Until the Mavericks get within sniffing distance of the playoff race, at least some attention needs to be turned to free agents who might make sense for them next season.

One of them was on prime display Wednesday night at American Airlines Center.

J.J. Hickson, who at 6-9, 240 pounds plays center for Portland, has turned into a very nice player and a huge bargain for the Blazers at just over $4 million this season.

He came into the game tied for third in the league in double-doubles with 26. And he has an active style that is reminiscent of another J.J. who used to prowl AAC, little J.J. Barea.

Hickson is bigger and stronger than Barea, but he plays the same way.

“He’s an energetic guy,” Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “He goes hard. He’s a very good athlete, high-level athlete, plays above the rim and has improved his shooting. He just has a knack for finding places on the court where he can hurt you.

“He’s gotten better and better, and if you think about it, that’s a pretty good waiver pickup.”

The Blazers got Hickson last season when Cleveland waived him. He was a free agent and signed a one year deal last summer.

He’ll be unrestricted this summer.

Not that the Mavericks already have their eyes on him, of course. That would be taboo with regard to the NBA’s tampering rules. But they certainly will watch the development of the 24-year-old out of North Carolina State from afar.