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The Five Big Men at the Center of Dallas’s Offseason Plans

After landing Luka Doncic, the Mavericks have their backcourt of the future. Now can they finally fill the void in the middle in free agency?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Let’s go back to the draft for a moment, to a time when the Dallas Mavericks introduced Luka Doncic into their lives. The Mavs have been connected to DeMarcus Cousins for a while, and the moment they traded up two picks to land the Slovenian guard, the thought of throwing a gaudy contract offer to a player coming off an Achilles rupture stopped seeming overly ambitious. The Mavericks, who tied for the third-worst record last season, now have plenty of incentive to be better in 2018–19 after trading a top-five protected first-round pick.

Dallas’s current depth chart at center might frighten you. Maximilian Kleber (who?) leads the way, followed by Salah Mejri (huh), and DNP All-Star Nerlens Noel. That’s untenable. So, who will Mark Cuban and Co. be wooing very soon at a nightclub near you? Let’s run through some of the options:

The One That Got Away

The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported on Tuesday that DeAndre Jordan has been considering opting into the $24.1 million final year of his contract with the Clippers before Friday’s deadline in order to facilitate a trade, and the Mavericks are among the interested teams. It’s the circle of life. Three summers after the Clippers “kidnapped” D.J. at his own house and convinced him to spurn the Mavs after he had accepted their offer, Jordan may find his way back to Dallas again.

The Mavs make sense for a number of reasons beyond a delayed homecoming. Jordan’s defense and play at the rim pairs perfectly next to Dirk Nowitzki, who won a title with Tyson Chandler filling the same role, as well as next to Harrison Barnes. He also gives the Mavs their first All-Star-caliber player at the position since Chandler left Dallas the first time. Jordan will turn 30 next month, but he’s coming off his fifth season of averaging a double-double, and still maintains his explosiveness at the rim and scoring efficiency. That will be evident if he and Doncic bring a modern version of Lob City to Dallas.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Option

When I think of Boogie on the Mavs, I immediately think of this Jack Nicholson GIF taken from Anger Management:

Except, instead of Nicholson, it’s Cuban’s face after hearing about the possibility of signing an All-Star center coming off a career-threatening injury. It seems like the two parties have been circling each other forever; this summer, Cuban can finally make this happen with one simple move: offer Cousins the max. The Pelicans reportedly won’t do it because of Cousins’s injury, instead preferring a prove-it deal that spans only two or three years. Cousins could take the discount to continue to play alongside Anthony Davis. Or he could get his money and still thrive alongside Dirk, Dennis Smith Jr., and Doncic, and not just because he also has a name that starts with a “D.” His injury is troubling, especially given the track record of big men who have had to overcome it. But for a team looking to contend and facing a need at the position, it might be a risk the Mavs are willing to take.

The Restricted Free Agents

Clint Capela is the ideal target for the Mavericks. He offers most, if not all, of the same advantages as Jordan (albeit in a slightly smaller frame), but is almost six years younger. A core of Doncic, Smith Jr., and Capela would suddenly turn the Mavericks into one of the more exciting young teams in the league for the next four or five years. Of course, the reality is that Capela isn’t an easy get; he’s a restricted free agent, and even if the Mavs send a max offer sheet over to Daryl Morey, Capela might be too important for the Rockets to let him walk.

Los Angeles Lakers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The other player in this category is Julius Randle. Randle is also a restricted free agent, but you get the feeling the Lakers will be more concerned with chasing superstars than they will be with matching big offers for their young power forward. Randle is underrated, but he’s also a small-ball center without an outside shot. He also has a bit of tunnel vision. But he’s improved throughout his first four seasons, and he’d be an upgrade on the Mavs’ current situation, just not a big one. And also maybe not the right one — head coach Rick Carlisle has historically preferred rim-running centers like Chandler.

The Wild Card

Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz - Game Four Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Derrick Favors is an unrestricted free agent with the Jazz, and though he doesn’t have the star power of Jordan, Cousins, or Capela, he’s still a quality option. Favors has been in the league for eight seasons, but he’s still only 26, is coming off his most efficient season, and has shown the ability to carry a big load. Favors can also play both center and power forward, and Dallas needs plenty of both. He might also come at a cheaper price tag than any of the players above.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified a GIF as being from The Departed; it was from Anger Management.