Following the first championship in franchise history, the Dallas Mavericks face several issues regarding free agency. Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojakovic, all contributing pieces of this year's team, are set to hit the free-agency market.
With the second-highest payroll in the NBA last year, the Mavs certainly have a few hard decisions to make, whether it be re-tooling around their championship core or lusting after a high-profile free agents in 2012. The decisions Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban and the front office make will ultimately determine the Mavericks' fate throughout the course of the Dirk era.
As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
After capturing that elusive ring, why alter the roster that finally accomplished this illustrious task? Obviously, with such a high payroll, it would be nearly impossible to retain all six free agents.
The Mavs could, however, focus their resources toward Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea—in that order.
Chandler's ferocious interior presence can be duplicated by absolutely nobody in the league (except for Dwight Howard) and complements Dirk's style of play perfectly. No way the Mavs win another ring with Brendan Haywood clogging up the middle.
JJ Barea, fresh off a phenomenal playoff performance, will be a hot commodity on the free-agent market, listing L.A., New York and Miami as possible destinations. As Jason Kidd ages, Barea will be relied upon more and more, and will eventually assume starting point guard duties. If Barea does leave, his incredible playmaking ability will be dearly missed, as well as his ability to penetrate on a team that relies so heavily on the jump shot.
If the Mavs were to pursue this option, it would more than likely mark the departure of Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson. Rudy Fernandez can fill part of the void for these two, and the Mavs could manage to retain their core group.
The question then becomes, does this aging group have enough gas left in the tank for one last championship run?
Repeating as champions is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in sports. Complacency, greed, apathy and hunger from other competitors erodes at a champion's will to defend his crown.
If the Mavs believe their core group from last year could not capture lightning in a bottle once more, they could look at re-signing Caron Butler (re-signing Tyson Chandler is priority No. 1 in every slide besides the last).
This would mean allowing JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and the others to walk, but it would inject youth (relatively-speaking for this squad), athleticism, superb perimeter defense and scoring into the equation, possibly putting the Mavs over the top once more. Butler and Shawn Marion would either compete for minutes at small forward or play out of their natural positions at shooting guard.
Letting a talent such as Caron Butler to leave would be a shame though.
Although a bit of a stretch, signing a free agent like Deron Williams in 2012 would automatically vault the Mavericks right into contention.
A dynamic point guard like Williams complements Dirk's pick-and-pop game, in addition to providing solid defense. This would allow the Mavs to compete into Dirk's twilight years, enabling the Big German to become one of the league's finest second fiddles as he ages gracefully. Williams has even expressed veiled interest in the Mavs and was seen with the team in the locker room during halftime of the Finals in his street clothes.
Of course, to accomplish this lofty goal, the Mavs would likely have to allow JJ Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn to leave, opening up cap space. Even re-signing Tyson Chandler could pose a problem, depending on how much of a pay increase he demands.
Still, the opportunity to sign a top-three point guard is quite enticing.
Dwight Howard recently mentioned Dallas in his top five destinations when he becomes a free agent next summer.
While the chances aren't likely, signing a player like Dwight Howard—the league's top center and last year's MVP runner-up—instantly transforms a team into a contender. With Dirk assuming crunch-time duties and a respectable supporting cast, a D12 Mavs combination automatically sets the table for a prime five-year championship window.
If Howard were to be signed though, a Dwight Howard-sized piece of the payroll must be trimmed.
Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea and the rest of this year's free agent class would be out the door. A gutted Mavs roster would hardly guarantee Howard taking his talents to Dallas; however, it is doubtful D12 will even hit the market next year. The Lakers, in addition to others, will dangle trade bait up until the trade deadline, hoping to tempt the Magic's front office.
Howard's unparalleled physical gifts make this an incredibly high-risk/high-reward situation.
Let's face the facts: The NBA will be lucky to have any shot at playing basketball this year. Most basketball insiders believe a 50-game season is the BEST-case scenario regarding the 2011-2012 NBA season.
Consider that the NFL locked out its players for four months, and the two sides were close, compared to the NBA's fiasco. Every single NFL franchise made money last year—that's something only eight out of 30 NBA franchises can say.
My advice to the fans, players,and owners is to run down to your local sporting goods store and purchase a new fishing pole. We're in for a long offseason.