Offseason grades: Southwest Division
With most of the summer already in the books, SI.com is grading each team's offseason performance as and examining their best and worst moves. Below, Rob Mahoney breaks down the five teams in the Southwest Division.
Best move: Re-signed Dirk Nowitzki to a three-year, $25 million deal.
Worst move: None.
Analysis: Dallas couldn't address every need and limitation this summer, but made moves to propel an already solid team forward. Better balance should suit the Mavs; in trading the defensively liable Jose Calderon (and an assortment of other pieces) for former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, Dallas will have a stronger framework through which to get stops in complement to a highly efficient offense. That framework is very much contingent on Chandler being in good health, though at the very least the Mavericks have the pieces necessary in theory to raise their playoff ceiling.
Parsons is vital in that regard. Under Rick Carlisle the Mavs did a tremendous job of managing limitation. Defensive flaws were covered as effectively as possible. Non-scorers were put in a position to maximize their offensive value. Parsons, though, offers strategic flexibility in that he's a quality all-around player who can be utilized in a variety of ways. Gone are his days waiting for James Harden or Dwight Howard to kick the ball his way on the weak side. Dallas made a play for Parsons in part because he has room to grow as a ball handler and playmaker, skills that will be leveraged fully within the continuity of the Maverick offense. There's a defensive concession that comes in transitioning from Shawn Marion to Parsons at small forward, though it's one Dallas accepts for the sake of broadening its horizons in other regards.
The smaller moves of the Mavs' summer go in support of that same initiative: The re-signing of Devin Harris (four years, $16.6 million), the smart bet on Al-Farouq Aminu (two years, veteran minimum), the value play for Jameer Nelson (two years, $5.4 million) and the no-cost acquisition of Greg Smith round out a talented roster in interesting ways. Those acquisitions will keep the Mavs deep and adaptable, which in the hands of Carlisle makes this a dangerous team. This is the product of an offseason equal parts bold and shrewd, only possible because Nowitzki -- who remains an elite offensive player -- signed one of the best value contracts in the league.
Best move: Signed Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal.
Worst move: Declined Parsons' team option, paving the way for his exit.
Analysis: Houston's offseason unfolded from a grand design, one which very nearly landed Chris Bosh on a four-year deal. In such a scenario, the Rockets would have added the star power forward to play alongside Howard and gone on to match the Mavericks' offer sheet to Parsons, cementing a tremendous four-man core for ongoing title contention. Instead, Bosh opted to stay with the Heat and forced the Rockets to make a tough call: Match an offer on Parsons that would infringe on their ability to add another star or let the 25-year-old forward go without compensation. Houston opted for the latter and moved on by signing Ariza to replace Parsons.
To see the Rockets' offseason as solely an exchange of Parsons for Ariza, though, misses the larger point: Houston never had to risk Parsons' free agency in the first place. The only reason that Parsons was a free agent at all was because the Rockets declined a team option worth just $926,500 and specifically allowed it to be so. That course pushed Parsons into restricted free agency this summer rather than unrestricted free agency in 2015 -- a change that gave Houston the right of first refusal on any offer sheet Parsons signed. What good, though, is that right if the Rockets weren't prepared to use it? Why turn down a year of Parsons at a bit salary if not to wield the full power of restricted free agency?
That question lingers as Houston's summer comes to a close. The Rockets shouldn't be faulted for courting Carmelo Anthony or making an aggressive play for Bosh, but the mechanisms that ultimately pushed Parsons out the door were of the team's own doing. They could well have kept Parsons at his option value and signed Ariza, were that their preference. Instead, Parsons -- as with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin -- has been scrubbed from the roster in service of a failed plan. There are elements involved that mitigate Houston's losses (Ariza's defense as a better fit alongside Harden, the incoming first round pick from the Pelicans to balance the outgoing pick the Rockets sent to the Lakers, Isaiah Canaan as a candidate to step into a bigger role, etc.), though at the very least Parsons was surrendered for nothing when he need not have been.
Best move: Signed Vince Carter to a three-year, $12 million deal.
Worst move: None.
Analysis: Memphis' summer wasn't particularly eventful, though their one swing move positions the Grizz to be a more capable offensive team. Bringing back Zach Randolph was important to the health of the current core and re-signing Beno Udrih helps cement depth in the backcourt. Where Memphis made up ground on the rest of the West, though, was in the acquisition of Carter.
