Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 23, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Guess who declared for the Korean Basketball League draft? If you guessed Samaki Walker, you’re a deeply disturbed individual. And totally right.
  • David Thorpe ranked the top rookies that played in Summer League, and Dominique Jones came in at #10 (Insider): “Jones is super competitive on both sides of the ball and capable of putting up points in bunches. Possessing a great frame for a combo guard, he has every chance to be this year’s Marcus Thornton — ready to play from day one and having the confidence to play in the fourth quarter.”
  • Kevin Arnovitz got SUMMER LEAGUE LEGEND Jeremy Lin on the phone for a few to get his reactions to the post-Vegas whirlwind. Among other things, Lin reminisced about his game against John Wall and the Wizards Summer League team: “Roddy [Beaubois] was hurt so I got a chance to get a little more playing time in the first half, which helped a lot because I got a chance to get comfortable. Going into the fourth quarter, we were down. I wanted something to happen. I was just, like, playing. It just felt like it was college again. I was just, like, out there. It felt very, very comfortable and very relaxed. It was such a natural feeling. It wasn’t like that with most of the other games. In those other games, it was more like, “Wow, this is a job interview. I have to perform well.” I had that kind of pressure. But in the Washington game, going against John Wall in the fourth quarter, trying to come back, I was just playing off instincts. It was the best quarter I had in summer league at the best possible time. If the Dallas Mavericks weren’t scheduled to play the Washington Wizards, I might not be in the NBA.”
  • Ancient news by this point, but Caron Butler is the “sole proprietor if six Burger King restaurants around the country.”
  • Antoine Wright will be playing in Sacramento next season. He’s not a great offensive fit next to Tyreke Evans, but I still like Wright as a defender, as does Tom Ziller.
  • Mike Prada ranked the league’s 30 GMs, and put Donnie Nelson in the 10th slot: “Ultimately, Nelson hits a lot of singles and doubles, and that’s not a bad thing for a team that is willing to spend and will therefore never have or need cap flexibility.”
  • “He doesn’t owe you anything. He is not a representative for every Asian-American kid. He is just Jeremy Lin.”
  • John Schuhmann of NBA.com, from Team USA training camp in Las Vegas: “Tyson Chandler is wearing the Zoom LeBron III, personalized to protect his toe.” Chandler seems more and more likely to make Team USA’s final cut, even after early reports indicated that he came into camp out of shape.
  • Reminiscing on Summer League, and more specifically, the match-up between Omar Samhan and JaVale McGee.
  • Could Jeremy Lin already have a shoe endorsement deal?

Tabula Rasa: Nancy Lieberman and the Texas Legends’ Blank Slate

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Photo via NBA.com.

Head coaches yearn for hard-working players with eager minds, but Nancy Lieberman doesn’t have a single one. Her team has no depth, and no starters, no leaders and no followers, no talented prospects and no roster filler.

As of right now, the Texas Legends have no players whatsoever, and yet they’ll tip-off with the rest of the D-League in just a few short months. That’s not much time to assemble a team and introduce a culture, but Lieberman remains unphased by the blankness of her roster sheet.

“It’s kind of an interesting scenario,” Lieberman said. “I don’t want to make it sound simplistic, but we know we’re playing in November. We know there’s going to be a draft in November, and those are the things that we target. We can’t worry right now that we don’t have our full schedule and we can’t worry right now that we don’t have any players. So we’re just going to really work with what’s in front of us. We’re going to scout as if every one of these guys [at Vegas Summer League] has the potential to be a Texas Legend.”

Then Lieberman offered a slight clarification, as she watched the Mavs Summer League team go to work at the Cox Pavilion. “I mean…we’ve got Moussa [Seck],” Lieberman said, letting out a slight laugh. “He’s worked out. He’s working hard.” So noted. The Legends don’t have starters or leaders, but they do have a 7-foot-4, hard-working lightning rod. It’s a start, and having at least one player penciled in for the Legends next season is something of a luxury given their situation.

As of now, the Legends themselves are unsure of how (and from where) they will be allowed to draw talent. Earlier rumors pointed to Texas possibly taking over the roster of the now kind-of-defunct Los Angeles D-Fenders (the D-Fenders will phase out for one season before attempting a comeback in 2011-2012), but it would make far more sense for Lieberman, Del Harris, and their crew of coaches and managers in Frisco to cultivate their roster in a more organic fashion.

