The Dallas Mavericks know they will have to make a splash in free agency if they hope to return to prominence in the Western Conference. As Dwight Howard continues to contemplate his new team this summer, the Mavericks are well aware he would be a solid fit for both the present and the future.
Howard, who would earn approximately $16.4 million a season as part of his max deal, would head to a veteran-laden team in Dallas that would have the pieces to make another run at the NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki is now 35 years old and saw his production drop last year, but he could still have a couple more All-Star caliber seasons left in the tank. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion have both lost a step as well as they continue to trek towards the end of their prolific careers, but they were serviceable pieces in 2012-13. And while he is unproven and will have a lot to learn, rookie point guard Shane Larkin has a lot of potential.
All of this is to say that the Mavericks have a clean slate and lots of flexibility to find other pieces to surround Howard and Nowitzki. They are already reportedly losing O.J. Mayo to the Bucks, and after missing out on top free agent and Dallas native Deron Williams last summer, owner Mark Cuban is hungry to spend some money and land another star to pair with Nowitzki.
If Howard heads to Dallas, the Mavericks would have a defensive stalwart in the paint to build around. The team really struggled on the defensive end last season, ranking No. 27 in points allowed. A lack of a true rim protector was the driving force behind struggles, as was a lack of players capable of cleaning up misses on the boards.
Over the course of his eight-year career, Howard averages nearly 13 rebounds and more than two blocked shots per night. His abilities on the floor seem to be exactly what Dallas is looking for this offseason.
Age: positive or negative?
There are some potential downfalls, though. Perhaps the most glaring one is age; whether Howard signs with the Mavericks or not, they will be one of the older teams in the league. If D12 is in Dallas, the starting lineup will have an average age of 31 years on opening night. Veteran teams are more than capable of making a run in the playoffs, but Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle will have to keep their fingers crossed every time an injury arises. Depth could become an issue, as well.
As the San Antonio Spurs just proved, though, veteran know-how goes a long way in the postseason. Howard has never played with another big man like Nowitzki. Howard once led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals with a four-out system that surrounded him with shooters. While Dallas might not have the sheer number of outside threats that Magic team did, the ability to space the floor with Nowitzki is certainly intriguing.
From a basketball standpoint, Howard makes sense for Dallas. He's entering the prime years of his career and would immediately address the team's defensive and rebounding issues. He won't come cheap, but if any available player on the market is going to return the Mavericks to prominence, it's Howard.