The offseason, thank god, is basically over. Media day is behind us, so the pre-training camp roster is pretty much set, and preseason games are only 8 days away. We still have about a month to real, honest-to-god NBA basketball, but we're so close.
We here at Mavs Moneyball figured, then, that maybe it's about time to do a 2014-2015 season preview in earnest: provide you with a one-stop-shop to all your 2014 offseason and 2015 expectations needs.
2014 Offseason Recap
Despite talk of keeping last season's team largely intact for "continuity's sake," the 2013-14 Dallas Mavericks were largely gutted, with a mostly new group coming in.
The holdovers are Ricky Ledo, Gal Mekel, Bernard James, Devin Harris, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Monta Ellis, and Dirk Nowitzki. Roughly half of the team.
Before free agency started, Dallas traded Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, and 2 second round draft picks for the expiring contract of returning champion and Dallas hero, Tyson Chandler, and a noted fan of food, Raymond Felton.
From there, after failing to draw the interest of any superstar free agents, Dallas very quickly moved on to its plan B. The Mavs immediately re-signed Dirk to a 3 year, $28 million dollar contract that is probably the best for-value contract in the league.
Dallas then did something ballsy: they leveled a maximum-level offer sheet to Rockets restricted free agent Chandler Parsons in an attempt to pry him away from Houston, who wanted to keep their cap sheet clean in an attempt to sign Chris Bosh.
Unfortunately, the interim between Parsons signing the offer sheet and Houston deciding whether or not to match on his contract was bleak. It looked increasingly likely that Parsons would be re-signed by Houston, and in the meantime, all of the league SF's (Vince Carter, Luol Deng, etc) were being signed, while the Mavericks' cap space was tied up in their offer sheet.
All of this led to the Mavericks signing Richard Jefferson to a minimum deal in a vaguely terrifying emergency attempt to shore up a weak position, should the Parsons deal fall apart. As well, within that span of time, the Mavericks traded the rights of a European lifer and cash for little-known but hyper-efficient big man Greg Smith from Chicago.
Really, while both the Jefferson and Smith acquisitions turned out to be really solid moves, there was a real concern at the time that this Dallas team would be shell of what it was in 2013-2014.
Then, finally, Houston declined to match Dallas' offer sheet for Parsons, making Chandler Parsons a Dallas Maverick.
Please don't take this depth chart too seriously, players are only in a vague order, since positions don't really exist.
With the core set, the Mavericks proceeded to fill out the roster with high-value deals for Jameer Nelson and Al-Farouq Aminu.
To fill out the rest of the training camp roster (up to 20 players), the Mavs signed Summer League high flyer Eric Griffin to a partially guaranteed deal (to play in the D-League, most likely), as well as Ivan Johnson, Doron Lamb, and Charlie Villanueva, who all signed completely unguaranteed deals and are thus very unlikely to make the roster.
Mavericks fandom seems to be pretty convinced that this team is title contender caliber. I'm much more temperate in my expectations, but they should be decidedly better than last season.
That said, they should be the best offense in the league. Flat out. Number one.
I'll preface my argument for that by saying that the Mavericks will miss Jose Calderon a lot on offense. Dallas relied on his spacing more than most people realize: teams couldn't leave him off for more than an inch, given how frequently he drained shots in the open space created from a pick.
The space created by having a player (or sometimes two, in the right scenario) stick closely to Jose at all times is what gave Monta the free lane to drive as often and as well as he did last season.
Dallas doesn't have anyone who can demand that kind of off-ball attention this season besides Dirk. Jameer Nelson and Chandler Parsons can both nail open, and sometimes contested, jumpers, but they have limitations.
They can't demand strict attention on the weakside, nor can they reliably force help on pick and rolls, because they can't be necessarily automatic off the dribble.
That loss of space drawn all over the court and in a pick and roll will make Monta's job harder, as well as Tyson Chandler's and Chandler Parsons'.
But all of that said, Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler are so exponentially better offensively than Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert were last year that it's almost worth laughing about.
As well, each player in the Mavericks' starting and closing lineups has a varied skill set, letting the Mavs run a ton of complicated plays featuring deceptive weakside secondary and tertiary actions that could just kill.
It's not like the team is lacking shooters either: both Nelson and Parsons are really solid 3 point shooters to put next to Dirk, and Dirk's presence alone will mean that driving lanes will be open, if not as much as last season.
Plus, Dallas has a crack shooter on the bench in Richard Jefferson. Devin Harris has proven to be great at running the offense if limited in his own scoring, and Greg Smith and Brandan Wright both do everything you'd desire from a pick-and-roll finishing big man, so the bench should still be elite relative to the other teams in the league.