Regardless, the mechanisms of the team-building process remain very much a mystery, even to Lieberman. “We are waiting on people,” Lieberman said. “It’s not like we have a core group where we need a shooter, we need a defensive specialist, or we need a rebounder. We need everybody. We need veteran point guards, we need somebody who’s going to sacrifice their game for the good of the team, we’re going to need someone who’s an enforcer. We want people who can shoot the ball and spread the floor. We want guys that have great basketball acumen. We want guys that just can make plays when everything breaks down. There are a lot of things that we’re looking at right now. We can’t jump the gun — we just have to make sure that when the league gives us the direction of what we can do that we’re prepared for that moment.”

The uncertainty does have its advantages. Though the staff doesn’t have any actual players to work with – a bizarre situation for a group that specializes in development – having an empty locker room does allow the Legends’ decision-makers to analyze the walls and rules that will govern it.

Success in the D, just like in the big leagues, requires more than just talent. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Austin Toros perfectly showcase the impact of an established, team-wide culture. It’s not so much about what the organization does, but rather what it means. Being a part of those teams – much like being a member of the Spurs or Rockets – means something because of the self-sustaining culture that they’ve created. Lieberman wants that same framework in Frisco, and without an actual team, she has plenty of time to hammer out the details of what that culture will entail.

“A lot of times when you’re building a team and you have players, it requires a lot of time and attention. This is allowing us to meet as a staff, get to know each other and understand each other’s philosophies. It’s giving us a chance to build our infrastructure and our philosophy and once we understand it amongst ourselves, then we can pass that down to the players.” Creating the infrastructure before populating the team is a simple idea, but how many professional basketball coaches are really afforded such a luxury?

It’s not every day that a head coach gets a chance to helm an expansion team on its maiden voyage, and the significance and opportunity of Lieberman’s position are not lost on her. “We’re serious about this,” Lieberman said. “We plan on helping guys become successful, not only in basketball but in life. I mean, we have a chance to put our thumbprint on the history of our franchise, and we’re excited about it.”

It’s hard to blame her for being excited. The Legends already have a pretty incredible staff in place, and with the full support of the mothership Mavs, the D-League’s foray into Frisco has impressive potential. Donnie Nelson is both the President of Basketball Ops for the Mavericks and the Majority Owner for the Legends, but the synergy between the NBA club and its affiliate will go far beyond Nelson.

“I think [collaboration with the Mavs] is very important for us,” Lieberman said. “Not to run everything that the Mavs run because we don’t have the same personnel, but why not have the same type of drills if we agree that that’s the right type of drills for [our] guys? Let’s call [each drill] the same thing so that if, God forbid, a Roddy [Beaubois] ends up on our team, if he comes down for a game or two or a practice, he understands we’re running the same drills. Simplicity.” Lieberman says the word with emphasis as if she’s repeating it. She is, in a sense. Without using it verbatim, simplicity is etched into the core of everything Lieberman aims to do with the Legends.

“We’re going to make the irregular regular,” Lieberman said. “If we can do the things that take no talent — teach these guys to play at max speed, teach them to work hard, teach them to execute — if we can teach guys to do the things as I just said that take no talent and make it [all] matter, then we will be successful.”

That goal is lofty (Who can teach every player on a team to work hard and execute properly?), and yet surprisingly humble, much like Lieberman herself. Being a head coach in the D-League presents a unique challenge. While coaches want to be accommodating to their NBA counterparts and the needs of their affiliates, they also face incredible pressure to prove themselves suitable for bigger coaching jobs. Yet it’s so important that D-League coaches — and players as well – stay within themselves.

“I don’t want to have to go out here and prove that I know how to coach, [or feel] that I have to create everything myself just to ram it down people’s throats that I know what I’m doing,” Lieberman said. “I’ve been in this game for 30 years. I continue to learn and continue to grow. Rick [Carlisle] has some great offenses. He has a tremendous defensive philosophy and we’ll blend it in with what we think fits our players. But we want to work with them.”

Right now, Donnie Nelson and the Mavericks may not have much to work with in terms of an actual affiliate roster, but they do have Nancy Lieberman. They have a terrific staff working alongside her. And they – Lieberman, Nelson, Del Harris, et al — have the full benefit (and a few inconveniences) of etching out their collective D-League destiny on a blank slate.


Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 19, 2010 under Commentary, Roster Moves | 3 Comments to Read

In trading Erick Dampier for Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks made the right move because they could’ve made the wrong one, but they made the wrong move because they couldn’t make the right one. If you couldn’t tell, evaluating Dallas’ big off-season trade is a tad tricky. After all, this wasn’t just any swap. The Mavs had one of the most valuable trade chips in the league and had touted it as such while embracing the accompanying expectations. When a hungry fan base (and the team itself, for that matter) has guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James dangled overhead, they’re not likely to be satiated by the second best center on the Charlotte Bobcats.

