Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 12, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Rumor Mongering: Just Like Last Time, Only Different

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 10, 2010 under Commentary, Rumors | 2 Comments to Read

Al Jefferson wouldn’t have been a suitable replacement for Brendan Haywood, nor is he a particularly wise usage of Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract. But what if he could be had for something far less? That’s apparently what the Mavs are asking of the Timberwolves, according to Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas:

Dallas, meanwhile, is determined not to ship out Dampier’s fully unguaranteed $13 million contract just to take back someone else’s long-term deal. The Mavs are telling teams that they have to furnish a clear roster upgrade if they want the ability to acquire Dampier, cut him instantly and wipe $13 million off the books.

Sources say Minnesota has been urging Dallas to part with Dampier’s contract and draft considerations in exchange for Al Jefferson, who has three years left on his contract at $42 million. The Mavericks keep telling the Wolves that they won’t surrender Dampier’s contract in a Jefferson deal because they have it earmarked for a Gasol-type trade, such as a theoretical sign-and-trade arrangement for James or as the centerpiece of Dallas’ longstanding pursuit of Paul. The problem? It’s a steep drop in terms of difference-makers that might be available after LeBron and his good buddy CP3.

The Mavs’ hard-line stance could always change if they miss out on their other summer targets. For now, though, look for them to take a measured look at their options on the trade market for the next month or so, disappointing as it would be if they can’t turn their best asset into tangible help for Dirk Nowitzki after so much hoopla. Just to be clear, though: Sources say Dallas does remain interested in Jefferson if the Wolves prove amenable to a deal that does not involve Dampier’s contract.

The Mavs would understandably want to pick up Al Jefferson for expiring contracts and Matt Carroll while holding on to their most valuable trade chip, it just seems awfully unlikely that Minnesota would ever agree to such terms. Al’s contract is rather large for a player with such glaring holes in his game, but he’s not enough of a burden that he warrants unloading for cap savings alone. If Dallas really wants to add Jefferson, it’s most likely going to take Dampier. Expecting anything less is just a part of the negotiation, but hardly worthy of anything more than a rumor.

There are only a few core deals that the Mavs could use to trade for Al Jefferson without using Erick Dampier’s contract, assuming that the only player coming to Dallas is Jefferson:

  • DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera (with his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) for Al Jefferson
  • DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and J.J. Barea for Al Jefferson
  • Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and Matt Carroll for Al Jefferson
  • Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract for Al Jefferson

Terry and Stevenson make the most sense for the Wolves, but only if their intent is to clear as much salary as possible. They would trade Jefferson’s $13 million salary for $5 million guaranteed if they opt to waive Terry, and Dallas could include cash and draft picks to sweeten the pot if they so choose. Would all of that be worth it to earn the right to pay Jefferson over the next three seasons? Perhaps, but only if the Mavs don’t intend to force him into an uncomfortable role: playing center alongside Dirk Nowitzki.

Dirk is a unique cat, and his game isn’t easy to build around. It takes a particular set of players that can complement his strengths while making up for his weaknesses, and in that regard Jefferson disappoints. They’re not comparable, just familiar; even if Nowitzki and Jefferson aren’t the same in form, they are in function. It’s a neat diversion, but wouldn’t work as a starting pairing.

Now, a big rotation of Dirk, Brendan Haywood, and Al Jefferson? $13 million is a lot to pay for a big off the bench, but yeesh. Diversion turns to full-time fancy, and concerns about fit are obliterated. It would likely be painful for Mark Cuban to absorb both Jefferson’s deal and the tax implications, but considering it’s salary the Mavs would have been paying out to benchwarmers (and possibly Terry) this season anyway, the financial difference this season would be rather negligible. It’s all about how optimistic the Mavs are in their ability to move under the tax line (and conceivably the cap) in the coming seasons. With Nowitzki, Haywood, Marion, and perhaps another player yet to be determined all eating up space until 2014 at least, it may not be as financially liberal as it seems to throw in Al.

Rumor Mongering: Tastes Like Chicken

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 9, 2010 under Commentary, Rumors | 10 Comments to Read

Though the Mavs would theoretically be best served picking out their main off-season course before pinning down the plate presentation, NBA teams are rarely given such an opportunity. Teams grasp at every attractive free agent within their general vicinity, mostly because they have to; with other franchises presenting all kind of offers from every imaginable angle, free agents can rarely be seen as secure pursuits. Some players obviously lean heavily one way or another, but for us to assume an outcome does disregard both the power and influence of their agency.

