DALLAS — Through the first month of the 2012-13 season, it appeared the Dallas Mavericks had found a long-term foundation piece of the future at the starting shooting guard spot as O.J. Mayo broke back onto the NBA scene.
After finishing his first campaign as the runner-up for rookie of the year honors before seeing his production slip steadily while eventually being delegated to coming off the bench for two seasons in Memphis, Mayo appeared to recapture his form when leading the Mavericks (41-41) in scoring with 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki hobbled and sidelined for the first 27 games of the season due to preseason arthroscopic knee surgery. However, Mayo would admittedly hit a wall as the season winded to a close while starting all 82 games and leading the team in minutes played.
Now, the sharpshooter will head into an offseason of free agency after announcing that he will exercise the player option for Year 2 of his contract, hoping to expand upon his role and build off his first season with the Mavs by returning on a long-term deal.
“Really, I mean, I haven’t thought that far into it,” an uncertain Mayo told members of the media during last Thursday’s exit interviews after the Mavs finished with an even .500 record while missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
“Obviously, with the exit meeting, it’s going to be a situation as far as free agency. I really haven’t looked too into it, though,” he added. “Try to work something out to stay here. … Just something long-term to lock something in, I think that’s what’s best for me moving forward.”
Finishing second on the team behind Nowitzki while averaging 15.3 points an outing, Mayo saw his production plummet over the course of the season despite shooting the best 3-point percentage of his career at 40.7 percent. He averaged the second-most turnovers of his five seasons as well, committing 2.55 giveaways a night. And after seeing his shooting percent from the field also drop from 49.3 percent in November to just 38.5 percent in April, Mayo enters free agency hoping to return to Dallas in better condition after playing 35.5 minutes an outing, the most he’s played since clocking 38.0 in his second season in the league.
“Obviously a little fatigued,” Mayo said of his late-season struggles. “You know, having that role to be one of the top options on the team and leading the team in minutes came a little tough towards the end of the year. It had been a little different than the last three years of my career. But going into this summer, I want to be in better shape and understand what you’re getting yourself into.”
“The dynamics of our team changed,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle also noted while correlating Nowitzki’s return to the lineup to Mayo’s falloff. “Teams still game planned for him heavily, because he was our leading minutes guy and there was a strong correlation between him having efficient scoring nights and us winning. Look, everybody has all this analytic information, and with Dirk back in the fold and him getting a lot of the primary touches, O.J. was taken out of a lot of those volume opportunities that he had early in the year. So, how exactly you analyze all that, it’s a bit subjective depending on what your situation is. I love O.J. as a kid and as a person. I spent more time with him than probably any player I’ve ever had, and with him I’m like a little-league dad. I want him to do well so badly that sometimes it gets the better of me. But that’s OK, because if you care that much that’s never a bad thing.”
Investing much time in seeing the development of the 25-year-old guard, Carlisle’s frustration with Mayo’s sluggish tail end of the season would come out during his postgame comments following Mayo’s 1-of-6 shooting night for just two points while committing four turnovers against his former team in a 103-97 home loss to Memphis last Monday night. Still, with high belief in Mayo’s abilities, the coach would gladly welcome him back should the front office and the five-year pro work something out contractually.
“I like O.J. a lot,” Carlisle said. “I think he fits in to what we’re doing, but like everything else in this world, this is probably going to come down to money. Right now, I don’t know where all that stuff is going to stand. He had a very good year for us, so there’s going to be a lot of teams interested in him.”
He added: “[Mayo] took quantum leaps as a player this year. He was never known as a playmaker, and the analytics would tell you that he wasn’t in a lot of playmaking situations, but he became one of our effective playmakers, so that’s a real positive for him in his career. Look, we invested a lot in him in terms of time and things like that, so in a lot of those ways it’s a no-brainer to want to have him back. But again, it’s how it all shakes down with things in the summer and money and all those kinds of things. It’s impossible to address that at this point.”