Offseason Grades: Dallas Mavericks
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
What Went Right: The overhaul of Dallas' inconsistent, overmatched backcourt. Last season, the underwhelming point-guard trio of Collison, James or Derek Fisher started alongside Mayo, with flimsy results. The new look features presumed starters Calderon (who signed a four-year, $29 million deal) and Ellis (three years, $25 million); two backups who were signed to minimum deals (Harris and the 25-year-old Mekel, a two-time MVP in the Israeli League who played at Wichita State); two rookies (Larkin, who is recovering from last month's ankle surgery, and Ledo); and a veteran shooter (Ellington, at two years and $5.4 million). Vince Carter, 36, is the only guard remaining from last season's roster.
The makeover should benefit Dirk Nowitzki, whose offensive operations should come a bit more easily. The Mavericks again have players capable of getting him the ball in the right spots -- which in itself is a relief after the shaky work of Dallas' guards last season -- and headier passers and more dynamic scorers who can create offense and draw defensive attention.
Beyond that, Dallas did a fantastic job of maneuvering under the salary cap to build out its roster. Ellis and Calderon were both big-money additions, but their contracts were clipped just enough to allow for the signing of a likely starting center in Dalembert (two years, $7.6 million). Harris and Mekel represent tremendous short- and long-term value, respectively. Ellington was signed using the room mid-level exception rather than outright cap space. And by waiting to sign Wright last, the Mavs preserved an additional $4.1 million in cap space* that allowed for the completion of other transactions.
*Until Wright was signed, his only impact on the Mavs' finances was a cap hold -- essentially a placeholder -- worth $884,293. By reaching out to Wright early and then circling back to formally sign him after the other major moves were in place, Dallas was able to give Wright a two-year deal that will pay him $5 million a season without taking away the flexibility to make other signings.
What Went Wrong: The courtship of Dwight Howard and the defensive misery of the Mavs' backup plan. After adding only short-term deals for two straight seasons, this summer was intended to be Dallas' big chance to lure a max free agent to help stabilize the franchise. With Nowitzki, 35, aging into the twilight of his career, the need for another superstar is obvious. Nowitzki's brilliant offensive game won't hold up forever, making it all the more important to pull another elite player into the fold now to smooth the transition from one era of Mavericks basketball to the next. Howard was as good a candidate as any, and Dallas was one of five teams he considered. But the Mavs had too little on the roster beyond Nowitzki (a necessity in carving out max-level cap space) to pique Howard's interest.
With the superstar option off the table, Dallas shifted gears to evaluate a variety of contingencies -- a permutation of which formed the current roster. Calderon, a longtime Dallas target, was signed to help the offense run smoothly, while Ellis was added to complement Nowitzki as a scoring threat. But in those two players specifically, the Mavs committed $54 million over three-plus seasons without the slightest hope of defensive solvency.
Forward Shawn Marion can help a bit by sliding over to guard the top perimeter threat in most situations. But Calderon is easily beatable off the dribble and Ellis is a generally hapless defender -- the combination of which could be disastrous with Nowitzki, Dalembert and Wright composing a lackluster crew of back-line defenders. As good as the Mavs could be on offense (and even that is far from guaranteed, given all the new pieces in play and Ellis' inefficiency), they have the potential to be almost equally horrid on defense. Grade: C+. Dallas didn't do terribly considering the circumstances, but missing on Howard hurts and signing both Ellis and Calderon to long-term deals could come back to bite a team that was otherwise banking on financial flexibility.