Free agency, once a deluge, has slowed to a trickle. The biggest names are largely squared away and much of the cap space around the league is accounted for. What remains are largely moves of completion: The signing of a need-filling big man, the acquisition of third point guard or the default to a player once tabbed as a low priority.
The Dallas Mavericks excel in this arena. Over the last few seasons we've seen the Mavs cobble together talent at the eleventh hour in summer after summer, working not from a place of desperation but of patience. They have their targets and they know their price. Then, when things around the league finally settle down and the wells of free agency begin to run dry, they make their plays. This year that process has netted two interesting pieces: Jameer Nelson, to be signed to a two-year deal for the room exception, and Al-Farouq Aminu, who will play out a two-year deal for the minimum salary (via CSNNW) after Dallas voided its deal with Rashard Lewis. Both will have player options in their second seasons under contract.
Nelson will platoon the point guard position with Devin Harris and Raymond Felton, serving as the most reliable shooter of the three. When starting for Magic teams that had a dependable offensive structure, Nelson regularly shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc. He needs a system, in a sense, else his shots will be smothered (a product of Nelson's short stature) and his opportunities swallowed. Last season Nelson's long-range accuracy waned to 35 percent for this reason, just one victim of Orlando's chaos. Dallas is a different world entirely, a land of efficient offense brought about by Dirk Nowitzki's brilliance and Rick Carlisle's ingenuity. Between those two is an engine for creating clean looks, perfect for a shooter of Nelson's caliber.
That perimeter orientation should be an effective complement within the Mavs' stable of guards. Harris, Felton (if properly motivated) and Monta Ellis will do the bulk of the dribble penetration for Dallas while Nelson runs high pick-and-rolls into open jumpers and keeps the offense in its appropriate gear. The latter should not be overlooked; Nelson, who dwells on the little details of running an offense, is uniquely suited to a role as an offensive caretaker. He'll find Nowitzki in his favorite spots without delay and re-route the ball as needed to break down a defense. To scoop up a talented player with that kind of awareness -- both of situation and of self -- at this stage in free agency is tremendous.
To do so for the $2.7 million room exception is especially so. Dallas had run through its cap space and had limited means through which to procure additional talent. The room exception was the most practical option remaining, and in Nelson the Mavs have perhaps made the best use of it possible. Not only will Nelson be valuable for all of the reasons listed, but his approach will be a perfect fit for the organization and his presence will offer needed insurance for the play of Felton. He's just the kind of stable veteran that Dallas needed at the point, and he was attainable on a short-term deal for a price the Mavs could afford.
Aminu's appeal is, in a way, the opposite of Nelson's: While Dallas has imported Nelson as an extension of the player he's been previously, they add Aminu for the sake of what he might become. The 23-year-old forward is a veteran of a sort after four seasons in the league, though in that time his game hasn't matured much. Aminu's offensive stylings are quite nearly as raw as the day he was drafted. As a result he hasn't even the slightest semblance of a creative game, instead relying on others to fulfill his cuts and spot-up opportunities. To this point Aminu has been far more effective with the former, as his shooting hasn't stabilized to the point of even vague consistency. Every jumper is an adventure.
Therein lies the challenge. The payoff comes everywhere else. Aminu might not be a particularly interesting prospect on offense, but he's an increasingly viable defender at both forward positions and ranked as the very best rebounding wing in the league last season by percentage. If a team found the means to survive his offensive irrelevance, they would be positioned to benefit from all else Aminu brings to the table. Dallas, for many reasons, is an ideal candidate. Just last season the Mavericks waged the third-most efficient offense in the league while starting Shawn Marion, a forward who operates within a similar strategic space. Both are players who, at this stage in their careers, contribute best to an offense from its margins. They are intuitive enough to scrap their way to occasional points, but quite limited when parked at a standstill or asked to take a more active role. Carlisle, then, understands better than most how to scheme around such a puzzle as to best capitalize on their defensive tradeoff.
Dallas needs such a player. For all of their impressive offseason maneuvering, the Mavericks lack a designated wing defender -- a near-essential component of title contention. Chandler Parsons, while highly regarded, is a flightier defender than his reputation suggests. Jae Crowder works hard, though he isn't at all ready for top defensive assignments. Aminu isn't yet reliable enough for consistent duty as a stopper, either, but by length, instinct and lateral quickness alone he operates with a sturdy developmental framework. Dallas will invest a roster spot and a minimum salary on the prospect that, with time under Carlisle and his staff, Aminu might build on that basic structure. It's smart. It's cost-effective. It's par for the course from a franchise that, time and time again, nails the minutiae that sustains winning basketball.
Jameer Nelson (two years, $5.6 million) grade: B+
Al-Farouq Aminu (two years, $2.1 million) grade: B+