Negative Space

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 11, 2012 under Commentary, Roster Moves | 7 Comments to Read

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The Mavericks may be rolling uphill, but at least they’re rolling. After adding Chris Kaman on a one-year deal that keeps next summer’s free agent hopes in check, Dallas quickly turned in a nice sign-and-trade deal for unrestricted free agent Ian Mahinmi, as first reported by Jonathan Givony of Draft Express. Mahinmi was almost certainly on his way out of Dallas, and in exchange for setting up their reserve center candidate with a four-year, $16 million deal, Dallas acquired Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones. If that isn’t enough for the something-for-nothing fetishists, I’m not sure what would be.

Now Dallas has its primary playmaker (and a pretty solid one relative to the free agent field) and a good wing defender to fill out the rotation, in addition to a decent starting-caliber big and an eye on another. Not a bad day for a team trying to figure its way into the bottom half of the playoff picture, and not a bad day for anyone who planned on watching said team with any measure of satisfaction in the coming months. There’s a lot left to discuss and a lot left to digest, but the fact that the Mavs were able to fill two needs economically without picking up any necessary salary commitment beyond this season is pretty nice, to say the least.

Collison is obviously the more intriguing piece, and his pick-and-roll potential with Dirk Nowitzki (and possibly Elton Brand, if we’re in the mood to count chickens) gives the upcoming season the slightest shimmer. If there’s any kind of spark there — and especially if Collison continues to improve — then the Mavs have the option of extending Collison the qualifying offer for another season at a mere $3.3 million, bridging the stopgap phase and an ideally rosier future with an affordable, rookie-scaled deal. Jones isn’t likely to stay in Dallas beyond this season, but considering the defensive limitations on the back line, the Mavs should and will take every bit of applicable defense they can get.

These minor moves are where Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban — and thus where the Mavericks as a franchise — thrive. That may not mean much in the summer of discontent, but the capacity to manipulate marginal assets, cap exceptions, and slight cap space pays off consistently and invariably. Big moves will always pull from the chance aligning of stars, but the most effective front offices are those that can create some modicum of success for themselves. These Dallas Mavericks, without fail, make the playoffs. It’s just what they do. Whether that’s a good thing at this point is another conversation entirely, but if absolutely nothing else, Nelson and Cuban have already cobbled together a supporting cast for Nowitzki that keeps Dallas competitive and staves off despair. Even in these unfortunate circumstances, that can’t be discounted.

  • Ryan Deocampo

    I'm all for progress towards a championship, however incremental it may be. But I think the current path that we are on (Landing Marquee Free Agent(s) to play with Dirk) isn't going to even get a whiff of a championship let alone a conference title. The deck is always going to be stacked against Dallas because, whoever it is be it the Clippers with Chris Paul or the Magic with Dwight Howard, can offer more years and more money. 5 years $98 million or 4 years $73 million which one would you take. Historically, the way to acquire top talent is to trade for it (Garnett, Carmelo, CP3, Gasol, Deron Williams). The only marquee player that switched teams via free agency is Steve Nash (I don't count LeBron and Bosh circumstances weren't the same). You could make the case for Joe Johnson back when he was playing for the Suns but the Suns could've had him but as always they were being cheap. And I don't count A'mare: 5 years $100 million and uninsurable knees. 

    I want to give Cuban and Donnie the benefit of the doubt, but from this vantage point their plan looks misguided.

    • MBT

      If I'm in the prime of my career and can play in a state with no state income tax, I take the 4/$73 in a heartbeat

      • Ryan Deocampo

        Always having lived in Texas, I am unaware of how punitive state incomes are. Does it make it a wash? Do you actually end up with more money if you play here? 

  • Jeffrey Thompson

    Let me tell you something: those moves will not stop the inevitable.  All it has done is slow down the bleeding.  The Mavericks are a sinking ship and it was their poor personnel moves that did them in.

  • Andrew

    Cubes! You gotta love this guy.  He took a calculated risk and it failed.  Instead of panicking, he kept his head up and made some smart moves.

  • Matt Hulme

    These moves, while shrewdly executed, unrestrictive, and stunningly one-sided in the Mavericks' favor, can and will and be but a shadow of what could have been, what was tried and failed, and here we stand, having executed plan E or F or however far down the list Cuban and Nelson must have drifted before arriving at this juncture, and upon reflection, even if we do add Elton Brand or an equally serviceable rental, are we the better for it?

    Are we a playoff team once more? Indubitably. Are we championship contenders? Unlikely as in any year of recent memory post or prior to Tyson Chandler's all-too-brief layover as a Maverick.

    While these are fun, non-debilitating maneuvers that actually have me once again ready to watch this team on the hardwood, we can't really see them as anymore than a stopgap to the bleeding, the addition of buoyancy to a sinking, aged roster ripe with has-beens and never-weres surrounding too few great pieces, a team fighting inevitability and the grips of terminal aging, seemingly eternities removed from their championship (how different this team is now; only four players remain from two seasons ago, from 14 months ago, and only two -Dirk and Matrix- played in at least 30 regular season games that championship season), on the precipice of rebuilding mode, yet constantly relighting the same short, damp wick on the end of a very well-worn candle.

    This is not to say that all is lost; on the contrary, this was and is the best possible scenario after the failed Deron Williams gamble. But from it, alongside the near-guarantee of the continuation of the Mavericks' incredible run of consecutive postseason births (one of innumerable testaments to Dirk's HoF career), and a chance to truly compete beyond that point and possibly somewhere deeper into the playoffs, the Mavericks as constituted in 2012-2013, however that may be, will have much more in common with 2011-2012, or 2009-2010, or 2008-2009, than in 2010-2011 or any year prior to the recent trend of first-round exits, than those glory years of true contention. But so is the case of a team fighting off age, regression, cap space, and the fear of losing the heart of their team.

    The Mavericks aren't a ship patching a hole in the bottom, they're a coffin fighting the waves. But you know what? Come October, I'll be there, ready to board that coffin, fandom in hands and heart on my sleeve, because that's what fans do. We don't give up because Dirk won't give up, ownership won't give up, and the team, however foreign it may seem at first, IS, in that moment, OUR team. OUR Mavericks. OUR champions.

    And besides, there's always next year, right? 2013?  …Right?   Am I right?    …Hello?

    • Sheelpi Kalam

      This will be our lot until Dirk retires, we may as well enjoy the ride as much as we can, and marvel at Cuban/Nelson's ability to make something from nothing (Collison/Jones for nothing; Tyson was also basically given to us for free by the Bobcats)