The end result is that the offense might not be as good as everyone might hope, but it should still be decidedly better than it was last season, when the Mavs were tied for 2nd best offense in the league.
If the Mavs don't have the best offense in the league, they'll be a real disappointment, to be frank.
The real question for this team ultimately comes down to the defense.
Dallas was a bottom 10 defense last season, and there's conflicting evidence about whether or not they'll be substantially better for this one.
Getting rid of Calderon, after all, was a good move mostly because playing Jose and Monta together was just completely untenable defensively, and so putting Devin Harris in Jose's spot would be a great thing for the defense.
Instead, Dallas is replacing a lot of Calderon's minutes with Jameer Nelson, who shouldn't be much better defensively than Calderon.
The real question, here, is how Chandler Parsons will be on the defensive end.
It's possible, albeit a bit unlikely, that Parsons actually ends up being better on defense than Marion was last season: Marion slipped on that end way more than people care to admit (though his flexibility in defending the 1-4 was essential), and Parsons was drafted for his defensive prowess and length -- a prowess that he lived up to in his rookie year, if really never since.
Parsons has the quickness, size, and IQ to defend like Marion did last season, at least, but he hasn't shown anything near an above-average defensive acumen over the last two seasons.
If Parsons defends like he has the last two years, then Dallas will have more or less stood pat on the defensive end, despite that being their most desperate concern.
Of course, Tyson Chandler is such a huge upgrade defensively over Samuel Dalembert that from his skillset alone the Mavericks should jump out of the bottom ten of defensive teams.
Whether or not they leap into a better-than-average (i.e. top 15) defensive squad or not, though, will largely depend on Parsons' impact.
The bench defense should be a lot better than it used to be, too, thanks to the edition of Al-Farouq Aminu, who might even see some time along defensive stalwart Jae Crowder.
Where the Mavericks end up on defense will largely determine their fate next season. No team is going to get out of the Western Conference without at least being a top 10 defensive team, so the odds that the Mavericks are headed to the Finals are very limited at best.
Dallas might be a second-round team next season, but expecting too much more is probably overly optimistic. That said, a lot of statisticians expect the Mavericks to be competing for a Western Conference Finals spot with Golden State, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio, so that's encouraging, too.
It would, at least, be a relative shock if Dallas doesn't make the playoffs next season, which is great, and certainly not something that I would have said last season.
All of that said, though, where in the West Dallas actually falls will largely depend on the health of all the teams around the conference.
San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the LA Clippers, Golden State, Dallas, Houston, Portland, and Memphis could all be considered to be "locks" for the playoffs, while New Orleans, Phoenix, and Denver will all be really damn close, and hunting for their way in.
It wouldn't be unreasonable at all, I think, to expect the top eight teams in the West to separated by something ridiculous, like five wins. Any one huge injury to a star player, for any one of those teams, could cause a cascade of shifting seeding, or even a tumble out of the standings, if New Orleans can stay healthy this season.
Injuries are impossible to predict, and will probably ultimately determine the seeding in the West, so there is a limit to the power of my prediction, here.
I want to be optimistic and say that Dallas is a certain second round playoff team, and possibly a Conference Finals player, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they were seeded anywhere from 3-8, or got banged out in the first round. Especially if Tyson -- the fragile lynchpin of the defense -- gets hurt.
The Mavs got better. We know that. How much better, exactly, will be a matter of huge contention.
These Mavericks will be fun, though. I mean, really, really fun. Monta Ellis will be having it all along with Dirk freakin' Nowitzki in the probable best offense in the league. If you aren't having buckets and buckets and buckets of fun when watching this team, then you're doing it wrong.
And, really, that's what we're here to do, right? Have fun. This team has fun in spades, and I haven't even watched them yet. I might not sound like it, but while I'm typing this, I'm bouncing up and down with such furious excitement that I feel like my teeth might fly out of my head, like some twisted Looney Toons character.
On a player-to-player level, it's probably safe to expect Dirk to have a season not at all unlike last season where he was the only player above 30 on the top 15 scorer's list (especially with the rumored quickening of his shot release), though his points totals from game to game might drop with the addition of another potential high-usage scorer in Parsons.
Monta's role in the offense might get smaller, too, with the addition of another skilled off-the-dribble scorer, but he'll become even more important as a facilitator and catalyst for important offensive action, especially if Dallas plans on running a chaotic motion-based offense all over the floor.
Parsons, next season, won't be an all-star or all-star level, and it's probably important to temper those expectations early. He will, though, be a huge part of Dallas' plan to run a huge and hugely complex playbook, thanks to his widely varied skillset. He might, if all goes well, be one of the two or three best "third options" in the league.
