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:
|Mecha Chandler ('07-'08)||17.5||26.1||13.2||4.1||122||104||0.7||7.3
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:
*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:
|Ajinca||1,467,840||2,263,409 (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.
- Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas: “The Mavericks had no centers under contract when free agency started. Now they have four. Don’t be surprised, though, if the one of the new arrivals is traded again before the season starts…provided that the Mavericks can find a taker for Alexis Ajinca…ESPNDallas.com has learned that the Mavericks have been asked [by Ajinca's agent, Bouna Ndiaye] to shop Ajinca in the hope they can find a team that might be able to offer him more hope for minutes.” As DOH noted at Mavs Moneyball, this does offer some hope for Omar Samhan to make the final roster. Not too much, though. Three centers isn’t necessarily crowded, but it’s certainly cozy.
- Dirk is still unsure if he’ll play in the World Championships this summer, but has decided to play for Germany in next year’s Olympic qualifier provided he’s healthy.
- Brendan Haywood will start next year. Tyson Chandler will not. Tyson Chandler does not seem to mind this. Crisis averted!
- By Jermaine O’Neal’s estimation, the Celtics have a better chance to win it all next year than the Mavs do. Hard to argue with that given Dallas’ early exit and Boston’s incredible (and seemingly improbable) run to the Finals.
- Rick Carlisle will head down to Senegal this summer to take part in the Basketball Without Borders program.
- Most comparable statistical projection for Brendan Haywood? Erick Dampier. Eerie. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus thinks the Mavs overbid for Haywood, but he is fairly high on Ian Mahinmi. Count me among those interested to see what Ian can do with some regular playing time.
- Kelly Dwyer on the Dampier-Chandler trade: “It’s a great deal for the Mavericks. They had no use for a plodder up front in Dampier with Brendan Haywood re-signed, so adding the athletic Chandler as a counterpoint helps this team moving forward, even if he misses the de rigueur 25 games a year. Chandler’s contract expires next summer, so he’d be off the books after a one-year trial.” Though Chandler may only be a slight upgrade over Dampier if one at all, there is something to be said about variety. Dampier and Haywood are similar players, whereas Chandler can give the Mavs a different defensive look.
- John Hollinger (Insider), also on the trade and where the Mavs stand: “What Dallas really needs to vault itself to elite status is a first-rate perimeter player; at the moment, the Mavs man those positions with several 30-something former stars but no current ones. With none available to be had with the Dampier contract, they did the next best thing. By adding Chandler, the Mavs retain the rights to a top defensive center. Additionally, he has a $12 million expiring contract, which gives the Mavs maximum flexibility to pursue other trades during the course of the season. No, it isn’t quite as alluring as being able to waive Dampier and clean the books entirely, but it’s a useful asset.”
- Team USA looks incredibly thin at center this year, so Tyson Chandler has been added to the tryout roster.
- It seems like Gerald Green’s basketball experiences have helped him grow as a person, but have they helped him grow as a player?
UPDATE: The Mavs have confirmed the trade via press release.
Here’s what Donnie Nelson had to say about the deal: “We wish Erick, Eddie and Matt nothing but the very best. They are consummate professionals that represented the Mavericks family with class and integrity. We could not be more excited to add Tyson Chandler. He is one of the most versatile big men in the league today. He gives our front line a defensive, shot-blocking, athletic punch we haven’t had here in awhile. Alexis Ajinca is a fine young center with significant upside.”
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Mavs have traded Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera to the Charlotte Bobcats for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca. The chip has been traded, and while it’s not LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade, or Joe Johnson (or Al Jefferson, or Andre Iguodala, or…), the Mavs did trade Damp to fill a bit of a positional need.
This move isn’t a particularly good one, and it’s not going to thrust the Mavs into the title discussion. However, like the Ian Mahinmi signing, it stabilizes the frontcourt rotation and gives Dallas some depth in the middle. It’s important, but definitely underwhelming. Dampier’s contract was thought to be much more valuable than this.
If the Mavs could have picked up Chandler circa ’07-’08, when he was one of the game’s elite interior defenders and a Chris Paul sidekick? This would be a definite upgrade. Yet as it stands, it’s actually very debatable whether Chandler is better than Erick Dampier at all. Even gifting Chandler the advantage, it’s entirely possible that Damp’s contract, which was supposed to add a significant, long-term piece for the Mavs, could have no direct roster impact past next season. The Mavs may choose to let Tyson walk next summer, and for all of the hullabaloo, that’s awfully anticlimactic.
