Zaza Pachulia’s first season in Dallas was probably his last. It was a year of ups and downs for the Mavericks’ starting center. More accurately, it was an over-achieving, inspiring first half of the season and a slightly depressing, progressive breakdown for the latter half. Pachulia was a double-double machine that anchored Dallas’ surprisingly successful first two months, which were largely responsible for their postseason appearance.
Unfortunately, the burden of responsibility was far too much for him and he couldn’t sustain that level of play, mentally or physically.
It was only fitting that Pachulia’s last game summed up the last ditch, fight-till-the-end effort of the 2015-2016 Dallas Mavericks as he put up 12 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists before Dallas fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Pachulia should be appreciated for what he brought to the Mavericks on and off the court. The comments he made about Dirk Nowitzki in his exit interview (see all the best Mavs exit interview quotes here) are a nice summation of Pachulia’s character.
“The biggest highlight for me, and I mean that, was to play with Dirk, to share the moments on and off the court with this guy. I’m so fortunate to have this experience to play with him, to see his work ethic and learn things and joke and become closer to him. Life goes on. Basketball is temporary. The friendship and the relationships are going to continue.”
With all the sentimental notions out of the way, the reality as it stands right now, is that the Mavericks desperately need to upgrade beyond Pachulia at center. Assuming that Chandler Parsons re-signs in Dallas as both parties plan, it’s hard to think of a team that would benefit more from an athletic and skilled center based on their current roster configuration. Parsons needs an explosive big man to run pick-and-roles with. Dirk Nowitzki needs a center that will help him with rebounding and protect him on defense. (Not to mention a Mavs addition that can be a result of Dirk's own contractual "chain reaction.'')
There are plenty of ways to build a successful NBA team, and the Mavericks have been a top organization because of their ability to be adaptable to multiple routes of success. (Zaza coming here in a trade for nothing was a good route. Zaza remaining part of this locker room as a backup would be nice, too.) But given some of the key players the Mavericks are likely to move forward with, there is no alternative to adding an athletic center. If Dallas fails to do so, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where they are capable of reaching the second round.
Fortunately, there will be a handful to choose from. Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, Ian Mahinmi and Festus Ezeli are all likely to hit the market.
The biggest name out there that fits this role is someone who Dallas has already struck out trying to sign in the past. Dwight Howard is pretty much a lock to opt out of the final year in Houston. Howard has usually slid into the role of villain in the public perception (through much fault of his own), but his failures in Houston can largely be attributed to James Harden’s refusal to get him the ball—something Dallas reportedly warned him would happen in Houston when they were courting him two summers ago (and came up a bridesmaid). Howard averaged 8.4 shots per game this season. To put that into context, Robin Lopez averaged 8.3 shots per game for the New York Knicks this year. Early in the season, Pachulia actually was given a more active offensive role for Dallas than Howard did in Houston.
Howard is on an image-rehab tour of sorts, it seems, starting with his well-received appearance on TNT in Shaq's chair on Tuesday night.
How did Dwight's appearance plan in one corner of MavsLand?
How did the idea of Dwight strike Dirk during Exit Interviews?
My take, irrespective of this "Dwight Intervention''? It’s easy to chastise Howard, but maybe it’s only natural that a guy with his abilities would have a tamped-down enthusiasm to do the little things when he is getting so few opportunities to score. The Mavericks desperately need rebounding and rim protection and Rick Carlisle will gladly provide him with post touches in exchange for such responsibilities. Plus, the opportunities he would get from playing with Nowitzki or the lobs he would get from Parsons and company. ... it would all add up.
With all the negative media attention he’s received over the years, Howard would also have the shield of Mark Cuban, who has been known to draw attention away from what he perceives as unfair criticism of his players.
Parsons has said he has maintained a relationship with Howard who he played with in Houston. In his exit interview, CP made a not-so subtle pitch to Dwight.
“I think he can still dominate the game,'' said Parsons with a revealing openness. "I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston so why not come here?”
A move to Dallas checks off some version of every box that is probably on his free agent list. It’s a big market. The Mavericks won’t be a top contender upon adding Howard, but they will be a formidable team to reckon with. He will get more scoring opportunities, and he won’t be turned into the scapegoat every time something goes wrong.
Howard might come across as a headache of a player, who has had a relatively underwhelming few seasons lately. But the question really isn’t whether Howard is a dominant franchise player anymore. He probably isn’t. But the Mavericks are so desperately in need of someone with his abilities that his addition could improve the team’s potential drastically. DB.com reportedly in February that Dallas wishes to give him something less than a maximum contract based on his injury history alone, but the Mavs seem likely make a competitive offer. (And one that leaves room to do some other things in free agency.) As long as none of the other 29 teams offer him the max, Dallas would seem like a leading candidate.
Then again, Dwight sabotaged the best situation he’s ever had in Orlando. His Laker experience was a disaster, and signing in Houston was simply a poor decision. Coming to Dallas might be the most logical step for both parties. Unfortunately, that might require Dwight making the first logical move of his career.