Despite having a 2-0 series lead on the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks were unable to complete the upset and lost in Game 7 on Sunday afternoon.
Dallas failed to win any of its three home games in the series, and while they weren’t given much of a chance on WynnBET to upset the Clippers, advancing to the second round was certainly within reach.
Luka Doncic, who dominated in almost every game, finished with 46 points on 17-of-30 shooting and 14 assists in Game 7, but his supporting cast wasn’t good enough to take down the Clippers.
It’s certainly frustrating for the Mavs, and with Hardaway Jr. set to be a free agent, Dallas will need to figure out how to build its core around Doncic quickly. Porzingis was dreadful this postseason, and he reportedly isn’t happy with his status behind Doncic as the Mavs’ top player.
While Porzingis can’t complain given his poor play, it begs the question of what the Mavericks can do around Doncic to give him the best chance to succeed. He certainly had a good enough game to win in Game 7, but the rest of the roster simply couldn’t match up with Los Angeles’ talent.
Dallas won’t have a ton of cap room this offseason, especially if Josh Richardson exercises his $11.6 million player option, which means they will have to find some value signings in the free-agent market, or make a trade that unloads a salary like Richardson, Dwight Powell or Maxi Kleber.
Here are three free agents that the Mavericks should consider to maximize the team around Doncic.
Improve guard options with Patty Mills
Doncic has been the Mavericks’ primary ball handler, but they haven’t had great guard play around him.
The Seth Curry for Richardson trade is looking worse every day, as Curry has become an integral part to Philly’s success as a sharpshooter, and Richardson was phased out of the rotation in the playoffs. He played over 20 minutes just once and played less than 10 minutes in the final three games of the series.
It is highly unlikely that Richardson opts out since he won’t get paid that much elsewhere, which means the Mavs have to find another guard option.
Enter Mills. A veteran playmaker that is also a career 38.8 percent 3-point shooter, Mills would allow Doncic to play off the ball at times while still being a knockdown shooter.
Jalen Brunson, who was fantastic during the regular season as the Mavs’ backup point guard, does not have a guaranteed deal for next season, and he was also phased out of the rotation in the playoffs.
Brunson's future could make the Mavs razor thin at guard. Dallas has to either guarantee his deal for next season, which could make him an unrestricted free agent the following offseason, or they can allow him to be a restricted free agent this offseason. There's a chance even if his deal is guaranteed that he is dealt since it would be a one-year deal.
Mills has proven playoff experience and may be able to gain Rick Carlisle’s trust more than Richardson and Brunson.
The Mavs can’t ask Luka to play 40-plus minutes every day, and it has affected his play late in games. Getting a veteran that can take some of that workload away makes a lot of sense.
Re-sign Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Kristaps Porzingis trade is looking more like the Tim Hardaway Jr. trade, as the swingman was clearly the Mavs’ second-best player in this series.
While he struggled with his shot in Game 7, Hardaway Jr. averaged 16.3 points on 44.7 percent shooting this season. He’s a solid wing complement to Doncic, and the Mavs have his bird rights which means they can go over the cap to bring him back.
Porzingis’ max contract is looking worse by the day, but the Mavs can salvage that trade if Hardaway Jr. becomes a long-term fit alongside Doncic. With limited cap space anyway, Hardaway is one of the few players the Mavs can actually match the money for in free agency.
They’d be wise to not let him walk.
Add Montrezl Harrell to frontcourt
This last one is more of a longshot, but Harrell was barely in the Lakers’ playoff rotation and could opt out of his deal to become a free agent.
The Sixth Man of the Year just a year ago, Harrell had a decent season in Los Angeles, as he averaged 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 62.2 percent from the field.
He doesn’t stretch the floor, but Harrell will bang down low, which is something the Mavs are lacking with Porzinigis.
A Harrell-KP combo could be a nice duo in the Dallas frontcourt, and after Harrell took the mid-level exception to join the Lakers last offseason, I’d be surprised if he is completely out of the Mavericks’ price range.
Bringing in Harrell may also allow the Mavericks to trade one of Powell or Kleber for another rotation piece to further build the roster.
None of these moves would be flashy, but they would make the Mavericks better in the 2021-22 season after a disappointing end to this year’s playoff run.