Mark Cuban said more than “no comment” when asked about LeBron James’ impending free agency, and now he’ll pay the price. Cuban will be fined a cool $100,000 for some pretty harmless remarks that apparently violated the league’s tampering rules, but Mark is as big of a fish as the league could hope to catch. This isn’t about making Cuban pay for his words, but about making it abundantly clear to coaches, managers, and owners around the league that impending free agents — namely, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh — are completely off-limits for discussion until July 1st.
For good measure, the NBA also fined Suns’ GM Steve Kerr $10,000 for commenting on the same issue.
You can read the full transcript of Cuban’s comments on LeBron below, or watch the video of his comments (from CNN Money) here.
“Come July 1st, yeah, of course, anybody would be interested in LeBron James. And if he leaves via free agency, then it’s going to be tough. If he does like I’m guessing, hoping he will, which is say, ‘I’m not going to leave the Cavs high and dry,’ if he decides to leave — there’s still a better chance he stays — then he’ll try to force a sign-and-trade and that gives us a chance.”
[Do you think it's likely he'll stay with Cleveland?]
“Don’t know. I don’t know. What I do know about LeBron, in the minimal time I’ve spent talking to him, is that he just wants to win.”
[So he needs a team that can win.]
“Yeah. Money is not his issue, he needs to be someplace where he trusts the organization. Look, Dan Gilbert in Cleveland did everything he possibly could. That’s just the way the game works. If there was a template we all could follow, we’d all have championship rings.”
And, for kicks, here are Kerr’s comments on the Dan Patrick Show:
[Can I lump the Suns in to the LeBron sweepstakes?]
“If he’ll take the mid-level, we’ll give it to him.”
“About 5 and a half million. I think he’ll take it, don’t you think?”
[Where do you think he's going to go?]
“I have no idea. I want him to stay in Cleveland. I think that’s good for sports when you’ve got players you connect to over a long period of time, so I hope he stays.”
Are Kerr’s comments really worth a $10,000 fine? And is the difference between them and Cuban’s really equivalent to $90,000? If the league wants to fine Cuban for citing how his team can acquire LeBron, that’s one thing, but Kerr’s remarks were obviously made in jest. This could easily turn into a witch hunt of team officials that have made comments regarding LeBron from around the NBA, but instead the league seems to be using Cuban and Kerr as a cautionary tale. I take it the message was received, as $100k (or even $10k) is a bit pricey for a rather limited sales pitch.
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.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.
This year’s MVP Award is about as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not so much a ‘race’ as it is an ordaining, with LeBron James securing the second of what should be many MVP honors with another absolutely dominant season. Other names are thrown around to artificially generate some conversation where there should be none, and as something of a consolation prize to every NBA superstar not named LeBron.
As far as individual accolades go, that’s what these guys have to play for: second place, runner-up, honorable mention. James has reached such a stellar level of individual production that claiming to be his equal is as foolish as it is false, and thus the highest individual honor another player can receive is simply to have a place at his table.
That’s essentially what the MVP “conversation” has devolved to this season, and in the name of giving Dirk Nowitzki his due among the next tier of stars, I’ll simply point you toward Dirk’s body of work this season.
|Player||PER||adj +/-||win shares||WARP
Nowitzki is truly elite. His numbers compare favorably to even the best in the league. However, while the metrics are fairly kind to Dirk, there is yet another divide that exists between Nowitzki and some of his contemporaries. At the absolute pinnacle of the game is James, who should start clearing out a shelf or six in his trophy case. On the second tier are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant, three spectacular talents that are somehow only getting better. Below them sits Nowitzki, as well as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams, as well as a few other stars that either aren’t performing quite up to their usual levels of excellence or haven’t experienced enough team success to be considered viable MVP candidates.
Dirk lies at the impressive intersection of those criteria, and his individual ability to impact a basketball game is obviously directly related to the Mavs’ 54-win mark. He is Dallas’ unquestioned offensive anchor, and though Jason Kidd also has a profound influence on how Dallas operates on that end, this is Dirk’s show. His ability to operate out of the high post is unmatched, and he’s a far more accomplished low post scorer than many are willing to admit. He’s ultimately a more productive player than Nash (which is partially attributable to their different roles), both more productive and more efficient than Williams, and posted a better overall season than Bryant.
