Author: Rob Mahoney

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs, Game 3

Caron Butler agrees to a perplexing three-year, $24 million offer from the Clippers


Free agency wouldn’t be free agency without a twinge of instant regret, and the Clippers may be the first buyers in this year’s market to experience it. According to David Aldridge of, Caron Butler has agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with the Clips, a fair bit more than the league’s more reasonable teams were willing to offer.

Butler’s positional utility is rather obvious, as small forward has been filled by a fluid cast of semi-regulars for Los Angeles over the last decade. Yet in terms of timeline alone, Butler is an unspeakably odd fit. At 31 years old, Butler is nearly 10 years older than the rest of the Clippers’ growing core, aligning his decline perfectly with the rest of the team’s ascent. Just when Blake Griffin and the Clips will be ready to make an actual push for the playoffs, Butler will likely be even less efficient and less productive than he is now.

And that’s before we even touch Butler’s unfortunate injury history, capped off most recently with a 29-game campaign thanks to season-ending knee surgery. Butler has played more than 70 games in a season just three times in his nine-year career.

Don’t get me wrong: Butler is still a very useful player, and his ball-stopping habits are no longer quite as bad as his reputation suggests. He showed a real willingness in Dallas to adapt into more of a complementary role, a fact not revealed in his static usage numbers. Butler still isn’t a terribly efficient scorer (his shooting percentages tend to be acceptable at best), but he’s capable of playing well with others and reining in his less palatable offensive habits. He also played rather well for the Mavs last season on the defensive end, though how he’ll fare post-surgery without the benefit Tyson Chandler’s shadow remains to be seen.

Even with all of that in mind, the Clippers have acquired a player on a completely different course than all of the franchise’s cornerstones, and managed to overpay him in the process. Butler would have been a nice pick up for a team looking to use their full mid-level exception (worth $5 million), but at $8 million L.A. has squandered its financial flexibility and committed more money to an aging star than he was actually worth. And for what? To fill in a bigger name with a more impressive points per game average on the lineup sheet? To sleep better at night knowing that they had secured a superior small forward option than Ryan Gomes?

This signing reeks of haphazardry. The Clippers had money to spend and Butler was looking to fill his coffers, but beyond that the two are an ill-suited match.

Hawks show uncharacteristic sensibility with signing of Tracy McGrady

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat

Teams aren’t technically allowed to come to agreements with free agents just yet, but Tracy McGrady is reportedly locked in to join the Atlanta Hawks nonetheless. But, before anyone engages in the usual snark-fest that ensues whenever McGrady’s name comes up, they should honestly consider the terms and return on this deal.

McGrady may not have the ability to dribble-penetrating ability that Atlanta so desperately needs, but he’s an incredibly cost-efficient addition capable of hedging against the seemingly inevitable loss of Jamal Crawford. The Hawks aren’t in a position where re-signing Crawford makes financial sense; they already have $66 million in salary committed for this season and $62 million committed next year, meaning that Crawford’s deal would likely push a solid — but firmly non-contending — team over the luxury tax line. Even beyond the practical consideration of overpaying a dwindling, inefficient scorer like Crawford, the financial realities for a tax-averse team like Atlanta make a re-signing a virtual impossibility.

Such is the reality for a franchise that presented Joe Johnson with a golden effigy on the first day of free agency last season, invested in Marvin Williams to the tune of $8 million a year, and took every shortcut there is to take in team construction.

All of which makes McGrady — who will join the Hawks on a one-year, minimum salary deal — an oddly reasonable signing. McGrady didn’t score quite as much as Crawford did last season, but that’s largely because he didn’t dominate the ball in the fashion Crawford often does. The hazard of employing Crawford is the same as it’s ever been: he tends to control the ball whether his team intends for him to or not, and they’re forced to live with the ill-advised jumpers that seem to always result. McGrady is a bit more prudent, as he used significantly fewer possessions while making a greater percentage of his shots than Crawford last season. The scoring output wasn’t the same on a per-game basis, but McGrady’s rounder skill set (he averaged 5.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season) helps to off-set some of what Atlanta will lose in pure scoring volume.

