Bones on Bones

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 10, 2011 under Commentary, News, Roster Moves | 2 Comments to Read

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The Mavs weren’t expected to make much commotion during this year’s abridged free agency, but they’ve already made one move in anticipation of another. The Knicks’ acquisition of Tyson Chandler — originally designed to be an outright free agent signing — has officially been processed as a three-team, sign-and-trade endeavor, scoring Dallas an $11 million trade exception, a protected second round pick (via Washington), and the imminently waivable Andy Rautins. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Mavs are already working to use that traded player exception to acquire Samuel Dalembert on a one-year deal via sign-and-trade with Sacramento.

It’s a lot of hustle and bustle (especially when coupled with Dallas’ signing of Brandan Wright, and likely acquisition on Vince Carter) for a team largely anticipated to stand pat, but it’s worth waiting for the smoke to clear before we take full stock in Dallas’ off-season haul. Trade exceptions, by nature, are transitory tools; they’re only worth what a team is able to gain with them, and we’ll have a better grasp of the yield from the Chandler sign-and-trade as soon as Dalembert makes his decision. The Mavs are hardly the only team pursuing him; Stein also noted that Houston was interested in acquiring Dalembert if the Rockets’ other options fell through, meaning the Mavs’ next play could lean on the reconstruction and upcoming review of the Chris Paul blockbuster.

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Reinventing the Checkbook

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 9, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Fans and analysts have done their best to read the tea leaves containing the Mavs’ off-season plans, but implicit in that process is a lot of assumption. We know that Dallas doesn’t want to sign Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler to the kinds of deals they’re able to secure elsewhere. We know that J.J. Barea was only offered a short-term, and that it wasn’t to his liking. We know that the Mavs are likely to pursue free agents on one-year contracts almost exclusively. From all of these facts — and the reports they stem from — we can try to piece together the team’s strategy, but there will always be bits of logic and nuance missing from our formulations.

Well, prepare to have the blanks filled in. On Thursday, Mark Cuban articulated Dallas’ general strategy in a must-read post by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:

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Multiple Choice

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 6, 2011 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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In yesterday’s Bullets, Henry Abbott noted the following:

If the Mavericks are really being stingy with Tyson Chandler I suppose that could be taken as a sign the new CBA is having some effect. The Mavericks are like the Knicks and Lakers in how they have spent, historically, but they are not at all like those teams in how they earn, and have lost mighty amounts of money as a result. A stiff luxury tax could, in theory, hurt Cuban more than anyone — as he’s one of the owners already feeling the most financial pain.

It’s true — Dallas has historically been a big-spending team, but without the revenue streams that make franchises like the Lakers and Knicks so insanely profitable. Mark Cuban is likely to be one of the first influenced by the new luxury tax as a result, and we may see the implications of that deterrence sooner rather than later.

But if the Mavericks fail to re-sign Tyson Chandler this summer, it will have little to do with the tax or the new collective bargaining agreement. The Mavericks will likely pay the luxury tax this season, but at a dollar-for-dollar rate with a lower overall payroll than last season (largely due to Caron Butler’s salary being off the books), Cuban would get a bit of a financial break relative to his team’s title campaign even if he and Donnie Nelson chose to keep Chandler around. The Mavs’ defensive centerpiece could be had for a sizable financial investment and only a par-for-the-course luxury tax penalty, if only Cuban willed it so.

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Appraising Birds

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 1, 2011 under Commentary, Rumors | 3 Comments to Read

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The lockout hasn’t even reached its official end, and yet all eyes are fixed on the summer of 2012. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams have dominated media outlets with their rumored gravity toward various teams and markets, and though basketball fans are likely queasy already from the trade rumor overload, the hype is legitimate. Those three superstars are hugely impactful players, and while the NBA world would be a better place without the rumor mill’s nonstop churning, to ignore teams’ awareness of next year’s free agent class would be naive. Franchises around the league are working hard to be in a position to take part in the free agent fun, and the Mavs are no exception.

