Mac Engel

Mavericks’ best play is to — gulp — sign Dwight Howard

Adding free agent Dwight Howard might be the Mavericks’ best chance to improve the team.
Adding free agent Dwight Howard might be the Mavericks’ best chance to improve the team. AP

Even if you are not a Cavaliers fan, or you are on the Warriors bandwagon, or you just don’t like LeBron James, The King returning to his home to give Cleveland a championship is entirely corny and absolutely wonderful.

For as childish as his behavior was toward Dirk Nowitzki in the 2011 NBA Finals when he mocked his illness, LeBron James more than vindicated himself Sunday night.

His return to Cleveland to win that city a title, ending a five-decade drought, is infectious.

On Wednesday, there will be a parade in downtown Cleveland, not too different than the one we enjoyed in 2011 when Dirk celebrated the Mavs’ win over LeBron and the Miami Heat for our one NBA title.

Mark Cuban’s plan and decisions since that great parade have been the source of warranted criticism. Now get ready for another beaut: The best play for the Mavs to remain relevant is to sign the NBA’s Terrell Owens — Dwight Howard.

In his career, Dwight Howard has averaged 17.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.

The Mavs are not going to be title contenders until the Dirk era is over, but until that day comes, the Mavs have to get youth, athletes and a real defender at the rim. D12 is no longer young, but he can do big-man things as few can.

Adding Dwight is to add myriad potential headaches, but he makes the Mavs a much better basketball team.

The NBA’s salary cap is going up to $90 million this summer and, despite Cuban’s protest otherwise, stupid money is going to flow. Even though the NBA free agent class in ’17 is far better than ’16, team owners can never help themselves; when there is the chance to spend, they always blow it.

Until the Mavs decide the draft is a good alternative, which there is no indication they will, blowing stupid money on free agents is their only chance.

Howard is expected to opt out of his contract with the Houston Rockets, and when he does, the Mavs should sign him when NBA free agency begins July 1. Maybe this time, they’ll actually get a signature on a contract.

Other than the Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, there is nothing else out there. Kevin Durant ain’t comin’ here. Neither is Bron.

“There is more out there than you think,” Mavs president Donnie Nelson told me last week. “Look — it’s all three modes: draft, free agency and trades. There are three vehicles and we will put all of them in full overdrive and see what we can come up with.”

Free agency, draft and put ourselves in a position to build a championship franchise.

Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson

The draft?

The NBA Draft is Thursday but, as a Mavs fan, don’t bother watching. As of right now, the Mavericks have the 46th selection in the draft, which, given this team’s history, could very well be a 10-foot Siberian point guard who has never before played basketball.

The Mavs’ second-round selection in 2015 of India native Satnam Singh worked out great; in 19 games with the Texas Legends this season, Singh averaged 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds in 7.9 minutes per game.

The Mavs were supposed to have the 16th overall pick, but that is now with the Boston Celtics as part of the Rajon Rondo deal, which, again, worked out great (full disclosure: I liked the trade at the time, too).

And trades?

What is there to trade? J.J. Barea or Devin Harris?

The most viable option is free agency, which so far has resulted in far more misses than makes for Cuban, thereby making his post-title plans look preposterous.

Whether it’s the initial pursuit of Deron Williams, the sales pitch to land Howard when he was a free agent in 2013 or the DeAndre Jordan disaster, this team’s intention to catch big-fish free agents has been a wasted trip to a stocked bathtub.

For whatever reason, the big fish have no interest in jumping into Mark Cuban’s yacht. By no definition do the previous signings of Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons count as “big fish.” Howard, 30, is a big man but no longer can he be considered a big fish.

He has alienated scores of teammates and members of management in his three previous stops from Orlando to Los Angeles and now Houston. He is Terrell Owens.

But, who knows? Maybe with Rick Carlisle and surrounded by Dirk, Wes Matthews and, most likely, Chandler Parsons, Dwight will act like an adult and the drama that has followed him to every single previous NBA team will cease.

Last season with the Miami Heat, prospective free agent Hassan Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game.

Adding Howard makes me sick, but he is the Mavs’ best off-season alternative.

He’s a head case and only God knows if D12 has any real interest in playing, but he’s a bit more of a known than Whiteside.

As evidenced by the Warriors’ struggles in the NBA Finals after Andrew Bogut was lost for the series with an ankle injury, good big men still make a difference.

The Mavs are desperate for a big man, and Howard will make a difference.

It does not matter if you think the Mavs need to go the youth route; Cuban is committed to Dirk, who wants to play for another two years. As such, this is the route they will continue to pursue even if, in the end, we all know it will not include a parade route.

The day after the Mavs season ended, Dirk Nowitzki says he is not retiring (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Mavs forward Dwight Powell loses a close battle in a game of knockout at Griggs Park in Dallas.

After his first season with the Mavs, Matthews is betting on himself in his charity baseball debut Friday at Frisco's Dr. Pepper Ballpark, even if his swing is a little rusty. He speaks with Star-Telegram reporters Brian Gosset and Matthew Martine

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

NBA Draft

6 p.m. Thursday, ESPN

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