Few teams know how to rally in the wake of a plan broken like the Dallas Mavericks; the same system of contingency that netted the Mavericks Tyson Chandler in 2010 has struck again, this time with the expected acquisition of Elton Brand for the unexpected sum of $2.1 million, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com. That’s a quality get at a staggeringly low cost, and the latest in a series of moves that has returned Dallas to, if nothing else, competitive respectability. That’s miracle work considering where this team stood just a few days ago, and a strong endorsement in a front office that’s had a bit of a tough off-season. Losing out on potentially acquiring Deron Williams could still set this franchise back a few years, but the Mavericks front office has proven themselves more than capable of handling the interim with vision, purpose, and the utmost creativity.
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.
The Dallas Mavericks can’t invest in long-term prospects and have seen the few possible short-term fixes pass them by. It’s a sad, treadmilled existence; the level of now-mandatory prudence keeps the Mavs in fine financial shape, but that alone doesn’t mean that they’re getting anywhere. The past week has demonstrated the tremendous risk involved in leveraging cap space, and yet Dallas has little option save to keep their books clear and try again.
But in the meantime, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson will surely clad all kinds of rentals in Maverick blue. Dallas is very much in the running for an amnestied Elton Brand, among other targets, but the first solidified get is Dirk Nowitzki’s kind-of-German national teammate, Chris Kaman, who according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, has agreed to terms on a one-year, $8 million deal. There’s not much flare to the pick-up, and not much potential; it’s a move designed solely to keep Dirk sane and the team’s head above water, and Kaman is a useful addition in both regards.
Supposing the roster can hold the weight of collective expectation, can a team ever really have too many project big men?
Apparently not. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Dallas will soon sign wayward forward Yi Jianlian to a one-year contract, filling out their 15-man roster and completing a trinity of low-cost gambles for a rotation big man.
Another day, another low-key signing by the Mavs with a potential payoff far greater than the risk. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Dallas is currently finalizing a two-year deal for former New Jersey Net and Texas Legend Sean Williams. It’s not a spectacular acquisition, but Williams — who wore out his NBA welcome during his tour in New Jersey from 2007-2010 — steps in as an immediate impact shot blocker with the potential to be a more complete defender.
No team with Dirk Nowitzki at its core will ever be wholly conventional, but the Dallas teams of the last half-decade have become strategically tamer than some of the outlandish groups pieced together under Don Nelson’s tenure. The Mavericks iterations of the last few seasons have all had their quirks, but Rick Carlisle has largely remained true to positional orthodoxy in his lineup machinations. Carlisle demonstrates a clear willingness to push buttons (as evidenced by masterful lineup control in last year’s playoffs), but the cogs in his machine were largely in line with positional expectation.
All of that is about to change, as the Mavs have revamped their roster by adding a ridiculous amount of versatility. Tyson Chandler is long gone, and while his departure may leave Dallas with few precious traditional centers, the Mavs have other, more ambitious plans in mind.
“We still have the prototypical starting center in Brendan [Haywood] that’s still the quote-unquote ‘aircraft carrier,’” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “But now we’ve got the flexibility to slide Dirk [Nowitzki] a little bit over there, slide Lamar [Odom] over there a little bit, which gives us a whole different wrinkle. These guys are three-point threats. It’s kind of a different way to attack a same problem.”
One good cost-cutting move apparently deserves another.
Just days after the Mavs swept up Lamar Odom up from L.A. in order to tidy up the Lakers’ books (helpful gent, that Donnie Nelson), Dallas has agreed — per Marc Stein of ESPN.com — to send Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez to Denver in exchange for a future second round pick. This isn’t an equitable trade, but it allows the Mavs to liquidate some depth for the sake of immediate salary savings and an extra chunk of cap space next summer.
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.
I was honored to join Rahat Huq (of Red 94) and Tim Varner (of 48 Minutes of Hell) for what we’re hoping will be a bit of a recurring feature: a three-man panel dealing with pertinent, Texas-centric NBA questions. Like it or not, the competitive dynamic between fans of the three Texas teams is very real. The rivalry between the Mavs and Spurs is undeniable, and though the Rockets haven’t butted heads with the Mavs in any kind of formal fashion since 2005, geography alone makes competitive run-ins — among fans and among the two teams — a frequent occurrence.
To have a little fun on that theme, Huq, Varner and myself voiced our picks for the best Texas ballplayer of the last 20 years, the most significant event in Texas basketball over that same timeframe, and the Texas team with the brightest future. Even with the Mavs’ core seemingly on their last legs, the answers to that final question may surprise you:
1. Tim Varner: Dallas. Mark Cuban has the means and the vision to field a competitive team on an annual basis. Cuban is an innovator whose dedication to winning finally brought home a trophy last season. I see that continuing, even after Dirk Nowitzki retires.
