Note to Kings: This is how you get value on a talented player who has underachieved and is trying to prove himself. If McGee plays well this season, the Mavericks get him on a minimum contract for next season. If he doesn’t, they don’t have to pay him anything next season. And they’re not paying him $9.5 million this year to find out whether he still has it.
But before looking to 2016-17 McGee must just make this year’s team.
McGee’s guarantee is unclear, as is his place on the roster. Even if McGee’s salary is fully guaranteed, he’ll have to best at least one player in the same boat for a regular-season roster spot.
He’ll compete with Pachulia, Dalembert, Mejri and Famous to fill the center role vacated by DeAndre Jordan. If he’s healthy and focused – two longshots – McGee can help. He’s 7-foot and at least had excellent hops.
There’s nothing wrong with Dallas betting on these longshots. Jordan’s defection left the Mavericks desperate. They’re throwing a bunch of players against the wall and hoping one sticks. McGee makes sense with that strategy.
I’m a bit surprised McGee accepted this deal, though. The 76ers owed him $12 million this season. After Philadelphia’s set-off, McGee will make just an extra $1,043,723 from Dallas. Was that really worth locking himself into a minimum salary for next season – especially because even that isn’t guaranteed? At some point McGee needs to reestablish his viability as an NBA player, but I would have held out for a one-year contract. The fallback would have been sitting and getting paid by the 76ers, not a two-year minimum contract with a team option.
The Mavericks need McGee to make better decisions, but he probably made a poor one merely by signing with them.
McGee remains a paradox.
Report: Mavericks give Salah Mejri fully guaranteed salary
Those are 19 players competing for 15 regular-season roster spots.
Mejri’s guarantee would seem to give him a leg up, but Dallas hasn’t shied from eating guaranteed contracts in the past. He’ll have to earn his roster spot in training camp just like everyone else.
Mejri is a 29-year-old, 7-foot-2 center who played for Real Madrid last season and represented Tunisia in the 2012 London Olympics. He uses his size relatively well on both ends of the floor – finishing at the rim, defending the paint and crashing the glass – but facing NBA athleticism will be a major adjustment.
The Mavericks are desperate at center after DeAndre Jordan reneged and re-signed with the Clippers. Maybe Mejri will help. The best thing I can say about him: Dallas believed in him enough to fully guarantee his 2015-16 salary. That’s either a positive signal or sign of desperation – or maybe a bit of both.
Phil Jackson questions whether Duke players live up to expectations in NBA
Jackson thinks he might not be aggressive enough. “Also, if you look at the guys who came to the NBA from Duke, aside from Grant Hill, which ones lived up to expectations?”
Let’s take a comprehensive look rather than cherry-picking players who could support either side of the argument.
We obviously don’t know yet whether Okafor, Winslow and Tyus Jones (No. 24 this year) will live up to expectations. Jabari Parker (No. 2 in 2014) looked pretty good last year, but he missed most of the season due to injury. It’s far too soon to make any judgments on him.
Otherwise, here are all Duke players drafted in the previous 15 years:
Lived up to expectations
Rodney Hood (No. 23 in 2014)
Mason Plumlee (No. 22 in 2013)
Ryan Kelly (No. 48 in 2013)
Miles Plumlee (No. 26 in 2012)
Kyrie Irving (No. 1 in 2011)
Kyle Singler (No. 33 in 2011)
Josh McRoberts (No. 37 in 2007)
J.J. Redick (No. 11 in 2006)
Luol Deng (No. 7 in 2004)
Chris Duhon (No. 38 in 2004)
Carlos Boozer (No. 34 in 2002)
Shane Battier (No. 6 in 2001)
Didn’t live up to expectations
Austin Rivers (No. 10 in 2012)
Nolan Smith (No. 21 in 2011)
Gerald Henderson (No. 12 in 2009)
Shelden Williams (No. 5 in 2006)
Daniel Ewing (No. 32 in 2005)
Dahntay Jones (No. 20 in 2003)
Mike Dunleavy (No. 3 in 2002)
Jay Williams (No. 2 in 2002)
Chris Carrawell (No. 41 in 2000)
That’s 12-of-21 – a 57 percent hit rate.
By comparison, here are players drafted from North Carolina in the same span:
Lived up to expectations
Harrison Barnes (No. 7 in 2012)
John Henson (No. 14 in 2012)
Tyler Zeller (No. 17 in 2012)
Ed Davis (No. 13 in 2010)
Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13 in 2009)
Ty Lawson (No. 18 in 2009)
Wayne Ellington (No. 28 in 2009)
Danny Green (No. 46 in 2009)
Brandan Wright (No. 8 in 2007)
Brendan Haywood (No. 20 in 2001)
Didn’t live up to expectations
Reggie Bullock (No. 25 in 2013)
Kendall Marshall (No. 13 in 2012)
Reyshawn Terry (No. 44 in 2007)
David Noel (No. 39 in 2006)
Marvin Williams (No. 2 in 2005)
Raymond Felton (No. 5 in 2005)
Sean May (No. 13 in 2005)
Rashad McCants (No. 14 in 2005)
Joseph Forte (No. 21 in 2001)
The Tar Heels are 10-for-19 – 53 percent.
Nobody would reasonably shy from drafting players from North Carolina, and they’ve fared worse than Duke players. Making snap judgments about Duke players just because they went to Duke is foolish.
Jackson is talking about a different time, when aside from Hill, Duke had a long run of first-round picks failing to meet expectations:
Roshown McLeod (No. 20 in 1998)
Cherokee Parks (No. 12 in 1995)
Bobby Hurley (No. 7 in 1993)
Christian Laettner (No. 3 in 1992)
Alaa Abdelnaby (No. 25 in 1990)
Danny Ferry (No. 2 in 1989)
Then, it was fair to question whether Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching yielded good college players who didn’t translate to the pros. But there have been more than enough counterexamples in the years since to dismiss that theory as bunk or outdated.
