Donuts: A Mavs Lockout-Almost-Over Debate
K-Bro: Hey, stop being a doctor for a second because I feel like talking about the Mavs. ... especially as word comes from New York that the players and owners are "within striking distance'' on a deal.
Obviously, the main (and only) stories currently running in the NBA involve the lockout since nothing can be done until it ends. It could be 2 months or it could be 2 years, but at some point the lockout has to disappear and basketball business can resume. And again, you follow the goings-on after the meetings -- happy talk between Stern and Hunter! -- and you feel like it could be today. ...
For now, we're assuming we can take for granted the end of the lockout and having this discussion based on current CBA rules, which will make this eventual article irrelevant... but shut up and ignore that for a minute.
In the case of the defending champion Mavericks, the first business to conduct will involve their free agents once the lockout curtain is lifted. In case you don't know who they are (which you do if you're a true DB.commer), I'll list them right here: Tyson Chandler - Center, JJ Barea - Point Guard, Caron Butler - Small Forward, DeShawn Stevenson - Shooting Guard, Peja Stojakovic - Small Forward, and Brian Cardinal - Small Forward. All of them are unrestricted free agents, but the Mavs own Bird Rights for Tyson, JJ, Caron, and DeShawn.
Obviously Tyson and JJ are the big ones, but all of these guys played roles in pushing the Mavs to their first ever championship glory run last summer. My question for you, Dr. Chuck, is who do the Mavs keep and who do they let walk?
Dr. Chuck: Keep ...
Tyson Chandler: Though not much explanation is needed here, I'll offer some thoughts anyway. First, any passerby could see the impact Tyson had on this team last year. His tenacity, defensive energy, and interior athleticism have not been seen around these parts in quite some time. If you've watched the Mavs championship DVD, you saw where Tyson diagnosed the Mavs' needs before ever coming here and decided to be the guy to fill those holes.
Perhaps it was a business decision, or just good spin, but I want that type of analytical, energetic, team-first personality on my team. The Mavs' own his Bird Rights (a stipulation I doubt will disappear in the subsequent CBA - owners are seeking MORE protection from losing players, not less), so they can be the biggest spenders for Tyson's services if they so choose. And they should.
He will command plenty on the open market, but if the Mavericks are to go above market-value on any guy, it's Tyson. Longtime observers noted how Kidd's arrival rejuvenated Dirk. The advent of Chandler had a similar effect and his presence on the roster makes Dirk's life easier in a multitude of ways.
First, he willingly shares the leadership burden, especially defensively. Dirk no longer shoulders the lion's share of emotional leadership, but a voice like Tyson's in the locker-room will only benefit the franchise.
Secondly, his defensive tenacity removes considerable demand off of Dirk, freeing him up to operate with more energy on Offense. Dirk is much better as a help-side defender anyway. When your strong-side defender is All-NBA quality, your defense is strengthened that much more.
Finally, his activity and athleticism are good for 3-4 easy putbacks/lobs a game. Furthermore, since Dirk's Go-To move on offense is a fade away, his opportunity to get an offensive rebound is limited at best and therefore a long athletic rebounder like Chandler becomes all the more valuable.
Tony Cubes will probably have to hear the howls of the national media types who'll say that he perennially overpays centers (somewhat right). But Tyson is worth it. He makes the on-court product better, he makes the franchise star better, and he's increasingly marketable to the fan base. Lock him up.
Caron Butler: At a level below Chandler, Caron is my #2 keeper based on what he represents: the franchise's best FA opportunity to get 'better.'
I know he was on the roster last year but the team functioned without him for the important parts of the year. Further, he perhaps represents the basketball-equivalent of the business credo 'buy low.' Since he missed virtually all of 2011, his value on the open market will likely be falsely depressed (think of him as the inverse-JJB, who will command more than he's probably worth based on recent performance). Furthermore, we've already seen how good this team can be with him in the lineup. He's athletic, can create his own shot, and an inspirational voice in the locker room that has already ingrained himself in the culture here.
No reason to search the open market for someone who fits that description when one is already here.
