HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Mavericks fans never wanted to see the band split up in the first place. But a new collective bargaining agreement spiked with harsher tax penalties, plus an aging roster, convinced owner Mark Cuban to reassess his team-building strategy as an annual luxury tax payer and set out on a new course bound for cap space.
So out the door went several key contributors to Dallas’ 2011 championship team, but none more beloved than its one-hit wonder Tyson Chandler, the best center Dirk Nowitzki had ever played with and the one who complemented him the best. Even so, Cuban passed on paying Chandler major bucks over the next half-decade, fearful of fueling an overage, overpaid roster with no escape hatch in this new era. As Cuban has said time and again, he didn’t want to become the Brooklyn Nets.
So the New York Knicks stepped in with $60 million over four seasons.
On Wednesday, Cuban reclaimed his drummer, the backbone of a defense that’s sorely lacked identity and disposition since Chandler exited and became the league’s Defensive Player of the Year the very next season. To get Chandler, though, Cuban had to take on troubled point guard Raymond Felton, the state of his career in distress, and who now leaves the scorn of New York fans to become a pet project of adaptable coach Rick Carlisle.
Dallas sent steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, whose lack of quickness, but intelligence and excellent shooting make him more suited for the Eastern Conference, and perhaps a decent fit in Jackson’s Triangle offense under rookie coach Derek Fisher. Erratic starting center Samuel Dalembert, little-used shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and speedster point guard Shane Larkin, Dallas 2013 first-round pick who found only sporadic playing time last season, plus the Mavs’ two second-round picks (34 and 51) in Thursday’s Draft are headed to New York.
At the center of all this, like a radiant sun glowing brightly on all that orbits it, is discontented star Carmelo Anthony. Knicks new president Phil Jackson made his first major deal of his tenure seeking to unload salary and create cap space to begin a rebuild that will convince Anthony to stay in the Big Apple. Anthony has already opted out of his contract and will become a free agent on July 1.
One of three teams free-agent Anthony will grant a face-to-face meeting with, according to ESPN.com, is the Mavs (the Rockets and Bulls are the others). While Dallas was given long-shot odds before the trade to land Anthony, it stands to be an even tougher sell now because to fit him into available cap space once Nowitzki signs his new deal will require Anthony to accept a significant pay cut.
But, again, Melo has agreed to at least sit down with Dallas, which now has the 31-year-old Chandler to help woo his former teammate to his former team.
The Mavs continue to be one of the more active teams in the league over the past several summers, turning over the roster, save for a few key core components, in search of a mix to give Nowitzki, 36, a chance to contend again in his final few seasons. Since the title and the dismantling of that club, Dallas hasn’t finished better than the seventh seed and hasn’t advanced past the first round.
But last season’s 49 wins provided hope. Monta Ellis blended well with Nowitzki and Dallas boasted one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Their defense, however, never found its footing. That’s Chandler’s job now and Dallas will have to hope that the 7-foot-1 center can stay as healthy as he did in playing 74 games in the championship season, his rebound season after two years of dealing with injuries.
Chandler managed just 55 games last season and averaged 8.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg in 30.2 mpg. While Dallas upgraded its frontline, it seemingly took a step back at the point. Felton, for the time being, would seem to be the Mavs’ starting point guard. Free agent Devin Harris could be re-signed, or they could go a different route in free agency.
Now left without a draft pick, they won’t find one on Thursday night. But unlike when Cuban chose to let Chandler walk in 2011, the club has sufficient cap space available to be aggressive players in free agency. Targets include Luol Deng and Pau Gasol.
And, obviously, that scorer from New York.