So teams pitch, and they pitch and they pitch and they pitch. They evaluate, negotiate, offer, and counter-offer, until everyone is rightfully tired of the entire process. It’s continuous and tiresome, yet it’s the avenue teams are given to acquire new talent and that players are given to make bank.

So they play along. Free agency is difficult enough on its own merits to worry about temporal order. Even if the comprehensive vision isn’t yet apparent to the public eye, GMs are working the phones as part of something bigger than an individual signing. Even if that GM is David Kahn, and the “something bigger” is an elaborate practical joke on the Timberwolf faithful.

With all of this in mind, consider the following: According to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, the Mavs have expressed interest in signing free agent wing Rasual Butler. It’s still not the big splash Mavs fans are waiting for, but it’s the type of peripheral signing that can make Dallas a better team overall. Even though Butler would likely be the backup to the backup (he’d be safely behind Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, and Rodrigue Beaubois on the depth chart), Rasual is a usable player and an asset to have deep among the reserves.

Of course, how much Dallas would be willing to spend to sign Rasual would obviously be of some import. Picking up Butler could cost the Mavs most of their mid-level exception, and while that’s not an evil in itself, it could prevent Dallas from adding another real center. And as quaint of player Rasual may be, he’s not quite worth the chance of the Mavs walking into the regular season with Brendan Haywood as the only proven center under contract.

That said, Butler’s fine. A bit bland, but fine. He’s a decent outside shooter, a perfectly competent wing defender, and a nice complement. He just doesn’t quite hit the spot.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 8, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Mark Cuban explains why he thinks LeBron James will stay in Cleveland. His thesis: “When in doubt, go for the love.”
  • Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas: “Asked his goals for the coming season, Haywood laid it out there: 12-10-2 — as in 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots a game (and he added that he’d like to get closer to 2.7 or 3.0 blocks a game). Haywood has averaged at least 2.0 blocks only in the past two seasons. So, all of his stated numbers, if reached, would be career numbers and the Mavs would be thrilled.”
  • Count Rick Carlisle among those happy to have Haywood back.
  • Eric Freeman of The Baseline thinks that the Mavs overpaid for Brendan Haywood, but with Mark Cuban cutting the checks, it hardly matters. I’d definitely agree than having Cuban as the owner gives the Mavs a hell of a fall-back plan. They’re always able to survive a bad contract or two by flat-out eating it, and that’s a luxury that only a few NBA teams can afford to do regularly.
  • Drew Gooden will wear #0 for the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, the Wizards, Nets, Heat, Knicks, Kings, and Clippers are all interested in signing Josh Howard. New Jersey, with Avery in the saddle…seriously?


Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 3, 2010 under Commentary, News, Previews, Roster Moves | 5 Comments to Read

Photo from Mavs.com.

Someday, I’ll be forced to sit down at my keyboard and articulate exactly what Dirk Nowitzki has meant to the Dallas Mavericks. It will be painful and absolutely futile. I’ll haphazardly throw thoughts into this virtual space with the hope that some of it means something, and yet be forced to face the realization that none of it could possibly do Dirk and his career justice. What this man has done for this franchise and basketball in general is beyond words, words, words, and I pity the future me that’s forced to write such a basketball epitaph.

Instead, I couldn’t be happier to say that the Mavericks will continue with business as usual. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs have agree to terms on a four-year, $80 million contract, in which Nowitzki will leave some $16.2 million on the table to benefit the only franchise he’s ever known. It’s a touching gesture from the most important figure in Dallas Mavericks history, and fuels the hope of a substantial upgrade this off-season. Nowitzki’s unselfishness has given Mark Cuban the liberty to chase stars, and even if he ends up grasping at the biggest and brightest with little to show for it, Dirk’s sacrifice means plenty.

Though Nowitzki can’t officially ink the deal until July 8th, the agreement between him and the Mavs signals the beginning of the next stage of Dallas’ off-season. Brendan Haywood should now become the team’s top priority, and beyond that, the proper and optimal utilization of Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract. There are all kind of targets and options available to Dallas, and with Nowitzki locked up until 2014, only now can they become more than mere possibilities.

Dirk is also the proud new owner of a no-trade clause, one of two such clauses to currently exist in the NBA. In actuality, it means very little; it’s extremely unlikely that Cuban and Nelson would ever trade Dirk without his consent anyway, which means that the clause is merely a literal version of an established principle. It’s just something to keep everyone sleeping a bit more soundly at night, and if that’s what Mark and Donnie afforded Dirk to compensate for his considerable financial concessions, then good on all them.