A fear is that this will likely be Caron's last big contract offer and it's in his best (economic) interests to maximize that opportunity. So long as he and his agent don't seek anything unreasonable, I think Caron comes back and starts at SF, which allows the Mavericks to bring Matrix off the bench, forming the best 1-2 bench combo in the league with JET.
Brian Cardinal: Based solely on who he is, just a hard-working guy, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. The basketball Bill Bates (or was that Eddie Najera?). As we've seen, 3 guys can get you to the Finals, but you need 8 to win it.
Cardinal brings his hardhat, lunch and lantern to work every day (as my high school football coach was fond of saying) and for a guy who won't cost a lot anyway, Cardinal brings value for the veterans' minimum. His toughness and willingness to do the little things is something a coach like Carlisle values, the embodiment of Rick's "Be Ready" mantra.
Like to Keep but Probably Won't-
JJ Barea: Hope for the best. Plan for the worst. That has been alluded to in the fine position analysis by you and MDug, and from there we wait. His skill set is perfect to run pick and rolls/pops with Dirk but his greenest pastures likely reside elsewhere. Therefore if JJ is not retained in 2011-12, it will likely be due to him receiving an offer that the brain trust isn't comfortable matching.
He means a lot to this team, as his impact was crucial in tipping the Lakers series as well as the Finals against Miami. However if I am Donnie Nelson, I enter into negotiations (whenever this interminable lockout is lifted) with the Barea camp with a limit in mind. If he cannot be brought in on that budget, I'd offer him and his a hearty handshake, warm thanks, and ask where he would like his ring sent. He's got a niche, but he's not a break-the-bank guy; every dollar more you spend on JJ is one less you can use to retain TY.
It's nice that JJB seems to want to stay. It's nice that Fish seems convinced JJB is staying. I hope that all helps make it happen.
DeShawn Stevenson: If he's willing to take a cheap deal, this could change, but as of now I don't see DSteve reprising his role as the guy who's not sorry for partying.
The Mavs will miss his toughness, as well as the ability to deploy two athletic defenders on the wing with him and Marion. Furthermore, with Corey Brewer, JET, Marion, Rudy, the rise of DoJo, and the (hopeful) reemergence of Roddy B, there simply aren't enough minutes for DSteve around here.
At Least We'll Always Have LA ...
Peja Stojakovic: Thank you for your services, Mr. Stojakovic, couldn't have done it without you. We thoroughly enjoyed watching you put up video-game numbers against the Lakers but your lack of athleticism on the perimeter isn't going to get better as you age. This was apparent in the Finals when you could not get off the bench as LeBron and Wade blew by you at less than their maximum speed. With the rise of Oklahoma City and Memphis in the West, your limited speed will only become a problem in earlier playoff rounds. What say you?
K-Bro: Though I agree with most of the decisions you've made as the Mavs' amateur GM, as well as the reasons why you're making them, allow me to pick them apart just to be a jerk.
With Tyson, as much as we want to completely clear Cuban and Donnie of mistakes in the past when it comes to paying big men, we just can't. There is too much evidence in the past of overpaying and overvaluing guys who range from 'Busts' (Diop) to 'Letdowns' (Damp) to 'Damn it, I hate him' (Bradley).
It's easy for the MFFL collective voice to say "Write the check!" or "Do what it takes, Donnie!", but that's simply not how it works. Is 7 years for $73 million something the Mavs could stomach? How about 6 years for $55 million? Because those are the contracts to which the Mavs signed Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood.
With a CBA that will probably tighten salary cap restrictions, is it really wise for the Mavs commit $10 million a year for 6-7 years to a guy with an ugly injury history? In all likelihood, that is what it will take to keep Tyson in Maverick blue and white. I'm in favor of the Mavs making a hard push to bring back Tyson, but it's certainly worth noting the high stakes it will take to keep him in town.
A dirty secret of last year is how silly a business decision it was for the Dallas Mavericks to not trade Caron for a usable piece at the deadline. Obviously winning the championship covers that up, but had they not, the Mavs would have been ripped for keeping an injured player with a tradeable contract on the roster.
