Tyson Chandler opened up the free agency on a bitter note yesterday and it reminded most of us, that this season is a new one and that the championship parade has long been replaced by business again. Although Nene and Chandler top the list of this years free agents and a few intriguing names like Marc Gasol, David West, Caron Butler, Kris Humphries, Jamal Crawford and Jose Barea are on it, it's by far the weakest class in recent years. That, and the fact that the new CBA has this two-year grace period before the harsher tax will be introduced, could open the floodgates (again) for overpaying the free agents simply because of the lack of alternatives. Marc Cuban and the Mavericks organization have been pretty quiet so far and it might not be the worst approach, cause you may not want to compete at any cost under these circumstances. So let's dig into the advanced metrics and see how much the three main targets of last years band are actually "worth" based on their performance in the championship campaign:
1. Tyson Chandler
We all want him back. And I mean ... badly. The problem is that he tops the list of free agents with Nene, who is already in talks for getting a max (about 17M annually if I'm not mistaken) contract, and so offers, big offers, will come. Tyson turned 29 this year and with a championship under his belt he is possibly up for the biggest contract in his career. But is he worth that much money? A lot is made out of him and Dirk Nowitzki as a perfectly fitting tandem, so we'll compare their numbers from last season at first and add Nene's regular season (he made only five games in the playoffs which is hardly a sample for me):
|Dirk - Playoffs
|Tyson - Playoffs
First of all I noticed the drop-off in the playoffs by Tyson. Though "drop-off" is an overstatement, Dirk was able to maintain his production in the playoff, but Chandler suffered. The biggest letdown came on the offensive end. Chandler's Plus-Minus and PER (which is an exclusive measurement of offensive production anyway) declined, because in the playoffs it became more and more obvious, that he simply wasn't able to provide constant offense with his limited skill-set. While he remained the defensive leader on the team, the Mavs offense was actually 6.94pp100 (Points per 100 Possessions) worse with Chandler on the floor than without him. Jason Terry caught up on him in many categories (PER, WP48, PM), so for the playoffs we're still talking about a tandem between "The Tattoo" and Dirk, with Chandler being a strict defensive anchorman.
It's another story with Nene: He led his team in WP and the PM-department, so you could make a point here that he was the Nuggets best player, even while Carmela Anthony was still there. That's why I think the Brazilian is rightfully the No1 target this "summer" and will get the bigger paycheck over the next years. Additionally, he can be an offensive threat when the game is on the line. Another thing the Mavs have to consider is the fact that a big contract with Tyson could spell trouble for the more skilled 2012 FA-class with multiple superstars in it. At worst, you're signing him to five years just to make another run this season. That's a heck of a risk with the harsher tax coming in 2013/2014. The Lakers are already committed to 61M for three players in 2013/2014 and without using the amnesty on Kobe (yeah ... right) they are set to pay the high rates for repeated offenders. Should the Mavs join? All these things make Tyson less valuable than he might be to other teams, unfortunately. And let's not forget that Chandler has an injury history, too.
I know there are already rumors of some sort of max deals out there and with this weak FA-class and the decline of real big man I think that it's not entirely out of the equation. And while I'd be happy for Tyson I'd be even happier if he's not with the Mavs in that case. I think to warrant that much money you should be able to carry your team on both ends of the floor and Tyson is not able to do so. I could hear fans saying "where is that 20/10 we pay for?" I also have a hard time giving him five years. Tyson's biggest advantage is his athleticism and that's the first thing to disappear with age. I simply don't believe he really has five "2010/2011"-campaigns left.
Good reason for overpaying: Try to defend the title at all cost
2. Jose Barea
|JJB - Playoffs
My initial thoughts on him were 3.5M annually on average. He was a big part of the championship run, but on a closer and more rational look it seems unreasonable to give him much more. His WP48 in the playoffs suggests that he is closer to a starter than a bench player, but PM shows his greatest weakness: he is a defensive liability: The defense was 14.48pp100 better without him. That's huge. And I mean: HUGE! And he couldn't come up for it on the offensive end, at least not constantly. He has shown great heart and the Mavs are confronted with the difficulty that he really is the lone Pick & Roll-Guy they have. Rodrigue Beaubois should already have stepped into his shoes, but that's kind of up in the air, right? The team was lacking a constant penetration threat and now that they've found one, they might have to let him walk? Sounds weird. On the other hand: He will never be a starter in this league. He is a change-of-pace player off the bench, and in this function more a shooting than a point guard. Other than the WP48-measurement I have serious doubts that he ever will be able to really run a team as a starter. During my research I came up with an interesting comparison between him and other players in the past ten years that entered free agency with a similar production in their contract year. Not all of them were in a contract year, but those who were got 3.2M on average to start their next contract. Because of his playoff performance you got to go a little bit higher, but it fits the bill pretty good in my eyes.
The question is: Will a team be willing to throw a (nontax-sized) MLE at him, lets say 5yrs/29M? Again: I'd be happy for him, but it's too much. At his age though, JJB can easily (and should) get five years on his contract. Based on what he has shown last season, he'll be in the league for a long, long time. Ideally the Mavs only commit to three years, because then JJB would come off the books with Dirk and as I pointed out, he shouldn't be considered in any rebuilding process.
Suggestion: 3yrs/12M or 5yrs/19M
Good reason for overpaying: Only guy on the roster that can penetrate and play the pick & roll
3. Caron Butler
Not much statistical evidence based on last season obviously, because he didn't play too many games. But no statistic can measure what's most important: He's coming off a major injury. The most likely cliff the Mavericks will have to overcome is contract length. He will get a huge cut on average annual salary everywhere, but for a guy that has to prove he can still compete out there the ideal situation is to offer a sort of transitional one-year contract to see what he's got and then talk again next summer. Hard to imagine that will happen though. We just have to look to last years Finals opponent and as Brian Windhorst pointed out, they will have a full MLE available thanks to the last minute adjustments in the CBA. One target: Caron Butler. Because there are another five teams reportingly pursuing him, there's about a 1% chance that he won't get at least three years somewhere, so you have to think he's a goner. Additionally Butler could be considered a luxury on the current roster. You have Marion and Corey Brewer in the making. He can play the shooting guard but there is Rudy Fernandez, Roddy, Dominique Jones and maybe Barea. Add Stevenson and Peja Stojakovic if they choose to come back for a minimum salary. Can you say crowded? From the above list he is the most complete player though. He can provide constant offense while guarding the opponents wings. But if last season has shown something, than that you can split duties and still be successful.
Good reason for overpaying: there is none
The Mavs front office will have to make hard decisions that could, in one way or another, even define the future of the franchise. Tyson will draw too much attention in a FA-class that's not that strong and same goes for Barea, while Caron surely will get multiple-years from some team that doesn't need/want to play it safe. So it's a real challenge, and the chances of having last years roster entirely back is virtually non-existent, especially because your players have a tag named "Championship" on their back. Chandler said it best himself:
"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."
Of course that was before the deal was tweaked and released, but it still holds some truth in my opinion.