebounded Dallas 47-34. The Mavericks were out-rebounded by 13 with the Knicks starting center, Tyson Chandler, playing for only 4:34 of the game. Dalembert has said the right thing after twice letting the Mavericks down, but his words do little for the committed players that are left to play short handed without him.
Dallas has been forced to play undersized forward DeJuan Blair and slightly built forward/center Brandan Wright at the center position. Both players have done well at times, but they are being forced to play significant minutes out of position. The Mavericks can get away with either one of these players playing center against many Eastern Conference teams, or some of the weaker teams in the Western Conference, but their potential as a team is severely limited without a true center.
What Options Do They Have?
The Mavericks’ options to address the situation are limited. While Dalembert has a salary that would allow Dallas to move him to another team, finding takers for an unmotivated big man that lacks focus will be difficult. Dallas would have to find a team looking to move a decent big man with an affordable contract. NBA teams desperate to shed a solid big men with cap-friendly deals do not exist. If the Mavericks controlled their first-round pick they could sweeten a deal with it, but that’s not something the Mavericks have the capability of doing.
Unless the Mavericks’ brass gets really creative or chooses to shake up their roster in a significant manner, Dalembert will likely finish the season in Dallas. The Mavericks’ only apparent option is to do anything they can to squeeze out whatever contributions he can bring for the remainder of the season.
A Familiar Place
If Samuel Dalembert cannot completely turn around his season, the Mavericks likely won’t bring him back for year two of the same. This will leave Dallas in an all-to familiar place, spending another off season hoping to find a center worthy of starting in the NBA.