The Mavs stayed loyal to their guy though, and that is what makes Caron such an interesting free agency case. Is he thankful enough that the Mavs didn't trade him at the deadline to give them a discount to re-sign him in free agency? Does he feel like he owes it to the Mavs to come back and prove his worth after watching them win it all without any help from him? Is he gone the second someone, anyone, inevitably offers to overpay him?
With Caron's skill set as a solid team defender who can score, it makes sense to bring him back, but only for a great deal from the Mavs' end. Shawn Marion will always take a big chunk of the SF minutes and there's a reason Dallas bid so highly to gain the services of Corey Brewer for a few years. The fact is the Mavs did it without Caron and feel they have the pieces in place to move on at small forward if he asks for too much.
There is only one question regarding JJ that will make his decision pretty clear cut: Does he want to risk a lot of criticism in order to make more money and run a team himself or stay where he's comfortable to make less money and get guaranteed success? It's no secret that Barea has found a niche next to Dirk (enter "small person'' joke here). The problem for the Mavericks is he's earned his shot at running a team himself, whether the collective NBA observers think he'll succeed at that spot or not. I think he should stay, but he won't. I don't think he'll succeed at running a team, but the guy has been doubted before.
I think Cardinal will be back just because he's cheap and even if he remains at the end of the bench, he'll prove his worth as a locker room and chemistry guy. Plus Carlisle has confidence in him to contribute if needed... or to karate chop someone.
This is getting long, so here's the short of it: Stevenson = back, Peja = gone.
All of this is based off of the current CBA agreement. Dugat and I have discussed the possibility of the next CBA including a clause for NBA teams to dissolve one of their current contracts in order to help assimilate into the next CBA era. For argument's sake, let's say they do that: who do the Mavs amnesty-release?
First of all, doing nothing is always an option. Depending on whether the owners can negotiate a hard salary cap into the next CBA, and what that level is, the Mavs may not be forced to use the amnesty clause. The Mavs are known to have a perennially large payroll, but it's surprising how few bad contracts they actually have on the roster. Perhaps they can be accused of overpaying their players but that's the MO across the league. Owners wildly overpay players that are JAGs. (That's the real issue in the lockout for me btw)
However, assuming they will be forced to cut a current player, when you look at the contracts the Mavs will have on the books, there's really only one choice.
Viewed thusly, in the case of "if,'' it's clear that Brendon Haywood would be the target. Shawn Marion's contract also draws the eye due to dollars and length of term, but he does too many things too well for this team. The final year of Haywood's deal is a team option, making his contract an attractive trade piece, but if I'm forced to choose, he must go. However, no amnesty-clause decision can be made until the aforementioned Chandler is resigned, as Haywood would become vital to the team if Chandler goes elsewhere.
K-Bro: That's an interesting idea of not voiding a contract if they had a chance to. Obviously so much would rely on what happened with Tyson, but how much heat would an organization that has the reputation of overpaying take for doing that?
In past years after playoff failure, supposed bad contracts for their big men became extra fodder for critics of the Mavs shortcomings. You know the order of critiques: 1) Dirk can't do it alone (or) Dirk can't be the ‘number one' on a championship team. 2) Some combination of Jason Kidd is too old/Jason Terry can't be Robin/Cuban needs to be quiet. 3) Man, the Mavs front office is screwing this thing up with horrible contracts to big men!
Well, the first 2 were proven wrong this year. So, is the main critique of the Mavs now that they overpay for big men who were good enough to win a championship? Think about that for a second.
"Cuban and Donnie need to stop paying so much for championship front-court depth."
Uh, ok. In the past, their "obvious" issues were high payroll and a 'soft' star. Now, one of those theories was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it was untrue. The other is at least up for debate now, isn't it?
Dr. Chuck: The heat the organization could take would be precisely proportional to the beliefs held by simpleton media pundits (like ourselves) that they should have done something. Would axing a contract like Haywood's or Marion's make the team better? Would it give them a chance to win another championship? (What a great goal!) Would it allow them greater long-term financial flexibility and optionality? These are the components that must be assessed in deciding whom/if to enact this potential amnesty clause.
