The Power Of Mavs Creative Opportunism
This is an exercise in how the 2011 Dallas Mavericks were built ... how 11x50 was achieved ... and how contention can be achieved again.
It's an exercise we've done before in this space, triggered for a re-boot now by the acquisitions of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Wayne Ellington, Devin Harris and Samuel Dalembert (and, likely, DeJuan Blair).
To the Mavs' credit, they attempted to get some of the initial deals done via sign-and-trades. In the end, while we can debate about some of the price tags relative to the players' values, we support the gobbling up of (mostly) youngish assets who won't fly the coop after one season and therefore can be paper-clipped into that eventually house.
And that is what the Mavs have always done best. Piece-by-piece. Brick-by-brick. Trade-by-trade. Sometimes, "fallen angel'' by "fallen angel.''
As owner Mark Cuban wrote in his blog post (reviewed brilliantly here by DB.com's Michael Dugat): "We also feel like we have some players that will be far better on our team than they were on previous teams. I like our ability to work with what I call 'fallen angels.' Players who are traded or left unsigned because everyone in the league thinks that they can only be the player they saw in another organization."
There is enough bashing of "Plan Powder'' on these pages. We're not arguing that the bashing isn't justified; We're prepared to demonstrate that, as our David Lord noted recently, maybe the new CBA didn't require all new rules for roster building.
Maybe it simply takes some patient-but-bold paperclip-for-fallen-angel deals.
Eleven of the 15 members of the Mavs team that won the championship came via trades: Dirk, Chandler, Kidd, Marion, Jet, Stevenson, Butler, Haywood, Roddy B, DoJo and Peja. (There are technicalities here; DoJo was traded here for cash and Peja, who arrived via a quid-pro-quo swap with Toronto. But they are trades nevertheless.)
Dallas has historically shown patience with fitting pieces and boldness with shipping out ill-fitting pieces. Along with all these was a willingness to take on salary baggage. That's a tactic still worthy of debate in a new CBA world, but Dallas has has success with "throw-ins,'' often finding a niche for the other team's supposed castoffs. For example, Avery Johnson, a throw-in to the Juwan Howard deal, became the franchise's winningest coach (by win percentage) and DeShawn Stevenson as well as Antoine Wright both became productive starters.
The three facets of Creative Opportunism we believe marked Dallas' climb to the top:
*A willingness to take on baggage
*The ability to repackage assets that don't fit for upgrades
We believe we can illustrate those three tendencies by focusing on three Mavs trades:
1. Juwan Howard, Donnell Harvey, and Tim Hardaway for Nick Van Exel, Avery Johnson, Raef LaFrentz and Tariq Abdul-Wahad
This deal was the ultimate Don Nelson trade and it represented a doubling-down on his offense-first preference. The Mavericks, already the league's highest-scoring team, essentially traded their best post defender for two prolific offensive players in LaFrentz and Van Exel.
Sadly, Howard was also their best low-post offensive threat as well. Though it wasn't the move that helped the team conquer the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers, it was an interesting basketball experiment.
Indeed, by acquiring the Nuggets' top two offensive players, and known Laker-killer Nick the Quick, the Mavericks envisioned rolling out an unguardable lineup of Nash, Van Exel, Finley, Nowitzki, and LaFrentz at crunch time. LaFrentz, another big man with 3-point range (a Don Nelson favorite), would help mitigate the Mavs' lack of interior size by drawing the opposing big man away from the basket and clearing the lane for drivers Van Exel and Nash.
The trade also showed the Mavericks getting maximum value for their outgoing players, a recurring theme. Essentially, they sold off Juwan Howard's expiring $20 million dollar contract for two pieces they needed: a cold-blooded Laker-killer (Van Exel) and a center with an offensive presence in LaFrentz. By trading away one starter for two, and adding another quality piece in Avery Johnson, the Mavs upgraded the overall talent of the roster and brought in the team's future coach as well.
This transaction also highlights the Mavs willingness to take back another team's bad contract in the form of Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Though his presence didn't make much of an impact on the court, his inclusion mitigated the Nuggets getting the short end of the basketball talent in this deal.
