Mavericks Becoming Even Bigger Challenger to Lakers' West Throne
The Mavs last February acquired forward Caron Butler and center Brendan Haywood from Washington and immediately was dubbed contenders to the Lakers' Western Conference throne.
It didn't work out too well. The Mavericks were upset 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs by San Antonio while the Lakers strolled to a third straight West title and second straight NBA crown.
But the Mavericks are again loading up. And general manager Donnie Nelson feels even better about their chances after Tuesday's trade with Charlotte in which the key piece was getting center Tyson Chandler.
"All roads lead through L.A. the last time I checked,'' Nelson said in an interview with FanHouse. "If you're against the likes of (Pau) Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the post, you need athletic big guys that can defend in the low post.''
Nelson called Chandler a "good get.'' He spoke of how pleased he is with having Chandler and Haywood, who was re-signed as a free agent last week, as a duo at center.
"We like the youth, athleticism and versatility of the 1-2 punch,'' Nelson said. "They're two of the guys that were pretty much on everybody's list at center, and we got them both.''
The Mavericks dealt center Erick Dampier, forward Eduardo Najera and guard Matt Carroll to the Bobcats while also getting back center Alexis Ajinca. A key piece for Charlotte was Dampier, whose $13 million contract is non-guaranteed and who is expected to be waived by the Bobcats to save money. But a source said it's not likely Dampier will return to Dallas, where he would be the third-string center.
But Nelson stressed the Mavericks, who also this offseason have re-signed star forward Dirk Nowitzki, are hardly done. He confirmed they're going after free-agent forward Al Harrington with their $5.765 million mid-level exception.
"We're deciding what to do now with our mid-level exception, and he's 1A (on Dallas' list),'' Nelson said.
A source said the Mavericks were in "heated discussions'' on Tuesday to sign Harrington. It's not out of the question a deal soon could get done.
Sources said Harrington also has been offered the full mid-level exception by Denver, which is desperate for a big man. If the Mavericks lose out on Harrington, sources said they might look at free-agent forward Anthony Tolliver, although for just part of the mid-level. Tolliver also is being looked at by Atlanta, Chicago, Golden State, the Lakers and Utah.
The Mavericks had been considering free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal as a possibility with their mid-level exception. But Nelson said the acquisition of Chandler means going after O'Neal is pretty much a dead issue.
Getting Harrington really would make the Mavericks the top challenger to the Lakers in the West, especially when one considers that few other top West teams have done much to improve this summer. Phoenix, which lost 4-2 in the West finals last spring to the Lakers, have gotten noticeably weaker with free-agent forward Amar'e Stoudemire having bolted to New York as a free agent.
Yes, the Mavericks talked last February about challenging the Lakers in the West. They're earning the right to talk plenty more about that now.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson