The Inbounds: Dallas’ Improv High-Wire Act

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Dallas had the worst offseason. Dallas had the best offseason. Two sides, one coin.

Usually when you whiff on a perennial All-Star with hometown ties to your city then lose your starting point guard and long-time bench scorer, you tend to lick your wounds and return to fight another day. But the Mavericks elected to instead immediately initiate Plan B.

And for a Plan B, it’s not bad.

Here’s a cool little example of how perception, standards, and expectations can shift.

Let’s say the Mavericks didn’t win the title in 2011. Let’s say the Blazers got another few 40-point barrages from Brandon Roy in an even bigger blaze of glory, or the Thunder had gotten their defense together enough to topple Dallas, or the Lakers…. yeah, no, that wasn’t happening. But let’s say either way that Dallas doesn’t win the title. This kind of a retool not only makes sense, it’s likely lauded as a smart initiative to rebuild. Instead of allowing the team to stagnate, Cuban went forward, instead of plugging in long-term, expensive contracts to players past their prime, Cuban and Nelson opted to acquire young players entering their prime on reasonable contracts and taking advantage of the amnesty wire, while developing the talent they have.

The franchise may not be held in as high regard as it is now, but the free agency decisions would have been received better.

Instead? “How could you let Dirk’s last year pass like this?! How could you dismantle a title team in just two years down to rubble?! Why would you downgrade?! Why aren’t you shooting for the title?! Loud noises posed as questions?!”

That’s just how perception shifts after a title. You’re elite, and staying elite is more important than looking out for the future.

This isn’t to say that the Mavs haven’t made mistakes. They had a shot at Deron Williams, setting them up for contention past the end of Dirk’s career, and were beaten because the Nets got Joe Johnson. Johnson is a severely underrated player, but if you can’t convince a player that his better shot at a title is with Dirk Nowitzki than Joe Johnson,then you haven’t done a great pitch job. (Note: I imagine the $25 million Dallas couldn’t offer in the fifth year was part of it, but whatever.) They not only missed out on Steve Nash, but they allowed the Lakers to get him in part thanks to the very trade they made to get Lamar Odom, who did nothing for them. They traded for Lamar Odom and all they got out of it was the Lakers getting Steve Nash. Oops.

But look at the roster they’ve managed to cobble together.

Darren Collison, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Elton Brand, Brandan Wright.

That’s five former All-Stars, three role players with upside, a quality playoff starter, and a quality playoff reserve. That’s not bad for cobbling together something last minute. And it’s not so much about the guys that they got, it’s about the re-sale value of these players and the long-term flexibility. Mayo’s short-term deal, Collison’s contract, Marion, Carter, everything is movable both as an asset and as a short-term contract. It’s not about this year for the Mavericks, and it’s not about next year or any one particular year. It’s about putting the franchise in the best position to compete this year and get better later. That’s a delicate line to walk, and the Mavericks are managing to do it.

Is there any reason to believe this team won’t win 45-50 games, provided that a full offseason helps Nowitzki get back to form?

And they’ll be able to do it and still make moves to improve the team or take a stab at a superstar later. They’ll be in position to make whatever moves they want. They’ve transitioned to a younger team, let the older components go, and maintained cap management that can facilitate a total rebuild in three years.

It’s the same kind of model that both Houston and Denver to a degree have adopted. Consider what Cuban told CBSSports.com over the weekend.

“We’ve always been good at making trades and being willing to take on money,” Cuban said. “Now we can do it again starting next year. We can keep a big chunk of our current team, pay them and be in a position to take someone in a sign-and-trade, where all of the other teams that are supposedly luxury destinations, they can’t.”

“You can draft your Big Three,” Cuban said. “You can trade for youngs and turn them into a Big Three. You can do like Houston’s done and hopefully you have enough cap room and have three come together. But you can’t do the progressive trading like we used to. Those days are gone.”

via While CBA cramps some teams, Cuban learns how to rebuild Mavericks – NBA – CBSSports.com News, Scores, Stats, Fantasy Advice.

It’s becoming more about assembling different cores and then rotating them out. Piece by piece is getting more difficult with shorter deals and stricter rules. So the Mavericks have put themselves in a position to make the playoffs this year and to get a big pickup if one comes available. It’s an example of the misunderstanding of Dallas that has gone on over a decade. They don’t spend recklessly. They don’t just throw money out there. They pay for assets they want and they think they need, and they manipulate what they can manipulate.

The Mavericks aren’t a title team next season. But they’re in a position to keep their success going forward. There may not be contact with the bottom of the well for Dallas. Just constant reconfiguration, constant manipulation, constant maintenance and opportunism.

And as it turns out, improvisation.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.