Mitnick Column: Mavs show smarts with restraint

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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.

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  1. hey AJ,

    Do you still feel the Knicks management doesnt know what they are doing?

    And how depth was going to such a HUGE problem for them, obviously their roster has changed since this blog immensely, but i think the point was that getting Chandler shoring up the middle would lead to surrounding their own Big 3 with key, key players.

    i know you said you were a Knicks fan so assuming you must be super relieved how wrong you were.

  2. Do we still stick with crediting the mavs for their “restraint”?

  3. Do all you guys still feel the Knicks bench is weak and Miami’s was better? lol

    Glen Grunwald must have been trained very well by Mr. Walsh.

    Adjusted Starting Line Up and Bench:

    Amare
    Chandler
    Melo
    Fields
    Baron Davis

    Toney Douglas
    Bibby
    Shumpert- Did anyone see the skill set he has shown in camp and preseason so far?
    Noak- 3 point specialist (just signed)
    Jared Jefferies

    Posey- could be signed any minute???

    That is 10-11 deep!

  4. guys,

    we can knit pick back and forth who’s bench was better and what Tyson will or will not do, and none of us will be proven right or wrong until some wins and losses are registered.

    My point initially, was the Knicks obtaining Chandler, was the best possible move they could do given their choices.

    Can anyone of those that agree with the author, tell me what could have been a better course of action this year?

    what is a better plan?

    Who is a better player at any position that they could have signed that would lead to a deeper run into the playoffs for the Knicks?

    I feel they needed a big and this is the best possible BIG they could get in the next 2 years considering they do not have the assets to trade for Dwight with Orlando right now which is when you would have to obtain him.

  5. Good article AJ,

    Dallas has played it very smart this offseason. Cuban sided with Stern over the Paul trade fiasco. They didn’t overcommit to Chandler and got a better player in Odom for half the price, who can be bought out for only $3mil next year. They were smart to replace expendable players for comparable guys who make less money (Carter for Butler and Fernandez for Stevenson). I think the big concern though is if Mahinmi can give 25% of what Chandler brought last year, with Odom bringing the other 75% Also, if Rodrique Beaubois is ready to fill J.J. Barea’s shoes. They might be as good as they were last year with these moves, but it’s a risk worth taking to prep for the 2012 free agency and against long term salary cap issues.

  6. NY made a mistake. I’m a Dallas fan, and agree completely that Chandler was the guy that put us over the top.

    Several factors though that are huge differences:
    1.) Dallas was at least two deep at every position. The second team would be starters on any other team. NY, like Miami, will be lucky to fill out a starting lineup with quality players, much less a second team. The Dallas model (deep and experienced) beat the NY/Miami model (excellent eggs in too few baskets). Injuries to crucial roleplayers like Butler and Roddy did not spell the end of the season, unlike an injury to one of the central players on these superstars-only teams. I think we actually have gotten deeper, with higher quality role players than we lost (Chandler aside).

    2.) Part of the reason Chandler could be so productive is because he had a starter-quality player in Haywood backing him up and giving him breaks, or filling in when he got into foul trouble. If you get plenty of rest and can still win games, it makes it easier for Chandler to look great. Also, less likelihood of injury.

    3.) Last year was a contract year. Stat after stat shows that players do better in contract years than the year after they land a lucrative, long term contract. This is especially true for role players from championship teams who leave for more money. Dallas didn’t want to overpay their role players to become another example of that.

    If New York hadn’t gutted their team for the Carmelo trade and still gotten him in the summer, they would have been easily a favorite for the title. I still think without depth, New York is in trouble. Miami seems to be learning with the Battier pickup, but their flexibility is still limited. Dallas, against all odds, has arguably gotten better quality veteran role players than we had last year. Odom and Carter can play multiple positions and do not interfere with longterm plans. Though we lost center depth, with Odom we can always do a Dirk-Marion-Odom lineup if something happens to Haywood.

