In Part One of my conversation with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, we discussed the recent disappearing act of Dirk Nowitzki’s shot attempts, Rick Carlisle’s coaching and the whacky twists and turns the point guard position has created for the team this season.
Part Two really digs into the meat and potatoes for the Mavericks. This summer will once again present a crossroads of sorts for Dallas. There’s also a decision the Mavericks made after winning their championship in 2011 that will likely hover around the franchise for quite some time. Lowe discusses the hindsight look at that as well as looking at the legacy Dirk Nowitzki will imprint on the league.
Let’s dig in. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
There are two routes the Mavericks can go this summer with their cap space. They can load up now and start establishing their core players for the future or just go the rental route one more year to gear up for 2014 with Dirk off the books. They can keep him in the mix with a hometown discount or create a new era for the franchise. Establish a new core or go the rental route?
ZL: Unless you get a star, you need to prepare yourself to reload again the following summer with or without Dirk. Look at the landscape of the league. Oklahoma City is awesome, Miami is otherworldly and there will be a couple of other really good teams below them. You’re not going to win the championship, and that’s the ultimate goal for Dallas, by signing these sort of one-year rental guys who feel like they’re not getting offered what they’re really worth and want to take a one-year deal and all of that. You have to hit a home run on all of those signings to really build a good team out of that. This past offseason makes it clear that your likelihood of hitting a home run on Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and OJ Mayo and guys like that is very low.
If they were going to do a mix of both plans, two names that are intriguing to me are Nikola Pekovic and Jarrett Jack. Pekovic is a restricted free agent and Jack could sort of bridge the gap for them.
ZL: Those guys are solid players. They make sense for any team, but it’s just a matter of the number and the years. I think Pekovic is going to be in real danger of being overpaid although he’s a nice player. I don’t think I’m going to line up to give him $12-13 million a year which is the number you hear bandied about when you start talking about him. That raises a happier version of the question that was raised this past summer (with Kaman) which is, does the Dirk/Pekovic front line protect the rim well enough to really contend for a title? I understand that Dirk comes off the books soon so maybe it is Pekovic and player X in two years, but Dirk is the face of the franchise so you have to pose that question with Dirk in it first. I’m not sure that it moves the needle for them much. That being said, Pekovic would be an asset so maybe you could trade him down the line. If I was in the Dallas front office, I wouldn’t blow him away in order to try to sign him in Dallas.
Jack is a solid player, probably a backup. He’s sort of a hybrid now between starter and backup in Golden State. He’s a nice player, but I’m not going to sign him to a three-year, $20 million deal or anything like that.
With 20/20 vision, was the decision to let Tyson Chandler go after winning the championship a mistake?
ZL: The Tyson Chandler decision was probably the hardest decision any team has had to make, in terms of resigning a free agent, in the last four or five years. When they made that decision I understood it. I understood it, not because he was Tyson Chandler who had been injured for significant parts of his career. It wasn’t just Tyson Chandler. It was JJ Barea, Jason Kidd, not extending JET (Jason Terry). It was all of those things that showed an understanding by the Mavericks front office, an accurate understanding, of them collectively saying, I just don’t think we can pull off what we just pulled off ever again (winning the championship with that current roster). So many things went right for us. So many of these guys are old and have injury histories that we have to move on or else we’re going to lock ourselves into a roster that isn’t going to be good enough to compete for a championship.
I understood it at the time. So, if I understood it at the time, I don’t think I’m allowed to then say they made a mistake or they made a bad decision. Obviously, Tyson Chandler has proven to be one of the 15 or 20 best players in the league. He’s healthy and you’d love to have him on your team, especially with how clear the cap sheet is. If there is an indictment to be made, it’s to say that the cap sheet would have been clear pretty much after 2014 even signing Chandler to a big deal and maybe you fill in around him with some tiny pieces around him to build a championship level team. I didn’t have a huge problem with the decision then so I don’t think I can have a problem with it now.
There’s discussion that Mark Cuban might be out-thinking himself with the CBA. Teams are starting to make decisions similar to what he made, but teams are still spending freely. Is he in a spot where he’s made the right decision with these moves and might still get burned from it?
