After piecing together a competitive roster in a rapid-fire, 24-hour span last week, the Mavericks capped their solid consolation prize of a team by agreeing to a multiyear contract with shooting guard O.J. Mayo on Monday. Despite missing out on point guard Deron Williams and allowing guards Jason Terry and Jason Kidd to depart as free agents, Dallas has now responded by adding Mayo, power forward Elton Brand, center Chris Kaman and point guard Darren Collison.
Dallas made the deal for Mayo by using its remaining cap space after winning the amnesty auction for Brand. The Mavs could also devote their available cap exception or a limited form of Larry Bird Rights to re-sign Delonte West, who would serve as a backup point guard to Collison on a roster that’s suddenly loaded with wing players.
For now, Mayo joins a crowded two-guard rotation that includes Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones and potentially West. Three of those players, Beaubois, Dominique Jones and West, can function as point guards in stretches to spell Collison. West was probably Dallas’ best off-the-bounce creator last season, and Dominique Jones has been working on his passing skills at the Las Vegas summer league.
The other shooting guards, Carter and Dahntay Jones, can serve as small forwards behind Shawn Marion. Carter filled that role quite a bit last season, even drawing Kevin Durant as a defensive assignment for parts of the Thunder’s first-round sweep of the Mavs. Jae Crowder, the 34th pick in last month’s draft, may also get a crack at small forward minutes for Dallas, particularly given that Carter and Dahntay Jones play more often as shooting guards.
Mayo hasn’t developed into anything close to a star in his four-year career, but he’s a very good complementary player who might possess the best two-way combination of skills among this group. He’s an above-average three-point shooter who has become deft at running around screens, Rip Hamilton-style, for catch-and-shoot and catch-and-drive opportunities. Dallas’ offense, so stagnant and perimeter-oriented last season, can use every bit of his youthful dynamism. The 24-year-old Mayo is also a feisty defender capable of challenging point guards, and he’s a decent passer for a wing player. Using him as a stopgap point guard has generally been ill-advised, but coach Rick Carlisle has enough options in Dallas to avoid such scenarios.
The danger of the Mayo signing is the possibility of limiting the Mavs’ cap flexibility for next summer, when Dallas will have to work to carve out the max-level space required for a realistic shot at luring potential free agents Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Andrew Bynum. Even before factoring in Mayo, Dallas’ absolute minimum salary for 2013-14 would have been about $38 million, an amount that includes only the guaranteed portion of Carter’s deal and no charges for any of the team’s free agents. That scenario — a fanciful one to begin with, and no longer relevant if Mayo is guaranteed money in 2013-14 — would have left Dallas with just enough room to fit a max salary for a top free agent. The Mavs will now likely have to move Marion (owed $8.4 million next season and $9.1 million in 2013-14) in order to create enough space.
No staff is better than Dallas’ at making the most of a set of varied pieces, and the front office has given Carlisle and Co. a lot of interesting options. Brandan Wright is a solid fourth big man — behind power forward Dirk Nowitzki, Brand and Kaman — assuming that the Mavs retain him on a cheap deal. Still, the team could use a fifth big man in case Wright flames out. Marion, of course, will play important stretches at power forward, especially when Nowitzki rests.
With their recent flurry of activity, the Mavs project as a deep, solid playoff team, one that should be able to get through the regular season without overplaying anyone. But that’s about as far as they can go. Mayo, Collison, Brand and Kaman are all fine, above-replacement-level players, but none are game-changers or remarkably efficient offensive threats. They’ll combine to stabilize an offense that flat-lined in stretches — Collison, as I’ve noted before, can get into the lane like J.J. Barea used to do for Dallas, which was lacking in that element last season — but they also don’t project to lift Dallas’ attack back to its ultra-efficient level of 2010-11. In sum: This looks to be a good roster, but not a championship-level one.