As we approach the half-way mark of the 2013-14 NBA regular season, the Dallas Mavericks are 23-16 and in possession of the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Dallas has re-established its home-court advantage with a record of 14-6 at the American Airlines Center, and is on track to make the playoffs.
The question is, must the Mavericks make a trade to lock in a postseason bid?
Dallas has been led by a cast of players who had never previously played together, including Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. Head coach Rick Carlisle has done a masterful job of avoiding the usual bumps in the road, and has thus built a playoff contender.
When it comes to competing for a championship, however, there are few who have labeled Dallas as a legitimate force out west. It all starts with the absence of an elite rim protector.
Finding a Defensive Anchor
Dallas has experienced its success by moving the ball with superb consistency and converting open looks. The Mavs rank ninth in scoring offense, fifth in assists per game, seventh in three-point field goals made per game and sixth in three-point field goal percentage.
It doesn't take a basketball specialist to understand that offense isn't the issue.
For all of their offensive success, however, Dallas is also 19th in scoring defense at 101.2 points allowed per contest. More specifically, the Mavericks are 21st in the NBA at 43.1 points allowed in the paint per game.
What that adds up to is an undeniable need for one specific player that has not emerged on the roster: a rim-protecting big man. For that reason, Mark Cuban must consider making a trade.
As I've previously written, Samuel Dalembert has failed to come through and serve in the role that Dallas expected of him. Long known as a quality rim protector and rebounder, Dalembert has been a turnstile when opponents meet him at the rim.
According to NBA.com, Dalembert faces 6.6 field goal attempts at the rim per game and allows players to shoot 52.3 percent in such situations. This all comes in an uninspiring average of 20.5 minutes per game.
If you're wondering why Dalembert doesn't see more playing time, that's the primary reason.
With this in mind, the Mavericks should open up the phone lines and explore potential trades that could land a big man who can fill Dalembert's shoes. The two most likely candidates in this instance would be Omer Asik of the Houston Rockets and Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks.
It's all about how much Dallas is willing to give up and how big of a risk it's willing to take.
Asik doesn't offer much of anything offensively with his hands of stone and non-existent skill game, but he's a physical energy guy who knows how to protect the rim. Albeit in limited action, Asik is holding opponents to 43.2 percent shooting when he meets them at the rim, per NBA.com.
That's a full 9.1 percent lower than Dalembert.
Most importantly, the Mavericks were previously involved in trade talks for Asik, per Bill Ingram of HoopsWorld.com. The reported deal would've included rookie point guard Shane Larkin and forward Shawn Marion going to Houston in exchange for Omer Asik.
This deal rides on how quickly the Rockets learn to properly value Asik.
With the emergence of Terrence Jones and strong play of Jeremy Lin, however, that offer reportedly caused Houston to ask for more. Nevertheless, Dallas should explore the opportunity to land Tyson Chandler lite.
The other option would be to pursue Sanders, who has become an embattled star in Milwaukee, both on and off the court. Sanders suffered a torn ligament in his thumb that was sustained during a bar fight, which is all you need to know about Milwaukee's tolerance level.
With a series of other incidents, Sanders is doing an excellent job of running himself out of town.
According to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, no NBA player is, "as available as Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders." Putting aside the controversy, Sanders ranked No. 2 in the NBA with 2.83 blocks per game in 2012-13.
While he's only played 11 games, Sanders is holding opponents to 36.8 percent shooting at the rim, per NBA.com.
If Dallas is able to come up with an attractive enough package to improve Milwaukee's future and take on Sanders, it could have its center of the future. Coach Carlisle has always done a great job of getting his players to focus on the game, and he could be the leader that Sanders needs to get his head on right.
If that does happen, Dallas would instantly improve its standing in the NBA with a front court of Dirk and Sanders. Unfortunately, there's one major issue with all of this.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that Sanders and current Mavs and former Bucks guard Monta Ellis nearly came to blows after a game in 2013-14. So what does this mean?
A Whole Lot of Risk
No matter where the Mavericks look, there will be a significant level of risk in executing any trade. The most ideal trade pieces would likely be aging-but-effective contributors Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, with young guns such as Shane Larkin adding aid.
In the end, a trade like this would do more good for the long-term than it would for the short-term.
According to HoopsStats.com, Dallas led the NBA in bench scoring during the 2012-13 regular season. In 2013-14, however, Dallas has dropped all the way to 15th. Carter has served as the only reliable source of perimeter offense.
Thus, a trade would result in an heavier dependence upon the starting lineup than Dallas already displays.
There is upside in such a trade, as Jae Crowder could move into the starting lineup and both Brandan Wright and DeJuan Blair would see their roles specified with a true rim protector in the starting lineup. Furthermore, Devin Harris will eventually return to serve as the backup point guard.
In turn, the Mavericks could become an even better team, albeit with less bench scoring.
What this truly comes down to is the fact that Dallas doesn't have the look of a championship contender. It has the feel of a postseason team, and it will make some noise by giving one of the top squads some trouble.
Due to the fact that the Mavericks are more likely to contend in 2014-15, however, executing a trade is not necessary to lock in a postseason berth; it's necessary to improve their future.