It's been a spell since the Grizzlies had a wing player who could do all that Carter can; not only is Vince an expert shooter from deep, but he's a flexible creator unlike any wing on last season's roster. Relative to Mike Miller, Carter trades a touch of pure shooting potency for a far wider functionality. He'll run pick-and-rolls, he'll create out of broken plays and he'll give the Grizz a much-needed alternative when their preferred options break down. To get such a player at just $3.9 million next season is a bargain, especially when considering that Carter can hold his own defensively at either wing position.
That dynamism, accented by the return of Quincy Pondexter, sets up the Grizz for another good season with hopefully better health. It's easy to write off Memphis as a team standing pat, but they'll improve in record and performance by having Marc Gasol and Mike Conley healthy and installed for a full season, flanked by more capable support in a second season under Dave Joerger. This team is more than just some stylistic inconvenience -- they're a terrific squad within reasonable range of contention.
Best move: Acquired Omer Asik to play alongside Anthony Davis.
Worst move: Surrendered a first-round pick for Asik protected so that it will likely convey at No. 19 or better.
Analysis: The biggest move of New Orleans' offseason was both well intended and poorly executed. Pairing Davis with Asik makes a great deal of sense, particularly as a remedy for what was the sixth-worst defense in the NBA last season. Asik is so tremendous in terms of walling off ball handlers from the rim as to make a very real and quite significant difference in that regard -- both for his work alongside Davis and without him. The problem, though, is that in dealing with a Rockets team lacking in any real leverage, the Pelicans nonetheless surrendered a quality draft pick. The protection on the outgoing first-round pick bears what has become a Houston trademark: Double protection, ensuring that it falls neither in the top three nor the bottom 10. As a result, the Pelicans will very likely surrender a pick somewhere between No. 4 and No. 19 in this deal -- a concession to a Houston team that was under the gun in needing to dump Asik's contract.
Perhaps there were other callers on the line for Asik's services, or maybe New Orleans sees Asik as such a unique complement to Davis that he's worth giving up such an asset. Still, the way this trade contrasts with the Rockets' subsequent salary dump of Jeremy Lin (in which Houston gave up its own unprotected first rounder to the Lakers in exchange for taking Lin's salary) doesn't reflect particularly well on New Orleans' rate of exchange. Quality acquisition, questionable move.
There was also a bit of weirdness in the Pelicans' small forward shuffle, which on its face conveys a preference for John Salmons (who was signed for the veteran minimum) over Omri Casspi (who was waived after acquisition from the Rockets). I can't say I follow the basketball calculus that would put Salmons over Casspi, but that swap doesn't register enough import to warrant much of a fuss. The rest of the Pelicans' offseason was similarly muted in impact. Anthony Morrow and Al-Farouq Aminu depart without clean replacement, but neither was so essential as to make their exits all that painful. Gone is Brian Roberts, though No. 47 overall pick Russ Smith could be an interesting candidate for replacement. New Orleans rolls on, and should Davis maintain or improve upon his play of last season for a Pelicans team with better injury luck, this could be a surprise entrant into the Western Conference playoff race.
Best move: Re-signed Boris Diaw to a four-year, $28 million deal with just $17.5 million guaranteed.
Worst move: None.
Analysis: The Spurs, as we've come to expect, did just fine for themselves. Diaw entered free agency on a high, having played an active role in every stage of San Antonio's championship run. He was then brought back on a four-year deal that peaks in value in its first season and protects the Spurs in its third and fourth years. Patty Mills, who might have drawn bigger offers were he totally healthy, instead agreed to return to San Antonio on a three-year deal worth just $11 million -- well below market for a sharp-shooting point guard. The Spurs even nailed the draft in characteristic fashion, turning the No. 30 overall pick into a tailor-made prospect in Kyle Anderson. Whether Anderson plays much this season or not is immaterial; San Antonio got its man, and now that Anderson is installed in the best developmental system in the league, the Spurs stand a good chance of redeeming value from what is typically a crapshoot of a pick.
San Antonio makes it look easy. They find a way to land real talent in the draft, even when the value of their picks shouldn't allow it. They keep the players they'd like to, often at a discount. They even keep their best off the market entirely, as was the case in the ho-hum, three-year extension the Spurs gave to Tony Parker. Since coming into the NBA, Parker has never once been a free agent, instead signing a series of extensions with increasing value. It wouldn't be much of a surprise to see that process begin anew with Kawhi Leonard, who is due for his own extension lest he become a restricted free agent next summer. He'll be a Spur for the foreseeable future either way, as but one cog of a remarkably run franchise.
Also worth noting: San Antonio had the kind of summer where the groundbreaking hire of Becky Hammon as an assistant coach and the luring of legendary tactician Ettore Messina to the bench register as mere footnotes.