Plenty more to come on the Mavs’ “big” off-season move.
- Mavs fans only saw a few different shades of Shawne Williams, and none of them were particularly pleasant. However, as is the case with most NBA players, his story is a bit more lush and complex than that.
- Sebastian Pruiti breaks down the tape of Dominique Jones’ first summer league game.
- John Hollinger weighs in on Brendan Haywood’s new deal with the Mavs: “Here’s the conundrum, however, if you’re Dallas: What were the alternatives? Haywood was getting serious attention from several contenders and was likely to get an outsized contract someplace, although only the Mavs could give him a six-year deal. And in a market where he, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal were the only true centers, and with everybody wanting size to match up against the Lakers and Magic, there was no doubt he’d command a premium. Moreover, nabbing Haywood was the key to two other pieces of Dallas’ offseason strategy — trading Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract to a team looking to shed money, and using its midlevel exception to reel in still more talent. The Mavs couldn’t do the first without keeping Haywood to have their bases covered at center, and they couldn’t do the second without signing their own player (Haywood) rather than somebody else’s. So Haywood will be overpaid in 2010-11 and comically overpaid by 2015-16. It’s a bad contract, for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad decision.”
- Gerald Green didn’t really seem to enjoy playing in Russia all that much.
- David Thorpe on Omar Samhan, specifically his performance in Game 2: “The thing I like best is that he’s emotionally engaged in the game. Everything means something to him — his teammates, how they’re playing, how he’s playing. He’s invested in the game — but not just how he’s doing. We all knew he had scoring talent and good hands, but unless he can improve his athleticism, it’s going to be hard for him to show those skills on a nightly basis.”
- Kevin Arnovitz on Rodrigue Beaubois, from the same SL Roundup: “So much of what Beaubois does off the dribble is predicated on the success of his quick release from long range. If he’s not hitting, defenders grow a lot more comfortable trying to contain him.”
Ed. note: Now that the Mavs have re-signed Brendan Haywood and the Celtics have signed Jermaine O’Neal, consider this a comparative piece explaining the Mavs’ choice. Haywood was the better option all along for a number of reasons, and if it came down to Dallas choosing between which center to pursue, they made the right call.
There is no poetry to Brendan Haywood’s game. Many of his moves lack polish, and he isn’t easily captured in cliché. Haywood is simply an effective individual defender and a capable finisher at the 5 who is somehow unspectacular enough to live comfortably under the radar and skilled enough to be a vital part of the Mavs’ off-season plans. Regardless of what you’ve read elsewhere, Haywood is the option at center. Any reasonable alternative (Chandler, Biedrins, Jefferson, Shaq, etc.) save from Jermaine O’Neal would be a clear defensive downgrade, and none of those players can boast Brendan’s two-way utility.
That’s why it warms my heart that the Mavs are now linked to the fairer O’Neal, even if he’s not quite the catch that Brendan is. Their defensive abilities are certainly comparable, but what worries me most about Jermaine are his offensive delusions and relatively inferior rebounding. Last season, O’Neal averaged about six more FGAs per 36 minutes than Haywood, despite the fact that the two are roughly equal in terms of their offensive efficiency. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be rather important for O’Neal to not see his roles on the Mavs and Heat as congruent. Miami’s dearth of scorers last season afforded Jermaine an opportunity to be more of a focal point, whereas he would fall down a few pegs on the Mavs’ scoring ladder.
If not for a few rather glaring asterisks on O’Neal’s application, he could be considered Haywood’s equal. Jermaine is 31 going on 60, and heavy minutes, significant usage, and a long NBA career have sent O’Neal’s athletic abilities through a meat processing plant. Even though Haywood isn’t likely to improve from here on out, his career is at least moving laterally, which in this case functions as an advantage. O’Neal’s injuries are also a bit of a concern, as he’s played 70+ games just twice in his last seven seasons (Haywood played five 70+ game seasons over that same span).