In that vein, Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN.com dropped a fairly startling report yesterday:

In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end.

“I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.”

…Chandler maintains that staying in Dallas has always been his first choice, but he expressed disappointment that the communication between the sides was minimal from the end of the NBA Finals in mid-June and the June 30 deadline for extensions. On Wednesday, when teams and agents were allowed to commence free-agent negotiations, NBA front office sources listed New Jersey, Golden State, Houston and Toronto as the teams chasing Chandler hardest.

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The Butterfly Effects, Pt. II: Remaining Chains

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 29, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

With the unofficial, metaphorical ink on the tentative CBA structure beginning to dry, we’ll take to look at how the new agreement impacts the Dallas Mavericks teams of today and tomorrow.

The NBA’s owners entered collective bargaining with several specific goals in mind. Among them: to limit the flexibility of taxpaying teams as much as possible, creating a systemic conflict between high payrolls and roster freedom. As a part of that objective, the new agreement includes a completely remodeled set of salary cap exceptions that reward teams for staying under the tax line, and restrict the free agent involvement of spend-happy clubs like the Mavericks. Dallas will likely be a luxury taxpayer again next season; so the franchise has been for the last six-plus years, and so they may be for the next several. Such is the price of keeping this particular contending core in place. Mark Cuban will be mindful of the wrath of the repeater tax, but that likely won’t stop him from keeping his team in tax territory for the first two seasons of the new collective bargaining agreement, during which he’ll only face a $1-for-$1 luxury tax penalty akin to that of the previous CBA. Cuban has shown a willingness to foot the bill on that tax, but would be understandably reluctant to pay according to the exorbitant demands of the more demanding luxury tax rules that will become active for the 2013-2014 season. But the Mavs’ taxpaying status will still affect their offseason plans on a more immediate timeline. According to a memo detailing the tentative agreement between the players and owners (via SI.com), taxpaying teams will no longer have access to the league’s mid-level exception (a salary cap exception used to sign free agents for up to around $5 million per season); instead, they’ll be forced to make do with the “taxpayer mid-level exception,” a provision that allows for the signing of a free agent to a deal up to three years in length (rather than four) starting at a mere $3 million. Read more of this article »

The Butterfly Effects, Pt. I: Tax the Street

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 28, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

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With the unofficial, metaphorical ink on the tentative CBA structure beginning to dry, we’ll take to look at how the new agreement impacts the Dallas Mavericks teams of today and tomorrow.

While James Dolan’s luxury tax spending in the mid-2000s would put any other overspending owner to shame, Mark Cuban has shown an impressive tolerance for substantial tax payments so long as the Mavericks are competitive. And, in case you hadn’t heard, Dallas has been competitive for quite some time; 11-straight 50-win seasons has not only put the twinkle in Cuban’s eye, but also the dent in his wallet.

That long-term investment finally paid off with a championship this past June, but the new, more punitive luxury tax could bring hell to Cuban’s finances if he the Mavs continue on their usual spending course. Here’s an excerpt from the league’s official memo outlining the terms of the recent agreement, as release by SI.com:

Beginning in year 3, Tax rates for teams with team salary above Tax level are as follows:

Incremental Team Salary Above Tax LevelTax Rate
$0-$5M$1.50-for-$1
$5M-$10M$1.75-for-$1
$10M-$15M$2.50-for-$1
$15M-$20M$3.25-for-$1

  • Tax rates increase by $0.50 for each additional $5M above the Tax level (e.g., for team salary $20M-25M above the Tax level, the Tax rate is $3.75-for-$1).
  • Tax rates for teams that are taxpayers in at least 4 out of any 5 seasons (starting in 2011-12) increase by $1 at each increment (e.g., for team salary $5M-$10M above the Tax level, the Tax rate for a repeat taxpayer is $2.75-for-$1 instead of $1.75-for-$1).

