To the outrage of many Dallas fans, the Mavericks have firmly made the decision to let go of several key pieces of last year’s championship squad. Since Mark Cuban has always been notoriously willing to spend whatever is necessary to field a top notch squad, it seems perplexing that the Mavs wouldn’t be willing to break the bank to keep Tyson Chandler, the defensive anchor of their championship team, let alone be willing to ditch J.J. Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson as well. After spending the better part of the last decade trying to keep up with the Spurs, perhaps the Mavs have learned the value of avoiding bad contracts at all cost.
Chandler played a very integral role in the Mavs’ championship run, and his defense definitely helped push the Mavs to the top. In an ideal world, it would seem rational that he should be re-signed. However, with a new CBA that’s significantly more strict with regard to the flexibility of luxury tax teams, designating $15 million a year to a center who can barely stay on the floor for 30 minutes a game, cannot create his own offense and is incapable of carrying a team on his shoulders, is quite a risk.
To top it off, Chandler is coming off a contract in which he only played 70 percent of the games, many of which he played through several injuries, makes his deal even more difficult to stomach. It simply isn’t worth it to overpay players, especially when it means signing them to massive contracts that could potentially ensure salary cap hell for several seasons.
By giving up Chandler in the sign and trade deal with the Knicks and the Wizards, the Mavericks gained a valuable trade exception which was flipped last night to the Lakers in exchange for Lamar Odom. Odom is a far more productive player than Chandler, and comes with a much more palatable contract making $8.9 million this year with a $8.2 million team option for next season. While the likes of Barea, Butler and Stevenson may be walking out the door, Vince Carter and Rudy Fernandez are on their way in, and Roddy Beaubois should be ready to reclaim his spot in the rotation after suffering through injuries last season.
With the additions the Mavs made this offseason, they have sufficiently put a giant band-aid on the squad that won it last season, without risking the long-term future of the franchise.
As special as last year’s championship run was for the Mavericks, they were not the type of dominant team that was guaranteed to repeat. After retooling this offseason, the Mavericks enter the season with the same core of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion and should still remain among the contenders in the Western Conference. While it would have been nice to see if last year’s team could have pulled off a second run, their chances of repeating with that team were not even necessarily higher than the likelihood that this new team can pull it off.
The biggest difference now, is that the Mavs will be able to fix things if their current strategy doesn’t work out. Had the Mavericks brought back their team from last year, they would have been stuck had Chandler and Butler gotten hurt. Instead, the Mavs are left with a similarly talented team, with very movable pieces, that could easily be upgraded if need be. As reported by Jeff Caplan of ESPN, Mark Cuban said, “We have to change our approach. By getting back under the cap, we have a ton of flexibility not only for free-agent signings, but also trades.” In the past, Dallas simply would have gone deeper above the tax threshold by taking on additional salaries via trade. However, with the new rules limiting the flexibility of luxury tax teams, and with the luxury tax to become more punitive, Cuban’s wallet is now less of an asset.
Things may seem sour for Mavs fans today, but when Dallas finishes with an over .600 season and still is a major player in the free agent and trade market next season, all will be forgotten. While other teams (the Knicks), will be stuck in salary cap oblivion with albatross contracts, the Mavs will be in the hunt for major acquisitions. At a time when information travels instantly by social media, it is tough to remember that sometimes patience brings the greatest reward.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel.