I had the misfortune of finding out about the Dwight Howard decision (or perhaps "Dallas diss" is more appropriate, given that he called the Mavericks front to inform them he wouldn't sign with them quite a few hours before actually confirming to the media his intent to sign with the Rockets; thus cementing my long-held notion that NBA free agents are sadists of the most elegant variety) right after eating lunch at Raising Cane's in Arlington - the finest of fried chicken establishments and the location where I eagerly snapped this photo early Friday afternoon.
My thoughts immediately flew toward the rapidly evaporating free agent market and what few drops of hope the Mavs could look to salvage before the well ran dry. My thoughts then flew (or perhaps "limped") toward the bottle of Crown Royal Black in my dresser drawer. That's where they landed for the evening as well, I think. Not really sure.
The next morning (or "afternoon", whatever - time is just a capitalist construct, man), I awoke to find the Mavericks wheeling and dealing across the league, having acquired former Mavs floor general and Avery fave Devin Harris (3 years, $9 million) in addition to luring(?) 31-year-old José Calderon away from Detroit in a four-year contract worth $28 million. After thumbing the obituaries section of the Dallas Morning News to ensure that Donnie Nelson hadn't been assassinated and replaced by David Kahn, I started thinking about what this all could possibly mean for the Mavs moving forward.
Calderon is very much a known entity throughout the league, but since he's spent almost his entire career plying his trade for a dismal Raptors franchise it is unlikely many fans have seen much of him. He's a supremely cerebral veteran decision-maker (only 1.7 turnovers per game, albeit in 28.3 MPG), a great pick-and-roll player, and an absolute deadeye from long distance (46% across 73 games). He's also a solid candidate to replace Dirk Nowitzki as Dallas' heir apparent for technical foul free throws (90% from the stripe), so that's an added bonus. Good move, Cubes. When I look at Jose Calderon, I see flashes of Steve Nash. Unfortunately, those flashbacks are usually of the PTSD variety from my memories of the 3-and-no-D 'Allas Mavericks of the early 2000s. Steve Nash's penchant for waving point guards to the basket like a third-base coach was the crown jewel of near every defensive possession not featuring a Shawn Bradley facial (so, like, maybe half of them).
Everyone seems to be talking about Andrew Bynum, which is fine.
Attempted murder of JJ Barea aside, the guy is probably the second best center in the league behind Dwight Howard. If he can be had for 2 years/$28 million and an injury provision that would cause Amar'e Stoudemire to fire his agent, I'd be good with that. He's an elite rim-protector and a great rebounder (he averaged 19 and 12 in the 2011-2012 season along with 2 blocks and a gaudy 23.0 PER). Put him together with Dirk Nowitzki and per-48 minutes All-Star Brandan Wright and you've got a hell of a frontcourt rotation.
But where do the Mavs go from here? Adding Bynum is about as nice of a safety net as you can expect after losing out on D12, but last time I checked we were still trying to unload Marion's $9.3 million contract. Well, as long as we're exploring the viability of former All-Stars that haven't done anything since 2012, let's glide on over to Danny Granger.
It's no secret Indy wants to unload Granger. He's unsatisfied with his role (gracias Paul George) and in the last year of his contract - so if the Pacers don't trade him, he walks away and leaves them empty-handed. Now their frontcourt is rock steady with George-West-Hibbert, and Stephenson is looking like he could truly develop into an elite defender in the vein of Tony Allen...but I'm guessing they don't foresee George Hill as being a Finals-caliber starting PG. Between Hill and Augustin that Pacers team is in total disrepair at the point. That wouldn't be a winning tandem for a top-flight college program, let alone a professional outfit with designs on unseating the Miami Heat next season. Amongst playoff teams not featuring LeBron James, only the Knicks (Raymond Felton) and Rockets (Jeremy Lin) trotted out less efficient point guards.
Side note: With Utah adding Trey Burke, New Orleans netting Jrue Holiday, the Mavs acquiring Calderon and the Isaiah Thomas Liberation Army winning a decisive victory over Kevin Smart after four long months of warfare in Sacramento, there is a strong case for the Rockets having the worst starting point guard in the Western Conference. You could make a similar claim about the Mavs, if you think a pick-and-roll point guard that is a terrific shooter and doesn't turn the ball over is worse than a pick-and-roll point guard that can't shoot and turns the ball over a lot. But hey, steals.
Even more depressing is the fact that George Hill was nothing short of an iron man at his position, logging the 3rd most minutes (3305) of any point guard in the league. That's not to say he's a terrible player by any means; I started him pretty much every week on my fantasy team. Of course, my fantasy team missed the playoffs. That's not George Hill's fault; per se. Not completely. It has to be, a little bit...anyway, my point is that the Pacers are in severe need of an upgrade, and you should never trade Jrue Holiday and Paul George for Dwight Howard in any league ever (did I mention my fantasy team missed the playoffs?).
So how does this affect the Mavericks? Well, Danny Granger is due to make around $14 mil this year. Despite my earlier commentary, I actually want Calderon to stay in Big D - plus, he doesn't really fit the defense-first (or defense period) culture of Indiana under Frank Vogel. But Dallas could move Harris ($3 mil/year), Marion's expiring contract ($9.3 mil), and loose change (via of our 2014/2015/2016 2nd rounders and a rook or Nick Calathes, who has been stashed overseas since 2009) for Granger. In his last full season (I'm longing for the day when I can stop using that phrase), Granger averaged around 19 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists - not to mention the guy can rain from three; he connects north of 38% of the time when calling long-distance.
Remember, right now the Mavericks have José Calderon, Shane Larkin, Devin Harris, Gal Mekel, and the rights to Nick Calathes. Somehow I don't project them carrying all five of those guys into the season opener.
Since Granger is 30 years old and in the last year of his contract, Dallas would still be able to sign a player like Bynum to a two-year deal this offseason (again, with an injury-protection clause and a possible team option on the second year). That way, if Granger/Bynum doesn't work out, Dallas cuts ties and keeps the revolving door lubricated for 2014's free agency period. However, *if healthy* (a big if to be sure, but I thought the same thing about the Tyson Chandler signing three years ago), a lineup of Calderon/Carter/Granger/Dirk/Bynum would easily make the playoffs in the West this year. I don't think they would contend, just because the West is so incredibly deep as well as top-heavy (also, Bynum is not playing for a contract this year). With Dirk renegotiating to a hometown-discount cap-friendly contract after this year and Granger likely agreeing to negotiate down from his current $14 million salary to something more in the range to 3 years/25 million...
...Dallas would have the space to bring in someone like Rajon Rondo in exchange for Calderon and some picks to Boston. As we know, Cuban's Dallas teams have never, ever, ever, ever built through the draft; the Celtics are tanking HARD right now and it's not like Rondo is going anywhere else; he still has 2 years on his contract. Plus after the 2013-2014 season teams above the "apron" (i.e. with aggregate salaries exceeding $4 million over the salary cap) cannot sign-and-trade free agents, thus crippling (or at the very least, significantly hamstringing) the capacities of the New Yorks and Los Angeleses of the league to continue curb-stomping cap-conscious teams like the Mavericks year-in and year-out. This is a very significant provision that has been largely ignored up until this point, because the teams disregarding it are in 100% win-now mode.
To recap: Dallas could open 2014 with a starting lineup of Rondo, Harris, Granger, Dirk and Bynum; and some combination of Carter/Larkin/Ledo/Crowder/Beaubois/Wright/Mekel/Calathes on the bench. With Carlisle at the helm, that's a team that can compete (not saying win, but *compete*) in the title conversation for at least two years before hitting reset at Dirk's (likely) retirement after that and starting with a clean slate. All five of these players are proven winners with lengthy playoff resumes (certainly when compared against Lin/Harden/Parsons/Patterson/Howard).
