CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball is taking a team-by-team look at the 2014 NBA offseason. We continue with the aggresively revamped Dallas Mavericks. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2014: Were the Mavericks a sneaky-good team who underperformed defensively for most of the year before turning it on vs. the Spurs and proving their worth? Or a defensive disaster who managed to squeak out enough wins in the admittedly brutal Western Conference to earn a No. 8 seed and while giving the Spurs a polite scare, exited with just as much consideration for propriety?
Either way the result was the same: a return to the playoffs and a first-round loss to the eventual champs that inspired confidence. There was widespread talk that the Mavericks would seek to build upon last season's success, keeping most of that roster.
Offseason needs: They had veteran contracts coming up for expiration, and they indicated they wanted to make a legitimate rush to improve the team. Dallas started popping up in all sorts of rumors related to chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
But their big need was defense. The team had relied on Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair at center along with Brandan Wright, lacking any rim protection. Meanwhile, their perimeter defense was a sieve with Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis in the backcourt. Calderon was benched for much of the Spurs series due to his inability to contain anyone.
They also needed to get younger, with Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion all getting up there in years.
The draft: Dallas didn't have a first-round pick thanks to the Lamar Odom trade. (Boy, that's the deal that just keeps giving, isn't it?) They traded two second-round picks to New York in the Tyson Chandler trade. So if they were going to get younger, it was going to have to be in free agency.
Free agency and trades: The Mavs made a splash before the draft with a big trade, sending Jose Calderon and the second-rounders to the Knicks to get Tyson Chandler back along with Raymond Felton. The move righted what was often seen by fans as a franchise wrong in not re-signing Chandler after the 2011 title, but more importantly, it gave them an impact defensive center who fits next to Dirk Nowitzki the way they think Dirk needs.
Felton has not played well and was mostly a throw-in, but as a reserve, he's got a role.
The trade was also significant in that it wasn't a continuation of last year's success, it signalled a radical departure to build something better around Nowitzki, using Ellis as the side component.
And with that, they got busy in free agency. They swung and missed on Anthony, knowing pretty early they weren't going to land him and only getting a quarter of a day with Melo after he spent a full day with the Bulls and a half-day with the Rockets.
They re-signed Nowitzki, which was a foregone conclusion, but that's still a pretty big deal. Despite not having been a real threat since 2011, Nowitzki never seriously considered any other team and re-signed at a discounted three-years, $25 million, giving the Mavericks room to pursue other free agents after Melo declined.
Then the big move. The Mavericks saw the Rockets stuck between a rock and a hard-place, keeping cap space open to try and sign Chris Bosh. The Mavs used the Rockets' situation against them, signing Chandler Parsons to a three-year, $46 million offer sheet. With Chris Bosh re-signing with Miami, the Rockets still had two days to match the offer for Parsons.
And then, the Rockets let him go.
So the Mavericks landed a huge defensive upgrade in Tyson Chandler while moving Devin Harris to the point guard spot which gives them a defensive upgrade there, then added Parsons who has the physical tools to be a good defender, and is a phenomenal wing scoring component. With Nowitzki, Ellis, and Parsons, the Mavericks have a top-five (or better?) offensive 2-3-4 combo. Parsons isn't just a great shooter, he's incredibly athletic and can attack the rim. He knows how to space the floor and is a quality teammate. The Mavericks made out like bandits on this deal.
From there, the Mavericks filled out their roster with veterans. They re-signed Harris to give them a capable point guard, then added Jameer Nelson off waivers. The combo of those two gives them guys who have experience and offensive ability. With Felton, they're effectively three-deep with starting-caliber point guards. None of them are top-20 point guards in the league at this point, but as long as they work in Rick Carlisle's system, which they seem to, they should do fine.
A sneaky addition the Mavericks added was Al-Farouq Aminu from the Pelicans. Aminu made significant strides the past two seasons and brings athleticism and a defensive doggedness that the Mavs need. They can move Parsons to two in bigger lineups and play Ellis-Parsons-Aminu in a pretty rare combination of skill and size. Aminu is still largely untalented offensively, but on the break, his athleticism gets him into attack position and he's ultra-aggressive in looking for playmaking opportunities. He's one of those "chasedown block on one end, dunk on the other" guys.
The Mavericks brought on Ivan Johnson who spent last season in China and is a top-five terrifying person in the league, and in another sneaky move, nabbed Richard Jefferson from Utah. A hidden secret in the league last year was that Jefferson was actually really decent, and as a third forward, he's a terrific fit.
The bad news is that they lost Vince Carter and Marion to free agency. Both had great Mavericks careers, and the individual losses are unfortunate, but the cumulative reshaping of the roster was so helpful for Dallas on the wing, it's hard to regret the absence of those two too much.
They traded DeJuan Blair to the Wizards, and Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington went to the Knicks in the Chandler trade.
Overall grade and accomplishments — A-plus: Dallas re-made its roster this offseason. Instead of building upon the defensive trainwreck that was offensively powerful, but ultimately solvable, they reconfigured their team. It's not just moving defensive question marks for stronger ones, or the big Parsons signing. It's the cumulative picture they've put together, and the way this team fits with Rick Carlisle.
This team has the potential, if Carlisle pulls his usual magic, to make a real run. I'm not saying they're a title contender, but the parallels to 2011 are there. That team was better 1-12, and neither Dirk Nowitzki nor Tyson Chandler are the players they were then. But this team is deep, versatile, balanced, and miles better defensively than it was last year, at least on paper. Throw in Carlisle as the X-factor and the possibility of Nowitzki having an even more throwback season than last year, and you can argue Dallas is one of the few Western Conference teams to really make a jump in terms of tier status in the ultra-competitive West thanks to their offseason.