    I hope Chandler plays well for NY – I like the guy and he deserved a payday. But I’ll take Odom at 2/3rd the cost and with equivalent production and a shorter contract any day. And I still think NY’s model is going to backfire.

    • Totally agree about the Miami model not working, but take a look at the Knicks roster. They are 9 deep with good solid players coming off the bench. Much, much deeper than Miami.

      if anything, they did opposite what Miami did, as they didnt go for that third superstar the way Miami did with Bosh.

      They went with Chandler who doesn’t need the ball to be effective, rebounds and can guard a big, Miami could not guard a big. He brings much more balance to the team than the balance Miami had.

      Chandler
      Amare
      Melo
      Chandler
      Fields
      Toney Douglas

      Bench:

      Bibby
      Jeffries
      Iman Shumpert
      Shawne Williams (waiting for him to resign)

      You have to admit that bench is a lot better than Miami’s bench from last year Juwan Howard, Joel Anthony and Eddie House and they went to the Finals!.

      • dino,

        None of those players on the Knick bench are good and the bench overall is just barely better than Miami’s bench last year. Shawne Williams is not that much better than James Jones on the Heat, Iman Shumpert is unproven, Jared Jeffries is undersized as a backup frontcourt player, and Bibby was horrendous with the Heat last year. They don’t even have a reliable backup centre now (risky to depend on Jerome Jordan) for when Chandler inevitably gets hurt. Chandler is not going to hold up on a shortened 66 game schedule and it’s doubtful that Amar’e will either. They Knicks needed depth to get through this season, but instead they went into salary cap hell for Tyson Chandler who is not worth 66 million. If this were Marc Gasol – I might understand, but it’s not.

  7. This writing is so biased and anti-Knick.

    Salary Cap Oblivion?

    The Knicks cleared cap room for 3 years to sign two top 10 NBA players who are in their prime in Amare and Melo.

    They then signed the 2nd best defensive center in the league to sure up their rebounding and defense. This “big 3″ is one of balance ad team versus not doing this and signing another scorer next year with no rebounding and interior D. This is the best move they could have made.

    All 3 players have 4 years left on their contract and will be contenders in the Eastern Conference with the ability to add one new mid level player every single year, such as Steve Nash next year.

    The Knicks will have the best front court in the league.

    The only reason Dallas didnt sign Chandler because they are clearing up cap space because they now need a 2nd superstar next year who also may have to the #1 superstar as Dirk gets older.

    Dallas is gearing up to follow the same business model by trying to sign a Dallas native, Deron Williams next year or Howard this year in a trade. They then will be maxed out for the next 4 years in your same “salary cap oblivion” you mentioned above, so will that mean that their restraint is now gone?

    Smarten up, Knicks & Donnie Walsh had restraint for 3 years to in fact do this and it was now time to execute.

    i definitely agree Dallas is following a smart business model knowing they need to add a D-Will or Howard before signing Chandler, but to mock Knicks move as one that will be one of regret is irresponsible writing.

    • AJ Mitnick says:

      As a die hard Knick fan for over 20 years, I must say I whole-heartedly disagree with you. I actually am about to post a column on my site, http://mindlessdribble.net which states how truly asinine the Knicks recent management has been. I am in no way saying that Chandler is not a good player, I just think that unless he is a superstar, which he isn’t even close, then he isn’t worth heading into salary cap hell.

      • Who would be a better fit in the middle w/ Amare and Carmelo? Center is a position of scarcity. There are about 6-8 centers worth mentioning. Didn’t OKC just sign Perkins to a ~$10mm / year deal? Perkins can’t hold Chandler’s jock and that signing was buy a bright team. It’s easy to say Chandler is overpaid and he puts the Knicks in salary cap hell – but given the situation they are in with Carmelo and Amar’e for the next 4 years (plus their lack of picks) I’m curious what move to dramatically improve their defense and acquire an elite center would be more appropriate?

