Dallas Mavericks 2012: Why the Mavs Are Winners in Free Agency
When you mention the Mavericks and free agency, many of us still get a little physically ill. It's going to take a while to put aside the summer of 2011, when Cuban & Co. let four key members of the NBA Champions walk out the door, only to be replaced with an ostensibly great player who had a complete meltdown starting before his arrival and continuing until after he left....
That would be Lamar Odom Kardashian, by the way.
This summer didn't start out much better. Deron Williams and Steve Nash didn't want to play in Dallas and then Jason Kidd and Jason Terry left the building. The haters were projecting the Mavs for the lottery and heckling fans for Cuban's apparent abandonment of Dirk in the twilight of his career.
After the big fish got away, however, the front office kicked into high gear and made some surprising moves that put Dallas back on the map. With one of the biggest roster shuffles in the NBA primarily due to free agency, the Mavericks will be sporting a drastically different team this next season.
Here's a list of the free agents who left, those who arrived, and how it should play out next season.
Brian Cardinal has been a fan favorite in Dallas for his enthusiasm, hitting big threes from time to time and taking charges with gusto. However, even at a bargain price, Dallas has reached a point when the end of the bench needs to be reserved for young players who stand to develop significantly. We love the idea of old veteran cheerleaders, but Dallas' needs made Cardinal expendable.
Cardinal logged limited but regular minutes during the championship season and even in the 2011 NBA Finals, but last year his playing time was virtually nonexistent. The team simply needed to move on.
After improving his first three seasons in the NBA, Yi Jianlian took a step backward when he went from his best season with the New Jersey Nets to a subpar stint with the Washington Wizards. Landing in Dallas last year with a one-year contract, Yi tore it up for the Texas Legends but never gained significant playing time with the Mavs.
It's difficult to gauge Yi's potential, considering his injury history and his seeming inability to develop more hardcore NBA abilities. While he is very young and has skills resembling a poor man's Dirk, he has not made the kind of progress most NBA coaches would like.
Yi's offensive skills are also primarily from the perimeter and this year the Mavericks opted to go with a combination of more seasoned, veteran big men and youngsters who are all more proficient in the paint as the frontcourt and backcourt already have a supply of capable outside shooters.
Ian Mahinmi made significant progress in 2012 but the Mavericks clearly did not have confidence in him to take over as the starting center, even with Brendan Haywood on his way out.
Mahinmi was developing a nice array of offensive moves but continued to be foul-prone and, after early season success last year, his minutes started to slide in favor of Brandan Wright. Dallas did not elect to make him an offer early in the summer while apparently working other possibilities.
In the end, Dallas did manage to parlay Mahinmi into a sign-and-trade with Indiana, bringing Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones to town, which turned out to be an important part of a backcourt revamp after Jason Kidd signed with the New York Knicks. While re-signing Mahinmi at a reasonable price would not have been a bad thing, many observers considered trading him for Collison and Jones to be a lopsided victory for the Mavs.
Jason Kidd is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and is still capable of playing a contributing role in the right situation, but he struggled through much of 2011-2012 and has clearly lost more than a step. While his leadership qualities are outstanding and he could have been a valuable asset mentoring a young point guard or backing up Deron Williams or Steve Nash, the loss won't have a significant impact if it gives way to other point guards who are quicker on both ends of the floor and more capable of scoring.
It's an emotional loss but from a strictly basketball perspective, a changing of the guard was due regardless.
With the exception of one very tall German, there is no one who has had a greater impact in Dallas in the last decade than Jason Terry. A significant factor since his arrival and the lone remaining player from the 2006 Finals team, Terry hit clutch shots for the Mavericks year after year. A perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate and one-time winner, Terry had not yet shown signs of slowing down. Even at age 34, there is no way to directly replace his shot or his attitude. He will be missed even if his replacements do well.