I know everyone was eager for Dallas to retool Miami-Heat style by adding a superduperstar - I was too. But to be honest, that's never really been our culture as a franchise - I think Dwight knew that, and I think Cuban knows that as well. Part of that is geography. Part of that is Cuban's unwillingness to trust the future of his franchise to a single player not named Dirk Werner Nowitzki. The team that won the 2011 NBA Finals was built across a period of multiple years and with strategic piecemeal additions that fit the team culture and ethos (a la Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and everyone except Andrew Bynum's favorite Mighty Mite; J.J. Barea).
Or, as a cautionary tale, look at the utter woe that can befall a team that tries to retool too quickly and exclusively through big names without establishing or ensuring player chemistry: the results ranged from horribly underwhelming (the 2012-2013 Nets losing to a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team in seven games in Round 1) to mortifyingly catastrophic (there are really no other words to describe the abject horror that was the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers). The track record for teams that splash suddenly for someone other than LeBron James post-CBA is frightening to say the least (at least, so far. Maybe the Nets prove me wrong).
The Mavs would find themselves working to stay under a $59.1 million or so cap next year; here are some likely scenarios for each contract and the damage each player would carry against the cap.
2014-2015 salaries, player contracts:
Rondo: $13 million (first year of contract, 3 yr/$45 million)
Harris: $3 million (second year of contract, 3 yr/$9 million)
Granger: $10 million (second year of contract, 3 yr/$30 million with player option for 3rd year)
Dirk: $8 million (first year of contract, 3 yr/$25 million; his hometown discount could be lower or higher depending on how much cap space the team ends up needing)
Bynum: $14 million (second year of contract, 2 years/$28 million with a partially guaranteed player option for said second year).
Starting lineup salary: $48 million
Ledo, Larkin, and Mekel would still be on their rookie contracts. Crowder would likely re-sign in the vicinity of 3 yrs/$10 mil with a 5% or 10% backload, or if he doesn't fit the plans Dallas could let him walk and use the space along with the MLE to bring on a couple of ring-seeking veterans. Carter might still have some gas in him; he'd probably play for no more than $1.5 mil a year.
Plan B's for the Mavericks' "Plan B":
As a contingency plan, if Bynum gets injured or exercised his player option Dallas can snatch up Marcin Gortat from the Suns; as his contract will be up after next year (I'm assuming he wants no part of Phoenix...) and he could be had for about $5-7 million dollars per year cheaper than Drew. He's a terrific pick-and-roll center with a decent jump shot - think Chris Kaman minus Goku's two-ton ankle weights. Plus Gortat has spent his entire career playing janitor after his point guard's defensive lapses (although, technically speaking, "lapse" would be more appropriate to describe the few instances in which Steve Nash or Goran Dragic actually played defense throughout the entirety of a possession).
Also, if the whole Granger thing falls through (or if Mark Cuban feels motivated to swing for the fences yet again), Carmelo Anthony has an Early Termination Option in his contract after this upcoming season with the Knicks who, I'm going to go ahead and assume, aren't making it out of the first round in the East; let alone mounting a deep playoff run or contending for a title. That prospect is laughable on its face, but the notion of Anthony moving to the Mavs is not (entirely). He's already abandoned a franchise before for a much less tempting offer and for a team with far less talent and potential than the Mavs will have next year. As tempting a target as Rondo is, I'm pretty sure the prospect of Calderon, Anthony and Nowitzki spacing the floor for a healthy Bynum is positively chub-inducing. Aside from remaining in New York, the list of instant contenders that Anthony could go to is remote to say the least (I'm not worried about the Lakers because they'll be chasing LeBron because of course they will; they're the Lakers).
Obviously before it's all said and done the Mavs could make any number of different moves between now and the beginning of the 2014-2015 season sixteen months from now. They could be contending for a title, wallowing in mediocrity or joining a dozen other teams in Tankapalooza. It's nigh impossible to tell. But I've had just about enough of ESPN's callous disrespect of the Mavericks and their prospects going forward, as I feel their projections are based more on laziness rather than actual assessment of the Mavs' assets, cap flexibility and capable ownership.
But turn that frown upside down, fellow Mavericks faithful. Or "change your face", as Calderon's fellow Spaniard Ricky Rubio once said. It's time to don our José-tinted glasses.