However, the most frightening footnote of all — fair or unfair — is O’Neal’s latest playoff performance. Jermaine completely disappeared against Boston’s defense in the first round, when Miami needed offense more than ever. Dwyane Wade desperately needed some kind of help to make the series competitive, but Jermaine could only manage 4.2 points and 5.6 rebounds on 20.5% shooting. In case you’re curious, that’s good for a 2.5 PER. The Celtics were operating at a special level all throughout the playoffs, but that’s the same level at which the Mavs hope to compete. If Jermaine couldn’t even manage to be competent against the turned backs of the Celtics while all eyes were on Wade, would he really be a wise choice for the Mavs’ starting center?
Haywood was merely himself during the Mavs’ abbreviated postseason run, and made three more field goals than O’Neal (12 to 9) despite taking about half of the attempts (21 to 44). He didn’t step outside himself, defended well when given the opportunity, and played the victim almost as well as Rodrigue Beaubois. There should never have been any dispute over who was Dallas’ rightful starting center, yet Brendan was denied both minutes and opportunities on the basis of some ridiculous criterion. It didn’t stop him from posting a 19.3 PER over six playoff games, but Haywood was clearly restricted from making his full impact by forces outside his control.
A Haywood-O’Neal center tandem would be fantastic for Dallas, but it’s admittedly a bit of a long-shot. The Mavs and Jermaine were both reportedly interested in a union, but since, the Celtics have emerged as the front-runners to sign O’Neal. On top of that, Miami is a legitimate option for Brendan Haywood if they fail to entice LeBron James (luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any other serious competition). LeBron would eat up the cap space with Haywood’s name on it, and while his joining with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be the bane of the league at large, it would be a positive development for the Mavs. With no one left to bid against, Dallas would likely be able to come to reasonable terms with Brendan, and the starting five for next season would be secured. Throw in a coup for Jermaine and good return on Dampier, and the Mavs have the potential to be one of the most complete teams in basketball.
UPDATE 11:59 AM CST: According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Jermaine O’Neal has agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics. Well, it was fun while it lasted, folks.
We’re a few good hours into free agency, and these are the things we know for sure:
- The Mavs want Dirk Nowitzki back quite badly, but they obviously haven’t agreed to terms, much less put pen to paper.
- They’re interested in some other guys too, but nothing is set in stone and free agency is young yet.
- 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.
The weeks leading up to free agency predictably became a breeding ground for all kinds of rumors, most of which were no more than baseless speculation. Finally though, we have one Mavs-related rumor that passes the smell test, courtesy of Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will pursue a sign-and-trade to lure Atlanta Hawks free agent Joe Johnson, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. The Mavericks are unlikely to engage the Cleveland Cavaliers into a sign-and-trade for LeBron James, but Johnson has emerged as a realistic target for the Mavericks. Johnson, is more likely to embrace a sign-and-trade to the contending Mavs than sign a free-agent contract with New York or Chicago, sources said. “New York is far from his first option,” one source with knowledge of Johnson’s thinking said.
Joe Johnson has been the most realistic free agent target for the Mavs all along; landing LeBron would be the longest of long shots, and neither Dwyane Wade nor Chris Bosh seem willing to even give Dallas a proper look. Johnson isn’t the answer, but he is an answer, which counts for something. It’s essential that Dallas cashes in on Erick Dampier’s value at some point this summer, and assuming they strike out on the bigger names as is expected, Johnson is a suitable replacement.
He’s not going to solve all of the Mavs’ problems; Joe is still, in his heart of hearts, a jumpshooter, and one who has grown accustomed to having the ball in his hands frequently, at that. Still, he can create his own shot and play some decent defense, which puts him a peg above Jason Terry on the shooting guard depth chart. Also, assuming the Mavs could hold on to their other rotation contributors, JJ would make Dallas incredibly deep. Supposing the Mavs start Kidd, Johnson, Marion, Nowitzki, and Haywood, not only would they have an excellent blend of offense/defense, but they would also have the luxury of bringing Jason Terry, Caron Butler, and Rodrigue Beaubois off the bench. That may not give Dallas the kind of size to counter the Lakers, but it could give them an eight-man rotation unparalleled in the Western Conference.
Then again, Butler could conceivably be part of the deal as well. That would still be something of a boon for the Mavs. Even though Caron is a solid player, Johnson’s talents and skill set seem a bit more in tune with the rest of the Mavs’ offense, and from a positional standpoint, he’s more of a natural fit.
