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.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologizes to DeMar DeRozan for ‘maybe a gap of miscommunication’

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DeMar DeRozan has made his stance clear: The Raptors lied to him before trading him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

Today, Raptors president Masai Ujiri explained himself.

Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

Ujiri should have not have lied to DeRozan. If he did, Ujiri should face immense criticism for it.

But I don’t know whether Ujiri lied and am definitely not assuming he did.

He didn’t necessarily owe it to DeRozan to explain exactly where negotiations with San Antonio stood. If Ujiri said he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan and truly meant that but was also trying to trade DeRozan, saying he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan wouldn’t have been a lie.

There’s no point in upsetting a player you might keep – as long as it doesn’t require dishonesty. I’m OK with misleading technicalities. That’s on players and agents to decipher.

As Ujiri said, his job is to win. That’s sometimes a messy and upsetting process.

There is some room for kindness, but it’s often at times like this – after the player is traded. I believe Ujiri went out of his way today to praise and try to placate the likable DeRozan. That’s why I don’t take Ujiri’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Better just to be nice now.

A couple weeks ago, Ujiri’s role was different. He was trying to negotiate a high-stakes trade, not please a potentially outgoing player.

As long as Ujiri did so honestly, I’m OK with that.

Report: 76ers trading Richaun Holmes to Suns, signing Jonah Bolden

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The Thunder-Hawks-76ers three-team trade was reportedly on hold to becoming official while Philadelphia eyed another move.

Trading Jerryd Bayless (and surely something positive, like a draft pick) for Kyle Korver? The 76ers could still do that.

But this appears to be the move that had to precede the three-team trade – and the move that completed the Suns’ trade with the Nets.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

The Suns did well to add Richaun Holmes, a 24-year-old energy center. The only question is whether did it in the optimal way.

Instead of trading a second-rounder to go from Jared Dudley‘s $9,530,000 salary to Darrell Arthur‘s $7,464,912 salary, Phoenix could have cleared the cap room necessary to acquire Holmes by waiving Davon Reed or Shaquille Harrison.

Instead, Phoenix will keep Reed and Harrison. The Suns should know Reed and Harrison, both of whom played limited minutes as rookies last year, better than outsiders do. To a certain extent, there’s little choice but to defer to the team’s judgment.

Holmes was behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson at center in Philadelphia. Given Embiid’s injury history, third center is an important role on the 76ers. But, after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal with them, they traded for Mike Muscala as their stretch four. However, unlike Bjelica (who swung more toward small forward when switching positions), Muscala swings toward center. He provides enough depth behind Embiid and Johnson.

So, Holmes became the odd man out with Philadelphia needing to clear a roster spot to sign 2017 No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (a player I liked quite a bit in the draft).

Bolden’s minimum salary would have been $5,721,234 over the next four years. So, he got a little more and likely some of it guaranteed. In exchange, he gave the 76ers team control at a cheap salary for the longest possible time. He’s betting against himself.

After signing Bolden into cap space, Philadelphia can now execute the deal with Oklahoma City and Atlanta.

Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan could be NBA’s first immediately clear and enduring star-for-star trade in nearly two decades

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In 2011 – well before DeMar DeRozan earned even serious All-Star or All-NBA consideration – Kawhi Leonard called him a “great player.”

In 2014 – before Leonard became Finals MVP and arguably the NBA’s best two-way player – DeRozan said, “If Kawhi gets his hands on you, you’re not going anywhere.”

Leonard and DeRozan were ahead of the curve on assessing each other, but the rest of us have caught up. Both players are universally recognized as stars. Traded for each other this week, they could fulfill the Raptors-Spurs deal as a rare trade that was recognized immediately and in hindsight as star-for-star.

Sometimes, we don’t realize when a star-for-star trade is made. Paul George for Victor Oladipo was a star-for-star trade, but we didn’t yet grasp Oladipo’s abilities.

Sometimes, we think a star-for-star trade was made and it wasn’t. Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas looked like a star-for-star trade, but Thomas hasn’t been healthy since and the odds are strongly against him regaining star status.

I’m looking for trades immediately recognized as star-for-star and then stood the test of time. To set a parameter, both players were All-Stars before and after the trade. There have been just nine such trades in NBA history:

2008: Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson (Denver Nuggets-Detroit Pistons)

I needed some way to define star-for-star trades, and this deal technically fits. But it completely violates the spirit of the exercise and is included here for only posterity. Allen Iverson deteriorated rapidly in Detroit. He made a couple more All-Star games from the fan vote, nothing to do with his remaining ability.