Looking to the Future
Dallas is curiously positioned positioned going forward. It's tempting to say that the Front office has chained itself to a team that's at least vaguely similar to the one they've got now for 2015-2016. Still, as this offseason has proved, that's not necessarily the case.
At any rate, Tyson Chandler will be a free agent next season, along with Brandan Wright and his $5 million deal (and Aminu and Richard Jefferson at the minimum). Next season they'll be headed into the offseason with $47 million in committed salary, which they could drop to $45.9 million if they decline the options for Eric Griffin and Ricky Ledo.
At the moment, people around the league expect the cap to jump to about $66.3 million next year, but some hope that it might leap to as high as $70 million in anticipation of the new TV deal that will bring an astonishing amount of new revenue into the league in 2016.
Given that, the Mavericks can expect, from expiring deals alone, about $19.3 million in cap space to spend on two positions next year.
But...Chandler and Wright's expiring deals are relative non-stories.
Cuban has been very public already about his intention to re-sign Tyson Chandler. I imagine, too, given a league-wide lack of interest and a very huge on-court impact, Brandan Wright will also be re-signed.
It's always possible, of course, that Wright goes elsewhere, but the Mavs will at least have Greg Smith on hand, and there will be a few backup big men on the market (Brandan Bass, Andrei Kirilenko, Shawn Marion, Anderson Varejao, Greg Monroe, Luis Scola, Glen Davis, Carlos Boozer, Kosta Koufos, the Morris twins, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Matt Bonner, Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, and Kevin Seraphin, to name a few).
What's more interesting is to consider what, if he is indeed re-signed, Tyson Chandler will get on his next deal.
Given his age and specialty on defense, it would be odd if he got a deal much higher than three years, at $11 million per. Similarly, any Brandan Wright signing -- or a signing to replace him -- shouldn't be too far in excess of his current deal.
The result is that the Mavericks will, more accurately, have about $3.3 million, and that number goes down even farther if you think the Mavericks are likely to re-sign Aminu or Richard Jefferson.
The Mavs could use that money to sign a really interesting role player in Aminu or RJeff's place, but there's a much more interesting thing to look out for next season: the Mavs' various player options.
The outlook above -- that the team really doesn't change much at all -- could be radically altered by any trades that the front office engages in, but that's always true.
Of greater concern is that three players who are key to this Dallas team, Monta Ellis, Jameer Nelson, and Raymond Felton, all have player options in the 2015 offseason that they could potentially decline.
Monta is fundamental to the team identity as it stands, but given how much he struggled to get a long term deal following his stint with Milwaukee, and how much his identity has been rehabilitated since, he is incredibly likely to decline his player option in search of a better, longer term deal using his new, positive rep as leverage.
The same is probably true of Nelson and Felton -- who are on small deals that aren't likely to get much smaller on the open market.
The question going forward is going to be really about whether or not those three decline their player options, and what Dallas will do if they do. Even after re-signing Tyson and maybe Wright, Dallas will have a little bit of extra money. Will they spend that on a new player, or will they use that to improve Monta's deal and retain him?
Or, will they recognize that Monta is difficult to build around, and instead let him go on a bigger deal to a different team, using the money saved on his contract to fill out the guard spots with a more defensively oriented player, committing to Chandler Parsons as the 2nd offensive option?
What they do with Monta will define the team's identity going forward, which will be particularly important heading into the 2016 offseason: both Dirk's last season on his contract (and probably in the league), and the offseason where the league cap jumps up as high as $81-$83 million as a result of the new TV deal being signed that year, imbuing the whole league with a ton of extra cap space.
That'll be a huge time for Dallas, who will have almost every player currently under contract expiring in that offseason. Only Dirk and Devin are definitely under contract for that year, though Tyson, Brandan, Monta, and Nelson may still be on the books if they are re-signed. Chandler Parsons, also, may be on the books and may not, as he has a player option.
How Dallas performs this season will actually ultimately dictate how they organize their team structure up through 2016. The team has the power to jettison the team as we know it right now if it doesn't live up to its potential, and either rely on its cap space to rebuild, or to go full Philly and tank.
On the other hand, the team can use the extra cap space from the cap jumps in each season to retain all its players, and improve the team along the periphery.
Which option the team chooses to take will be largely determined by how the team performs this season, since Dallas is approaching something like a genuinely competitive construction. If Cuban feels like the Mavericks can compete for a title, he'll absolutely build on this year's success.
This next season is particularly important, then, because it is not only a run at the championship this season: this season will be a barometer for how the team needs to approach its build for the entirety of the post-Dirk era.
That's a lot of weight to put on one team in one season. Luckily, I think this might be the team that's built well enough to bear it.