Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
A review of the 2012 free agent class for the Dallas Mavericks: how are the new guys doing?
SB Nation is doing a "Free Agent Review" theme day, which gives us a chance to take a look at how Dallas made out in last year's offseason bonanza. With major roster turnover following a lackluster title defense in the 2011-'12 season, there is plenty to discuss.
Of course, for Dallas, the 2012 free agent period will be most remembered for who wasn't signed: Deron Williams. However, after a few weeks of wondering if the team would sign anybody, ever, owner Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson got busy. Very busy. To recap, here's a timeline:
July 11, 2012 - Chris Kaman signs for one year, $8 million
A teammate of Dirk Nowitzki on the German Olympic team, Kaman had long been discussed as a possible Mavs target, dating back to the trade deadline the previous season, when the New Orleans Hornets were attempting to unload him. Kaman had struggled through a pair of injury-plagued seasons after his All-Star 2009-'10 campaign, and the market for his services was not especially loud. To sign Kaman, Dallas had to waive center Brendan Haywood via the amnesty provision, a process they were familiar with from their next acquisition.
July 13, 2012 - Dallas makes winning $2.1 million bid for Elton Brand
Though perhaps technically not a free agent, we'll count Brand, anyway. The former teammate of Kaman and #1 overall pick had been amnestied by the Philadelphia 76ers, and was almost immediately linked to Dallas as a likely landing spot. Brand had just one year left on a sizable contract, and as a productive veteran who could be had at a heavily discounted price, he was an ideal choice for a Mavs' team that wished to retain financial flexibility while also staying competitive in a stacked Western Conference(they may end up accomplishing only one of these things).
July 17th, 2012 - O.J. Mayo signs for two years, $8 million with second year player option
If Brand and Kaman were fairly predictable signings, this was the shocker, if not the where then certainly the how much. Around this time rumor was circulating that Phoenix was the leading candidate to sign the talented shooting guard, and there was speculation that Mayo's asking price might be as high as $8 million, annually. As it turned out he signed for half that much. We don't know for sure if Mayo left better offers on the table, but for the rest of the summer the story being told was that Mayo wanted to come to Dallas to learn under a highly respected coach like Rick Carlisle and play next to a future Hall of Famer like Dirk Nowitzki.
July 25th, 2012 - Delonte West resigns for one year veteran minimum, $1.2 million
Delonte West was a free agent, and he did sign(and play, briefly), so we're including him. At the time it seemed that it was a most welcome second go-'round in Big D. Dallas had lost both Jason Kidd and Terry already, and failed to land prized point guard Deron Williams, making Delonte West an important part of the backcourt rotation. In theory. In reality, Delonte West would find himself suspended twice before the season began, ultimately being waived in what was a sad end to our complicated but highly entertaining relationship with the man also known as "Charlee Redz."
So, that was one busy month of July. But how are all these guys doing now?
- Kaman has started 26 games for Dallas so far, and on the surface has been a quality addition to the team. I opined that Kaman would, counter to popular opinion, provide more value on defense than on offense for Dallas, citing Kaman's terrific defensive +/- with the Clippers and his nice-looking but inefficient post game. So far it seems I was wrong. Kaman hasn't exactly set the world on fire with his scoring, but his field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are both better than they've been in several seasons. Better even than his All-Star season. Kaman has often been the catalyst for some of Dallas' fast starts, as the team seems to go to him frequently in the early going. Unfortunately, the team has rarely been able to convert those fast starts into strong finishes, and Kaman himself has more often than not spent crunch time on the bench. The reason for this may have something to do with Kaman's tendency to force the issue and get himself into trouble, which is compounded by the fact that he shows little feel for sharing the ball; a no-no in Rick Carlisle's offensive system.
Meanwhile, Kaman's defense has been a major disappointment, though recently it has shown flashes of improvement. Dallas is averaging over 110 points per 100 possessions with Kaman on the floor, and 106 points per 100 possessions with him off it. Kaman has been abused especially on pick and rolls, and he also has been relatively ineffective on the glass, ranking 30th out of 50 qualifying centers in rebound rate. As I've said, Kaman has the reputation of being at least a serviceable defender, and my eyes do not detect an apparent lack of effort, so these issues are concerning. I suspect Kaman is still dealing with the lingering effects of a myriad of injuries, the primary reason he was available for such a modest deal in the first place. Kaman, for the time being, has the starting job, but I would not be surprised at all if he was replaced, perhaps very soon. Frankly, he is probably best served as an ace backup at this point in his career. Overall, he has performed fairly well, and while the name recognition may have prompted some to expect greater things, his play thus far has, at absolute worst, been in line with his most recent seasons.
