If the Dallas Mavericks can’t get Nikola Vucevic in 2019 NBA free agency, what other options should they pursue at center?
The Dallas Mavericks wrapped up an optimistically terrible season in 2018-19. Having missed the playoffs for three straight years and finishing this past year tied for the second-worst record in the Western Conference, Dallas fans are hopeful for a huge offseason to capitalize on improving the flashy young talent that is Luka Doncic.
Dallas is in rebuild mode, but just how long does this rebuild have to take? Quite frankly, it starts with a big man.
The Mavericks are looking at a gaping hole in their lineup since the departure of franchise legend Dirk Nowitzki. Although nobody really expected Dirk to produce much in his final NBA season, the absence of a competent center was very apparent.
Dwight Powell became the mainstay down low for the Mavs as they slowly weened themselves off of Nowitzki completely. Powell was decent, but still not what Dallas needs to compete.
Some may forget (because he has not played since February) that the Mavericks snagged Kristaps Porzingis in a trade with the New York Knicks. Obviously this one excited Mavs fans, but they still have to wait for next season to see what he can do in Dallas. As of right now, there is no No. 1 center in Dallas.
As it stands now, the Mavericks will have to run with two true power forwards as they did last season. This leaves the young Doncic to run the point alongside Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr. at small forward, and Powell sharing big man responsibilities with Porzingis. The Zinger may be able to fill the leadership hole that Dirk left, but his ability to produce is still in question.
The only other true power forward on the roster is Maxi Kleber, who is reliable for about four points and five boards a night with solid defense, but not much else.
There is still the lack of a true center. This has to be Mark Cuban’s top priority in the coming months — to add the final piece to this roster, make it respectable again, and (let’s be honest) give his young superstar some help.
Fortunately for Dallas, there are plenty of options to pursue this offseason. The one that would be the biggest catch of all? Nikola Vucevic.
As an emerging star in the league, Vucevic could bring even more excitement to an already ecstatic fanbase. According to The Athletic‘s Josh Robbins, the Mavs have Vooch on their radar.
The Montenegrin native averaged a double-double last year with 20.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. This is the type of production that can complement Doncic’s game. Even with a somewhat reliable Porzingis and an evolving Brunson, Vucevic could help get this team out of the cellar of the Western Conference.
Vooch is an unrestricted free agent coming into this summer, and played for just over $13 million in Orlando last season, finishing up a four-year, $53 million deal.
Although the Magic managed to snag a playoff spot this past season, I could see Vucevic chasing money with a more talented team.
Back in December, Scoop B Robinson speculated that the Magic are not looking to commit to a five-year deal or more with Vucevic, as they are focusing on developing Mohamed Bamba.
The 28-year-old could ask for a max deal with a similar length to his last contract, and with around $40 million in cap space to play with, the Mavericks could very well pull this off.
Nevertheless, with other teams simply being louder than the Mavs, they could be overlooked by Vucevic. In that nightmare scenario, there are other options for Dallas if acquiring the first-time All-Star doesn’t pan out.
Unfortunately, they would be a little more difficult to snag.
There are a number of talented centers in the NBA who have player options for this upcoming season. Players have until June 29 to decide whether or not to exercise the last year of their contracts.
Al Horford is unlikely to leave Boston and his $30.1 million contract, and depending on how this year’s Finals turn out, Marc Gasol may be just fine staying in Toronto for another season at $25.6 million.
The first option that Dallas needs to look into if Vucevic falls through is Jonas Valanciunas. He is still quite young in comparison to other options, but only played 49 games last season. Even then, Valanciunas managed 15.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in 22.3 minutes per game.
He could opt out of his $17.6 million salary for next season for a fresh start on a competitive team. It wouldn’t be a problem for Dallas to lock him up for a few years with a slightly bigger contract as a sort of experiment. Dallas would like a piece that it can rely on to stay healthy, and might be able to find that in Valanciunas.
Another option is currently in California. That’s right, Willie Cauley-Stein. The 26-year-old is the youngest viable option for Dallas, and played 81 games with the Sacramento Kings last season.
Cauley-Stein is currently a restricted free agent, but Dallas could land him if the Kings are uninterested in retaining his services. Sacramento is also in the running for Vucevic, and would be more comfortable letting Cauley-Stein go if it signed Vucevic or another starting-caliber center.
The last option is a long shot: Unrestricted free agency DeMarcus Cousins may want to return to near-superstar status and sign with Dallas. That being said, Boogie played for only $5.3 million this past season, and may want a big pay raise to leave the Golden State Warriors. While the Mavs may have the money to sign Boogie for what he wants, they may not deem him worthy of it.
This is another injury-prone big man who may make the problems in Dallas worse rather than fix them. Depending on Cuban’s faith in Cousins’ ability to put up big numbers and stay healthy, Boogie may be seen playing alongside Porzingis next season.