All of this luxury tax adjustment has been made in the hopes that the variation in spending between teams will be mitigated. Cuban himself has been a proponent of just such a position in the past; as much as out-spending the competition has been one of the Mavs’ distinct advantages, Cuban himself is naturally less than enthused about shelling out extra money for luxury tax payments. A high payroll is one thing, but a high payroll that creates further financial obligations via the tax is another one entirely.

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Let the Right One Out

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 23, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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Amid all of the lockout nonsense, yesterday actually brought some fairly good news for Maverick fans: according to ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, Tyson Chandler, who was being pursued by the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, has opted to reject the team’s offer and remain stateside. As a free agent, Chandler was among the limited number of players who would actually be allowed  – per a recent CBA ruling — to sign in China, and the fact that he turned down the offer could be seen as an initial indication that Chandler might skip out on overseas basketball altogether.

Which, given Chandler’s somewhat fragile injury history, is the greatest victory Mavs fans can claim on a day ruled by the lockout’s legal proceedings.

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One Among Them

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 7, 2011 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

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Every bit of optimism that has seeped into the collective bargaining negotiations has been dealt with in short order. The NBA is uncompromising, and the players’ willingness to negotiate has been coopted by hardline owners as a free avenue for player concessions. The owners have given little to nothing in return, and now yet another arbitrary deadline threatens the 2011-2012 season altogether.

On a more local level, Tyson Chandler discussed another sobering reality on the Ben & Skin show on ESPN Radio in Dallas: even if the players and owners do somehow get a deal in place to end the lockout, the likely luxury tax framework of such a deal could prevent Chandler from re-signing with the Mavs:

“With the collective bargaining agreement and some of the things that they’re trying to enforce, it would basically prohibit me from coming back. It would take it out of my hands — and the organization’s — because it would almost be pretty much impossible for me to re-sign. I just think that can be the worst thing that can happen. For years, the Lakers have been able to win championships and re-sign their players and keep them there so they can go out for another title. Now, to put that deal in place after we win ours, I don’t like it one bit.”

Chandler’s concerns are real. An actual hard cap is almost an impossibility at this point, but a soft cap with harsher penalties for taxpayers is virtually guaranteed. That could deter Dallas — a team already committed to $64.7 million in 2011-2012 salary before accounting for the potential re-signings of Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, or Peja Stojakovic — from bringing back its second-best player. Considering that Chandler would cost more than double of what would surely be a substantial salary, no one should blame Mark Cuban for refusing to foot the bill, even with the added cost of losing out on top-tier contention.

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At the Summit, or Close Enough

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 25, 2011 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Tyson Chandler made a radio appearance yesterday with Mason & Ireland of ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, and gave his own respectable, respectful take on the lockout and its proceedings. It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a thoughtful player like Chandler, and his lockout comments are worth a listen (or a read, via Sports Radio Interviews).

Yet what interested me about Chandler’s radio spot was his tackling of a fairly routine question posed to him by the show’s co-hosts, regarding his determination of the league’s best player. Here was Chandler’s response:

“I would go with Dirk. It’s funny, I tweeted about it and I’ve been catching the same flack about it. But I feel it’s proven by what he did last year, what he did to the Lakers, what he did to Oklahoma City, what he did in the Finals, throughout the whole playoffs Dirk just became a man possessed. He went to a whole other level offensively. People talk about what he did defensively, but he actually stepped it up better during the playoffs last year and became a better team defender. And my whole thing is if you outscore the guy defending you by 10 to 15 points, then you’re playing pretty good D.”

Is Dirk Nowitzki the best player in the NBA? Not quite. LeBron James — even after a disappointing series in the Finals — should still rank as the NBA’s top contributor, and Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul all have legitimate claims over Nowitzki. Generally, the #ESPNRank project was right on the money in its assessment of the top five NBA players; Nowitzki still showed incredibly well at No. 5, but he’s still a bit removed from status as the league’s absolute best.