Supposing that there's no gun to their heads, forcing them to shed a large contract. I think the best option may end up being to stay the course. Of course that leaves a fairly large portion of the salary cap pie set aside for the C position, but in today's NBA is that such a bad thing? Quality big men, especially true-ish Centers, are certainly a declining breed on the hardwood, and a stable of them a true competitive advantage for the Mavs. There would be a line forming for either Chandler's or Haywood's services if either were available, and for good reason.
Regarding the high-payroll: I'd say that's still debatable as to whether it's the best way to construct a championship-caliber roster, but, as last year's finals proved, it's certainly a way to build one. As you and I alluded to in our Decision piece, the series itself was a bit of a referendum on the model for building championship rosters. Miami took the FA route - slashing and burning enough cap commitments to clear space for Bosh, Wade, and James. Reasonable analysis says that model works, as they made the Finals in year 1 of their experiment and came within 2 wins of a championship.
The Mavs on the other hand have been in the luxury tax for years, but have been anything but hamstrung by it. As I will illustrate in a coming article, they have instead meticulously constructed and tinkered with their roster by acquiring tradable assets that they either kept or re-gifted to another team for more-desired parts. (Check out our "Creative Opportunism'' extravaganza.)
Operating under such constraints is certainly more delicate, as a trade by definition requires agreement from two parties and giving something up in exchange for a desired object. However, as the current residence of Larry O'Brien proves, it's not impossible. Indeed with the right people running the show (contrast the Mavs' high-budget success to the Knicks' expensive flops before Amare and Melo), amazing results can happen with opportunistic creativity at the top. Cuban is an entrepreneur, and his basketball front office operates like it.
K-Bro: It appears that with Creative Opportunism the Mavericks have proven that a franchise can build a roster with high payroll and consistently win as long as they build that payroll with flexible contracts. ... aka, have a competent GM that takes weighted risks. I guess everyone should take more than a snapshot of a roster and actually examine contract types/assets before declaring a team's window shut or closing. Imagine that.
Every team wants to win a championship, while having young, elite pieces, which have veteran savvy, wonderfully constructed contracts, no egos on the team, and flexible assets. That's simply not how it works. You do what you can, when you can to win a championship and deal with the fallout afterwards. The Mavs have quite a few important free agents following their championship year, but that's the risk you run. Signing JJ Barea to a little deal before his breakout season was half-brilliant/half-luck. Part of getting Tyson Chandler for such a small fee was because he was heading into the last year of his deal, but it also kept with Donnie's theme of flexibility within the roster. The point is it's worth it to win a ring, which they did. You just have to trust the proven franchise to make the right moves going forward.
Additionally, In the past with examples like San Antonio, Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami, teams with legit shots at winning it all have received a discount on free agents who make it clear that their priority is to win. The Mavericks now have championship pedigree. Does this mean that they start getting mentioned as one of those teams where players take less money to join in order to take a legit stab at a championship?
Obviously, Dirk and the franchise have proven that they are worthy, but do veterans around the league view the Mavs this way? Does Dirk now have that clout/reputation of 'Join Me and Win' around the NBA? If you're a quality free agent who is still in line for a decent pay day, are the Mavs a team you consider taking less money to join because of their legitimate championship aspirations? Is age of the team a factor?
Or do you think they have the incorrect perception of them as "fluky'' amongst their peers?
Dr. Chuck: First, of all, you don't really leave me much of a choice here. But I will answer thusly: It depends.
As you noted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and reputations take a while to shake. Trollinger keeps insisting that these Mavs were a fluke, a team that was just good enough to slip through the cracks in a year where everything broke right. While it's true that your team must catch some lucky 'championship breaks' to win it all, these Mavs proved themselves to be completely worthy of the ring by going through one of the toughest roads to the championship in recent memory.
That said, whether they will receive a championship discount from veteran FA's depends on how said FA's perceive them.
While the ring certainly validates the management style of the franchise (as well as Dirk), the degree to which certain FA's will sign on the cheap will correlate with how much they (and their handlers) think signing with the Mavs will help Johnny NBA Player reach a ring of his own. In short, I think the answer is "yes'' for the next few years, but I think Miami will still command the most significant below-market value contracts of ring-chasing vets.
Tuck the Mavs with the Lakers in on that second tier. ... still, along with the first-tier ownership of Larry, a pretty good place to be.