How the Dallas Mavericks Recovered from Their Free-Agency Blunders

Kurt ScottContributor IIIJuly 12, 2012

Until Wednesday, nothing was going as planned for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2012 NBA free-agency period, unless the plan was to come up empty-handed.   

They cleared cap room to sign Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, or both, only to come up snake eyes. And they lost both “Jasons”—Terry and Kidd—to the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, respectively.

They got here by taking an admirable, and maybe necessary, risk by letting Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea walk a year ago. As remarkable as their 2011 run as America’s team had been—knocking off the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Thunder and Heat en route to an NBA championship—the organization understood that their title was fortuitous, or, to use another word, fluky.

So they decided to retool instead of bringing back the same team for a title defense. Dirk Nowitzki deserved better than for the front office to simply wait for lightning to strike twice; the better plan was to set their sights on superstars who could extend the All-Star power forward’s run by another three, four, or even five years, depending on how his legs, and his will to play, held up.

No dice.

But the Mavericks have landed on their feet, as they always do, running off a series of moves that could ultimately keep their dream of a second superstar alive.

On Wednesday reports broke that Dallas would amnesty center Brandon Haywood, whose three years with the Mavs were undistinguished, to put it mildly.

In 2011-12, the veteran big man averaged 5.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in 21 minutes a game. He had no impact whatsoever on the Mavs’ 4-0 playoff loss to the Oklahoma City, and was owed close to $27 million on his contract through the 2014-15 season.

The move cleared the way for the Mavericks to sign free-agent big man Chris Kaman to a one-year deal worth $8 million. Despite floating in and out of the Hornets’ rotation last season, the 30-year-old has plenty of juice in the tank. His per 36 minutes stats were 16.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 2011-12. And, on a one-year deal, he will be a valuable trade chip at the deadline for teams looking to dump salary.

As David Aldridge of reports, the Mavericks will likely put a waiver bid on recently amnestied big man Elton Brand as well.

Brand was a modest contributor on a Philadelphia team that sought to limit his playing time last season. In 28.9 minutes per game, he averaged 11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.6 blocks.

But his solid mid-range jumper, considerable length and defensive savvy are still valuable, even with his athleticism in steep decline. And he only has one year left on is $18.2 million contract, of which Philadelphia will pay the lion’s share. This means that whatever Dallas bids for the veteran power forward, Brand will come off their books by the beginning of the 2013 free-agency period.

In perhaps their best move yesterday, the Mavericks sign-and-traded unrestricted free-agent Ian Mahinmi to the Indiana Pacers for point guard Darren Collison and swingman Dahntay Jones.

Collison lost his job as the Pacers’ starting point guard midway through the 2011-12 season, but posted the team’s highest player efficiency rating in last year’s playoffs (23.2). At just 24 years old, he still has the upside he showed as a rookie, when he posted 18.8 PPG and 9.1 APG in 37 starts.

Jones is an athletic veteran swingman who will give Dallas toughness and energy off the bench.

Both guards are entering the final years of their contracts, which means that between the Kaman, Brand, Collison and Jones acquisitions, the Mavericks could have as much as $22 million in expiring contracts to use at the trade deadline, or as cap space available the following summer. And 2013 just happens to be the year when Chris Paul, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard could become free agents.

That’s what yesterday’s moves were about. Re-upping on a good plan—a plan to acquire a star to pair with Dirk—that was derailed by bad luck. After missing out on Williams and Howard, a less prudent organization would have simply found someone else to pay rather than come up empty-handed. But that’s not Mark Cuban’s style. At least, not anymore.

As he told Sports Illustrated last week, “It’s better to miss out on the right player than to sign the wrong player.”

Especially when the right player, of which there are several, could be available again next summer.