Admittedly, this trade’s completion regardless of who is involved is a big assumption. The Hawks would have to be convinced that Johnson was on his way out, and agree to a trade centered around Erick Dampier’s contract and draft picks. Then, Joe would need to pick the Mavs over all of his other free agent suitors (name a team with cap space, and they’re probably at least a little interested), which is hardly a given. The sign-and-trade isn’t an impossibility, but also keep in mind that Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban would be dealing with one of the most disorganized and uncoordinated franchises in basketball. Too often, the Hawks’ ownership and management make even the most routine signings and re-signings seem immensely difficult, and I wouldn’t disregard that precedent with such a substantial trade. Securing a sign-and-trade is always a difficult proposition, but securing one with that front office? Good luck.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“These struggling tides of life that seem
In wayward, aimless course to tend,
Are eddies of the mighty stream
That rolls to its appointed end.”
-William Cullen Bryant, The Crowded Street
Rough loss. The recap that I don’t want to write and you don’t want to read is on its way, but for the moment I think it’s best if we all pour one out for the season that was. There should have been no delusions over this being “the Mavs’ year,” and given that, I think Dallas’ first round out to San Antonio wasn’t entirely unexpected. This Maverick team was going to lose to a quality opponent, and they did just that. That quality opponent just happened to be a seventh seed, a first round opponent, and the Mavs’ one and only true rival.
Obviously there’s more to come on the game and the season, but for the moment: sulk, reflect, ponder, sigh, and shrug. Another season is in the books: another year without a title and another campaign of enjoying Dirk Nowitzki while we still can.
What a curse it is, to be blessed. I’d never envy the followers of a lesser NBA team, and I wouldn’t dare compare the failings of the Mavs to the failings of other franchises (the Clippers, the Knicks, etc.). That said, Dallas has made a habit out of tragedy, and while this loss doesn’t even remotely measure up to the playoff losses in 2006 or 2007, the sting remains.
Dirk deserves better. He played an incredible game (33 points on 21 shots), and hit so many big shots. He just didn’t quite get the help that he needed. That tale should sound familiar, and at this rate, it could be the epitaph on Dirk’s NBA headstone: Here lies Dirk Nowitzki, the unsung, underrated star of his generation who remained title-less because of teammates and circumstance. It’s not that Dirk’s career has been without fault, but just that it so rarely should lie with him. He’s a truly unique offensive weapon, and his ability to lead this team to another 50-win season and another playoff berth is impressive in itself, even if the offense wasn’t quite good enough to elevate the Mavs past a tough first round opponent.
It really wasn’t good enough. Neither was the defense. But only barely, as Dallas again had a game in its clutches, despite what could certainly qualify as the worst playoff start in franchise history.
Dallas could barely manage to walk out on the court in the first quarter before San Antonio had racked up a double-digit lead, and by the time that lead had blossomed to 22 points in the second, all hope seemed lost. The Mavs finished with just eight points in the first quarter, and their valiant effort in Game 5 seemed suddenly worthless. Dallas missed shots they normally make, their defense was fell well short of the playoff standard, and the lack of scoring aside from Caron Butler and Dirk Nowitzki would have been comical if it weren’t so depressing.
Then, Rick Carlisle turned to the one card he had been reluctant to play all series long. With the Mavs already desperate for a spark in the second quarter, Carlisle inserted Rodrigue Beaubois, and shockingly, it worked. Beaubois did what he’s done so many times this season: score quickly and efficiently by using his speed to get around defenders. The only difference is that the offense was basically run through Beaubois from the moment he was inserted into the game…as long as “the offense” can be reduced to Beaubois driving around his defender (with the help of a few handy pick-setters) and getting to the rim. It’s not exactly complex, but it was was startlingly efficient, as Rodrigue was able to finish at the basket, help defense be damned. From that point on, the Mavs scoring duo was elevated to a trio, and Nowitzki, Butler, and Beaubois finished with 74 of the Mavs’ 87 points.
That is, until Rick Carlisle opted to keep Beaubois on the bench for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter in favor of Jason Terry. JET had a pretty horrible night, and scored just two points on seven shot attempts. He was in the game for his prior exploits and his reputation, and for a night, Carlisle betrayed his own code and sat a player who was playing incredibly well. More on that later.
