Jason Terry is the most important non-essential Maverick.
Although this year’s playoffs proved that Terry’s game is anything but unsolvable, he remains one of the few Mavs capable of creating their own offense. That’s a valuable skill regardless of team context, but given how stagnant the Dallas offense can be at times, Terry’s skills remain a crucial part to unlocking this current roster’s offensive potential. Had JET been a productive scorer in this year’s playoffs rather than handcuffed and tossed in the corner, it’s possible the Mavs would still be alive. He can’t do everything on his own like Dirk Nowitzki can, but you have to believe that Rick Carlisle, Jason Kidd, and the rest of the team can do a better job of enabling one of the team’s more efficient scorers. He may need a little help reaching that level of production, but the fact that it can be reached makes him valuable.
Then again, should the Mavs acquire an effective shooting guard in free agency, Terry’s impact is minimized. It’s clear that finding minutes for Rodrigue Beaubois will be a priority for Rick Carlisle next season, and with at least Shawn Marion and a scoring 2 taking up minutes on the wing, it’s easy to imagine a world in which JET’s role is diminished. Suppose Dallas hangs on to Caron Butler beyond this summer as well, and you’re looking at four high-minute players vying for for playing time on the wings (though Beaubois will certainly see some time at the point next year).
Terry averaged 33 minutes per game this season in 77 games for the Mavs, but that number could soon fall. In itself, that may not be earth-shaking news, but JET’s minutes could have a substantial impact on his future with the team, as noted by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas last week. Should Terry’s minutes next season fail to break the 1,500 mark, only $5 million of his 2011-2012 salary ($11.16 million) would be guaranteed. That could potentially make JET an incredibly interesting trade chip going into the new CBA. Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban were able to turn Jerry Stackhouse’s similar contract — albeit with less guaranteed money — into Kris Humphries and a signed-and-traded Shawn Marion, which is pretty good return value on a player that had limited basketball effectiveness at the time and had only played in 10 games the previous season.
There’s too much to be determined before we know Terry’s role on the 2010-2011 Mavs for sure, but a drastic change would be necessary for JET’s minutes to duck under the 1,500-minute mark. Jason has never played fewer than 1,500 minutes in a season and has played fewer than 78 games only twice (77 and 74 games in the last two seasons). Barring a major acquisition, an unfortunate injury, or a supernatural occurrence that would transform Matt Carroll into a rotation player, we should expect Terry to meet that number rather easily.
Then again, the fact that we’re even having this conversation says a lot about the evolution of the Mavs as a franchise. Since the team evolved from the ‘Big Three’ model to a more Dirk-centric design in ’04-’05, Jason Terry has been an integral part of the team. He started off as Nash’s replacement at point guard, but ultimately became the league’s most effective scoring reserve, and it was Terry’s success at the 2 that helped to elevate the Mavs in 2006 and 2007. Though Dallas’ top defense have more or less operated in spite of JET’s deficiencies, the iso-heavy offense employed throughout most of this Maverick era only works because of a player of Nowitzki’s unique talents and due to the supplementary contributions of a player like Terry. His game may not be perfect, but no one Mav (aside from Dirk) has been more valuable over the last five years.
Yet now, superlatives all fall in the past tense, and this very post is discussing the possibility of shipping out Terry in the Stackhousian method of player marginalization. JET is merely a season removed from being named the Sixth Man of the Year, and yet many Mavs fans are hoping that in twelve month’s time, Terry will be reduced to a tradable contract. It’s off-putting to think about in those terms because of what it means about the nature of both the NBA and the Mavs’ offense.
If Terry, whose skills really haven’t diminished all that much from his most successful NBA seasons, is no longer a viable candidate for major minutes on this team, is the Dallas offense as we know it truly dead and buried? Is that a condemnation of Dirk’s style of play, or an evolution of his supporting cast to better fit his needs? When the Mavs assembled Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Caron Butler — three of the best mid-range shooters in the league — in the same place and the template flunked out of the first round, does that make the Dallas model flawed beyond repair or in desperate need of personnel upgrades elsewhere on the roster?
It’s difficult to say. There are so few easy questions in team construction, especially for a team like the Mavs that need to be fixed but isn’t necessarily broken. Terry epitomizes the issues Dallas faces moving forward, and the questions of how best to use him in the offense, how to hide him on defense, and whether or not his production is worth the effort moving forward are all valid. They’re just not easy, and whether JET hits the 1,500-minute mark in ’10-’11 or not, what the Mavs choose to do with Jason Terry will greatly influence both their immediate and long-term futures.