That said, Nowitzki is dominant enough that Chandler’s opinion isn’t considered absolutely absurd. One would expect Chandler to get his teammate’s back here; I doubt I need to remind anyone that Dallas recently won the NBA title, largely due to Nowitzki’s ability to anchor the offense and contribute on defense. Considering Dirk’s playoffs performance — the most recent NBA basketball we’ve seen, mind you — Chandler’s perspective is completely understandable. The logic isn’t flawless, mind you, but Nowitzki is in an elite class that can be noted as the NBA’s best without being met with incredulity. Dirk is that good, and with trophy in hand — a foolish reason to finally acknowledge Nowitzki’s success, but alas — the entire basketball-loving world has finally recognized it.

But my question in light of Chandler’s response is this: at what point is a great player’s teammate not “obligated,” (in some sense of the word) to throw out their colleague’s name in these discussions? I’m sure plenty of Mavs would cite Dirk as the league’s best considering the postseason he just had, just as I’m sure that many Magic players would name Howard, many Hornets players would glorify Paul, or virtually every Bulls player would cite Derrick Rose. The same would undoubtedly be true for Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But would a Clipper really introduce Blake Griffin into this discussion? Would a knick put Carmelo Anthony toe-to-toe with the best in the business? Who exactly can be included in this group worthy of coworker endorsement, and where is the brightline for teammate stumping? Or, to put it another way: which players are worthy of being in the “best NBA player” discussion, even if only as a function of reasonability?

The Curious Case of Rick Carlisle

Posted by Ian Levy on October 20, 2011 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

For several Maverick veterans, last year’s championship run was the final component in cementing a legacy. It verified Dirk Nowitzki as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate and a top-five NBA player (I’m looking at you #NBARank). It was the capstone on Jason Kidd’s claim as one of the best point guards in NBA history. It helped shift the focus from Tyson Chandler’s injury history to his status as an every-night warrior and his strong defensive foundation. It validated the years of specialized and all-around production provided by Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion respectively. And, although it hasn’t been mentioned nearly as often, I believe it also established Rick Carlisle as one of the game’s elite coaches.

After his ninth season as a head coach, Carlisle has won a total of 443 games with a 0.600 win percentage. He’s led his team to the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons and has posted a playoff win percentage of 0.535. He’s achieved a great deal, but has also had the benefit of coaching some great players. In evaluating the worth of a coach, how do you examine team success and separate the contributions of coach from player?

During one his NBA Finals recaps, John Hollinger mentioned that one of the reasons the Mavericks pursued Carlisle was that their statistical studies showed he had a tendency to give the most minutes to the most effective lineups. This idea struck a chord with me. The biggest stumbling block in using statistics to analyze the performance of coaches is simply finding numbers which can be directly attributed to the coach.  The idea Hollinger mentions seems to me to be the one domain where just such a set of statistics exist. Coaches decide which players are on the floor and in what combination at any given moment. The effectiveness of those choices provides us with one quantitative measure of a coach’s effectiveness.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve used two different techniques at Hickory-High to try and examine this issue, both of which relied heavily on the statistics BasketballValue provides for five-man units. Their data only covers the last four seasons, which means that my analysis is restricted to that time frame. In my first piece, I ran a series of correlations between the effectiveness of each five-man unit, using their Net Rating weighted by minutes played, and the number of minutes they were played by their coach. This technique was an attempt to directly represent the statistical studies Hollinger mentioned, with the idea being that the higher the correlation is, the better job a coach has done of judging the effectiveness of each of his units and allocating minutes accordingly.

With this first technique, Carlisle came out looking very good, but not necessarily great. His individual season correlations ranged from 0.488 in 2009 to 0.645 this past season, none of which ranked in the top 25 of the seasons I looked at. Carlisle did stand out somewhat for his consistency. Many coaches showed volatility in their numbers from season to season, possibly a result of injuries, roster changes or even an irrational infatuation with a particular player or configuration. Carlisle’s cumulative correlation over the last three seasons was 0.585. Of coaches who worked multiple seasons over the last four years, that number ranked 8th, trailing only Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy, Flip Saunders, Alvin Gentry, Byron Scott and Gregg Popovich.

