The lockout hasn’t even reached its official end, and yet all eyes are fixed on the summer of 2012. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams have dominated media outlets with their rumored gravity toward various teams and markets, and though basketball fans are likely queasy already from the trade rumor overload, the hype is legitimate. Those three superstars are hugely impactful players, and while the NBA world would be a better place without the rumor mill’s nonstop churning, to ignore teams’ awareness of next year’s free agent class would be naive. Franchises around the league are working hard to be in a position to take part in the free agent fun, and the Mavs are no exception.
In that vein, Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN.com dropped a fairly startling report yesterday:
In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end.
“I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.”
…Chandler maintains that staying in Dallas has always been his first choice, but he expressed disappointment that the communication between the sides was minimal from the end of the NBA Finals in mid-June and the June 30 deadline for extensions. On Wednesday, when teams and agents were allowed to commence free-agent negotiations, NBA front office sources listed New Jersey, Golden State, Houston and Toronto as the teams chasing Chandler hardest.
The reasoning for the Mavs’ supposedly underwhelming offers?
…sources with knowledge of club’s thinking have told ESPN.com this month that management does fear that trying to match the offers Chandler gets on the open market — even if Dallas’ other free agents, such as Caron Butler and J.J. Barea are all let go — will only leave them with about $5-to-$6 million in salary-cap space in the summer of 2012.
I’m sure that’s a very real concern, as are what signing Chandler to a sizable, long-term deal will do to the team’s luxury tax picture and what would become of the Mavs if Chandler’s injury problems reared their ugly head. Dallas has a lot to consider — and fret over — before inking Chandler to a massive deal, particularly with the nuances of a new collective bargaining agreement to consider.
But if Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson continue to underwhelm Chandler with offers, they need to be comfortable with the possibility that the Mavs will not be first-tier contenders this season. They are the 2011 NBA Champions, and no one can ever take that away from them. But Chandler is crucial to any true effort for a repeat, and losing him as an unrestricted free agent would be a definite blow to a franchise in an otherwise strong position to contend.
Could Brendan Haywood help ease Chandler’s departure with increased playing time and improved play? Surely, but even at his best, Haywood doesn’t have the same transformational impact. Plus, the Mavericks’ all-important depth would be compromised; Dallas would be left with Haywood and Ian Mahinmi as the only centers on the roster, though it’s likely another reserve could be added in free agency via the taxpayer mid-level exception or the veteran minimum. Still, that center core doesn’t exactly inspire confidence — surely not as much as the idea of Chandler as a regular starter and Haywood as his slightly overqualified backup.
With so many teams in the running for the services of Paul, Howard, and Williams, it’s hard to imagine a Dallas team sans Chandler (and possibly without Kidd and Terry as well) having a good chance to land one of those three stars. But frankly, it’s also hard to put too much fault in Cuban and Nelson are looking for attempting to rework the franchise on the fly. Someday the dream must end; Dirk Nowitzki’s playing style makes his game more sustainable than most, but his decline — along with that of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion — is still inevitable. A big change was bound to come. it just may come a bit sooner than expected.
Dallas appears poised to take a calculated risk: let go of Chandler (and Caron Butler, and possibly J.J. Barea) and take a swing at remolding a contender. It’s a high-risk plan that could certainly (read: likely, due to the unavoidable numbers game) backfire, but the potential prize — another star player who would give the Mavericks a new direction and a new structure — is one worth targeting.
But is that pursuit really worth ruining a no-assembly-required contender?