        • AJ Mitnick says:

          I think you just are overrating Chandler because the Mavs just won the title with him last year. He is on the same level as Perk. Perkins brings the same presence that Chandler brings, and has the same championship pedigree.

          The fundamental difference between NYK and OKC, is that OKC can make a move like that since Perkins deal is the only potentially harmful deal on the roster. Since the rest of their roster is built towards flexibility, they have afforded themselves the luxury to take a gamble. Unfortunately, and I say this as a Knick fan, the Knicks don’t have the same luxury.

          • So if the Knicks win a title in the next 2-3 years was it worth it? I would say yes.

          • Anthony points out the Perkins example and you seem to concur that they are very similar in what they bring to a team and as players.

            With that said, it is very well know that to a man, EVERY Celtics player says Perkins was the glue to their team when they won their Championship. It is well documented how upset the Celtic’s superstars when he was traded because of the value he brought to their championship run. I think Ainge would even regret it now in hindsight as i have read on this site he even tried to get him back these past couple of weeks.

            Many still state, that the year they lost to the Lakers in 7 games, guess who got hurt and did NOT play in game 7?

            Thats right it was Perkins.

            That game was a defensive struggle and a horrible game to watch. Being that Gasol carried Kobe that day and basically won the game and ultimately the championship for them, i can only imagine if Perkins played he would have only helped to keep Gasol in check and who knows maybe the Celtics win that game.

            I think your comparison and agreement with Anthony about Perkins is basically validating our argument on what a championship and astute move was by the Knicks to get a Chandler.

            i am a compete shock that scooping up Chandler can be looked at as salary cap hell.

            As Pat Riley says, rebounding and defense wins championships and there is no out there other than Dwight Howard that could bring those 2 assets to compliment Amare and Melo better than Tyson.

            i look forward to seeing your post about their assinine moves on your site so i can maybe get a better picture of where you think the architecture of this team went so wrong. You mentioned it was being posted shortly bit have yet to see posted. Please let us know when it is up.

          • http://mindlessdribble.net/2011/12/12/new-knicks-same-old-story/
            Link to the story. Thanks for checking out my work.

  8. Couldnt agree more. Can’t believe that teams like the Knicks are making signings that will tie up their cap for years. It is all about getting the right value – odom I’d a steal but chandler, while a good player, is way overpriced. I hope my pacers stay the course and wait for bargains… Like David west on a short contract.

  9. AJ Mitnick says:

    It is also contingent on the fact that the new CBA has much larger restrictions than the old, and that signing players like Chandler, who in the past two seasons was traded for nothing three times, one time which OKC rescinded the trade after his physical. Chandler made a huge impact in the playoffs, and was a big reason why the Mavs won it all, however this contract is abysmal. Its easy to get carried away by strong playoff performances, but signing Chandler for four years $58 million is a huge mistake.

  10. Using the trade exception to immediately come away with a solid player was a slick move. So was replacing role players with…solid role players. However, minimalizing Chandler’s impact and only pointing out the negative elements of what he brings to the table smacks of selective reporting. Chandler was the second most valuable player on the Mavs, is a game changing presence at a position of extreme scarcity and is still young. Odom is an excellent player and the move, given they were going to lose Chandler, was great – but the idea that Chandler was not worth bringing back, that he’s overpaid, etc is just ignoring the impact that he had on the Mavs and the impact that he’ll probably have on the Knicks.

  11. The whole argument in this article is contingent upon assuming Chandler will get hurt. That’s an unfair assumption. While the Mavs won’t be hamstrung with the salary cap next year, the Knicks have a better core. If Amare, melo, and Chandler stay healthy the Knicks will be better contenders in the future. Unless the Mavs use the cap room to go after Dwight Howard or acquire another superstar.

    • Exactly, it also presumes that even if Odom is “better” or has a better contract, that his presence is more impactful, which is clearly isn’t on a team with Dirk.

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