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Mavs load up on guards, still have hole at center

Wednesday - 7/10/2013, 11:11pm  ET

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle responds to a reporter's question as rookie Gal Mekel, of Israel, listens during a news conference where the NBA basketball team introduced their three rookies and presented them with jerseys, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Sports Writer

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks have loaded up on guards in free agency. They just can't seem to find a center.

The Mavericks met Wednesday with Andrew Bynum, who later accepted a contract offer from Cleveland. Dallas' first choice was Dwight Howard, but he went with Houston.

Bynum was a big risk because he didn't play at all last season for Philadelphia and had arthroscopic surgery on both knees in March. Now the Mavericks are running dangerously low on options to find a frontcourt partner for Dirk Nowitzki as they try to become championship contenders late in the 7-foot German star's career.

"Currently we still need help and support in our frontcourt and we're going to turn over every stone," Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said before Bynum made his decision.

While the Mavericks pursue Plan C at center, they anticipate the official arrival of guards Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and Wayne Ellington.

Dallas added two more guards through the draft and the equivalent of a rookie in Gal Mekel, another backcourt player who is set to become the second Israeli-born player in the NBA.

Even if they have to go to the B-list and beyond at center, the Mavericks still think they're helping Nowitzki by stockpiling point guards. The one-year experiment of Darren Collison at the point and O.J. Mayo at shooting guard virtually destroyed Dallas' pick-and-roll game, and the Mavericks want it back.

"We didn't want to repeat the situation that we went through last year," Nelson said. "That's no disrespect to anybody. But clearly to have Dirk at this point in his career, he really deserves to play with a true point guard that can get him the ball where he wants it, when he wants it."

Calderon, a ninth-year pro out of Spain, is the likely starter at point guard. He spent his first seven seasons with Toronto, and is more of a distributor than a scorer with career averages of 10.1 points and 7.2 assists.

Harris returns to Dallas nine years after the Mavericks ended up with him at No. 5 in the draft through a trade with Washington. He started 15 postseason games when the Mavericks lost to Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals. When he was traded a season and a half later in a deal that brought Jason Kidd back to Dallas, Harris was seen as someone who struggled to get the ball to Nowitzki.

Now, Harris figures to be a point guard and shooting guard depending on the rotation. Even though the summer isn't going well for Nowitzki, he showed a sense of humor in welcoming back his former teammate on Twitter.

"We worked all summer to get DH to Dallas," Nowitzki wrote in a tongue-in-cheek tweet referencing the failed pursuit of Howard. "Welcome back to the Mavs, Devin Harris."

Ellington is a shooting guard who was the Most Outstanding Player when North Carolina won the NCAA title in 2009, but he's averaged just 6.9 points on 42 percent shooting in four seasons. He is coming off a strong second half with Cleveland after he was traded by Minnesota last season. He averaged 10.4 points in 38 games.

The most intriguing free agent is Mekel, who played at Wichita State from 2006-08 and is coming off a championship season in Israel. He drew interest from several NBA teams, and his introductory news conference Wednesday had Israeli television crews buzzing.

The first Israeli player in the NBA was Omri Casspi, a fifth-year player who is signing as a free agent with Houston.

Another foreign-born point guard probably isn't coming back. Nelson all but ruled out the return of Rodrigue Beaubois of Guadeloupe, once viewed as the possible answer at the point for Dallas.

With Bynum out of the picture, it looks more likely that Dallas will keep forward Shawn Marion, the only other player besides Nowitzki remaining from the franchise's first championship team in 2011 -- and the only other starter from last season's roster.

It's also looking more like Vince Carter will return as the sixth man.

The Mavericks are still talking to Elton Brand, who played mostly center last season even though he's a better fit at forward, and Dallas can sign backup center Brandan Wright without affecting the salary cap.

Somebody with size who didn't play for the Mavericks last season is almost certainly on the way.

"We're going to be small at times," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We know that, and everybody uses some of those lineups. But size is still really important, and we're not finished making our roster yet."


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