It’s almost silly to dwell too much on what the Mavs did wrong, if only because they were so close to winning…again. Dallas actually managed to take the lead on a Dirk three-pointer in the third quarter, but one botched defensive assignment later, and it was San Antonio’s game again. If JET or Kidd makes one more shot, maybe this is a different game. If one more of Nowitzki’s improbable looks found the bottom of the basket, maybe we’d be talking about a Game 7. Maybe if one more Maverick showed themselves to be a reliable scoring option in this series, the day wouldn’t be quite so gloomy. And yes, maybe if Rick Carlisle had played Rodrigue Beaubois more in the fourth quarter, this series wouldn’t be over.
But it is. And blaming things solely on a coaching decision to go with one of the best fourth quarter scorers in franchise history over a rookie — a sensational one, but a rookie nonetheless — is a bit ridiculous. Beaubois was not the only thing that could have saved the Mavs. The decision to sit him was certainly not the factor that doomed them, even it its so terribly easy to paint it that way.
The pick-and-roll defense just wasn’t good enough, the Mavs had no way of stopping George Hill (21 points, six assists) who was every bit the x-factor he was proclaimed to be, and the Spurs were far, far more aggressive offensively. Dallas’ shortcomings should be completely unsurprising, as their inability to play consistent defense and reluctance to push for quality shot attempts again brought about their end. I honestly wish it was more complex, but that’s all it took. This match-up was so even that the Mavs didn’t need to give the Spurs much to run with, and once they offered San Antonio those few, small carrots, it was enough for the Spurs to close the series in six games.
There’s obviously more: Caron Butler had a fantastic offensive night, all things considered, Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier were effective in bursts but each had drawbacks to their play, and Jason Kidd was invisible yet again. All of that matters, but at this point does it really? Dallas’ run is over, and though they fought until the very end in their season finale, so many Mavericks came up with nothing when the team desperately needed something. It didn’t have to be 20 points or 10 rebounds or 12 free throw attempts, but it had to be something. On this night against this particular opponent, that was apparently too much to ask.
The Mavs’ potential for off-season turnover exists regardless of how deep they go into the playoffs. Given the unique financial circumstances afforded to the Mavericks this summer and the never-ending arms race that exists between NBA teams, no one should be surprised to see Dallas make significant changes this summer even if they somehow stumbled their way to an NBA title.
The reason for that is Erick Dampier. Due to the unique performance-related incentives of Dampier’s contract, he can be traded this off-season and then his entire 2010-2011 salary can be subsequently voided. That makes him an invaluable piece in a potential sign-and-trade, supposing Mark Cuban and the Mavs can entice one of this summer’s bigger talents and manage to convince a rival GM to play ball.That’s what makes Dallas’ off-season outlook so difficult to predict: if the Mavs are to acquire anyone of note this summer by using a sign-and-trade, they’ll have to do it with the blessing of the team said player is deserting. Accurately gauging how willing another GM may be to do such a thing requires an intimate knowledge of management style, manager personalities, ownership complications, and overall team strategy that goes far beyond my pay-grade.
Instead, the best way to predict which players could interest the Mavs is simply to analyze which among them may be the most attractive. Unfortunately, that also hinges greatly on the status of the Mavs’ own unrestricted free agent, Brendan Haywood. Haywood is a franchise center. He’s a capable big that can catch and finish, he’s a top-notch interior defender, and he helps well. Should Dallas lose him to another team this summer, their irrefutable free agent strategy would be aimed at securing another big man. Dampier seems like a lock to be moved; should his salary become fully guaranteed for net season by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson’s choice, he’ll be owed $13 million next season. I consider myself a stronger advocate of Dampier than most, and I’ll be the first to admit that his level of production doesn’t even whiff that price tag. The allure of dropping Damp’s salary — either by trade or by cutting him loose should the right opportunity not present itself — is simply to great for him to remain a Maverick at his current salary, which makes Haywood an essential piece in the free agency equation. We know that Dirk Nowitzki is not a center, and should Dallas be left Haywood-less, they would essentially have four options:
- Sign a cheap, veteran center for the minimum to start and play major minutes for the team. (Read: disaster.)
- Try to acquire a center like Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ian Mahinmi, or Jermaine O’Neal using the mid-level exception.
- Try to acquire a power forward and play him at center, either through a desperate grab for Chris Bosh, a run at a mid-level guy like restricted free agent Luis Scola, etc.
- Scrap the free agency dream entirely and try to trade Damp to a team looking to get out from under their center’s contract (Nene, Andris Biedrins, etc.).
