Did anyone bother to let the Dallas Mavericks know that the lockout is over?
In what has arguably become the most lackluster title defense in NBA history, the Mavs have begun the 2011-2012 season lacking focus, passion, pride, and cajones. Their scoring has been inconsistent, interior defense porous, and sense of urgency nonexistent. Even Dirk Nowitzki looks like he is more interested in his next celebratory MLB first pitch instead of his next NBA basketball game. In fact, things got so bad to start the season, that newly acquired Lamar Odom was ejected during their opening game, beckoning the question as to who was more embarrassed: Khloe Kardashian for watching her husband get ejected, or me for regularly watching Khloe Kardashian?
Brace yourselves for a long season Mavs fans, because I can guarantee you one thing: There will be no repeat of 2011.
Losing Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, and Deshawn Stephenson certainly hurts, but let’s be honest - those 3 guys had career seasons during contract years and became your classic got-hot-at-the-right-time-and-soon-to-be-overpaid role players who will never again perform to the same level that they did during the 2011 playoffs. In fact, it is probably fair to say that even if the Mavs had kept those 3 players as part of their core, they would still fail to repeat for one simple reason: The Mavs are not good enough, and in fact, never really were.
I’ve written about this before and I’ll write is again - the Mavs 2011 season was a fluke, and serves as one of those rare ‘lightning in a bottle’ championships in sports. Why? Because rarely do NBA teams with only one superstar win championships. In fact, over the past 60-plus years, only 4 other teams (’75 Warriors, ’77 Blazers, ’94 Rockets, ’03 Spurs) have ever won a championship with only one superstar, while teams with no superstars have won only twice (’79 Sonics, ’04 Pistons). More importantly, none of the aforementioned teams ever went on to repeat with the same core roster. In sum the Mavs’ 2011 run serves as the exception, not the rule; and while a repeat is possible, it is also very unlikely.
The good news for Mavs fans is that contrary to his public declarations, Mark Cuban clearly understood this. Granted, he still may not understand that he should avoid wearing those ridiculously tight T-shirts, but he certainly understood this. Most importantly though, he understood the limitations of his roster with respect to the future, and as a result, did the right thing by foregoing the 2012 season with the hopes of reloading in 2013. How?
1.) By refraining from overpaying Tyson Chandler (4 years, $58M w/Knicks), Caron Butler (3 years, $24M w/Clippers), J.J Barea (4 years, $19M w/Timberwolves) and Deshawn Stephenson (1 year, $2.5M w/ Nets), and thereby successfully avoiding long-term, cap strapping salary obligations for depreciating assets. Remember folks, while Tyson Chandler may have had a great season in 2011, he is still the same player that was in a contract year and has been historically injury prone. Meanwhile, I am extremely skeptical that a soon-to-be-32-year-old Caron Butler will ever become the player he once was given his 2011 knee injury. JJ Barea is a nice bench player, but completely overpriced at nearly $5M per year, while Deshawn Stephenson will return to his customary role as the 8th man off the bench for the Nets.
2.) By shrewdly investing in the short-term, expiring contracts of Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, and Delonte West - veterans who have seen brighter days, but still have enough in the tank to help the Mavs remain competitive. The result, when combined with the already expiring contracts of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Brian Cardinal, and Ian Mahinmi, is enough cap space to pair Dirk Nowitzki with at least one max player for 2013, and possibly even two if Cuban can figure out a way to unload the contracts of Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion (they should be able to unload at least one via amnesty).
Below are the Mavericks’ salary cap obligations heading into 2013:
|Total Salary Obligation||
Needless to say, the Mavs’s #1 and #2 free agent targets during the summer will be Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. Odds are that Lakers have now become the favorites to land Howard since the Nets are no longer a viable trade partner after the Brook Lopez injury. Regardless, the Mavs stand the best chance of landing Howard should he decide to forego an extension and become an unrestricted free agent. The Mavs should also still have a good chance of landing Williams since he is originally from Texas and will likely want out of New Jersey should his second best player remain Kris Humphries.
Even if the Mavs strike out with Howard and Williams, they still have an opportunity to obtain a quality free agent such as Steve Nash or perhaps even Kevin Love and/or Russell Westbrook despite their restricted status. Certainly lower odds, but the important thing is that the Mavs have financial flexibility, and a free agent friendly destination given Cuban’s propensity toward overpaying players and lavishing them with first class luxuries.
So don’t fret too much Mavs fan. It’s a gamble, but if the chips fall their way, the Mavs will be in position to offer themselves a rare opportunity that eludes most aging franchises – the chance to rebuild on the fly.
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