Mavs Future: Jennings, Bledsoe, Cousins, Al?

It is perceived as the dropping of a hint. 'It's got to be a future-type player that we can build around,' Mark Cuban says of a Mavs trade. 'Lots of players we've picked up weren't All-Stars, but turned into cornerstones. We'd take those.' Futures? Like Jennings? Cousins? Bledsoe? Jefferson?

The Dallas Mavericks are saying one thing but doing another, and this is for certain.

Owner Mark Cuban, GM Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle have habitually suggested how quiet the trade front is as the Feb. 21 deadline approaches.

And yet ...

We've been told that behind the scenes, Dallas has taken calls on Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. So ... not that quiet.

Meanwhile, Cuban dropped a hint of sorts on Monday by noting, "Lots of teams show interest."

That's not quiet, either.

And one more hint that we don't read as "deception'' but rather a continuation of the overall plan to follow the Miami model, one way or the other, and assemble a trio of players that lessens the load on Dirk Nowitzki.

That hint? Cuban's full remarks on a "future-type player.''

"It would have to be something really, really, really good," Cuban said when asked about taking on a bad contract in order to facilitate the acquisition of a good player. "It's got to be a future-type player that we can build around and really adds a lot. I'd analogize it to Steve Nash. Lots of players we've picked up over time weren't All-Stars, but turned into cornerstones. We'd take those. They don't have to be proven, but it'd have to be someone we think it's just a question of time."

There are at least four scenarios that loosely fit this criteria and have some "buzz'' attached. Let's analyze:
*Al Jefferson, Utah - The furor on a move of Big Al came from a report that the San Antonio Spurs are the "leader" to trade for him. That notion might be especially irritating to the Mavs fan who tire of seeing the Spurs do what the Spurs so frequently do to remain so competitive on an annual basis.

But let's slow down here -- on Al to the Spurs and on Dallas wanting in.

Sheridan says the Spurs and Jazz "are practically incestuous, they are on such good terms internally.'' This suggests that the Jazz might give away the free agent for nothing (Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, Stephen Jackson's expiring contract) rather than ride him to a playoff run, or get something better at the deadline, or wait until this summer for all the cards to be dealt.

Jefferson is a true post-up force, an offensive weapon, a power forward who can play center. His defensive problems could be covered up, in theory, by the Spurs system.

But we don't think the Jazz will do the Spurs a favor and gift him over. And as to the coming rumors of Dallas being involved -- and trust us, those rumors are coming -- we don't see that, either.

This summer, Jefferson will demand and will get a max contract -- the same sort of contract Dallas will offer Dwight Howard. Dwight is the sort of move Donnie is talking about when he tells us about "trying to win championships.'' Jefferson is the sort of player Dallas already made its decision on two summers ago, when it could've used the DUST Chip to acquire him from Minnesota but decided his contract was too bloated.

The Mavs instead used DUST on Tyson Chandler, a true center (who they eventually didn't want to pay max money to.) If the Mavs are going to pay max money for a big, it's not going to be for an offense-only power forward (Dirk's job) with a salary that prevents a chase for Dwight.

*Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee - We can confirm Marc Stein's note that the Mavs have a "level of interest" in Jennings ... in part because Dallas' admiration for him is long-standing. Jennings is 23, serves as a scoring point guard (18.5 points and 6.1 assists) and can be electrifying box office.

An upside that includes being a building block on a title contender alongside Dirk? Jennings fits. A way to accomplish it financially? Stein notes that Dallas might have to take on ex-Mav Drew Gooden, who is owed $6.7 million in each of the next two seasons. The issue here: Does taking on such ballast block Dallas from eventually acquiring an additional star? The answer is, probably not. So this is immensely more viable than an Al Jefferson deal.

*Eric Bledsoe, Clippers - Our Jonathan Auping has toyed with ways to acquire Bledsoe, noting that like Jennings he's young (23) and has a future that could make him a max player someday.

But because Bledsoe is on his rookie contract, the salary match is a challenge.

Giving up Shawn Marion for Bledsoe? That's a "futures'' deal that works on Dallas' end and helps LAC, too. But it doesn't fit financially. What baggage does LAC throw in to fit? We won't bother exploring Lamar Odom ... so what if the deal is expanded to give the Clippers room ... and Chris Kaman's expiring is involved?

Again, no match, unless LA wants to start considering moving bigger pieces like DeAndre Jordan -- and that's not happening. He's a young foundation piece on a title contender.
Eric Bledsoe is a "future-type player.'' And as the Clippers have a number of different perimeter players, every now and then it leaves Bledsoe lost in the shuffle.

But not lost enough to package him with another talent. No deal.

*Demarcus Cousins, Sacramento -- So not only do we circle back to Cousins, but we do so believing that Dallas has the ammunition to make proposals to both Sacramento for Cousins and to Milwaukee for Jennings.

The obstacles with Cousins remain the same. One, his level of knuckleheadedness is high; his ability to be a future star is matched by his ability to misbehave himself out of basketball. Two, the same arc Dallas sees Cousins climbing is one Sacto sees -- and the Kings made a commitment to him fully aware of all his baggage. And three, the winning bidder on Cousins -- if indeed the Kings listen seriously to offers -- must also likely add to their roster another player who adds salary ballast.

Too many moving parts to out-and-out predict the acquisitions of Jennings and/or Cousins? Yes. So for the moment, look at this as a series of philosophical questions regarding Plan Powder: Do you want Al Jefferson, knowing that it ends your pursuit of Dwight? Do you want to give up on Dwight and instead turn to Cuban's "future-type players''?

We don't believe the Mavs have solidified their answer just yet. We believe that when Cuban says, "It would have to be something really, really, really good," he doesn't yet know exactly what "something really, really, really good'' means.

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