How Haywood’s negotiations go this summer obviously hold enormous implications for the Mavs’ off-season plans, so speculating beyond that point is probably fruitless.
So consider me without fruits; I can’t help but think that a number of stars could look awfully good in a Maverick uniform.
LeBron James is this summer’s big prize, but the likelihood of him somehow ending up in Dallas is incredibly slim. It’d be nice, sure, and the Mavs would probably offer him the best chance to compete immediately of any potential destinations. The team is already established in Dallas, and that’s enticing. Then again, do you know where the team is also already established? Cleveland. Who knows how this year’s playoffs will affect LeBron’s decision, but title or not, I like the odds of him sticking with the Cavs.
Chris Bosh also seems like a pipe dream, mainly due to two factors: Bosh does not want to play center, as he’s expressed time and time again in Toronto, and he wants to be The Man, which he wouldn’t be in Dallas. The key in the Mavs acquiring any signed-and-traded free agent is the player’s desire (not just willingness) to come play for Dallas, and Bosh could be described as lukewarm at best when approached about the possibility of playing in his hometown.
Instead, if I’m the Mavs, I have my eyes fixed on the fortunes of two players, one of which is an incredibly unlikely target and the other only mildly unlikely: Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.
Caron Butler is only the illusion of a starting shooting guard. He can, in theory, shoot, score, handle the ball a bit, and defend. He just doesn’t manage to do the former two efficiently, and his defensive abilities are competent and only likely to diminish with his age. Butler’s Game 5 explosion was so welcome because of the contrast it posed to his typically inefficient scoring nights, and having other scoring threats like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry around Butler hasn’t elevated his efficiency like we thought it might. He’s more or less the same player he was in Washington, only playing well into April.
That leaves the Mavs still looking for a legitimate 2-guard, and the combination of Damp’s contract provisions and Butler’s expiring deal gives Dallas a unique opportunity. They could potentially offer a team like Miami or Atlanta a player of Butler’s caliber in a sign-and-trade, while also allowing them to dump a bit of salary in exchange for Dampier’s deal. The ability of those teams to acquire Damp and then cut him immediately at no cost is something that no other team in the league can offer in a sign-and-trade, which does give Dallas a bit of an edge. Enough of an edge to willingly sign off on the departure of a franchise player? Probably not, but the Mavs are hoping so.
The wild card in all of this is Rodrigue Beaubois. The rook quickly carved out a niche for himself as a highly efficient scorer, and he hasn’t even begun to actualize his full potential as an NBA player. Few players come into the league with the gifts that Beaubois possesses, and should the right prize be available, Dallas may dangle him as trade bait. Teams may not be eager to give up their star player for Butler and Damp’s savings alone, but if Cuban and Nelson are willing to include a rookie guard that has star written all over him? I’m guessing they’d at least get their phone calls returned.
As for the two players I specified, it’s simple: shooting guard would be the Mavs’ biggest hole in the rotation if they can hang on to Haywood, and Jason Terry wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate, even his prime. JET still has plenty left and is ideal as a sixth man, but just doesn’t have the size or defensive aptitude necessary to guard opposing shooting guards well, and isn’t very good at guarding opposing point guards, either. Terry is much improved on the defensive end, but even those improvements don’t have him quite where he would need to be in order to be a highly effective starter.
Two guys that do have that defensive ability — in addition to elite offensive skills — are Wade and Johnson.
Wade is the dream that probably shouldn’t even be chased. For one, because Miami and Chicago are considered the favorites to acquire him. Rightfully so, as both can try to pair him with very talented players, and both boast some sort of hometown advantage. I’m confident one of those teams will land Wade, and they’ll be very, very happy together.
The Mavs could still have an opportunity to play home-wrecker here, supposing Pat Riley is willing to play along with Cuban and Nelson’s plans. I don’t see that as even a remote possibility, but again, I’m not Riles. Maybe he’s very high on Beaubois, or decides he wants to give Caron another go with the Heat, or maybe just wants to do right by Wade for all that he’s done for the franchise. These are not probable scenarios but they are scenarios, and the Mavs would be considered fools if they didn’t do their due diligence when the top shooting guard in the league (yeah, I said it) becomes available.
