Editor's Note: Front-paged for impressive, in-depth analysis!
There was some good discussion and feedback after my post on the center market, so I thought I'd move on and look at the free agency picture for the Mavs when it comes to point guards.
There are many options for the Mavs here, with Jason Kidd and Delonte West entering unrestricted free agency this summer (and potentially not returning), so there will inevitably be some interesting moves here, unlike at center, where the Mavs could conceivably return the same rotation (if they keep Haywood and Mahinmi).
There are 5 starting point guard options that I see (I will address backups briefly at the end).
1. Deron Williams. The big kahuna. Obviously, Williams is the lone superstar and gem of the 2012 free agent class, and for good reason. People forget, but it was only a couple years ago that D-Will was considered the best point guard in the game, even ahead of Chris Paul (mainly due to Paul's injury concerns at the time). In fact, you could argue that even as soon as last April, Williams had a decent grip on that title, but Paul's impressive play against the Lakers in the first round catapulted him into the top slot in people's minds.
In any case, Williams is an elite all-around point guard. He is an exceptional ball-handler, with a tight handle and solid control of the ball at all times. He's not as quick as Ty Lawson and Tony Parker, but much like Chris Paul, he has a devastating crossover (YouTube has plenty of clips) and has the ability to get in the lane for lay-ups and floaters. The long-range shot is there, and he can often times be very streaky, as evidenced by his 57-point outburst this year, and similar scoring feats in the past. He's also just a really big, strong body at point guard, in the mold of a young Jason Kidd.
More after the jump...
If the Mavs got Williams, it has been strongly suggested that Kidd would stick around and play as a backup. This is an intriguing idea, since it was pretty clear this year that Kidd is unable to contribute greatly for 30+ minutes a game on most nights and the Mavs struggled mightily to create good half-court flow without him (and even with him, frankly). Kidd's play, in general, was also considerably poorer due to astronomically high turnover rates, questionable decision-making, and lack of scoring punch -- his 3-point shot wasn't on for most of the year, and outside of that, he hasn't got much these days.
Williams would solve many of these problems -- he is a far more accomplished scorer and penetrator and would be a great pick-and-pop partner of Dirk Nowitzki's. He seems like a perfect fit for Rick Carlisle's flow offense, and his size and athleticism would help the Mavs be competitive against the new era of uber-athletic point guards (Westbrook, Rondo, Parker, Rose, etc.).
Despite some rhetorical downplaying by Cuban, it seems Donnie Nelson is very locked in on getting D-Will to the Metroplex. At only 27, he would be the perfect guy to take the "keys" from Dirk Nowitzki and help transition into the next era of the Mavericks. Getting him could also attract plenty of other top-flight free agents to Dallas for years to come (cough, Dwight Howard), and would conceivably revive the Mavs' offense from its pathetic 2012 state. Williams would automatically be the best non-Dirk-Nowitzki Mavs player since Steve Nash left, and is considerably better than any other point guard on the market.
I'm not sure what to make of the chances of getting him. Some sources claim we have no better than a 50-50 shot while others suggest he is "leaning towards" Dallas. I would honestly not be shocked either way. Some potential things that could throw a wrench into the Mavs' plans: 1) The Top-3 pick. If the Nets do land a top-3 pick (especially the top pick, which would be Anthony Davis), that could potentially put pressure on D-Will to stay, and 2) If the Dwight Howard trade saga somehow escalates again, and Orlando decides to give in and trade Dwight to the Nets (by all indications, his top choice). These 2 issues could be interrelated -- if the Nets get a top 3 pick, they could potentially package that with Brook Lopez and Marshon Brooks to send in return for Howard. In the end, though, there's a lot of things that have to happen before we can have a clearer picture. As of today, I still think the Mavs are his best option if he really cares about winning.
2. Steve Nash. This is being widely touted as the front office's "Plan B" if they can't land Williams. It would obviously make for an incredible story -- despite having left eight years ago, he and Dirk Nowitzki are still linked more than any other two former teammates I can think of.
At 38, Nash has plenty of game still left in the tank. His minutes were reduced to a shade under 32 this season and his scoring has slightly dipped, but he remains a top-flight assist man (10.7 per game) and a world-class shooter (he shot a blistering 53.2% from the field -- a tie for his career high -- and 39% from 3 this year). Side note: I strongly believe that Nash is the greatest all-around shooter in the history of the game (3's, free throws, from every spot on the floor), and spatial analytics seem to back this up. Not related, but it was really interesting to me, and was brought up at the Sloan Conference.