I would argue that Nowitzki warrants prime placement on MVP ballots among that third group of stars. I’ve always interpreted the MVP as an award for the player with the most outstanding season, and with that as the basis for selection, I fail to see how you could choose any other third tier candidate. It’s not that Nash, Williams, or Bryant are inherently flawed choices; each is having a fine season and is near the top of their profession. Dirk has just been a bit better this year.
Steve Nash is an absolute wizard when it comes to running an offense, and he’s one of the most efficient shooters in the game. But he’s also one of the league’s worst defenders (not an exaggeration) and most of Nash’s edge in scoring efficiency can be chalked up to his notably low usage. Once that’s accounted for, Steve’s alarming turnover rate (21.3%!) starts to hedge his offensive value, if only a bit. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is positively stingy in his protection of the ball; Dirk’s turnover rate is about a third of Nash’s, despite a significantly higher usage rate. I think it would be difficult to argue that Nash was more productive this season on offense than Nowitzki to begin with, but Dirk’s added scoring volume, defensive edge (Nowitzki may not be great, but he’s still far better than Nash), and rebounding push him well over the top.
The nature of Dirk’s comparison to Deron Williams is quite similar, though with a few exceptions: Nash is a far more efficient scorer than Deron and a slightly more prolific passer, but Williams is a significantly better defender and less prone to turn the ball over. The net result of a comparison between Dirk and Deron is thus more of the same: Nowitzki’s impressive combination of high volume and high efficiency (despite his high usage) just makes too convincing of a case.
As for Kobe Bryant, I’m going to put this in a way that’s sure to inspire some reactionary commenters: where is it exactly that Kobe is supposed to have the advantage over Dirk? Bryant’s points per minute edge over Nowitzki is negligible. Kobe doesn’t get to the free throw line more often, he too turns the ball over more than Nowitzki, and faces a sizable deficit in shooting percentage (despite having superior teammates, a legendary offensive system, and a masterful coach). He creates for his teammates more often than Dirk does, but not to a particularly dominant degree (23.8 assist rate vs. 12.8). The only significant advantage that Bryant has over Nowitzki is his defense, but he also has a few things working against him:
- The Lakers are struggling badly, and team leaders — like Bryant — are held accountable for those struggles. There’s no excuse for L.A. not to put fear in the hearts of men, and yet they only seem particularly intimidating on paper. Los Angeles is still the favorite to win the West, as they should be, but the fact that their conference supremacy is even slightly in question is a blemish.
- Clutch play, typically regarded as a Bryant strength, is actually advantage: Dirk. And this is one of Kobe’s most impressive clutch seasons ever.
- Efficiency matters. It really, really does. Basketball isn’t so much a game of how much you score but how you go about doing it, and the fact that Nowitzki can nearly match Bryant’s scoring production by using less of his teams possessions means quite a bit.
Just take a little glance up at the chart that’s posted above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Even looking at the metrics where defense is accounted for (adjusted +/-, win shares, wins above replacement player), Bryant claims no advantage. His biggest victory among those four measures is a +0.6 edge in APM, while Dirk’s win shares are notably higher and his PER marginally higher.
It’s likely that if you consider Bryant to be an All-NBA defender, he makes your hypothetical MVP ballot. I don’t. He’s a good defender and a great one when he’s interested, but the Lakers’ troubles this season didn’t exclude Kobe and they weren’t solely restricted to the offensive end of the floor. The lack of focus and effort applied to Bryant as well. I’m sure part of that was natural letdown, part of it frustration, part of it having Ron Artest around to lock down on the perimeter, and plenty of it injury. All understandable, but they don’t reconcile the drop-off even if they do excuse it.
If you ask me who is the better player between the two, I’ll tell you it’s Kobe. If you ask me which of the two has had a better season, I’ll tell you it’s Dirk. The MVP rewards a player for having the most outstanding season, not necessarily for being the best player. That’s why things like games missed due to injury and consistency aren’t just arbitrary criteria. They legitimately matter because the award goes to the player with the greatest performance rather than the greatest potential to perform.
That player is LeBron James. But a few pegs down is Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not too bad, either.
For kicks, my MVP ballot, if you haven’t discerned it already:
- LeBron James
- Dwight Howard
- Dwyane Wade
- Kevin Durant
- Dirk Nowitzki
Thanks to Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value for stats and metrics used for this post.