It should be a busy summer, but take a moment to celebrate: the Mavs have just agreed to the best deal of free agency thus far.

From Beneath You, It Devours

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary, News | 2 Comments to Read

Thus far, the Mavs have done everything within their power to remove even the slightest possibility of a Dirk defection: Nelson offered to fly to him, they’ve met on Dirk’s terms, and according to a report from Marc Stein and Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, they’ve offered Dirk the maximum contract value and length allowed. There’s no question that a Nowitzki-less Mavs team would be dead in the water, which partially explains the team’s no-nonsense approach. The implications of Dirk’s decision are rather clear-cut, meaning the Mavs have no business trying to step around the issue or get shy over dollar amounts. Re-signing Nowitzki is simply what Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have to do to stave off the end, and there are no alternatives.

The same is essentially true of re-signing Brendan Haywood. While Haywood’s impact doesn’t even come close to Nowitzki’s nor is it as obvious, the volatility the Mavs currently have at center make him an absolute necessity. The end of days doesn’t have to be marked by predictable fire raining from above if the understated earth swallows everything whole. Dallas needs a solid 5 going into next season, and Brendan is more than that. Should they lose him however, it not only means a likely downgrade at center, but a complete compromise of all of the Mavs’ other off-season plans.

If Dallas loses Haywood to another suitor, re-signing Dampier after his inevitable trade becomes much more likely, as does using Damp’s contract to net a replacement center. Andris Biedrins and Al Jefferson are the most convenient names available, and while both are effective players, they’re not quite talented enough to justify the costs. In such a scenario, the Mavs would essentially be swapping out Haywood, Dampier, and the chance of netting a valuable player via Dampier’s contract for a stop-gap center; rather than using their available funds to shore up the house’s overall structure, they’d simply be putting an ill-fitting column in the middle of everything with the hope that it holds.

While it’s never a wise negotiating tactic to blindly meet all of the other party’s demands, the Mavs really need to work with Brendan on this one. In fact, the Nowitzki-Haywood negotiations may be a little bit backwards; while Cuban and Nelson would never want to seem ungrateful for all Dirk has done in Dallas and probably shouldn’t take unnecessary risks, they have a far greater margin for error with Nowitzki than they do with Haywood. Dirk wants to stay with the Dallas Mavericks, whereas Haywood wants to go with whoever is willing to give him his desired role and paycheck. If it’s the Mavs, fantastic. If not, he’ll simply move on.

Dallas can’t afford for him to, which is what makes the reported dissonance in negotiations a bit worrisome. It’s still quite early in the process and I wouldn’t expect both sides to be on the same page immediately, but clear progress needs to be made before one of Brendan’s suitors — be it Miami, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, or another team yet to be named — swoops in with an overwhelming offer. Maybe that would be Miami, with a chance to play alongside Dwyane Wade while making a good chunk of change. Maybe that would be with Boston, where he’d be the starting center on a team looking to make another run at the Finals. Maybe it would be with a re-signed LeBron in Cleveland, as the undisputed man in the middle in Detroit, or on any team where the money or opportunity strikes him.

While Dallas may be the only franchise that can currently boast both an established, winning roster and a salary to Brendan’s liking, that may not be good enough. The idea of the Mavs continuing in free agency without a center secured for next year is positively frightening, and my hope is that if push comes to shove, Cuban and Nelson aren’t afraid to show him the quan. Whether Haywood ends up signing a contract for $8 million per or $10 million per isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he ends up signing it with the Mavs, and if Cuban has to go a bit overboard to get it done, I’ll have no objections. The paychecks don’t come out of my bank account, but if Dallas is committed to competing now with the current core, Haywood needs to be a part of it.

Previously, on Dallas Mavericks Basketball…

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 1, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

Video via DFWDigsDirk.com/Mavs.com.

A terrific look back at Dirk’s various milestones in Dallas, but it doesn’t feel very complete to me. Nowitzki has accomplished plenty, but I don’t think I’d mind if he came back to write a few more chapters. Would you?

Don’t Press the Red Button

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary, News | 2 Comments to Read

Dirk Nowitzki is the Mavs’ free agent alpha, which makes every slight modification in his plans an item of interest.

