Dallas Mavericks in Win-Now Mode with Tyson Chandler Trade

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

The Dallas Mavericks are hoping a familiar face brings some familiar results. 

According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman, Tyson Chandler is reportedly on his way back to the team with whom he won a title in 2011.

Whoever emerges the long-term winner in this deal, the Mavs are clearly on a quest to win sooner rather than later. The first hint is the fact that Dallas is giving up a young prospect in Shane Larkin and two second-round picks.

Though the Mavericks almost certainly suffer a downgrade at the point, the upgrade in the middle may render that a worthwhile sacrifice. This also may have something to do with the summer of 2015 and the organization's ability to surround franchise face Dirk Nowitzki with additional star power in the short term.

So, there are a couple of factors to consider as far as the Mavericks are concerned: what this means for them on the court in 2014-15 and what it means to their cap situation in the immediate future.


The Upgrade

Jose Calderon will be missed. If you have any doubt about how much the Mavericks value Chandler, just consider what they're giving up. The Spanish point guard made 44.9 percent of his three-point attempts last season, ultimately tallying 11.4 points and 4.7 assists per contest. 

He posted a 15.25 player efficiency rating, which compares quite favorably to Raymond Felton's 12.90 rating.

Admittedly, a change of scenery could do wonders for Felton. He was more efficient in 2012-13 and had a phenomenal 54 games with the Knicks in 2010-11. Should he return to form, the Mavs could emerge as clear victors in this deal.

But even if he doesn't, the real centerpiece acquisition here is Chandler.

The 31-year-old center averaged 8.7 points and 9.6 rebounds last season. Just as importantly, he demonstrated the ability to remain on the floor for over 30 minutes a game. That durability puts Chandler a grade above Samuel Dalembert, whom head coach Rick Carlisle entrusted with just 20.2 minutes per contest.

In terms of per-minute production, little may in fact change for Dallas. Per 100 possessions, Dalembert actually averages more points, rebounds and blocks—though by relatively modest margins.

Perhaps this deal wasn't really about production. Perhaps it had more to do with the winning chemistry that seemingly set the Mavericks apart in 2011. Maybe it's about Chandler's leadership, what he contributes to a team's culture—the screens he sets, his ability to defend the pick-and-roll, the extent to which he communicates on the defensive end.

These virtues aren't easily measured, but they've long defined Chandler's real value.

The kind of value Nowitzki will appreciate in particular.

The familiarity with Carlisle's system can't hurt, either. Don't get suckered into assessing this trade by the numbers. There's something more to it for Dallas—there's championship pedigree. It's hard to put a price tag on that.


The Future 

Speaking of price tags, there's also a very real financial dimension to Dallas' thinking. The organization will take on an increased salary commitment for 2014-15, but that will change soon enough. Here's how the math breaks down.

For next season, Dallas will owe Chandler $14,596,888 and Felton another $3,793,693 (per ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon). That's a total of $18,390,581, which is a tad more than the outgoing $15,341,893 in salary.

After next season, however, Chandler's contract expires and Felton has a player option worth just $3,950,313.

That's where things start to get interesting.

Calderon's contract would cost Dallas just $7,097,191 next season, but an additional $7,402,812 in 2015-16 and $7,708,427 in 2016-17. So the Mavericks will have marginally improved financial flexibility over the next two summers—to say nothing of what's already at their disposal this summer.

With Chandler and Felton on board, Dallas is on the hook for just $36,749,688 at the moment. With the cap expected to increase to $63.2 million, that gives the franchise more than enough resources to re-sign Nowitzki while targeting another impact player like Luol Deng or Trevor Ariza—or maybe even Carmelo Anthony.

Remember that Nowitzki has committed to returning at a fairly steep discount, leaving general manager Donnie Nelson with the requisite room to go after another star.

Back in 2013, Nowitzki told reporters, via ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon: "It's not about money. Obviously, Cuban took care of me for a long, long time. I always tried to pay him back by hard playing and being here for this franchise, so I don't think we're going to fight over money. I want to compete over these last couple of years. That's going to be the goal."

In the event that Dallas can lure an additional star, the future is now. The Mavericks would immediately become a contender, at least to some degree—more so if the acquisition is Anthony; less so if it's someone like Deng.

Per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, "Carmelo Anthony has decided to visit the Houston RocketsDallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls once teams are allowed to meet with free agents on July 1, according to league sources."

MacMahon notes:

The Mavs would have some cap-clearing work to do to be able to sign LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but those are long-shot scenarios. They’re set up to be aggressive filling their other holes in free agency after significantly upgrading the center shot and acquiring a potential stopgap starting point guard to replace Calderon.

But such a scenario certainly isn't out of the question.

And just as importantly, the franchise will be financially poised to make another splash in 2015 when Chandler's contract comes off the books. While the Mavs may be better equipped to win now, they could be even more equipped a season from now.

Nowitzki is 36, but he's still playing at a high level. Assuming he signs for an additional two or three years, the Mavericks' window of championship opportunity will follow suit.

At least that's the theory.


Will It Work?

This franchise has whiffed on its most recent prized pursuits, namely Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. That track record is sure to elicit pessimism when it comes to the possibility of landing either James or Anthony.

The Dengs of the world will remain far more attainable. For whatever reasons, prospective free agents just don't view Dallas as a legitimate force in the Western Conference. They might be counting Nowitzki out as past his prime. They may just not be fans of the city. And with alternative star-powered scenarios in Houston and Brooklyn ultimately attracting Howard and Williams (respectively), the Mavericks may simply be victims of a competitive marketplace.

But the Mavericks weren't blessed with superior star power in 2011. And that's where Mark Cuban and Co. should find some solace.

That's where bringing someone like Chandler on board makes a lot of sense.

In a league where culture and chemistry can compensate for a lack of big names, the Mavs have to start banking on doing things the way they did them the last time it all came together. There was no LeBron, no Carmelo—just a fantastically effective system that made the most of Nowitzki and role players like DeShawn Stevenson, Jason Terry, Jose Barea and Chandler himself.

Dallas went on to face far superior star power in those 2011 NBA Finals, and it faired just fine.

It may not be the last time, either. 


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