It was a trade made in fantasy basketball heaven – but the on court results weren't quite as scintillating. But ultimately the assets acquired in this trade were sold off in separate deals. In continuing to make assets multiply into more assets, the Mavs traded Van Exel and LaFrentz in separate deals that would eventually lead to the acquisition of players that would comprise the most successful Mavericks teams in history.
In the first deal, Nick was traded along with the others shown above for Antwan Jamison, Danny Fortson, Chris Mills and Jiri Welsch. This deal once again saw the Mavs ship out an asset (Van Exel) at the height of his value after a remarkable playoff run where he averaged 19.5 points (seven points higher than his regular season average). As Donnie Nelson noted at the time, the deal made the Mavs "bigger and younger and more versatile," as they acquired not only a 20-points-per, athletic 4 in Jamison, but also a tough-but-undersized rebounder in Danny Fortson.
The Mavs once again accepted another team's throw-ins in the form of Chris Mills and Jiri Welsch, but were able to quickly flip these undesirable pieces into a deal with Raef that brought Tony Delk and Antoine Walker to the franchise. Though these pieces too ultimately didn't fit with the Mavs for more than one season, they were shipped out for a package that included … Jason Terry.
2. Antawn Jamison for Laettner, Stackhouse, and Devin Harris
This trade once-again saw the Mavs sell high and get a maximum return for Jamison. The Mavs got a PG of the future that could learn behind Nash (a free-agent that ultimately signed with Phoenix), a savvy veteran in Stackhouse who could generate his own offense, and a serviceable backup in Laettner. Harris and Stackhouse were obviously the prizes of this deal and both helped carry the team past the big-brother Spurs, Suns and within two wins of the NBA championship.
This might be the best trade in franchise history ... for what it led to down the road.
The Mavs traded one guy for three, two of whom became key players on a team that made the Finals for the first time in franchise history. And furthermore each of these three was a cog in three separate deals that further upgraded the franchise.
Harris was the key player in the trade that brought Jason Kidd (more on that in a minute), Stackhouse became "The Stack Chip'' that landed Marion, and Laettner was part of a deal that led to the acquisition of Dampier (and "The DUST Chip'') and, ultimately, Tyson Chandler. From this one deal sprang the parts that eventually lead to the acquisition of three foundation players from last year's championship team.
Two Cuban quotes that demonstrates he thinks like we're thinking here:
*"The Hawks ... took Antoine Walker for Jet). Then we add (Stackhouse) and in order to get us to take Stack, (Washington) had to give us the No. 5 pick, which turned into Devin Harris. ...''
*"It still takes a team to win and you have to fill in the spots. It's just like we've had Dirk for all of these years and we've continued to make trades and make trades to fill spots around him. ... We started a season with Gooden as our starting center and Tim Thomas as a backup, but we've evolved from that to get Haywood, Caron and DeShawn Stevenson to grow that into a championship team.''
The point of us showing you the quotes? We're not just making this stuff up and this stuff isn't accidental.
3. The J-Kidd Trade
Perhaps no trade more emphasizes the Mavericks tendencies of Creative Opportunism than the J-Kidd deal.
In this one transaction, the Mavs sold high (Harris), got clever with the pieces involved (Keith Van Horn's ghost), took on extra baggage (Wright, Allen), and then recycled it for other pieces (Wright's inclusion in the Marion deal). This deal was much-maligned at the time, and perhaps with some merit: the inclusion of two first-round picks still seems a bit much. However, the deal certainly accomplished its goals.
It made Dirk's life easier on the court, and it helped The UberMan share the leadership responsibilities off of it. It also gave the franchise as a whole some much-needed BBIQ, and it later helped the Mavs win a championship, even if it took time to become over-the-top move that it was envisioned to be at the moment it was executed.
Trends? You see it all right there: Selling high, a willingness to take on baggage, and the ability to repackage assets that don't fit in exchange for upgrades.
And one more, less controllable thing: Dallas sure seemed to "win the trade'' on many occasions.
The acquisitions of Ellis, Dalembert, Calderon and the rest -- lots of "fallen angels'' among them -- need to be "wins,'' too. But in the long run, it's not just about their 2013-14 seasons. It's also about what they can lead to when it comes to the next transaction involving them, and the next.
Dallas needs them to be performers the court for the coach and performers on the spreadsheet for a front office that clearly has had a knack for "Creative Opportunism'' through trading ... and needs to start revving up those skills again.
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