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Dwight’s gone but hey we got a Spaniard!

July 12, 2013

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With the Mavs in the thick of free agency and a half dozen players being either signed by them or whiffed on by them I felt it was time to write another article about the offseason of the Mavs. While the last article was doom and gloom I can honestly say that this article is very “glass half fullish” as I’m encouraged by a number of these signings and see some progress being made. Will all the positive feelings disappear the moment Dwight Howard blocks a Calderon shot into the 3rd row of seats in the AAC? Yeah probably but Calderon is here for the next 4 years, Devin for the next 3, and Ellington for the next 2 so we might as well get to know them.

Jose Calderon: Calderon is the first free agent multi year signing the Mavs have had since Vince Carter 2 offseasons ago. As such it’s one of the few looks into exactly what the Mavs are looking for from a player, considering most of their signings the past few seasons have been based more on availability and willingness to accept a 1 year contract than on desire. Jose is a Steve Nash clone minus the whirling dirvish style as a penetrator. Both are poor defenders, both are elite shooters, and both are IQ heavy players that excel at running a team. There is a lot to like about Calderon as he’s the type of smart player the Mavs so desperately needed last season after Jason Kidd bolted to New York. He will get Dirk the ball regularly, space the floor as a shooter, and end the rash of turnovers from ball handlers that often ruined games for the Mavs last season. His game is all about efficiency as whether you look at his assist to turnover ratio (4.2 to 1 last season-2nd behind only Chris Paul), his free throw shooting (90%-tied for 2nd in the NBA along with Steph Curry, good company there), his adjusted field goal % (59.4% 1st among point guards with the next 3 PGs behind him being a whose who of NBA stars at the position: Stephen Curry 2nd at 54.9%, Tony Parker 3rd at 53.4%, and Chris Paul 4th at 52.6%), and his three point shooting (46.1%-1st in the NBA at ANY position) all show that he’s one of the most efficient players in the NBA. Unfortunately he’s extremely efficient because he picks his spots so he’s best utilized as a #3 option on offense and can only be lumped with the Chris Pauls, Steph Currys, and Tony Parkers due to efficiency and not due to cumulative stats. He won’t be an All-Star during his 4 years in Dallas and due to his limited scoring (11.3-24th among PGs), rebounding (2.4 rpg-25th among PGs), and defense he will put pressure on his teammates to pick up the slack in other areas for him. I love this signing by the Mavericks but will be curious how they play him next season as he will need to be hidden on defense and suspect that is why they signed Devin Harris.

Devin Harris: While others in the media have been openly confused by the signing, why are the Mavs stockpiling PGs?, I’m intrigued as Devin has the length and quickness to be able to defend either guard spot and will take the harder cover leaving Calderon with the lesser player. When they play the Spurs Devin will cover Parker while Calderon will cover Danny Green who won’t exploit him as easily, against the Lakers Devin will cover Kobe while Calderon takes Jordan Farmar, etc. It’s not an elite defensive pairing by any means but makes a lot of sense as Devin’s two best strengths, his penetration skills and his defense, are Calderon’s biggest weaknesses and it gives Dallas a 2nd ballhandler to keep defenses guessing when they inevitably double Dirk on the wing. The issue with Devin has always been his inefficiency as an offensive player (a career 44% FG, 32% 3 pt shooter), once again pointing to Devin and Calderon being a good mix of skills, yet it’s interesting to note that in his 9 year career the top 3 FG percentages occurred while in Dallas. The Mavs clearly understand how to use him and his star has been on a steady decline since leaving the team so it isn’t a stretch to argue that coming back to the team that drafted him will result in an uptick in his game. For 3 years and $9 million Devin is a steal in my eyes as he can play the 1 or the 2, will provide defense and penetration that Calderon lacks, and is mature enough that he won’t bristle under strict guidelines like he did in his last trip through Dallas. If Dallas needs him one night to play 30 minutes as the starting SG and the next night for only 15 minutes as the backup PG I suspect the 30 year old version of Harris will handle it a little better than the 24 year old version did.

Wayne Ellington: Known as a “3 and D” player Ellington does two things well: shoot the three and play D. Those types have become in vogue lately as detailed statistical analysis often shows that their presence on the floor with All-Stars improves the overall level of play on both ends of the court. Numerous NBA champs have used these types of players at SG or SF over the years from Rick Fox for the 2000-2002 Lakers, Bruce Bowen for the 2005 and 2007 Spurs, or James Posey for the 2008 Celtics. Ellington isn’t the passer Fox was or the defender Bowen or Posey were but he’s a good player in his own version of that mold as he’s a smart player that understands his role and won’t go outside of it. 45% of his shots were three pointers last season and came in at a very good clip (39.2%) making him the rare find: a young role player. Last season was the third time in 4 years that he shot 39% from 3 point land and at only 25 years old the Mavs are getting him in his prime years. Also at 2 years and $2.5 mil per he’s a great value signing and in my opinion is a superior player than Corey Brewer (3 yr $15 mil given by Minnesota) or Matt Barnes (3 yr $10.2 mil given by Clippers).

