By Darreck Kirby
PSDC Mavs Man
After the Dallas Mavericks won their lone championship in 2011, the organization saw a philosophical shift. Gone were the key members of a title-winning core mere months after reaching the pinnacle of the basketball world. Tyson Chandler had gone to the New York Knicks in a sign and trade deal that saw him earn a four years and $55 million. Following were the likes of JJ Barea, Caron Butler, Corey Brewer, and other key pieces. A year later, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry would follow, effectively ending an era in Big D.
But why would Mark Cuban blowup a proven title team after years of building and heartache? Simple; fiancial flexibility that would allow the Mavs to recruit the “big fish” of the NBA in free agency and usher in the future of Dallas Mavericks basketball. While fans were rightfully skeptical even at the time, Cuban and President of Basketball Operations, Donnie Nelson had earned some leyway. The problem? None of the big players wanted were interested in suiting up with an aging superstar in Dirk Nowitzki and a suddenly “disloyal” owner who had rewarded his championship roster with zero contract extensions.
Over the next four years, the Mavs swung and missed on some of the biggest names in the NBA; Deron Williams (probably for the best), Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. The result of each failure was a rag-tag roster thrown together on one-year deals year after year, hoping each time that head coach Rick Carlisle could work his magic and at least get Dallas into the playoffs. To Rick’s credit, he succeeded in all but one of those turbulent seasons. Thankfully those days finally appear to be over.
Last summer the Mavs finally landed their first big name in free agency in Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a wonderful player and certainly a core piece you can build around, however, he’s not yet a proven commodity to have earned the title of “superstar,” and that’s okay. Thanks to Dirk’s freakishly huge discount he gave the Mavs last season, Cuban and company were able to pay Chandler Parsons for the player – and recruiter – he may become (more on that later).
Dallas’ wheeling and dealing wasn’t over there, though. In late 2014 the team pulled off a trade of seemingly exceptional value, one that would flesh out their core with yet another young, legitmate superstar at a position of desperate need when they traded for Boston’s Rajon Rondo. The move was heralded at the time, admittedly by yours truly especially. At a glance, it appeared Mark Cuban had just rounded out the final piece of his team’s core while losing nothing worse than a backup center/power forward in Brandan Wright. Unfortunately the move would prove devastating. Rondo’s lack of accuracy in all matters shooting essentially crippled the once stellar spacing of the Dallas offense. Even worse was his poor attitude and frequent clashes with Carlisle, which frequently became public displays on the court and in the locker room. In the end, Rondo’s brief and wildly unsuccessful tenure with Dallas ended with the once “best point guard in the NBA” being sent home in the middle of the team’s first round playoff loss to the Houston Rockets.
So why is this important? Easy, it saved Dallas from possibly spending on an overrated point guard past his prime that doesn’t even fit within their system. It forced Cuban and Nelson to re-evaluate what they were initially calling their core for the future and thus set out to retool the roster once again this summer. The results? Dallas finally struck it big.
The pipe dream I described entering free agency was for Dallas to land the emerging yet injured talent of Wesley Matthews and a big man in either LaMarcus Aldridge or DeAndre Jordan. While adding Aldridge would have been Dirk’s official move to the bench, gifting the Mavs with a talented stretch four whose shooting touch has often been compared to Nowitzki’s, it still didn’t answer defensive concerns, of which Dallas had many last season. Monta Ellis opted out of the final year of his deal and packed his bags for Indiana to the tune of four years and $44 million. This move not only opened the door for Matthews, but allowed Dallas to add an overall better player, assuming he’s able to return to form.
While Ellis may be the better scorer of the two, touting a clutch gene few players in the league can match, he’s also a major defensive liability who needs the ball in his hands at all times to be effective. In Matthews the Mavericks have their anti-Monta, a “3 and D” stud who, at 6-foot-5 and 220 lbs, can lockdown the perimeter with the best guards in the league. Yes, he’s coming off of a ruptured Achillies, an injury that 39% of players have never returned from over the past 23 seasons, but he’s also only 28 years old and months ahead of schedule according to his doctors and the Mavs’ medical staff, led by Team USA head trainer, Casey Smith. The injury typically takes eight to nine months to return from, Matthews is on pace to do it in five.