That’s exactly what Tyson Chandler was last season. While he may be a starting-caliber player in name, the Bobcats’ top center in ’09-’10 was Nazr Mohammed. Nazr averaged 16.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, and the only real flaw in his campaign was that he didn’t see the floor more. That’s a better scoring season than Chandler has ever put together (Tyson’s single season high for PP36? 13.6, in ’02-’03). Mohammed may be a bit flawed as a defender and rebounder, but his competence in those areas in addition to his scoring made him the strongest 5 for Charlotte last season, even if Chandler’s injury prevented him from putting up a fair fight.

So the Mavs traded an incredibly attractive asset for the second best center on the 7th best team in the Eastern Conference…and for the license to dump the contracts of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera. That’s a noticeably slimmer return than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or even Al Jefferson, for that matter. In somewhat fitting fashion, Erick Dampier’s parting gift to the Mavs is solid, but weighed down by the power of expectation. Just as a competent starting center seemed ridiculous when he had a $13 million price tag hanging around his neck, acquiring Tyson Chandler is a sad consolation prize when evaluated in the shadow of what could have been.

However, if we zoom out to get a slightly broader view, the Mavs did what they could. They tried to lure LeBron James. They reportedly met with Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. They talked with the Minnesota Timberwolves about Al Jefferson, but decided that he wasn’t worth surrendering Dampier and multiple first rounders. None of those deals went through, so Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban moved further down their list of targets. The Mavs were prepared for this, it’s just unfortunate that they had to be.

So instead of picking up another star, Dallas will add a backup center. It fills a definite need. Ian Mahinmi isn’t ready to be that high on the depth chart just yet, so acquiring another 5 equipped to finish and defend was a must for the Mavs. Chandler can do a bit of both, but he is in no way the player that terrorized the Mavs in the 2008 playoffs. That Tyson Chandler is long gone, and in his place is a defending big clearly in decline.

Tyson is still a quality post defender, but he’s somehow even worse offensively now than he was with the Hornets. Fans frustrated by Erick Dampier’s inability to convert buckets around the rim are about to enter a whole new world of facepalming with Chandler. Damp may not have much touch around the rim, but Tyson struggles to complete anything that isn’t an easy dunk. I wish this were hyperbole. Chandler does have better hands than Dampier, which makes him a more viable option for easy finishes, but anyone hoping for an offensive upgrade is in for a hilarious surprise.

Defensively, Chandler can still hold his own. He’s frequently overrated as a shot-blocker, but Tyson is still a solid defensive option for guarding back-to-the-basket bigs. Chandler does struggle against some face-up threats, as the impact of his height and length is hedged by his injuries and an uncanny tendency to bite on pump fakes. However, if you put Chandler in off-ball situations (like, say, defending the pick and roll) that require a different kind of defensive read, he seems to perform fairly well. Tyson’s a smart defender, even if he is an impatient one.

Sounds good, right? Having two centers capable of making an impact on the defensive end is an incredible luxury, but I’d be remiss not to mention one minor detail: the Mavs had the same luxury last season. Erick Dampier was also a fairly successful defender, particularly when evaluated next to his second-string center contemporaries. Damp wasn’t producing worthy of his contract value on either end, but provided we analyze his strengths in terms of what the Mavs had rather than what the Mavs had to pay, Dampier was a quality rotation player.

In fact, Damp’s ’09-’10 season easily trumps Chandler’s in most statistical dimensions, and even compares relatively well to Chandler’s ’07-’08 year:

Dampier ('09-'10)
Chandler ('09-'10)12.521.012.03.9102102-8.11.7
Mecha Chandler ('07-'08)17.526.113.24.11221040.77.3

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value.

Those who didn’t have the opportunity to watch much of the Bobcats last season may be a bit shocked by Chandler’s inferior statistical résumé, but it’s no fluke; he really was a lesser player in many regards last season. It may not be fair to evaluate Dampier and Chandler’s offensive ratings directly (after all, one of them played alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, etc., while the other relied on Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace to produce the bulk of the offensive production), but the per-possession measures give a slight edge to Dampier in shot blocking and defensive rebounding, while the more complicated metrics (Player Efficiency Rating [PER], adjusted +/- [APM], Wins Above Replacement Player [WARP]) also indicate that Damp had a greater positive influence. Chandler’s adjusted +/- last season was surprisingly awful, particularly considering that APM is thought to be more defender-friendly than most metrics.