ZL: Of course that’s a possibility, but that’s always a possibility. That’s the process versus results thing: you can do the process correctly and never get good results or rarely get good results. The two don’t always line up and that doesn’t necessarily create any sort indictment of the process itself. There’s a lot of luck in the NBA.
Did they want Deron Williams? Yes, well, why didn’t they get him? Was it Shark Tank? Was it that the offer was $4 million lower? Was it that Deron didn’t want to play in his hometown? Those kinds of variables are hard to figure out.
He may be proven right in five years for the way he’s managed to the CBA and certainly other teams are going to start looking carefully at the moves he’s made and already have to see if they need to try to clean up their financial sheet. If you’re not getting the results, that’s disappointing. It doesn’t necessarily mean the process was wrong. And, on the other hand, you have to then present an alternative process. What should you have done? I don’t think signing Tyson Chandler alone gets you into the championship conversation right now.
In regards to recent draft results, is it fair for fans to have a beef for the results they’ve gotten over the last 3-4 years?
ZL: I would say to those fans, take a GM job and try drafting at 23 every year and see what you get. Not only that, look at other GM drafting records when they draft in the 20s or the late teens or whatever. It’s essentially like putting on a blindfold and throwing darts at a dartboard. Sometimes you get DeAndre Jordan and sometimes you get Joe Forte. There’s just very little rhyme or reason. I mean, there’s some teams that have definitely out-drafted their position like the San Antonio Spurs and that’s very unusual. Your default expectation for pick number 24 is basically nothing. That’s what you should expect.
What kind of cache does Dirk have going forward to free agents and players around the league? Is he seen just as a guy that’s getting older or is he still seen as a guy that can be the guy?
ZL: I think they see both. I think they see a guy who is moving towards the end of his career but is still going to be a very good complementary player. Specifically, he’s going to be a very good complementary player for someone who likes to have the ball a lot. I think that’s why those Deron Williams or ball handler X free agent rumors or pursuits make a lot of sense. Dirk can be of value just setting screens in a pick and roll 50 times a game or spotting up outside of a pick and roll 20 times a game and just sucking the defense his way.
It’s sort of the opposite of the rumored Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard debate on who was going to be the alpha dog. Kobe cryptically sending text messages about Dwight being No.3 if he goes there. I think it would be the opposite and Dirk would just happily slide into a No. 2 role if they get a No. 1. He’ll be a very nice No. 2 and a star No. 2. Is he one of the top 5 players in the league and people look at him that way going forward? No, but he absolutely still has some cache. He’s not the hippest, coolest guy in the world and he won’t try to claim that. He won’t try to club with LeBron, but he’s still a draw.
On a lighter note, do you want to elaborate on your earlier discussion about Monte Mathis and his unique reactions on the sidelines?
ZL: I have never talked to Monte more than 30 seconds in my life. I’ve been assured he’s a perfectly sane, normal guy off the court. But yeah, he got his start as a video guy and is now a defense guy. He’s out there throwing the clipboard, putting his hands in the air, praying to God and looking to the heavens. On the surface, he looks like a very stressed out individual, but I think he’s fine.
If you had to write a brief summary on who Dirk is and what he’s meant to the league, how would you go about it?
ZL: I would mention him as someone who helped redefine the NBA and its emphasis on spacing, the 3-point shot, power forwards who can shoot. He is someone who helped the NBA into that direction or forced the NBA into that direction. Not only that, he’s been someone who taught a lot of people, fans, writers or whoever, how to analyze the game in a way that takes into account the spacing and impact of guys who maybe don’t have the ball.
The flashbulb moment for me is during Game 2 of the Finals between the Mavericks and the Heat in 2011 and Dallas started running all kinds of Tyson Chandler pick and rolls with Dirk spotting up on the left wing. The announcers were going crazy and saying how smart it was because Dirk was sucking someone away from the rim and that person has to stick to Dirk like glue and Tyson has these free rim runs. I think a lot of fans were thinking to themselves at the time that he manipulates (the spacing on) the floor. I think that is part of his legacy. It’s not a stretch to say he helped shift the NBA’s evolution.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.