There would be, of course, that one thing. That one little thing. That one little he single-handedly (we’re not counting officials) destroyed the Mavs in the 2006 Finals thing. It would certainly make the relationship…interesting. There were comments exchanged from both sides in 2006-2007, the thought of the series still stings most Mavs fans, and I can only offer one piece of advice to all parties involved: get over it. This is Dwyane Wade. He’s a remarkable player with a hell of a career still ahead of him, and even though it’s extremely unlikely he’ll wind up a Maverick, the very thought should have Mavs fans sending him love letters and fruit baskets. They don’t come much better than Wade, and regardless of the past between him and the Mavs, his talent and Dallas’ needs should make him a top priority.
Consider Joe Johnson the back-up plan. He’s older, less efficient on offense, a bit slower on defense, and generally not as Dwyane Wadey as Dwyane Wade is. That doesn’t mean he would be anything less than an excellent addition for Dallas. Messing with Atlanta is always a mess, but I think Beaubois could pose an intriguing piece for the Hawks in particular. There’s no reason that Rodrigue can’t do everything that Mike Bibby currently does, only with better activity on the defensive end, better driving ability, and impressive length. He could be a perfect point guard if the Hawks continue on with Mike Woodson (or at least his offensive and defensive systems), and Atlanta may find the idea of getting Beaubois back in a sign-and-trade far more palatable than letting Johnson walk.
However, as talented as Johnson is, there are two concerns. For one, giving a 29-year-old a five or six year deal could end up being a nightmare, especially with the new CBA likely decreasing the possibility of such long-term, lucrative deals in the future. Second, a lot of Caron Butler’s more irritating habits also exist in Johnson, Joe is just better. He’s still a jumpshooter and a lot of his offense in Atlanta has been isolation-centered, he’s just a better player than Caron. Whether that’s good enough to put the Mavs over the proverbial hump or not is unknown, but it’s certainly not a bad start.
It’s almost trite at this point to say “stay tuned,” but that’s exactly the approach Mavs fans should take with regard to the team’s future. So much of what the Mavs will be able to do depends on who wants what, who goes where, and what teams have which options on the table. Fathoming all of that a few months in advance definitely qualifies as impossible, and all that we’re left with is a microscope fixed on the free agent class, an ear on every news and legitimate rumor available, and a head full of pipe dreams and possibilities. The dominoes will be falling soon enough, and we know Mark Cuban will be ready to pull the trigger. Until then, all eyes should rest on Brendan Haywood, who could very well determine the Mavs’ free agent destiny.
- Rick Carlisle’s job isn’t threatened regardless of the outcome of this first round series. Cuban on Carlisle (via MacMahon): “I mean, it’s not something we’ll evaluate now, it’s not something we’ll evaluate this summer. I don’t see what would change anything.”
- Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie: “It’s an immutable truth of the online world: If you write something about Caron Butler that skews negative — like I did, like Mike Prada did on Bullets Forever, like Kyle Weidie did on Truth About It, and on, and on — you will have your ugly craw crammed with humility walnuts within the space of 48 hours… It was a dominant performance in a game the Mavs had to have, the kind of game that tantalizes the Dallas faithful with visions of that one more big-time scorer that can aid Dirk Nowitzki and push their team over the top. Of course, it was also the kind of performance that leaves longtime watchers shaking their heads, saying things like “If only it was every night,” and being skeptical that Butler can turn in reasonable facsimiles in likewise must-win sixth and, if the Mavs get that far, seventh games.”
- Skeets and Tas of The Basketball Jones like the way Dirk attacked the basket early and the play of Brendan Haywood.
- From mavstats: “for the 15:14 that Shawn Marion defended Manu Ginobili, Marion was +19 and held Ginobili to 7 points on 2-7 FG.”
- Jason Terry has a new pregame ritual that symbolizes the coming-back-from-the-dead of the Mavericks’ playoff hopes… I guess. “I’m not big on death, but I was in a casket, and when they bunched me up, I fell up out of the casket and said ‘we’re not done yet.’ We’re going to have to do that again.”
- Rick Carlisle didn’t play Erick Dampier in garbage time out of respect for the veteran center: “By the time late in the game, with veteran guys in those situations, I have too much respect to put him back in, unless he wants to.”
- Former Mavs stats man Wayne Winston talks adjustments and lineups in his Game 5 recap.
This post was written by Mark Kao. If you’d like to contact Mark, drop a comment or email him at mark.kao[at]gmail[dot]com.