- Let's not beat around the bush: Brand had a terrible start to the season. The kind of start that made you wonder if he would be out of the league in another year or two. He looked old and out of shape, he couldn't hit a basket to save his life, and his defense that arrived much heralded by advanced metrics was not appearing on the basketball court yet. There was a stretch in late November where his playing time dipped and it seemed at least possible that he would fall behind younger, athletic bigs like Brandan Wright and/or Bernard James on the pecking order. Probably not coincidentally, Brand's first really good game of the season came against his former teammates in Philadelphia, when he scored 17 points in 19 minutes(to put in perspective what a breakout this was, he had scored 16 points in his previous five games combined).
Slowly but surely, Brand is working his way back into familiar form. He had a quietly good month of December(54% shooting, up from 37% in November), and looks to be keeping it going in the new year, making 14-21 in his last three games. Brand has also been strong defensively of late, including a five block game against New Orleans. To paraphrase a recent Rob Mahoney article, his steps aren't the quickest, but each one takes him exactly where he needs to be for correct defensive positioning. What he lacks in explosiveness, long gone due to injury, he makes up for with his absurdly long arms(and huge hands), and great timing and anticipation. I know it is a lofty comparison to make to the deified Tyson Chandler, but if the physical resemblance isn't there the results aren't too far off on defense, and like Chandler I think Brand brings intensity, intelligence and...ice cream! Ok, that last one I made up, but you get the idea. It was in danger of falling off the rails, but I expect the Elton Brand train to be running at full steam by season's end.
- Much like Brand, Mayo cautions us against the bad habit of jumping to conclusions, though regrettably it is in a negative respect. Mayo needed a couple of games to warm up, but once he did he went on a scorching, lava melting on a summer's day with Foreigner playing in the background kind of hot streak. He led the league in three point makes and shooting percentage for a bit, which is really hard to do, and fans started to wonder if Dallas had accidentally stumbled upon the guy who could take the torch from Dirk at some point. Deron who? Unfortunately, regression to the mean for Mayo has meant the longball, while still dug by chicks, has gone missing. Over his last 10 games, the guy who shot over 50% from three for the month of November has made just 12 of 54(22%). John Starks might chuckle at that kind of streakiness. What makes this development most concerning is that the with the outside shooting not there, the rest of Mayo's game becomes wholly unsatisfying. His issues turning the ball over, especially in pick and roll, have been well documented here, as have his defensive lapses.
Now, before I'm accused of burying this poor guy, let me say this: O.J. Mayo has been a great find. Do I think he's a longterm player in Dallas? It's much murkier a situation than it looked a few weeks ago, and I think how he finishes the season will determine that, but regardless, to this point I doubt there is a very long list of free agent signees who have provided better production for as much, or less. In fact, there may not be anyone on that list. Though Mayo was only a few years separated from a high draft selection, he was clearly not that highly coveted, yet I would bet he will earn a much more lucrative deal on the open market in six months time. Dallas was able to not only identify a quality player from what was essentially the refuse pile(go look at the list of former top 5 picks who were not given a qualifying offer; it's basically a bunch of mega-busts, and O.J), but sign him for far less than what his reported asking price was. That deserves praise. In closing, it's pretty hard to come to a conclusion on a player who has had such extreme ups and downs as Mayo has. I think there has been legitimate improvement in his game, and that he's worked hard to make those improvements, but what really remains to be seen is how he fits the team concept. And by "team concept" I mean "with Dirk."
- As I already stated, West was waived, thus ending a tragically short run for a guy I admit I had grown to really like. That Delonte has not yet signed with another team makes me worried about his future prospects. I don't know the guy personally, but without naming names I'm fairly certain there have been much worse locker-room guys who have inexplicably enjoyed long careers. For Delonte to get blackballed just seems unfair. Most concerning for Dallas fans, though, is that there are probably three or four different things this team could really, really use right now, from someone like Delonte. Quality playmaking as a backup point guard, tough perimeter defense, attitude and hustle. Delonte would have brought all that to the table. Instead, we've auditioned both young and clueless(Roddy, DoJo), as well as old and useless(Fisher, James), and still seem no closer to an answer as the season drifts farther into futility.
So, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Give us your take on the Mavs free agent signings!