2001: Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury (New Jersey Nets-Phoenix Suns)

Kidd pleaded guilty to spousal abuse earlier that year, perhaps opening the door for his exit from Phoenix. He was clearly the better player and only continued to prove it after the trade, leading the Nets to consecutive Eastern Conference titles.

Marbury was at least intriguing – four years younger and a flashy scorer. He was legitimately good during the two All-Star seasons of his career, his last in New Jersey and second in Phoenix. But he mostly confirmed he was a big-stats-on-a-bad-team player.

1997: Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker (Cleveland Cavaliers-Seattle SuperSonics-Milwaukee Bucks)

This actually looked like a star-for-star-for-star trade with Kemp (Seattle to Cleveland), Baker (Milwaukee to Seattle) and Terrell Brandon (Cleveland to Milwaukee). Brandon was coming off consecutive All-Star seasons with the Cavs, but he never regained that level. Kemp and Baker didn’t maintain it for long. Each remained an All-Star the season following the trade then never made it again.

Kemp was unhappy with the Sonics because he got paid less than Jim McIlvaine, who signed a seven-year, $33 million deal. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed no feasible way for Seattle to renegotiate Kemp’s contract, so he rebelled by arriving late to practices and flights. His weight ballooned in Cleveland, and cocaine and alcohol issues steadily derailed his career over the next several years.

Baker appeared disenchanted with the Bucks after they posted losing records his first four seasons, and Milwaukee feared him leaving in 1999 free agency. The result for the Sonics was far worse than the one the Bucks feared for themselves. Baker began drinking heavily in Seattle. Before, after and even during games. But the Sonics still re-signed him to a seven-year, $86 million deal in 1999 that proved to be highly toxic. Baker hung around longer than Kemp, but both trended sharply downward after this trade.

1982: Bernard King for Micheal Ray Richardson (New York Knicks-Golden State Warriors)

Coming off an All-Star year with the Warriors, King signed an offer sheet with the Knicks. Golden State matched and King planned to return. But just before the season, the Warriors traded him to the Knicks for Richardson.

Richardson was a perennial All-Star in New York, but the Knicks had tired of his attitude and contract demands. Unfortunately, this trade contributed to his spiral. While his agent negotiated terms with the Warriors, Richardson remained in New York and abused drugs. He didn’t kick the habit in Golden State and lasted less than a season there, getting flipped to the Nets. He got clean in 1985, winning Comeback Player of the Year and regaining his All-Star status. But it didn’t last, and Richardson was banned from the league in 1986 for his third positive test for cocaine.

King was no stranger to off-court problems himself. He won Comeback Player of the Year in 1981 after issues with alcohol and pleading guilty to misdemeanor attempted sexual assault (and facing more serious related charges). He starred for the Knicks a couple seasons, hurt his knee then was never the same player again.

1980: Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal (Phoenix Suns-Seattle SuperSonics)

This is another trade that fits by technicality, not spirit. Westphal got hurt, crossed the wrong side of 30 and underwhelmed in his lone season in Seattle. He was never the same player again. But fans voted the popular guard an All-Star starter that year with the Sonics, anyway.

1978: Bobby Jones for George McGinnis (Philadelphia 76ers-Denver Nuggets)

George McGinnis possessed so much size, athleticism and natural talent, people always wanted more from him. So, every problem involving him in Philadelphia felt huge. He fit poorly with Julius Erving. McGinnis had some bad moments in the playoffs on a team with championship expectations. His practice habits were poor even when he wasn’t sneaking cigarettes.

Eventually, the 76ers had enough and shipped him to Denver for Bobby Jones.

Jones, still a star in his own right, was much more adept at fitting in. He made six All-Defensive first teams in Philadelphia. After consecutive All-Star appearances with the 76ers, Jones won Sixth Man of the Year on their 1983 title team.

McGinnis remained an All-Star his first year with the Nuggets, but his experience in Denver largely made everyone there miserable. Nuggets coach Larry Brown endorsed trading for McGinnis, loathed the forward’s practice habits then wanted McGinnis traded. Larry Brown changing his mind – who ever heard of such a thing? When Denver kept McGinnis, Brown resigned. But McGinnis got hurt and lost his confidence, and the Nuggets traded him back to Indiana, where he played in the ABA before signing with Philadelphia and finished his career.