2. Rob Mahoney: None of the Texas teams are particularly primed for the long haul, but I’ll go with Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki could contribute in the NBA until he’s 50 if that’s his aim, and the Mavericks have the infrastructure to reboot with relative ease. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Rick Carlisle give Dallas the means and savvy to transition quickly, and it doesn’t hurt that the Mavs also have a few young pieces (Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Corey Brewer) to fiddle around with.
3. Rahat Huq: I’ll say Dallas. You have to get really bad to get good as titles are won through the draft. Mark Cuban is the only boss from any of these teams to have made public acknowledgment on this point (stated last year at the Sloan Analytics Conference) so I trust he’ll tank when it’s time. Meanwhile, the Rockets are on a track to pick 14th every year and we’re not sure what the Spurs are planning.
Follow along to Red 94 for the full post.
Donnie Nelson may not have snagged the salesman he had intended to replace Nancy Lieberman as the head coach of the Mavericks’ D-League affiliate in Frisco, but in the process, he landed one hell of a coach.
Bruce Pearl, the Legends’ initial candidate in their coaching search, and Del Harris, who worked as the Legends’ GM last season and will take over the coaching reins, are cut from fundamentally different stylistic cloths. Each is successful in their own way, but the latter brings an unprecedented résumé to the D-League coaching ranks. Harris is an incredibly accomplished coach at virtually every level of competition, and though he’ll still be selling the Legends as a product, his primary function will be in bringing that vast experience to his dual role as head coach and general manager.
Even with that kind of pedigree, Harris will have his work cut out for him. The Legends were stacked with borderline NBA talent last season, but have lost a handful of noteworthy contributors to foreign leagues. With just 15 days remaining until the D-League draft and a bit more than a month left before the Texas Legends’ season opener, Harris took some time to talk with me about how the D-League might be impacted by the NBA lockout, his statistical approach to coaching, and the future of the Legends.
MAHONEY: You’ve been with the Legends in a managerial role before and you’re going to continue in that role next season. Did anything about managing in the D-League surprise you?
HARRIS: No, not really. Everything is a little different in the development league compared to, say, college or the NBA’s principal league itself, but it’s still basically the same work. You try to work together with everybody — the owner, the coaches, and all the various front office entities — try to put together the best team you can. It all kind of comes under the heading of teamwork.”
MAHONEY: It seems like D-League management is pretty unique in that there’s so much roster turnover from year to year. How do you grapple with the fact that in the off-season any number of your players could find jobs overseas or in other leagues? How do you game plan from year to year and maintain any kind of consistency?
HARRIS: Everybody is in the same situation, so it’s not like anybody’s unique in the league itself. It’s not that unlike college or high school — and I have coached at every level that there is to coach — where you’re going to have turnover every year in high school and in college. So this is very akin to that process. Even now in the NBA it’s not uncommon for teams to turn over as many as seven spots, and the Mavericks themselves turned over nine spots one year recently. So with the advent of such ease of free agency in the NBA, that’s not that uncommon these days for a general manager and coach to anticipate having loss.
Just look at the Mavericks right now. I can’t mention any NBA players’ names because I work for the NBA, but there are a number of key free agents for the Mavericks for example this year, and once they can get back into business they have a very similar situation to what we have. In our case we have to replace three of our most key players. Our point guard went to the NBA so I can’t mention his name. Joe Alexander and Sean Williams were two of the top five players in the league and were two of the maybe three best big men in the league. Joe is in Russia and Sean is in Europe — Spain, I think — playing, so we have to replace those three key spots the best way that we can.
MAHONEY: You made Matt Rogers the team’s first ever draft pick last year and recently announced that he’ll be back with the team next year. Walk me through Rogers’ game and your impressions of his first season in the D-League.
HARRIS: Well, Rogers had an up-and-down year, partly because he blew out his ACL at the end of his college career — at which he was nonetheless voted the number one player in Division II basketball. He was a bit hampered, as last year was a rehabilitation year for him, and yet he did alright. We had one of the best teams in the league. We had five guys at one time or another who were first round draft picks when they came out of college on our team. So Matt held up pretty well for a rookie in what is actually a pretty tough league. We’re looking forward to this year for Matt because of his health continuing to get better and [him having] more confidence in his knee. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and the year of experience will help him.
MAHONEY: The only other official player announcement thus far has been Justin Dentmon, who also had a pretty good rookie year. What kind of role do you see for Dentmon this season, and what improvements do you want to see in his game?
HARRIS: Dentmon had a strong year and again: he’s a key player. We may have to depend on him to play a little bit more point guard than he did last year and that’s something he would have to make some improvements upon, which he should be capable of doing. He is a key guy.