First, Nowitzki opted to fly to the States rather than have Donnie Nelson meet him in Germany. No big — Dirk calls Donnie before he boards the plane, and Nelson agrees to meet Nowitzki at his home in Dallas. Then, word came that Dirk won’t be coming to Dallas on Thursday at all, but will wait one more day and meet Nelson on Friday. Also not of monumental concern; although the Mavs want to reach an agreement with Dirk as soon as possible, one day isn’t going to make radical difference in their free agent plans either way. However, there is one note that makes that one day layover a bit more interesting: Dirk will be spending it in New York.

Don’t sound the alarm just yet. Even if Dirk chooses to meet with another team (the Knicks and Nets being the obvious possibilities) while in NYC, it really doesn’t make that big of an impact. While it’s better for the Mavs if Nowitzki speaks to them and them alone, there is absolutely no way that Dirk would agree to a deal without first meeting with Cuban and Nelson first, and there’s no way that Cuban and Nelson let Nowitzki go without offering him everything they can. If we know what we think we know about Dirk, he wants to stay in Dallas and he wants to play for a competitive team. It’s likely that neither one of those things would happen in either New York or New Jersey. Both teams are set to make substantial jumps next season if free agency plays out favorably, but their rosters are still very incomplete and on a far different timeline than Dirk.

Maybe Nowitzki really does want to get a second opinion before he signs with the Mavs, or maybe he doesn’t. At the moment, Dirk’s exact motives for staying in New York for a day are unclear (the company line states that Nowitzki is simply trying to stay low-key and dodge the fanfare — believable, though convenient), but we do know that he’ll be meeting with Jason Kidd for dinner. That doesn’t mean much either, but at this point it’s all we’ve got.

Even though everything in the Mavs approach with Dirk seems to have changed, nothing really has. Nowitzki still wants to return, and the Mavs still need him to. Whether the negotiations take place in Dallas or Würzburg matters very little, as does Dirk’s location at this very minute. The Mavs will have their chance to make their pitch, Nowitzki will hear them out, they’ll work together, and almost certainly come to some sort of agreement. Of all of the premier free agents, Dirk’s destination is still the most inevitable, and while news like this gives us something to bat around in the interim, there’s nothing to fret about.

Foundation Meets Frivolity

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

We’re a few good hours into free agency, and these are the things we know for sure:

  1. The Mavs want Dirk Nowitzki back quite badly, but they obviously haven’t agreed to terms, much less put pen to paper.
  2. They’re interested in some other guys too, but nothing is set in stone and free agency is young yet.
  3. Erick Dampier is requesting — nay, DEMANDING — that the Mavs give him the full mid-level, or he’ll leave.

Alright then. Good luck with that, Damp.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: under no circumstances will the Mavs offer Dampier the full mid-level. None.  They would not, could not, in a house. They would not, could not, with a mouse. I could list reasons aplenty for that decision, but it really doesn’t seem necessary; under no conceivable criteria is Erick Dampier worthy of a full MLE at this stage in his career. Not even if he dresses up nicely and puts on that cologne you love so much.

That said, it’s no surprise that Dampier is reluctant to sign for a more reasonable salary. It’s been assumed all along that if Dallas wants to keep Erick in the fold, they’ll merely have to pay him something after his unguaranteed salary is completely voided. Damp clearly has other ideas. He is still a serviceable center after all, and if the Mavs are reluctant to pay him market value, he’ll simply ply his trade elsewhere. Without that $12 million contract hanging around his neck, Damp is actually a pretty useful player that can fill minutes at a position with limited alternatives.

Dampier is likely posturing for negotiations with the Mavs (or another team), or perhaps he’s simply more megalomaniacal than we ever gave him credit. Either way, Donnie and Mark will try to talk Damp down from this valuation and bring him back as the Mavs’ back-up center. Whether or not they’re successful depends as much on Dallas’ willingness to compromise as it does Damp’s, but re-signing him is a sensible and convenient way to establish the tail end of the center rotation.

Either way, it looks as though the Mavs will face a fair bit of uncertainty at the 5. Dampier is obviously asking for a bit more than he’s worth, even to a team that regularly sings his praises. Re-signing Brendan Haywood isn’t a given, as a center of his caliber is sure to generate legitimate interest from a number of suitors. Beyond that, Dallas would have to acquire a possibly ill-fitting center via trade by necessity (such as Al Jefferson), or try to lure in an over-the-hill vet (i.e. Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Brad Miller) or unproven big (Ian Mahinmi) by using their MLE. Fit — both in terms of skill and role — is ever-important, but with Dallas as just one possible center-hungry franchise in what seems like a sea of them, nothing should be taken for granted in these negotiations.