1972: Elvin Hayes for Jack Marin (Baltimore Bullets-Houston Rockets)

Drafted No. 1 by the Rockets, Elvin Hayes led the entire NBA in scoring as a rookie. But four losing seasons later, Hayes and the Rockets were losing patience with each other. Houston blamed him for posting stats – 27 points and 16 rebounds per game – that were more gaudy than actually helpful. He blamed the team for putting so much pressure on him, it caused health problems.

Despite already having Wes Unseld – who actually won Rookie of the Year over Hayes – as a big and sharing widespread concern over Hayes’ mindset, the Bullets rolled the dice on Hayes anyway. Asked whether the trade was a one-for-one, Bullets coach Gene Shue quipped, “No. We get Elvin’s psychiatrist, too.”

The Bullets eventually realized what a steal they got. Hayes was an all-time great. In nine years together, Hayes and Unseld led the Bullets to three conference titles and the 1978 NBA championship.

Marin had just two All-Star seasons – the year before this trade and the year after. The Bullets just wisely traded him at age 27, in the middle of his short prime.

1968: Wilt Chamberlain for Archie Clark (Los Angeles Lakers-Philadelphia 76ers)

This trade is often listed as one of the most lopsided in NBA history – for good reason. The Lakers got Wilt Chamberlain, arguably a top-five-ever player coming off an MVP season. Philadelphia got the unmemorable trio of Archie Clark, Darrall Imhoff and Jerry Chambers.

But Clark was an All-Star, both the season prior to this trade and a few years later after the 76ers flipped him to the Baltimore Bullets.

Chamberlain declined from peak form in Los Angeles, but he remained excellent during his five years there and helped the Lakers win a title.

1964: Bailey Howell and Don Ohl for Terry Dischinger (Baltimore Bullets-Detroit Pistons)

The first star-for-star trade was actually a star-and-star-for-star deal. And Baltimore got the two best pieces in the deal.

The Pistons had just suffered through a miserable year – losing a lot while playing for a tyrant coach. Charlie Wolf imposed strict rules that alienated his players. Howell and Ohl were happy to leave town, and each remained very good with the Bullets.

Dischinger, 1963 Rookie of the Year, certainly seemed to be worth acquiring. And he continued to produce like a star his first season in Detroit. But he went into active military service, missed the following two seasons and returned a far lesser player.

Who could have predicted the escalating conflict in Vietnam would swing the Pistons’ fortunes so significantly?

That uncertainty is why we don’t know whether the Leonard-DeRozan trade will join this club.

Each player must make an another All-Star team. Leonard is a lock if healthy, but his quad issues are a huge uncertainty. DeRozan will turn 29, and he’s heading to the better conference. But he’s joining a well-coached team built to win now, and success will boost his chances. The NBA, with captain-picked All-Star teams, might even pick All-Stars regardless of conference. The league should also increase All-Star rosters to 13 players each, matching the regular-season active-roster size, but that idea has less traction.

There are so many variables.

But this trade has a better chance than any recently to fit my star-for-star criteria.

Report: Suns trade Jared Dudley, second-rounder to Nets

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The Nets already got draft picks for taking Kenneth Faried‘s ($13,764,045) and Darrell Arthur‘s ($7,464,912) expiring contracts from the tax-avoiding Nuggets.

Now, Brooklyn will get more draft consideration for flipping Arthur for Jared Dudley‘s costlier expiring contract ($9,530,000).

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

What happens if the pick lands between Nos. 31 and 35? That determines exactly how valuable it is, but this still seems like a high price to save just $2,065,088 – especially when it’s probably just about the real money, not the cap room.

The Suns open a little more cap space, but still less than their $4,449,000 room exception. At this point, it appears unlikely they use either.

Owner Rob Sarver will appreciate the reduced payroll, and if general manager Ryan McDonough doesn’t keep the owner happy, the lost draft pick will be the next guy’s problem.

Brooklyn is already over the cap and never counted on Arthur as a player. The only cost of this trade is the real money in the difference between Dudley’s and Arthur’s salaries, and the Nets are willing to pay that for a draft pick. Good for them.

Neither Dudley nor Arthur played much last year. Maybe that’s because Dudley was on a tanking team trying to empower youth and Arthur was buried behind a deep power-forward rotation. But maybe Dudley (33) and Arthur (30) are just washed up and no longer capable of contributing at an NBA level. Getting them in different situations could reveal plenty. They’re both smart players, the type teams want to add.