Just a few days ago, fresh off his biggest free-agent score in years, Mark Cuban told a Dallas-area radio station that this summer was do-or-die for the current era of Mavericks contention. They were either going to land a star free agent — as they had just done, luring DeAndre Jordan away from the Clippers — or blow it up and start over, something Cuban has been vocal about his aversion to in the past.
“If we got shut out, we weren’t going to just try to fill the roster,” Cuban said (via The Sporting News). “We had the discussion that if we couldn’t get a serious free agent, whether it was one of the guys still out there or some of the guys who already went, then it was time to take a step back.”
Yeah, so, about that.
In the most bizarre sequence of events the NBA has seen since the vetoed Chris Paul/Lakers trade in 2011, the Clippers emerged victorious from the wreckage of the Great Emoji War. Jordan is staying in Los Angeles, and the Mavs are left hanging like Jordan trying to get a high five from CP3, with a ton of cap space and nobody left to spend it on. In the short term, for a news cycle or two, it’s a disaster. But if this is the catalyst for Cuban and the Mavericks to finally embrace a full-on rebuild, it could be a blessing in disguise.
Let’s be clear about something: even with Jordan in the fold, the Mavericks weren’t going to be contending for a title this year. In fact, it was more likely that they’d miss the playoffs than make it out of the first round. The west is too deep for anyone outside of the Spurs/Warriors/Thunder tier to be a sure thing, and Dallas still had (and has) too many question marks on its roster. Their other marquee free-agent signing of the summer, Wesley Matthews, is coming off a torn Achilles, an injury that has historically been difficult to come back from. Starting small forward and master free-agent recruiter Chandler Parsons may or may not have had microfracture surgery on his right knee. Dirk Nowitzki has finally started to visibly decline. They still don’t have a clear starting point guard — they were linked to Jeremy Lin recently, but he’s off the board now, and they’re left to pencil in Raymond Felton for at least some of those minutes, which…no. Elsewhere, their depth is nonexistent.
With Jordan, the Mavs’ roster is essentially where it was last year, in the mix for an eighth seed and a first-round exit as they’ve been every year since the 2011 title run. Without Jordan, and with their other injury and depth concerns, they can hardly be considered a playoff team. And if they’re not a playoff team, now is the time to finally start what Cuban has put off for too long. It’s time to blow it up.
That won’t take too much work, as there’s not much of a roster to blow up. Parsons can opt out next summer, and if he’s healthy it’s all but a lock that he will. The Mavs will have barely over $20 million on the books besides that: basically Nowitzki and spare parts. They also have an added incentive to be bad if they want to add to that: they owe Boston their pick next year with top-seven protections. Eventually, they’re going to need another young foundational player to transition them to the post-Dirk era. And given their free-agency track record, their best bet to get one is in the draft.
Luckily, if a team is going to be bad in the west, this is the year to do it. Most of the west’s bottom-feeders have gotten significantly better this summer. The Lakers and Kings won’t sniff the playoffs, but they’ve both added legitimate talent to the mix. Utah and Phoenix will be in the playoff hunt. Minnesota is a year or two away from contending for the postseason, but they’ll be better with Karl-Anthony Towns next to Andrew Wiggins. If Denver doesn’t blow up its own roster, there’s enough talent there to be mediocre rather than outright bad. The bottom of the west is Dallas’ for the taking: they’re really only competing with Portland, who are in a similar position after losing four of five starters, including LaMarcus Aldridge.
Without the pressure to contend, the Mavs can bring Matthews along slowly. He’s supposedly ahead of schedule in his rehab from the Achilles injury, but he faces an uphill battle that hasn’t had very many success stories. They can sit him out the entire season if they want to. That probably won’t be necessary, but if they’re not fighting for a playoff spot, there’s no reason to rush him back when they’ve just committed $57 million to him over the next four years.
Elsewhere, they have plenty of flexibility. They can take on other teams’ bad contracts to pick up extra draft picks. The next time an opportunity comes up like the recent Kings-Sixers trade, Cuban is in as good a position as Sam Hinkie to snag a Nik Stauskas-type prospect for nothing.
The Mavs haven’t dealt with anything like this since Cuban bought the team in 2000. It’s to his credit that they’ve always been competitive under his watch, always in the playoff mix and always in the mix to land the top free agents, even if that part of it didn’t usually work out. Now, in the wake of Jordan bailing, in the twilight of Nowitzki’s career, and without much young talent to speak of, it’s time to face the reality that an impressive 15-year run has come to an end. Starting over is going to be rough, but Cuban understands long-term payoff as well as anyone. He’s built a rock-solid organization and infrastructure in Dallas, one that’s better positioned than most to handle a rebuild. But that’s the reality he’s been handed.
Report: Charlie Villanueva gets another minimum contract with Mavericks
Villanueva is a solid stretch four, shooting 37.6% on 3-pointers last season. He might not do much else, especially defend, but that skill is vital in Dallas.
The Mavericks scored a sterling 110.5 points per 100 possessions with Monta Ellis, Parsons, Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler on the floor. Swap Villanueva for Nowitzki and that barely drops to 110.4.
Whoever starts at point guard in Dallas, that outside shooting from the power forward spot is pivotal for floor spacing around the pick-and-roll. Nowitzki can’t play all the time, and his minutes should probably come down even further at age 37. Villanueva preserves the spacing.
Acquiring Lin or another point guard remains the priority. But Villanueva will make his job a little easier.