Like Williams, Nash would bring an immediate spark to the Mavs' half-court offense. He is an absolute "basketball maestro" (as Erik Spoelstra put it) and one of the great pick-and-roll passers of all time -- he's worked wonders over the last few years with overall inferior talent. Bring his skill set to Carlisle's system of floor spacing and ball movement, and the offense would presumably hum. He's also much more of an offensive threat than Jason Kidd as he is a much craftier dribbler in traffic. He also has a variety of cool runners and is pretty good (for a sub-par athlete at point guard these days) at finishing tough lay-ups. Unlike Kidd, though, he can't play good one-on-one defense (or much defense at all, for that matter) and isn't as strong or as good a rebounder, so we would have to bring in a good defensive guard. Kidd is pretty much gone if we get Nash -- highly unlikely that Donnie Nelson wants two 38+-year-old point guards on the team.
If the Mavs got Nash, a quality backup would be an absolute must. There were rumors recently that the Suns are going after Nash with a 2-year $20 million dollar deal. It's flabbergasting to me that the Suns don't want to move on and get their rebuilding project started, but it's probably irrelevant since I don't think Nash will return unless they can acquire a major free agent -- and he's said as much. That said, I think Nash might be worth $10 million per-year for 2 years. He has been freakishly dedicated to taking care of his body for the past several years (healthy eating, sleep, rest, etc.) and I can see him maintaining his current level for the next couple years (especially with the Mavs' well-known use of cryotherapy).
$10 million might sound like a lot, but that's about $9 less than what Deron Williams would demand, so we would presumably have the money to re-sign Delonte West or another quality backup, or even bring Jason Terry back (some of the names available: Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller, Leandro Barbosa, Jonny Flynn, Keyon Dooling, Baron Davis, John Lucas, Gilbert Arenas, Jannero Pargo, Jamaal Tinsley).
3. Goran Dragic. Dragic is the most intriguing point guard on the market in terms of potential. Nash's former backup in Phoenix, he really burst out onto scene in the Suns' sweep of the Spurs in 2010. Based on his very good play as a starter in Houston during Kyle Lowry's absence this year, he will undoubtedly get many offers from teams needing a starter.
And for good reason. I recently watched some tape of Dragic this year, and I came away amazed at how tremendously skilled he is. He is just so smooth with his dribbling, uses his physical abilities very well, and displays very good playmaking ability -- reminds me quite a bit of a smaller Manu Ginobili.
Dragic is an excellent penetrator and finisher in the lane (kind of like a JJ Barea), has a wide range of creative dribbles (like the Euro-step, behind-the-back, etc.), and can force steals with his active hands and feet on defense. The one possible knock on him is his inconsistent jump shot (he only shot 33.7% from 3 this year), but he still shoots a respectable 46% from the floor and upped his free throw percentage to 80.5%.
He, to me, looks like a classic late bloomer like his former mentor Steve Nash. Admittedly he is not in the mold of a traditional pass-first point guard, but this season he showed improved offensive vision and floor leadership for the Rockets. If he were thrust into the role of starting point guard for the Mavs, I would expect continued development of these qualities, and maybe even evolution into an All-Star-caliber player. Dragic is only 26 and he has a truly exceptional variety of skills, so there is great upside.
I didn't read this anywhere, but I would expect Dragic to command anywhere from $8-10 million a year on the open market. In my opinion, he would be worth that investment for the Mavs if Deron Williams goes elsewhere. I'm not sure whether I would take him over Nash, but he is a good long-term option.
4. Jeremy Lin. You knew this name would be here. I'll admit, I'm a pretty big Jeremy Lin fan. His was one of the greatest rags-to-riches sports stories I can remember, and he just seems like a grounded, nice dude. The Knicks are over the salary cap, so the most they can offer Lin is the mid-level exception, which is around $5 million. Unless New York signs Steve Nash (for more than the minimum), I think it's pretty likely that Lin returns to the Garden, but I'll talk about him anyways.
Pretty much everyone knows about the great run he had with the Knicks in February. During that stretch, he was their primary offensive scorer and he put up some pretty crazy numbers (something like 25 ppg and 11 assists). That obviously didn't sustain, partly due to drastic changes in the offense after Carmelo Anthony's return and the resignation of Mike D'Antoni. Some of Lin's detractors point to this as proof that he is nothing more than a "system point guard." That isn't entirely wrong -- D'Antoni is famous for giving his point guards more freedom than most, and that team really depended heavily on Lin to take shot attempts since heavy minutes were being doled out to journeymen and non-offensive-playmakers (Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries, Tyson Chandler, etc.).
That isn't happening in Dallas. Lin would be expected to transform into more of a pass-first player, an area where he showed some improvement toward the end of the year. Even more generally, though, he just needs to become a more consistent, reliable performer. He has difficulty dealing with intense on-ball pressure (as was exposed in that national TV loss to Miami), sometimes loses control on his drives, and loses track defensively.
For these weaknesses, though, he remains capable of incredible plays -- finishes at the rim, passes, etc -- and tremendous energy and intangibles. The way he lifted that rather rag-tag Knicks outfit to several unbelievable wins was truly unique and inspiring. Lin has had to scrap and claw for every NBA opportunity he's had and he seems to be a very high-character, humble, and hardworking teammate, something that exuded great positive energy and had a big impact on changing the Knicks' culture this season.