A solid All-Star performer and seasoned all-around player, Elton Brand has shown signs of slowing down from age and injuries. Still, he's been able to contribute decent, if not spectacular numbers. As he will no longer be expected to log starter's minutes in Dallas, Brand should be able to give quality backup time to Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. His exceptional combination of offensive and defensive prowess, along with veteran leadership, should be a big asset for a team whose only significant presence in the paint in recent years came and went with Tyson Chandler.
O. J. MAYO
O. J. Mayo will have a new lease on life in Dallas and should take over as the starting shooting guard after coming off the bench in Memphis for two years and seeing his numbers slip. With loads of talent and new possibilities of learning to use it consistently night after night, Mayo could end up having the greatest impact of any new Maverick. If Mayo looks anything like he did his rookie season when he came in second to Derrick Rose in Rookie of the Year voting, Dallas fans may begin to feel better about Jason Terry's departure sooner than expected.
While details of the deal are unclear, it is known that it is a two-year arrangement with an option for the second year, keeping Dallas under the cap and giving the team flexibility moving into the 2013-2014 season.
The Dallas Mavericks waited a surprisingly long time before re-signing Delonte West this offseason, while fans worried about losing the gritty two-way player who proved last year that he is capable on both ends of the floor, can play the point or SG and is reliable from beyond the arch.
With new arrivals starting in both guard spots, West's versatility will be a valuable asset, especially if things don't go as planned. While Darren Collison and O. J. Mayo have both been starters before, each lost the job in one of the past two seasons. Having West available to back up both positions and step in as a starter if needed is huge.
As much as Dallas had focused on the superstar du jour Deron Williams and possibly Steve Nash (which was understandable considering the Jason Kidd situation), I had argued on more than one occasion that Dallas' #1 priority should be help down low, both defensively and offensively.
After what seemed like an eternity in Dallas without a competent center, Tyson Chandler helped the Mavericks win a championship only to depart for the Big Apple the following year, once again leaving the team with a substandard rotation at the 5. With the Dwight Howard drama in daily flux, the Mavs wisely considered other options as well.
Enter Chris Kaman.
There isn't much to call spectacular about Chris Kaman; on the other hand, there is very little he doesn't do well. He is not the defensive standout that Chandler is but he is competent and his offensive skills outshine Chandler by a long shot. In fact, with capabilities that range from scoring in the paint to hitting the mid-range jumper, Kaman is easily the best offensive center the Mavericks have had in the history of the franchise. I'll still miss the alley-oops but at the end of the day, there will be more points on his line of the box score.
It also doesn't hurt that Kaman has played with both Elton Brand and Dirk in the past, teaming with Brand to help the Los Angeles Clippers to their only recent playoff appearance prior to the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era, and alongside Dirk on the German national team.
Finally, getting Kaman to ink a one-year deal again gives Dallas maximum flexibility for the following year. The Mavs were both skilled in negotiating with him and fortunate that he has an affection for both Dirk and the Mavericks' organization.
For the first time in the Dirk Nowitzki era, Dallas will have numerous scoring options in the paint. When you consider how that can open up the floor for other shooters and burn teams who try to double-team Dirk or O.J. Mayo, the possibilities are intriguing.
After a slow start during free agency, the Mavericks truly scored, adding versatility and depth to every single position on the floor. Even without their solid crop of rookies, the Mavs would have three new starters who range from competent to potentially spectacular, as well as improved backup for Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion.
The Mavericks formula for success for years has relied upon two scorers after Dirk Nowtizki averaging 15 points or better. The eventual NBA champions were no exception until Caron Butler went down with an injury, so Peja Stojacovic and Shawn Marion took up the slack. Last year, however, even Jason Terry's average was only 13.8 ppg. Next year there will more weapons in the arsenal for reestablishing a variety of scoring optionis.
The loss of Terry does leave a void but it is one that can be more than capably filled by O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter and Delonte West, along with the additional young talent on the roster. Rick Carlisle will have some nice options available to him.
The Mavericks' retooling through free agency this summer is truly the come-from-behind victory of the offseason and promises to provide some interesting basketball next year.