June 28, 2013

Mavericks make room for Howard, help themselves to Larkin

Draft-day deals result in salary cap room and a point guard for Dallas.

The Dallas Mavericks escaped Thursday’s NBA Draft after making some significant accomplishments which should help their franchise right itself in the foreseeable future.

Maybe not championship stuff, but it’s a start. NBA titles, after all, weren’t built with just one meaningful decision.

The Mavericks traded down twice in the first round, eventually winding up with Miami — Hurricane, not Heat — point guard Shane Larkin. Dallas started the day with the 13th pick, traded down to No. 16, and then traded down again to No. 18 where Larkin landed.

Trading down five spots allowed the Mavericks to save $374,500 of precious salary cap space which they wouldn’t have if they kept the No. 13 pick.

Also, Jared Cunningham, a rookie last year who played eight games and scored 16 points with the Mavericks, was traded to Atlanta on Thursday along with the $1,208,400 he’s owed in the 2013-14 season.

In the chase to round up the $88 million for a maxed-out contract which it’ll take to land Dwight Howard via free agency, every dollar counts.

As of today, the Mavericks are $2,737,280 shy of reaching the $88 million mark as they try to put themselves in position to obtain Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers center who on Monday becomes the most coveted free agent since LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami. Reports say Howard will make his decision on July 10, when the NBA’s moratorium on new business is lifted.

The Mavericks can sweeten the pot for Howard by promising a cameo appearance on Shark Tank, the TV show which stars owner Mark Cuban.

But first, acquiring Larkin serves two purposes for the Mavericks.

After playing an odd game of “who’s on first” with their inconsistent point guard play last year that included Delonte West (in preseason), Darren Collison, Derek Fisher, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois and Mike James, the Mavericks picked up a rock-solid quarterback who can run their offense with the same passion Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea did during the team’s 2011 championship season.

Larkin is a pick-n-roll fanatic, and so is Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who described Larkin as “one of the best in college basketball” at running Carlisle’s pet play. That could mean Larkin might receive more playing time as a first-year player than any Mavericks rookie since Josh Howard averaged 23.7 minutes in his rookie season during 2003-04.

Plus, since it’s definitely not a given that the indecisive Howard will pull up stakes and leave sunny Los Angeles for Dallas or Houston — his rumored destinations of choice — the Mavericks had to at least come out of this summer with something better than the calamity of 2012, when a string of players carrying one-year contracts made their way to the American Airlines Center. For now, Larkin helps the Mavericks save face just in case Howard takes his talents elsewhere.

The son of pro baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, the younger Larkin tested better than any point guard in the prestigious Chicago pre-draft combine. Better than Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams — talent-rich point guards who were all drafted ahead of Larkin.

The 5-foot-11, 176-pound Larkin plays with an edge and with a bulldog’s mentality. Those are characteristics of which champions are made, characteristics Kidd and Barea showed during their stint with the Mavericks in what many believe to be the most important position on the court.

Clearly, the Mavericks entered the off-season needing a point guard and a rim protector. In essence, they needed an inside-outside combo akin to Tyson Chandler and Barea.

On Friday, the Mavericks also acquired shooting guard Ricky Ledo (6-7, 195), who enrolled at Providence last year, but never played because he was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. Ledo, rated the No. 5-best shooting guard in the nation as a high school senior by comes as an insurance policy since the Mavericks figure O.J. Mayo will opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent Monday.

Still, if the Mavericks decide Larkin is a keeper, he certainly has the skill-set to be the man running the show for a decade or so.

“His ability to break down defenses is certainly a strong point,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations. “For us to get him where we got him, we feel real good about that.”

The Mavericks should celebrate, since they got the cerebral point guard in Larkin. Next on the to-do list is Howard, a super freak of nature who could help the Mavericks win a title or two before Dirk Nowitzki retires.

Let the billboards go up in earnest.

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