MAHONEY: I’ve heard and read opinions from both sides as to have the NBA lockout might affect the D-League. What impact do you think the ongoing lockout will have on the D-League and the Legends?
HARRIS: Well, the positive thing is that we’re playing, and that people can come and watch high level basketball. That’s part of it, so any negatives after that are relatively inconsequential to the whole process. But from a coaching standpoint, it’s not as good of a situation in terms of getting talent because the best way for us to do that is after the the NBA has had their final cuts. Those players that don’t make it [onto an NBA roster] can choose to go into the D-League draft and that’s where we end up getting some outstanding players. We would have evaluated them during the preseason, so we know who the guys are that are on the bubble and we have a good list of guys in a pecking order that we’d like to take. Well, we don’t have that this year.
The other thing is that there are guys that are going over to Europe — into lesser leagues, even — because they don’t know if the NBA is going to play this year, and the main purpose of playing in the D-League for less money is that this is where you have the best opportunity to get into the NBA this year if you didn’t make it in training camp. So we don’t have that element going for us now because they don’t even know if there’s going to be a league or a schedule — they don’t know one way or another. Second, they don’t know what the process would be as far as training camp if there is an NBA league to go on this year.
So from my standpoint as a coach, I’d say it’s a negative, but as a general manager from a franchise standpoint, it’s actually kind of a good thing.
MAHONEY: The lockout negotiations really aren’t good for anyone involved in the NBA world, but some good things could potentially come out of it. There were some rumors that maybe the NBA would be revisiting the way players are assigned to the D-League, maybe extend the age to which they can be assigned, or allow for injured players to rehabilitate there. What’s your take on the current assignment system, and if there are any improvements that can be made on it?
HARRIS: Well, those things would have been discussed in any event. They are things that were brought up before we knew there would be a lockout, and even though it’s a contract year, these are things that would have been brought up anyway. Obviously we think that it would benefit the NBA itself if there were some expanded opportunities for players to play in the Development League. We think it would help at the top and we think it would help us here at the D-League level, with the caveat that it does increase that volatility of your roster. You could be planning how you’re going to play the next game and then find out that morning that you’ve got two guys coming down from the affiliate team and that kind of changes your program. But all and all, I think it would be a good thing.
MAHONEY: I saw you speak at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference back in March, and you talked about integrating advanced stats into your coaching style. Do you think there’s room for detailed statistical analysis in the D-League, and does it make sense economically and infrastructurally for teams to pursue that information even on a minor league level?
HARRIS: Well, obviously there are a lot of considerations at any level, but particularly so at the Developmental League level. But you don’t have to be overly concerned about costs with most of the metrics that matter most to a coach in the NBA. I’ve been doing metric analyses since the 60s and was the first in a lot of areas in the 80s to implement electronic data systems and things when I was coach and Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Bucks. Then that continued on with the Mavericks in a more elaborate system of metrics. But the basic metrics that I use for coaching a game really only involve basic chart-keeping, so we will be utilizing things that I’ve done for over 40 years to evaluate our points per possession, our pace of the game, our momentum. I can train a guy to do that in 10 minutes.
MAHONEY: We’ve seen — and you have a longstanding relationship with Donnie — Donnie Nelson as a manger, but what kind owner is he, and what is his involvement like with the Legends?
HARRIS: Donnie Nelson is a jack of all trades and a master of most of them. He’s a dynamo and he’s a terrific owner, and just a great public relations guy — he sells the program really well. He’s very supportive of his people, and he lets them operate. He has a good front office here, headed up by Bill Boyce, who also has some excellent people working with him. We have a young fella who has a good future named Malcolm Farmer that does a lot of the heavy lifting. He and the other owners — particularly evan Wyly — are really terrific to work with. He’s great all across the board.
MAHONEY: I saw in another interview you did with Zach Lowe over at Sports Illustrated that you mentioned you were teaching a class at a local college. What are you teaching and at what school?
HARRIS: The class is entitled “Team Building” and it’s based on a book I have written but not published that’s basically Team Building: Developing the Point Guard Within You. I teach at Dallas Christian College and it involves basically four elements in team building, starting with purpose (or mission) and then developing leadership skills, and third, enhancing communication, and ultimately ending in relationship building. We use my book as a text and I start with the sports idiom and then translate that down to the secular world as to how there might be applications in corporate america, or in institutions such as education for those who are going into teaching, or church work for those who are going into that area, and families which most of them will be going into. Then I take it down to the spiritual application.
So we use those basic principles and how they all interrelate from the sports to the secular to the spiritual. It’s exciting. I thought we’d have 15 in the class and we have 35, so it’s a little bit more people than I had anticipated, but it’s been very interesting for me.