In my second piece, I started with the same set of data but used a slightly different technique. This time I calculated the percentage of the team’s lineups that finished the season with a positive Net Rating, and then compared that percentage to the number of minutes those positive lineups were allotted as a whole. For the purposes of the study the difference between those percentages — positive or negative — is what we’re considering the coach’s ability to manipulate their lineups. This second technique may be a more blunt measure than the first, but I think it helps solve some of the inflation from stacked rosters that occur with the first technique.

With this second technique, Carlisle again stands out: not for his superior performance, but for his consistency. None of his individual seasons made the top 25. Over the past three seasons, 50.4% of the Mavericks lineups which played at least five minutes together have had a positive Net Rating. Those positive lineups have played 65.5% of the possible minutes, an increase of 15.1% over a random distribution of minutes. That number ranks fifth among coaches who worked multiple seasons over the last four, trailing only Jackson, Van Gundy, Rivers and Gentry.

The two techniques I’ve put together are not exact and not comprehensive. However, I think they do give us some quantitative information, general though it may be, about a coach’s ability to optimize their lineups. As with any question of basketball analysis, if we are left with questions after an initial look, the task is to find more data and narrow the focus. The numbers I’ve put together show that Carlisle has been among the league’s best at managing his rotations. For the skeptics out there, I was able to find some more specifics on how those rotations shake out.

I started by combining all of the lineups Carlisle has used during his three-year tenure in Dallas, trying to find some natural groupings for them based on the number of minutes played. I settled on these categories and general (subjective) classifications:

  • Over 145 MP – This group represents the primary starting lineups for each season and the go-to bench rotations.
  • Between 82 and 145 MP – This group represents the deeper bench rotations, and situational lineups.
  • Between 40 and 82 MP – This group represents deep, deep bench rotations, extreme situational lineups, and some accommodations for injuries.
  • Less than 40 MP – This group represents garbage time lineups, minutes scraped together for rookies, and strange experiments.

For each of those categories I counted the total number of lineups Carlisle has used in Dallas. I also calculated the cumulative Net Rating for all the lineups which fit into each category.

CategoryNumber of LineupsNet Rating
>145 MP12+10.4
145-82 MP12+10.1
82-40 MP38+1.7
<40 MP329+1.4

The way his numbers worked out are unique on several fronts. The first is how many lineups were found in each of the first two categories. With 12 lineups in each category over 3 seasons, we find the Mavericks under Carlisle using an average of 8 lineups a season which play more than 82 minutes. There is absolutely no pretense of riding a formidable starting lineup into the ground. The Mavericks’ most played lineup last season, Barea-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Haywood, logged just 350.45 minutes. That mark was eclipsed by 25 lineups from 21 different teams. Instead of relying on one dominant lineup, Carlisle is able to spread the minutes around in many combinations. But the most important factor is how effective those combinations are. With cumulative Net Ratings over +10.0 for both lineup categories above 82 minutes played, Carlisle is able to maintain a first tier level of performance among several lineups.

As the advanced statistics movement trudges forward, there will continue to be a vocal segment searching for a one-size, fits all, comprehensive measure, a number which says definitively that one player is better than another. To be honest, I find that search to be counter-productive. A visual observation can usually tell us who the best players are. For me, the benefit of advanced statistics is the increased ability to delve into details. I don’t want one number to explain everything. I want all the numbers. When it comes to looking evaluating coaches with statistics, I see similarities everywhere. A single numeric representation of a coach’s ability is certainly out of reach at this point, and to be honest, I’m not sure it’s needed. The fun is in the thin slices, in digging into the specifics and unique situations to try and find some answers. These techniques I’ve put together aren’t meant to be a step toward that single unifying theory of evaluation, they are meant to be another thin slice. They are meant to answer a few questions, and hopefully raise just as many.