The Dallas Mavericks have traded Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, and the 34th and 51st picks in tomorrow's draft to the New York Knicks for Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton. They’re going to miss Jose, although they have cap space to replace him with someone very good, if they choose to spend it in that way. But for that moment, what matters is that the Mavericks’ championship-winning frontcourt has been reunited, three years later and just a little worse for wear.
I’m pleased to share with you fine people that I more or less predicted this trade 6 months ago. Or, rather, it became obvious that this was the major thing the Mavericks could do to improve.
How do we figure that? Well, it’s like this:
The most indisputable fact of the Mavericks season, which was quite the successful one all things considered, is that they needed a strong defensive center. This was because the sieve-like defense of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon led to guards entering the lane like they had been launched by rockets, where, unfortunately, they were met by either Sam Dalembert—who was really capable every third or so game, but still—DeJuan Blair, Brandan Wright, or even Dirk Nowitzki. Which resulted in defensive implosion.
So they were eyeing threeish targets because there were three great defensive centers who seemed like they might be available: the Rockets’ Omer Asik, who had no real place over there once Dwight Howard showed up, the Bucks’ Larry Sanders, who took a huge extension to the club, and then to a hospital, and Tyson Chandler, who was getting paid a lot of money for an old, capped out, and pretty bad team.
So, then, the second most indisputable fact about the Mavs is that they had no assets to trade. Having lost their first round pick this year, and with a new law on the books that you can’t trade first round picks in consecutive years, the Mavs have zero of the things most teams crave. Their only young player who’s producing is Jae Crowder, and he’s only sort of producing, their only other young talent is Shane Larkin and he hasn’t shown much yet.
Which means they couldn’t offer picks or young talent, which means Milwaukee and Houston, who only want those things, were out of play. Which left Tyson, because only the Knicks would be interested in a salary dump. Which meant Jose or Monta, the only guys the Mavs have with real value besides Dirk. Which meant probably Jose, which meant Jose for Tyson was more or less written in the clouds. Amen.
Some people don’t like this trade, generally because they think Tyson has lost it or because they resent giving up the 34th and 52nd picks. These people are crazy. First of all, Tyson was terrific last year. His defensive real adjusted plus/minus, one of the better stats (it tries not to give you too much credit for playing with good defensive players or take away too much for playing with horrible ones), is still way elite. Synergy sports shows he was still great at all kinds of important defensive possessions.
But then there’s the draft thing, which struck some people who were otherwise happy about the trade as too much. And man do some people have to give it a rest.
Look, we’re humans. We buy lottery tickets. This means that we have a pretty hard time telling the difference between like a 10% chance and a 1% chance and a .001% chance. Study after study shows it, and it’s very interesting. But please listen to me here:
Thinking second round picks are likely to be valuable is the modern equivalent of hiding under a desk to avoid getting nuked or buckling your seat on an airplane. We do it because we have to to feel good, because we don’t want to admit we’re screwed. But we’re screwed. Somebody will recite back to me five or six really impactful 2nd round picks from the last 10 years and suggest that since this draft is better and deeper than most, it’s pretty much like taking apples off an apple tree. But the fact that you’re listing five or six in 10 years, which there have been 300 2nd round picks, tells you more or less everything. It’s more like taking apples off an apple tree that blooms in hell and is guarded by Cerberus, 3-headed dog.
The players who have gone 34th since 2004 are Isaiah Canaan, Jae Crowder (to the Mavs!), Shelvin Mack, Arnon Johnson, Sergio Lull, Mario Chalmers, Nick Fazekas (to the Mavs!) , Paul Davis, and C.J. Miles. One of those guys is too soon to tell, three are decent, and 6 are out of the league. At 51, we have Romero Osby, Kris Joseph, Jon Diebler, Magnum Rolle, Jack McClinton, Shan Foster (to the Mavs!), Jameson Curry, Chiekh Samb, Robert Whaley, Christian Dreier. If I told you that I had just lied to you and that that previous list was actually extras in Iron Man 3, some of you would probably think about it.
This is about odds. The fact that it’s possible that you might get Chandler Parsons there doesn’t make it likely—In fact, it’s probably the least likely thing in basketball. The difference between a draft that’s supposed to be good and one that’s supposed to be bad is a couple of percentage points, whether it makes any sense to hope. The odds remain really ,really ,really good that in giving up these picks, the Mavericks gave up nothing of value.
If they did, it still really doesn’t matter. The Mavs, with about two-three more years of effective play from Dirk, don’t need anything which takes time to develop right now.
So here we are, and let’s talk about the good news:
One of the most popular players in Mavericks history is coming back. Still a very effective player, still just 31, still, as always, at a position of absolute need for the Mavericks. They gave up the very capable, well-respected Caldy, but in so doing absorbed enough of Tyson’s contract that they have plenty of cap space still, and opened the door to replacing Jose with someone who can help hide Monta Ellis defensively. Felton is not that guy , though he’s not an awful backup—9.7-5.6 last year, 13.9-5.5 the year before (a super weird 17-9 in 2010-11?). But there’s a lot of good news here.
Welcome back, Tyson.