5. Chauncey Billups. Mr. Big Shot himself is the last viable starting point guard option I see for the Mavs in 2012. I've always been a huge Billups fan, back from his days with that lovable 2004 Pistons team. Career-wise, he is one of the four most accomplished point guards of the last ten years (along with Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Tony Parker) and has a long resume of playoff success, clutch performances and, well, big shots. Unfortunately, he's also 35 years old and coming off an ACL tear in March that ended his season for the Clippers.
Assuming he recovers fully and in time for the start of the 2012 season, I think Billups will still be a quality starter. His shooting numbers were kind of janky this year, but probably mainly due to the fact that he only played 20 games and it was a weird lockout year in which the Clips played him at two-guard alongside Chris Paul for a while. I would expect his three-point FG percentage to return to around 40% and his field-goal percentage to rise as well (it was a horrific 36% this year). Aside from being a great shooter, Billups is a good floor general, physically strong defender, and savvy veteran presence in the locker room. He also has a lot of familiarity with Rick Carlisle, having played for him back when Carlisle coached the Pistons in 2002. In fact, it was under Carlisle that Billups became a top-shelf point guard in the league.
Given that he is coming off an ACL tear, I think most teams will be wary to offer him big money or a long contract. It's pretty well-known, also, that Billups has no interest in playing for non-contending teams, so it's possible he could be looking for a deal around the mid-level exception or slightly more. Unless Williams, Dragic, and Nash are all off the table this summer (and the free agency period is a total disaster), I can't see the Mavs trying to go after Billups. He's a player that provides a degree of stability and experience at point guard, but not someone who would totally revamp the Mavs' offense immediately. Signing him would also not address the goals of getting younger and more athletic in the backcourt, a real need this summer. Add in the fact that he's coming off an ACL tear, and it seems pretty unlikely the Mavs will sign Billups.
6. Other Randoms That Could Technically Be Somebody's Starter but not the Mavs
- Raymond Felton. Pretty unexciting player who somehow made $7.6 million last year despite shooting 40.7% from the field and 30.5% from 3. He did, however, manage to light up the Mavs from 3 that one game when LaMarcus Aldridge made the game-winner...
- Jameer Nelson. He has a player option this season for $7.8 million and he deserves to be slapped if he actually doesn't pick that up.
- Ramon Sessions. Not really what we're looking for, and he has a player option for $4.6 million this season that he should pick up.
- Baron Davis. Too old. Maybe as a backup, but even that's pushing it.
- George Hill. Very solid role player, but he's a restricted free agent with a $3.1 million qualifying offer. Probably going back to Indiana.
- Leandro Barbosa. Made $7.6 million this year, so he would be out of our price range. But he has excellent penetration abilities, and would be a great JJ-Barea-like player for the Mavs.
- Mo Williams. Has an $8.5 million player option that he should definitely pick up. But even otherwise, the Mavs wouldn't want him.
Backups (I am defining "backup" to mean the primary backup who could play 20-25 minutes a game)
- Jason Kidd. The favorite for this job, assuming D-Will lands in Dallas.
- Delonte West. He had great value this season as he played both guard slots on a minimum contract, and produced very well despite missing 20+ games with a dislocated finger. Teams will probably offer him somewhere between $3-5 million a year to be a backup. Seems unlikely to return if the Mavs sign Deron Williams, but could be a legitimate possibility otherwise. He brings great defensive toughness, an ability to create off the dribble and finish in the lane, and hit outside shots.
- Kirk Hinrich. He played behind Jeff Teague in Atlanta this year and scored 6.6 ppg on 41% shooting (he shot 34.6% from 3). He made an obscene $8 million this past season for that production, but I think he should be available for a lot less this year. Unfortunately, his production overall seems to be trending downwards and he's 31, so he may not be worth bringing in.
- Andre Miller. Would be a very solid backup, in my opinion, behind either Williams or Dragic. He brings a great veteran presence, never misses a game, is a reliable 45% shooter, and averaged the same number of assists despite reduced minutes this season.
- John Lucas. A career benchwarmer who gave the Bulls solid minutes during Derrick Rose's absence this year. He shot well from 3 (39.3%), but he's not that young (29) and doesn't seem to be that much of a playmaker.
- Derek Fisher. Too old to really do much but shoot spot-up jump shots for a team that has plenty of playmakers (like the Thunder). Wouldn't fit well in Dallas.
- Keyon Dooling. Gave the Celtics some decent minutes behind Rondo this season, and can shoot the 3, but appears limited otherwise.
- Patty Mills. He played well in limited time after being signed by the Spurs later this year, so it's probable that he will go back to San Antonio.