Thanks to his age and injury history, McGrady is an easy target for criticism. But he actually put together a pretty solid — if quiet — campaign for the Detroit Pistons last season, complete with a bit of a defensive turnaround. McGrady’s defensive reputation is rather putrid, but last season he held his positional opposites to a below average Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and made a dramatic difference in his team’s defensive performance*. That one-year performance could be a bit flukey, but regardless, I find it hard to believe that McGrady could possibly be a lesser perimeter defender than Crawford.

For the league minimum, this is very likely the best the Hawks could possibly do. McGrady isn’t what he once was (and certainly isn’t Crawford), but this is a smart, economical move for a team with such a cluttered cap sheet.

(H/T to’s Tom Haberstroh)

Frank Vogel, the Indiana Pacers, and the “next step”

Pacers' head coach Vogel reacts during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference first round playoff basketball game against the Bulls in Chicago
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The Indiana Pacers snuck into the NBA Playoffs last season thanks to weak competition among the middling teams of the Eastern Conference, but the playoff appearance itself — and the dogfight Indiana was able to give the Chicago Bulls in the first round — still meant plenty to the Pacers’ young, developing core. Then-interim head coach Frank Vogel did a fantastic job of preparing his team to play against a formidable opponent, and Indiana’s group of charming upstarts were able to make virtually every game of Chicago’s first-round series into a coin flip as a result. The Bulls won those coin flips and advanced — as elite teams are ought to do — but the Pacers nonetheless made their case as a team to watch going forward.

With his team’s playoff success in mind, Vogel is expecting big things from his team this season (via 1070 The Fan in Indy with JMV via Sports Radio Interviews):

“I fully expect this team to take the next step. We made some strides in making the playoffs last year and fell short against Chicago. We’re all a little bit bitter about that. We felt we coulda beat the Bulls and what we learned is that we can play with the best team in the NBA. We’re expecting to pick up right where we left off and we feel like we’re only scratching the surface of what we can accomplish.”

What exactly that next step will be is anyone’s guess, as the Pacers are due for an addition of some kind this off-season. Rumors have had Indiana linked to players from Nene to David West to Rajon Rondo, suggesting that when the smoke clears, we could be looking at a significantly upgraded Pacers roster. Most of the current core will likely remain intact, but an addition at power forward seems like an inevitability at this point.

And with a more qualified power forward playing serious minutes, the Pacers look like an incredibly solid team. Tyler Hansbrough is a useful rotation player, but his lack of a pick-and-roll game made him a poor fit alongside Darren Collison. His spastic, energetic style still made him a productive member of the Pacers lineup, but his deficiencies only highlighted what a more capable player would be able to accomplish. Indiana was able to take Vogel’s “next step” regardless of any roster additions, but with the draft-night trade for George Hill and a potential free agent addition, the Pacers look poised to take a hop and a skip in the right direction. The ceiling on this bunch may not be too high (even with a substantial addition, Indy is a far cry from a contender), but they have productive players across the board and a capable coach to put it all together. It could be — and has been — much worse in Indianapolis.

Hornets preparing for the worst or subtly appealing to Chris Paul’s pride?

Miami Heat v New Orleans Hornets

As has been made abundantly clear over the last few weeks, the New Orleans Hornets are in a tough spot. Most reports have Chris Paul with one foot out the door — a colossally bad omen for the franchise in virtually every sense. Paul is the Hornets’ livelihood. He is the team’s leader, its star player, and the one foundational piece on the roster. He’s an All-World talent, and due to a variety of factors, his time in New Orleans may be coming to a close.

