Since winning the NBA title in 2011, Dallas has let valued contributors walk in free agency and forsaken the acquisition of any long-term contracts with the intent of landing another star to pair with Dirk Nowitzki -- a sensible aim that demanded the acceptance of sizable risk.
That effort began with an attempt to nab Chris Paul, who was traded to and then spoken for by a Clippers front office that surrounded him with talent and a suitable coach. Deron Williams also considered the Mavericks when he hit free agency in 2012, but he opted to sign a maximum deal with the Nets instead. And most recently, Dwight Howard, too, passed on the chance to come to Dallas, leaving the Mavs with a slim roster and a bundle of questions as they sort through the offseason.
It was a series of tough breaks for a team that dissolved a playoff core for a chance to chase that star trio. And those misses in free agency have led the Mavs to a subsequent move that is somehow both perfectly in character and yet completely contrary to the team's recent operations.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Mavs have agreed to a four-year, $28 million deal with 32-year-old point guard Jose Calderon. This is one of the few occasions in the last two years that Dallas has acquired a player on a multi-year deal, and in that regard it signifies a stark departure from the dry-power doctrine that has led the Mavs to pile up one-year contracts in order to angle for the next big fish.
Still, Calderon has been an often-rumored target for Dallas on the basis of his frequent availability in past seasons and a playmaking style that would work beautifully in an offense built around Nowitzki. Other teams might bemoan Calderon's inability to penetrate, but that's less of a concern for Dallas. The Mavs will have a pair of change-of-pace, basket-attacking guards in rookies Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel, and as a counterpoint they can more generally rely on a point guard in Calderon who's about as trusty as ball handlers come.
That's a huge relief for a team that was pained by Darren Collison's decision making and O.J. Mayo's untimely mistakes last season. Calderon can be trusted to get the Mavs into their offense on a consistent basis, lowering Rick Carlisle's stress level. He won't solve all of Dallas' problems (and frankly, we don't even know what those problems might be, given the Mavs' bare-bones roster), but he presents a huge passing improvement for a team that first employed Derek Fisher and later Mike James out of desperation last season.
Calderon will make the Mavs better, and his contract likely will be of little consequence as a short-term cap hit, given how much room Dallas will have as soon as next summer. But there's only so much room to wiggle around the fact that the last two seasons of this deal could prove to be brutal for the Mavs if they're fully guaranteed -- a quirk of contract language that we don't yet know.
Two years from now, Calderon could well regress to the point of being a marginal player, while commanding a substantial salary and bearing little value as a trade asset. This isn't the kind of contract that will smother the Mavs with its weight, but it seems as though it could eventually prove to be problematic if Calderon's effectiveness begins to taper off. That looming possibility may simply be the cost of adding an immediately helpful player to a fairly empty roster, though it should be noted that Dallas can minimize any potential cap damage from Calderon's drop-off by releasing him and exercising the stretch provision. Not a preferable outcome, to be sure, but a means of managing what might come. Grade: B- if Calderon's deal is fully guaranteed, with room for grade adjustment if it's not. Dallas should definitely be happy to have a more dependable ball handler to facilitate things in place of Collison and James (to say nothing of Calderon's terrific outside shooting). But the deal isn't preferable in its length and might be a bit too rich per year, given Calderon's worrisome defense.