Dallas Mavericks' Nowitzki walks off the court during a timeout against the Oklahoma City Thunder during their NBA Western Conference quarter-final playoff basketball game in Dallas

Winderman: Dallas blew it all up for this?


The Mavericks blew it up for this? To finish as runner-up for Deron Williams?

The Mavericks put aside one of Dirk Nowitzki’s precious few quality remaining seasons on the promise of potential hope?

Yes, the Mavericks still could recover next summer, if Chris Paul doesn’t reach a new deal with the Clippers, if Dwight Howard doesn’t find a home he deems suitable.

And Mark Cuban may yet find a new franchise cornerstone moving forward.

But the reality is Nowitzki is an expiring commodity, one who now won’t play with Deron Williams, because Williams saw a brighter future in Brooklyn than the one Mark Cuban hoped to create in Dallas.

If 2010 free agency is an example, the runner-up tends not to come out of the process in the best of position. Having lost out on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that summer, the Bulls settled for Carlos Boozer. Now there is a chance Boozer eventually is amnestied should the Bulls match the Rockets’ offer sheet for Omer Asik.

In 2010 free agency, when the Knicks failed in their bids for the Heat’s Big Three, their answer was to sign Amare Stoudemire. New York is still trying to make that work, possibly now as the second-best team in their city.

And in 2010 free agency, when the Hawks couldn’t upgrade, they overpaid Joe Johnson and only now are working their way out of that nightmare.

There are exceptions. The Clippers also paid their requisite LeBron visit in 2010, came up empty-handed, but retained enough flexibility to eventually land Paul last season.

There remains the chance the Mavericks can do the same next summer.

The difference is the Clippers had a young core that could wait, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still in their formative years.

Dallas now is looking at Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood and a few other pieces. That’s a lot of years to put on hold.

Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson were allowed to depart last offseason.

Jason Terry is leaving now.

The Mavericks never got to truly defend their championship.

And Nowitzki again has been put on hold.

Such is the gamble tying a franchise’s future to an all-or-nothing element in free agency.

Under Cuban, the Mavericks have avoided the ultimate rebuild endured by teams such as the Heat, Pistons and to a degree even the Nets.

Tuesday, though, may have presented the ultimate challenge.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.