New York is reportedly Paul’s preferred destination, although he openly acknowledges the difficulties in wanting to be traded there. Still, a column from David Aldridge of paints the Hornets’ front office as a place of sobering realism; they seemed to have embraced the possibility that Paul may leave, and are exploring any options that will allow the franchise to move on following his possible departure:

The Hornets are going into this with eyes wide open. They know that Paul spent much of the summer in New York at lockout meetings — and also with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. They know that even if he can’t get as big a salary from the Knicks as with other teams, it’s likely his representatives have all manner of endorsements at the ready in New York that would make up the difference. They believe he’d prefer going to a team where he doesn’t have to be “the man,” and that the Knicks would be just that, with Anthony and All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire willing and able to take the spotlight and the heat that come with it.

Aldridge’s full column is worth a read, primarily for the display of pragmatism shown in the Hornets’ front office. These are difficult times for that franchise, but refusing to fall into denial over their prospects of keeping Paul could pay off in some form.

Then again, I couldn’t help but read the above section without notice of the rhetoric that, if you’ll notice, comes straight from Hornets sources. The basketball world has a quick, visceral response to players who shrink from their responsibilities as “the man.” LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh received rampant criticism last summer when they decided to team up, as some analysts (and more often, pseudo-analysts) took issue with the Heat’s diffusion of responsibility. Being a franchise player is a sacred duty in the NBA, and declaring a certain player — especially one of Paul’s stature — as unworthy by deficiency or by personality is a heavy claim.

In all likelihood, this is a sincere message from the Hornets that they believe Paul would be happiest playing with other stars. That much is the truth, after all. However, in an age where media control is so important, I wouldn’t completely disregard the possibility of the Hornets appealing to Paul’s sense of pride with Aldridge’s column as the medium.

Jason Terry lobbies for Tyson Chandler’s return to the Mavs

Jason Terry Tyson Chandler

Tyson Chandler shocked the known basketball world yesterday with an acknowledgement that he doesn’t expect to be back with the title-winning Dallas Mavericks next season. For a variety of reasons, the Mavs have reportedly underwhelmed Chandler with their offers thus far, and their starting center — and the key to their half-court defense — could walk in free agency as a result.

Yet the Mavs’ Jason Terry will be there through every step of the process, whispering in Chandler’s ear and insisting he return back to the team that made him a champion. From Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas:

“You can’t see my fingers or toes, but they are crossed hoping Tyson’s coming back because he was a big part to what we have accomplished here,” Terry said. “And, we’ve laid a foundation. To go back and take a step backwards would be terrible. Not saying that we wouldn’t have a chance to win this year if Tyson does not come back, but definitely puts things up against us.”

…”I’ve spoken to him every day for the last two weeks and he wants to be here, he wants to be a Maverick next year,” Terry said. “Now, it’s on ownership to make it happen.”

…Terry said he’s been actively recruiting Chandler to stay in Dallas. The 7-foot-1 center who finished third in last season’s voting for Defensive Player of the Year is considered a top-three free agent with Denver Nuggets center Nene and New Orleans Hornets power forward David West.

“He’s big. Again, without Tyson on this team last year I just don’t know if we win a championship,” Terry said. “It’s just letting him know how much we want him to be a part of this team this year.”

Chandler’s on-court impact is both significant and highly visible; it was easy to see the difference he made with the Mavs last season, and GMs around the league are trying to bottle that same defensive impact for their teams. If Dallas were fully committed to the preserving their championship core, Chandler’s departure wouldn’t be a very realistic possibility.

But Chandler and the Mavs are caught in a tricky situation. There is a desire on both sides to keep Chandler in Dallas, and the two-year buffer preceding the new luxury tax penalties kick in would theoretically allow the Mavs to retain Chandler and sort out the tax implications later. Yet with Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson looking to manage Dallas’ cap room for 2012 and drive the payroll back towards the tax line, Chandler could be left with an insufficient offer from his incumbent team.

Cuban and Nelson are doing their best to balance championship contention in the coming season and the construction (or at least attempted construction) of a competitive core for the coming decade. Chandler — and the massive contract he’s soon to sign, in Dallas or elsewhere — just so happens to be the key piece that will push the Mavericks down one path or the other.