There is something to be said about variety. Though Dampier was an productive player for the Mavs last season, he’s similar to Brendan Haywood in a lot of ways. Chandler provides a different kind of defender (even if it is a similarly effective one) that Rick Carlisle can use to tech against specific opponents. It’s nice to be prepared to compensate for injuries, etc. by having players of similar skill sets in the starting lineup and on the bench, but overloading on yin isn’t always the sound move.

The obvious wild card is Chandler’s health. Tyson has averaged 48 regular season games over the last two seasons, primarily due to a smorgasbord of lower body injuries. Chandler is supposedly healthier now than he’s been in a long while, but it’s tough to pin down exactly how much his game was hindered by injury last season. His ailments have the potential to impact his production next year in either direction, and though you’re welcome to take Chandler’s word on his status if you’d like, I’ll table my decision until we see Tyson in action at the Team USA tryouts later this month. Until then, I think it’s only fair to expect the same Chandler we’ve seen over the last two seasons: A quality defender (with definite weaknesses) and a bit of an offensive liability.

Alexis Ajinca is a reasonably promising young center prospect, but he seems destined for bench-warming duty. Ajinca played well for the D-League’s Maine Red Claws last season, but he isn’t prepared to tread water defensively against NBA opponents. Don’t let his 3.1 blocks per game last year in the D fool you — Ajinca would be out-muscled and out-maneuvered by his competition in the big leagues. He still has a ways to go before both his body and technique are ready for consistent NBA burn.

However, Ajinca’s offensive game is a bit more advanced, even if he isn’t ready to step into a sizable role on that end, either. Alexis has real offensive potential. Most of his current moves in the post are still rather basic, but you take what you can get from a 22 year-old giant like Ajinca.

It would be naive to assume that a basketball trade is all about basketball. While the Mavs do like what Chandler can bring to the team as a sub for Haywood, this move has some fairly clear-cut financial motivations. Dallas was able to dump the salary of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera, which cleared about $17.5 million over the next three seasons (Najera has two more years under contract and Carroll has three). Those were two of the contracts Mark Cuban was reportedly trying to pawn off in a potential trade for Al Jefferson, so it’s not exactly shocking to see him dispose of their salaries in this deal.

Here is the year-by-year breakdown of the Mavs’ outgoing salary:

Carroll4,300,0003,900,0003,500,000 (ETO)

*Dampier’s 2009-2010 salary is entirely unguaranteed.

Also, because the Mavs did not waive Najera prior to June 30th, his salary for the next two seasons is completely guaranteed.

And their incoming salary:

Ajinca1,467,8402,263,409 (TO)3,243,465 (QO)

Salary figures from Storytellers Contracts.

Plus, acquiring Chandler extends the Mavs’ ability to trade for talented players later in the year. While the off-season is the most convenient time to overhaul a roster, it also imbues far too many franchises with delusions of hope. Every team that struggled last year now has a blank slate, and with a few draft picks, a free agent signing or two, and internal development, all but the basement-dwellers seem poised to improve. It’s only during the regular season that the league’s harsh realities begin to surface: Regardless of which talent is where and what players are added or dropped from whatever rosters, only about half of the teams in the league are going to make the playoffs. The rest are doomed to another go-around as they continue to tinker in the hope of making the jump in the following season.

That should help the Mavs, who will no doubt attempt to use Chandler’s $12.6 million expiring contract (as well as Caron Butler’s $10.6 million expiring) as bait at the trade deadline. Right now, teams may be reluctant to settle for pure savings. However, when their roster’s shortcomings have been made painfully apparent over the course of 50 games or so, they may be more willing to deal. Financial flexibility is golden in the NBA, and while Dallas’ first token of financial flex didn’t bring in the star that they hoped it would, to have another shot using the same basic materials is nice.

The worst case scenario is that Chandler plays terribly, Dallas whiffs while attempting to trade him at the deadline, and Tyson becomes an unrestricted and unwanted free agent next summer. Both of those developments are rather unlikely, as the more probable outcome would have Chandler playing rather decently in a reserve role, followed by a move in February for a decent — but sub-superstar — talent. Still, anything can happen, and because the Mavs’ flexibility was maintained through February, this deal gets stamped with the dreaded “INCOMPLETE.” Embrace the uncertainty.

Comforting Solitude

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 7, 2010 under Commentary, News | Be the First to Comment

Donnie Nelson’s ownership of the Texas Legends is a bit unusual. It’s been obvious for some time that the Legends weren’t going to be an ordinary D-League team due to the nature of the purchase and ownership. At the same time, the Legends aren’t owned by their affiliate NBA team, like the Austin Toros or the Tulsa 66ers are. They’re also not partially owned via the hybrid affiliation model, meaning the win-win relationship the Houston Rockets have with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers isn’t a perfect comparison, either. The Legends are just something else entirely, and while we can’t forecast the success of the model until we see it in action, a bit of news surfaced today that does offer some clarity into the nature of the Mavs-Legends dynamic.