Beyond the buzzwords, Matthews is a guy who averaged 16 points per game in Portland as their third option behind Aldridge and Damien Lillard and is a career 39% three-point shooter (who averaged approximately three makes per game last season before the injury). Furthermore, he’s not just limited to spot-up trees, flashing signs of an all-around offensive game that can attack the basket (though not as well as Monta) and pull up off the dribble. The signing is a big risk for Dallas, having given Portland’s beloved shooting guard four years and what appears to be $52 million, but if Matthews can return to form, let alone take the next step many believed he was primed to take last season, Dallas could possibly have the steal of free agency on their hands. Oh, and in case you’re wondering how bad Matthews wanted to be in Dallas, he turned down four years for $64 million ($4 million more than his opening request of $15 million per year) from the Sacramento Kings.
The other factor in landing Matthews in Dallas? Chandler Parsons, recruiter extraordinare. Three years ago, when Parsons was unknowingly entering his final season in Houston, he heavily recruited and ultimately landed the Rockets the biggest free agent on the market, Dwight Howard. Last year, Parsons dealt with his own restricted free agency and eventually signed an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks for three years and $46 million, just shy of the max contract he desired. This summer, Parsons’ recruiting efforts resumed, and over the past six weeks he kept in constant contact with each of Dallas’ two biggest targets, jetting back and forth between Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas to have dinner and pitch the possibility of playing together in Big D.
In the end, the first foot to fall was Wesley Matthews. Shortly thereafter, Dallas’ other prime target, a defensive stud and the league’s leading rebounder, DeAndre Jordan followed suit. While Jordan may not be a name like LeBron or Carmelo, he’s undoubtedly the biggest signing in Mavericks history. Having spent seven seasons in LA with the Clippers, Jordan was finally ready to emerge from the shadows of perennial All Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, with whom Jordan’s relationship had grown strained. That, combined with the swelling salary cap over the next few seasons prompted the Texas A&M product to seek a four-year deal as opposed to a full five-year max contract which only the Clippers could have given him. Despite losing their negotiating advantage, LA tempted DeAndre with a five-year, $109 million max contract, only to see him accept a four-year deal worth $80 million in Dallas.
Jordan’s greatest wish is to be “the man,” an opportunity he’s sure to get now that Tyson Chandler has once again left town. While Jordan’s offensive game is limited to ferocious dunks and alley oops, he is a 26-year-old talent with room to grow, especially when you consider the fact that he attempted only 6.6 shots per contest last season. To put that in perspective, six other Clippers averaged more shot attempts per game despite DeAndre being considered their “third option.” Even more promising is the fact that Jordan put up multiple games with 20+ points and 20+ rebounds last season while Blake Griffin was out with a staph infection.
Dallas’ pitch, which began with Chandler Parsons and was further detailed by Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rich Carlisle, Dirk, and even Wesley Matthews, was that DeAndre would become the Mavericks’ top option, with Parsons and Matthews being his 2 and 2A of a new and promising core. Considering DeAndre led the NBA in field goal percentage and rebounds the past two seasons, something no one had accomplished since Wilt Chamberlin, Dallas is in for a treat – an upgrade to Tyson Chandler who’s six years younger and better in every way other than free throw percentage, which he’ll have to work on. Last season Jordan grabbed nearly 25% of all available rebounds, an astonishing percentage which would smash the Mavericks’ team record. He averaged 11.5 points and 15 boards on a title contending Clippers team. He also felt he was ready to take the next step, which LA couldn’t promise him.
So for the first time in the post title era, somehow just four years later, Dallas has finally landed their “big fish.” Sure, he’s not a megastar, but like Parsons and Matthews, DeAndre is being paid for what he already is and may one day become; the centerpiece of a strong core on a title contending roster. And while significant injuries to Parsons and Matthews certainly create some doubt as to how good this core may be, Dallas can’t be faulted for reaching with Dirk’s window so close to being closed.
I called it a pipe dream just a few weeks ago for Dallas to land Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, and yet Mark Cuban and company found a way to make it happen. What else can a fan ask for?
Well, maybe a starting point guard but one step at a time.
Starting 5 on paper:
PG – Likely Jeremy Lin or Mo Williams to be added in FA
SG – Wesley Matthews
SF – Chandler Parsons
PF – Dirk Nowitzki
C – DeAndre Jordan