What’s with all the guards: Going into last week the Mavs had an empty roster for the 2014-2015 season with not one guaranteed contract after this season. Now they have 5 and all are guards (rookie Shane Larkin and Israeli league player Gal Mekel are the other two) which leaves a person to wonder what exactly they are doing. I have two theories and the actions by the Mavs over the next few weeks will determine which theory is correct. My first theory is that this accumulation of guards is simply chance as the best free agent available on the market that interested them was Calderon and was quickly followed by two cheap signings at very reasonable rates. This theory will be proven if in the next few weeks the Mavs sign a few frontcourt players to multi year deals. My second theory is that Dallas feels they lost out on Dwight Howard because the cupboard was too bare and these guard signings are both to compete this season AND put the Mavs in a better position to entice a free agent in the summer of 2014. Before anyone yawns and rolls their eyes at another attempt at a “Big Fish” let me just say that I hear you and completely agree that the Mavs strategy was flawed from the beginning and has been an utter disaster to this point. Yet looking at the Samuel Dalemberts and the Monta Ellis of the world that are left in free agency makes me think that the best strategy for the Mavs is to fill up the final portion of their roster with 1 year free agent deals and keep their cap space alive for next summer. If that is the strategy then the guard accumulation makes sense as next summer’s free agent crop is very frontline heavy. Whether it’s LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Paul Pierce or Luol Deng at SF or Andrew Bynum (possibly if Cavs don’t use team option in year 2), Andrew Bogut, or Paul Gasol at C the options are pretty stacked at the two upcoming holes on Dallas’ roster. Next offseason I doubt the Mavs are able to convince James or Anthony to come to Dallas but they will have approximately $40 million in cap space and be set at PG (Calderon, Larkin, Mekel), SG (Harris, Ellington), and PF (Dirk, likely will re-sign Brandan Wright too). I know Dallas has swung and missed so many times it feels like no All-Star will ever sign here but I think a Danny Granger and Andrew Bogut duo to join a hometown discount Dirk would work financially and be very feasible. I’m not going to go all dallasbasketball.com on you with 15 different scenarios for every free agent and how a player’s latest tweet clearly means he’s ready to leave his current team but I suspect that the team currently assembled for 2013, with a few more additions like Brandan Wright, Elton Brand, and maybe a Dalembert or a Cole Aldrich flyer type at C, will be better than fans expect and get the Mavs back into the playoffs next season. Don’t underestimate how helpful a Mavs victory or two in the playoffs would be in a pitch next season to free agents. “We were only set at 3 positions yet still took the Clippers to six games. Add you (Granger) and Bogut and we’ll be a top 4 seed and be a legit contender in the West.” I actually could see that pitch working and a starting lineup of Calderon, Ellington, Granger, Nowitzki, and Bogut would be dominant offensively and very solid defensively with Bogut covering up many of the breakdowns Calderon and Nowitzki allow. 

Andrew Bynum: My final thoughts are on Bynum who just signed with the Cavaliers for 2 years, potentially. Initially I was mad because I thought a flyer on an All-Star center like Bynum was the exact roll of the dice the Mavs needed to take to overcome the huge kick in the nuts they received when Dwight Howard so unceremoniously dismissed them. (Seriously though Howard sent Dallas packing so early on in the process it leaves me wondering if he even contemplated Dallas. Our pitch of “we’ll compete this year and then next year get a hometown discount from our local star and add a star or two via free agency” was the same one being used by LA and they had a much better chance at actually landing another star or two via free agency. Also I’m convinced that the late second indecision on Dwight’s part Friday night, where he flew to LA to meet with Lakers management, was really a last ditch effort to be traded to either the Clippers or the Warriors. Obviously no one is going to say it now as he’s 100% in love with Houston officially but I always suspected he had the Warriors and Clippers as his top 2 options with neither being actual options due to limited cap space.) Yet after hearing reports that Bynum hadn’t picked up a basketball in months, was overweight, wouldn’t workout for teams, the Hawks didn’t offer him a deal either, and he only practiced once all season with the 76ers last year I changed my mind. Many a star has succumbed to injuries and never been the same since. Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Antonio McDyess, Ralph Sampson, Larry Johnson, etc. all were All-Stars and then poof became limited role players at best. I have a suspicion that is what is going to happen with Bynum and he went for one last cash grab. He’ll collect his $6 million, hobble through a few dozen games next season, and the Cavs won’t exercise his option for 2014. He has two very bad knees, a lack of passion for basketball, and $72.8 million in career earnings (only counting the $6 mil guaranteed in 2013). That is a combination that tells me he won’t be in the league in 5 years and the Mavs probably were smart to not offer him a contract. Of course if he returns to All-Star form this season I do have a right to pretend I knew it all along and blame Cuban for failing again. I mean come on I’m a fan, what do you expect?

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