The D-League affiliations for 2010-2011 were made official yesterday, and the Dallas Mavericks will be the sole affiliate for the Texas Legends in their inagural season. No other NBA team is afforded a direct D-League partnership without actual ownership, but due to the unique nature of  Nelson’s involvement, it makes sense that Dallas is treated a bit differently. Regardless, this is great news. The point of Donnie owning the Legends in the first place is to make the Mavs’ D-League outfit more beneficial to the mothership, and the benefit of operating the team would be diminished greatly if another NBA affiliate were involved. Such a scenario would basically entitle another franchise to have eyes and ears on the inner workings of the Mavs’ system; the Legends will likely run Dallas’ offense and defensive schemes in order to better prepare their prospects for a call-up to the main roster, but doing so while another team (and assigned, hands-off prospects from that team) can take notes is very counterproductive.

Luckily that’s something the Mavs won’t have to worry about. They’ve put in their personnel to run the organization. They’ll have oversight during every stage of player development. They’ll be able to run Maverick plays with Maverick-selected prospects, in what really amounts to a farm team. Even though all of these things have been assumed from the beginning, only now are they finally starting to materialize. This was a big “if,” and now that it’s out of the way, we’ll get to see just how adept Donnie Nelson is at using the D-League system.


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.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

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

  • Regardless of whether Nowitzki wants fanfare or not, the Mavs have launched DFWDigsDirk.com for fans to show support for ze German. Nothing too special, but the Mavs’ official store is offering a 41% discount on all Dirk merch as part of Dirk’s honorary week.
  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “…I would be shocked if the Mavericks don’t hang around the hoop and try to get a rebound in the Chris Bosh situation. People have been downplaying Bosh because he may end up being a package deal with LeBron James. But Bosh met early today with Houston GM Daryl Morey and if the Rockets are making a push for Bosh on the basis of pairing him with a perhaps-healthy Yao Ming, the Mavericks can do better than that. If the package deal with LeBron falls through, the Mavericks should be in the hunt for the 6-10 hometown kid, even if he’s a little reluctant to play in his backyard and put that extra pressure on himself. Dirk would help him alleviate it.”
    Even though the Mavs may look like a better team on paper, the Rox are far and away the more likely Bosh destination. For one, Houston has a plethora of interesting assets (their own draft picks, the Knicks’ draft picks, young talent, expiring contracts) that could tempt the Raptors in a sign-and-trade, but the bigger issue is Bosh’s willingness to suit up for Houston. He’s a far more natural fit alongside Yao than he is alongside Nowitzki, and don’t think for a second that Chris doesn’t know that. Considering how set he is on playing power forward, he may be the least attainable free agent out there.
  • Even though the summer’s premier free agents give the Mavs a nice pipe dream to chase, the far more realistic option is an Al Jefferson/Andre Iguodala style trade without the red tape of free agency.
  • The Nets have signed Brian Zoubek to a make good contract, which guarantees him a spot in training camp but not a roster spot. Bummer. Devan Downey (Sacramento) and Mac Koshwal (Detroit) have also been picked up for Vegas Summer League.
  • According to ESPN Dallas’ Tim MacMahon, the Mavs were one of the teams to contact Matt Bonner. He wouldn’t be a bad get as far as bench bigs go, really.
  • Keep this page bookmarked, it will no doubt come in handy. This one, too.
  • Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported that Miami and Cleveland have legitimate interest in Brendan Haywood, which appears to be true. However, he also reported (as did Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer) that there was potential for a double sign-and-trade involving Brendan Haywood and Shaquille O’Neal, which was denied by Marc Stein. It makes sense; sources with the Cavs might indicate that a trade was in the works, because it’s likely that Cleveland would initiate such discussions. However, there would be no reason at all for the Mavs to entertain the idea of bringing in O’Neal.
  • In case you didn’t hear, Josh Howard is an unrestricted free agent. Sign-and-trade???
  • Two days later, and this is still hilarious.
  • Donnie Nelson clearly prefers veteran free agents to undrafted ones, and for obvious reasons. There are a number of intriguing veteran options to be had on the market for a chunk of the Mavs’ MLE, but I can’t help but wonder: does that also open the door for a D-Leaguer or two?
  • Caron Butler on Twitter, back on Tuesday a little before midnight: “About to check out twilight ill get back and let you’ll know what’s good holla”

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.