Playing Keep or Sell with Dallas Mavericks' Free Agents
It seems that the Dallas Mavericks are in this position every year. The front office has to decide if they want to bring back the old guard and tie up cap room, or move on so they can throw serious money at a serious player or two.
It’s not exactly an easy choice.
As of late, the Mavericks have opted to say goodbye to any potential holdovers in favor of new faces. This meant no more Jason Terry, Jason Kidd or Tyson Chandler to name a few.
But things are a little different now. After missing out on Dwight Howard and other big free-agent signings, owner Mark Cuban and the rest of the Mavs brass decided to move on from that strategy, and they brought in guys like Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon for medium-sized deals.
Not to mention that the main word out of the Dallas camp is continuity, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Rick Carlisle has said he and the rest of the decision-makers want to keep the core together this time around, which is a change from recent years.
So, though some of the free agents are aging, some will be back in a Dallas uniform next season.
But enough talk of what might happen. Let’s get down to what should happen. We’ll run through each of the Mavs’ six upcoming free agents and determine whether to keep or sell.
The decision will encompass past performance, expected level of play and anticipated salary demands. Though the team has roughly $30 million in cap room to play with, all that space can disappear rather quickly.
Bernard James was a nice story when he was drafted in 2012. After serving six years in the United States Air Force, he played two seasons at Florida State before being drafted 33rd overall. He made his NBA debut in 2012 for the Mavs at age 27.
He was a defensive stud at Florida State, using his 6’10” frame and great instincts to swat 2.3 shots per game during his career as a Seminole. He was even an All-ACC defensive team selection in 2012.
It’s that knack for rim protection and his overall skill set that turned Dallas onto him as a prospect, despite his age.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out.
James has been down to the D-League, even waived in 2013, though he was quickly re-signed. His career averages are underwhelming as well at 7.9 minutes, 2.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game.
His 2013-14 stats have also dropped off. He played in 16 less games, and his minutes per game were halved. So obviously his total statistics dropped off, but his per 36 averages did as well. His blocks were down from 3 to 2 per game and he averaged 3.4 fewer points.
All that being said, it could be wise to bring him back.
Given that Dallas might need all the cap room it can get if it plans to go after a free agent like Luol Deng or Eric Bledsoe, they might cut Samuel Dalembert and his non-guaranteed $2 million salary. Every little bit helps.
And if that’s the case, the only big guy on the roster would be Brandan Wright, who weighs 210 pounds.
If the Mavs are forced to cut Dalembert in order to make a run at a restricted free agent like Bledsoe, a run which ESPN’s Tim McMahon thinks is a possibility, bringing back at the league minimum a hefty defensive presence who knows the system like James would be great insurance.
But that’s really the only situation in which James would add value.
He’s 29 years old, and based on his minutes decline this season he appears to also fallen out of favor with the coaching staff.
The production doesn’t add up, and the momentum with the organization doesn’t seem to be there.
It’s fair to say that if Dallas had not made the playoffs, DeJuan Blair would pretty clearly be in a different uniform come next season.
But seeing as how the Mavs did make the playoffs and pushed the San Antonio Spurs to seven games thanks to a large contribution from Blair, that hypothetical isn’t really worth entertaining.
Blair provided a serious toughness boost while playing his former team. Though he’s a short for a big man, generously listed at 6’7”, he performed much bigger than that. He was active on defense and even scored at a nice clip.
During that Spurs series his per 36 numbers were 17.8 points, 16.4 rebounds and an astonishing 5.3 steals per game. And his PER was 28.81 per John Hollinger’s calculations, second to only LeBron James so far in the playoffs.
It doesn’t matter how you slice it, Blair really mattered during that series—which lies is in stark contrast to his ho-hum regular season.
As a guy who came off the bench and averaged 15.6 minutes per game, he wasn’t all that impactful. Sure he had moments, but he wasn’t anything too special. He rebounded well and was a monkey wrench at times for opposing defenses. That’s about it.
To prove a point, his PER was 17.33 and his per 36 minute regular-season averages were 14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. In other words everything was substantially lower than his playoff statistics.
This all begs the question of which DeJuan Blair would Dallas get if they brought him back? The crazy tough rebounding machine or the kinda boring bench guy?
There’s no easy answer to that, though generally it’s a safer bet to bank on his regular-season form. So don’t go getting your hopes up.
But there realistically won’t be too many teams looking for a 6’7” bench big with a very quirky skill set. Carlisle had enough faith in Blair to play him big minutes in the playoffs, so it seems management likes him.
If he can be had for right around his previous salary of $884 thousand, he wouldn’t be a bad buy given his playoff experience and familiarity with the system.
Before we get into the Vince Carter particulars, can we just admire the beauty that is his Game 3 buzzer-beater?
Okay, now once you’re done fist-pumping we have some things to discuss.
The first is that the man formerly known as “half man half amazing” is going to turn 38 during the 2014-15 season. Even for a guy with one of the best nicknames in the business, he’s getting pretty long in the tooth.
But to be fair, Vince didn’t perform like your average 37-year-old this past year.
He was a leader of the bench unit, averaging 11.9 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent from deep in 24.4 minutes per game.
His game isn’t predicated on athleticism anymore. Vince consistently hits threes, can post up smaller guards and just as importantly provides ample spacing for Dirk Nowitzki to operate. Essentially, he’s adopted a tremendous old man's game.