The games are just beginning, and Erick Dampier has started things off with a warning shot. It won’t make Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban think twice about trading him away (considering the magnitude of the trade chip and its expiration date, why would it?), but it does set an interesting atmosphere for Dampier’s impending negotiations with the Mavs.

It’s Been a Long, Cold, Lonely Winter

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 30, 2010 under Commentary, News | Be the First to Comment

With free agency just a few hours away the Mavs’ plan is beginning to come into focus. Team representatives are headed in a number of directions.

Donnie Nelson, who was bound for the Rhineland, will instead head to a slightly more local destination: Dirk Nowitzki’s home. Nowitzki altered the initial plans and opted to meet Nelson in Dallas rather than have Donnie come to him, which could indicate a number of things. From where I’m sitting, it doesn’t seem to be any kind of negative for the Mavs; while Dirk coming back to Dallas could actually make it easier for him to visit with reps from other teams around the league, there’s also something affirming about his homecoming.

Everything starts with Dirk. I know this, you know this, and rest assured that Donnie and Mark Cuban know this.

“If Dirk doesn’t stay, our whole world changes…There is no mix if there’s no Dirk in the mix,” [Nelson] said.

With him, Dallas is among the more intriguing free agent destinations and a viable candidate for a sign-and-trade. Without him, the Mavs are very questionable to make the playoffs at all, and could easily slip into the mid-lottery.

Mark Cuban is set to meet Joe Johnson in Los Angeles in what could be a rather futile endeavor. According to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks are set to offer Joe every penny they can: a full max offer for six years (one more year than any other team can because they own his Bird rights). It’s a ludicrous move for a good but hardly elite player, and it could end the Joe Johnson bidding war before it ever really began.

If Cunningham’s source is correct, the Hawks are willing to go further than any other team in the league would or could. NBA fans of every kind can only hope that Johnson’s potential max deal doesn’t act as a free agent barometer; if other players measure themselves against Joe, we could be looking at even more overpaid free agents than anticipated.

Regardless of how things turn out, Cuban is ready to jet set across the country to hit the free agent trail, but his exact destinations are somewhat unknown. I think it’s safe to say that visits or talks or communication of some kind between Cuban and both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are scheduled, but the exact timing and nature of those discussions will only be revealed in the coming weeks.

Rick Carlisle is set to be on Brendan Haywood’s doorstep when free agency begins, which is both great news and odd news. It’s terrific that the Mavs are giving Haywood the royal treatment, because while he isn’t quite as essential to the Mavs’ future as Dirk, he’s not far behind. Dallas is lost without a real center, and considering that most of the off-season gameplan revolves around shipping out Erick Dampier, it’s imperative that the Mavs have someone reliable to man the middle next season. Brendan is as good of a choice as any, and although his time in Dallas thus far has been unremarkable, he can and will do better with more experience in the Mavs’ system.

The starting job is there for Brendan if he chooses to return. Here’s the team’s stance courtesy of Donnie Nelson, via Art Garcia of NBA.com:

“That’s just a natural progression of that position,” Nelson said. “Those two guys, as a one-two punch, are a pretty formidable center tandem, but I think it would just be, like I said, just a natural progression for Haywood to step into that role.”

However, given that his relationship with Rick Carlisle has never been all that sunny, I find the choice in delegation a bit curious. Obviously Rick and Brendan maintain a sense of professionalism in their interactions, but when we’re talking about an unrestricted free agent who is going to get competitive offers from other teams and is a crucial part of Dallas’ immediate future, I’d want someone a bit more endearing to Haywood on his porch. It’s probably a non-issue, but why risk it?

Free agency officially begins at midnight tonight (EST), and there’s sure to be a flurry of reports and activity. Everyone wants to know who is going where with whom and for how much, and the pressure to report that information first will be rather incredible. Consider sources. Read everything with skepticism. Don’t misunderstand silence for disagreement, and don’t think that every hesitation is worthy of panic. If Dirk wants to take his time to consider his options, it’s his right. If LeBron James wants to sit on his choice until the start of training camp, he can. No one can accurately gauge the pace of free agency until it begins, but I think it’s safe to say that everything won’t be resolved overnight.

Get comfortable for the long haul, because even the deals that are “done” aren’t, and the moves that are “a lock” are often anything but. There’s so much yet to happen and a lifetime before it all does, so be patient, stay tuned, and hope for the best.