July 18, 2013

Mavericks salvage solid summer after losing Dwight Howard derby

After finishing behind Houston for Howard, Dallas adds good pieces to the roster.

After the way free agency started three weeks ago, with the Dallas Mavericks losing out in the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes, owner Mark Cuban has earned the right to brag a little bit now.

What a nifty and resourceful comeback by the Mavs.

With plan A (Howard) signing with the Houston Rockets, and with other free-agent targets also going elsewhere, the Mavs looked as if they were limping toward a repeat of last summer’s lost summer. Remember? Deron Williams chose Brooklyn in free agency and Jason Kidd snubbed Dallas and went to New York, leaving the Mavs to pick up free-agent crumbs.

But this summer, the Mavs were free agency players. They picked up point guards Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, shooting guards Monta Ellis and Wayne Ellington and center Samuel Dalembert. Granted, Harris’ original three-year, $9 million deal will be restructured after it was discovered he needed toe surgery, but Cuban assured all that Harris will be on the Mavs’ roster this fall.

Adding rookie guards Shane Larkin, Ricky Ledo and Gal Mekel, the Mavs finished with a pretty solid summer. Not any marquee players, but players who can contribute in a big way.

With the new players surrounded by returnees Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Bernard James, the Mavs are positioned to make the playoffs in 2013-14 after missing the postseason last season for the first time since 2000. What they do once they get there is a complete mystery.

“Obviously we were disappointed we didn’t get Dwight, but we pretty much got everything else we wanted to get and then some, and much more,” Cuban said. “We never thought we’d be able to get Monta, and so it turned into a good summer.

“Now, the key is going to be to get everybody playing together, get everybody healthy, and keep them healthy and go.’’

Yeah, Cuban overpaid to obtain Ellis, who received a three-year contract for more than $25 million. But to people in the real world, all pro athletes are overpaid.

Cuban just hopes the Ellis transaction was money well spent.

“We have a history of going after guys that were big-time scorers that weren’t quite a perfect fit with their previous teams,” Cuban told the Star-Telegram. “[Jerry] Stackhouse and Jason Terry and guys like that.

“So, hopefully, Monta will fall into the same role.”

Whether Ellis can do what Stackhouse and Terry did in Dallas, what Mavs fans want to know is if this team Cuban has assembled is good enough to win a championship.

The short answer is that in the summer of 2010 when Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi and Brian Cardinal joined the Mavs — Corey Brewer and Peja Stojakovic were later added during the season — not even the most passionate fan envisioned the Mavs winning the title.

The 2010-11 squad caught lightning in a bottle. All champs do, if you really want the truth. (The world champion Miami Heat took lightning-catching to a whole new level in the last 28 seconds of Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs.)

Sure, being able to acquire Howard would have immediately put the Mavs in the championship conversation. But they rebounded nicely with the players they did sign. And they’re also awaiting the return of Larkin, who is out three months with a fractured right ankle.

“We’ve been working hard at it and we’ve got a lot of guys we like, and we’ve got a couple of injury things to get resolved,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’ll take some time, but those guys [Harris and Larkin] will be back.”

In the meantime, the Mavs should rejoice for salvaging this summer, post-Howard.

“We got some great pieces,” Cuban said. “We came out a lot farther ahead than I expected us to. As far as plan B, this is kind of what we were hoping for, so we’ll see. Training camp is going to be fun.”

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