And that’s valuable to this team. Having a shooter who can come off the bench and play smart basketball is important, not something to be overlooked.
Not to mention that his three-point shooting in the playoffs kept Dallas in the series. In seven games Carter hit 15 threes on 48.4 percent shooting.
I guess that’s okay for a 37-year-old bench guy.
But that’s also a problem. No matter how this season went, which was filled with ups and downs, when are the wheels going to fall off? Does he really have two more years left...or even one?
These are the questions that only Vince and maybe the Mavs can really know. And even they cannot know for sure. But given that Carlisle and Cuban are opting for continuity, Vince will probably be back. And given that he ranks in the top 40 of three-point shooters percentage wise, that’s probably a smart move.
If he signs for something close to the veteran's minimum, that is. That would be a substantial discount from the $3.18 million he was paid last year, but given the Mavs cap situation and other offseason dealings, it’s really the best they can do.
But Carter has expressed an interest in returning according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, and as one of the leaders of the team it would be great to have him back in Dallas.
I have a hard time believing that Devin Harris, the guy whom Dallas paid less than $1 million for the season, was so good this year. It felt like my eyes were deceiving me.
He was really a difference-maker for the Mavericks this year. He provided a change of pace off the bench, and even a little defense from the guard position, which was sorely needed.
Harris proved to be a great signing by the Mavs front office, especially considering how cheap he was.
Now of course we wonder if they can keep him.
Normally a player who showed brilliant flashes like Harris did might fetch a five-figure multiyear contract on the open market. But there are some things working in Dallas’ favor in this regard.
First off, he’s 31. So there won’t be too many teams out there ready to splurge on a guy who’s probably past the halfway point of his career.
Second, his stats far from jump off the page. Per game averages of 7.9 points, 4.5 assists and a shooting percentage of 37.8 percent don’t exactly beg for a big contract.
Finally, Harris wants to be a Maverick. Tim McMahon says there’s mutual interest between Harris and Dallas, which means that the Mavs could have a discount coming their way.
Put it all together, and it seems like all paths point towards Devin Harris’ return.
And of course, this would be a tremendous catch for the Mavs. Not only does Carlisle trust Harris, which says a lot, but Harris time and time again came up big for Dallas in big spots. Three times in the Spurs series he had 17 points or more, and was Dallas’ only hope of slowing down Tony Parker.
Devin Harris has earned a pay raise, and if it’s somewhere in the ballpark of the roughly $2 million per year contract HoopsRumors.com outlined, everyone should be happy.
The Matrix did it again. He turned in another solid season on both ends of the floor. He guarded the other team’s best player every night, and he even managed to improve his three-point percentage to 35.8, up 4.3 percent.
Not bad for a guy who just turned 36.
Since coming to the Mavs, Marion’s main concern has never been offense. So when his scoring output this past season dipped nearly two points from 12.1 to 10.4, it wasn’t too much of a worry.
He plays a role on offense, and by improving his shot he actually became better at his role.
Marion’s real contributions in Dallas have come on the defensive end. Of course he’s the team’s best one-on-one defender, but he’s also a great rebounder and offers some versatility. By being able to guard bigs, he allows Dallas to go small for stretches and not get killed.
He’s also essentially Dirk’s sidekick. Marion has been with Dallas the longest outside of Nowitzki, and as such he knows how to operate alongside the big German. Not only does he know where to be on offense, but he can pick up the slack Dirk creates on defense.
And if management thinks continuity is the answer, they wouldn’t let the sidekick go.
Sure maybe Marion has lost a step, and isn’t quite the stud defensively he once was. But there’s a lot to be said for the consistency he brings to the table despite his age.
And obviously, the Mavs are aware that Marion won’t be around forever, which may explain why they would be looking at someone like Luol Deng to be a replacement, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko.
And of course if Marion is to come back, it has to be at a lower figure than his previous salary of $9.3 million. Much lower.
When it’s all said and done, Marion would be a great piece for this team, as he always has been. Again, Tim McMahon reports that there is mutual interest in getting a deal done, so it seems as though we haven’t seen the last of the Matrix.
There really isn’t much to say about Dirk Nowitzki.
Yes, he’s 35.
Yes, he just completed his 15th NBA season.
Yes, he looked a bit old last season. And the previous season.
But none of that changes a thing. It’s almost impossible to envision a scenario where Dirk is anything but a Dallas Maverick.
Given the firm stance Cuban took against trading Dirk on his blog, it’s hard to imagine Cuban and Co. would ever consider letting the big German go to another franchise.
And why would they? Nowitzki had an amazing season in 2013-14, averaging 21.7 points while coming oh so close to a 50/40/90 shooting season. He was the focal point of the offense again, looking remarkably close to vintage Dirk.
The only real issue here is money.
This past November, Kobe Bryant signed a massive two-year $48.5 million to stay with the Lakers, and the thought of Nowitzki inking a similar deal probably sends shivers down the spine of the Mavs fanbase.
But luckily for the Mavs, Dirk isn’t expecting that kind of a deal.
Tim McMahon speculates the new deal could be roughly three years and $30 million, similar to the Tim Duncan contract. This seems more than fair, though it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the deal float closer to $40 million for three years either.
Whether or not the contract gets that high is impossible to know right now, but either way the organization, the fanbase and the team would be put at ease by having Dirk officially back on the roster.
And of course, if he can be a franchise player or close to it for another handful of years, the signing would make all the basketball sense in the world.