Eight Free Agents The Dallas Mavericks Seriously Need To Consider This Offseason.
On this, the second day of July in the year 2014, I'm willing to admit that the Dallas Maverick's front office read the ramifications from the newest NBA collective bargaining agreement incorrectly.
In turn, I'm willing to admit fault on my behalf as well.
Here's where things went wrong: Back when the new bargaining agreement was put into place, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told us that the new CBA would clamp down on teams' spending — not unlike a father that had paid for the 1,000 text message plan and came to find out his daughter was sending 5,000 texts a month. We, of course, had reason to believe the man. He's been correct about so many things in his successful business endeavors, leading right up to the moment when he decided to dismember the championship roster on the logic of teams becoming more frugal under the new CBA. Still, time has since shown us that none of Cuban's predictions have come to pass. Teams are spending more than ever, and with little regard for the those buzzwords that Cuban promised would be kryptonite for front offices — phrases such as “luxury tax,” “repeater tax” and “cap flexibility.”
No one cares about these things, turns out. Deron Williams chose to stay with a team that is currently $16 million over the NBA's hard cap (and paying the repeater tax in vodka, apparently). Dwight Howard signed with a team that has added two max-level players in the last 18 months and is in line to add another max contract player. Chris Paul chose to stay with a team that’s on course to boast the third-highest cap in the league. And, just last season alone, six of the NBA's 30 teams operated above the luxury tax threshold. That's a full 20 percent, math nerds!
My point is this: Teams are spending whatever the hell they damn well please, and none of them seem particularly concerned about the ramifications.
And Mark Cuban, the man standing on the shore demanding that the tidal wave go back from whence it came, was wrong.
As for me? Earlier this year, I paid someone more than $300 to hit a few key strokes on a computer and calculate my taxes in 20 minutes time. So maybe I'm not great with numbers either.
But if Cuban is the only one in the NBA that is, and if every other owner in the league takes care of their bank accounts as I do, then maybe I indeed have the perspective needed as we all dive headlong into the NBA free agency period that kicked off at midnight on July 1.
Already, we've seen a little action: The Wizards retained the services of center Marcin Gortat and his massive pet pig to the tune of five years and $60 million; the Warriors signed Shaun Livingston to back up Steph Curry for three years at $16 million; all three of the Heat's Big Three opted out of their contracts, once again proving that those guys sure know collusion; and big fish Carmelo Anthony has hit the road on his free agency flirtation tour, visiting Chicago yesterday before hitting Houston and Dallas today.
And because of Cuban's foresight that may or may not matter much in the end, the Mavericks actually sit OK in the Melo sweepstakes. The soft cap for the 2014-2015 NBA season is roughly $63.2 million. The hard cap is reportedly going to be set at $77 million. This means that the Mavs will have roughly $26 million to play with this offseason. That currently places them third currently amongst NBA franchises in cap space. (Worth noting: Before trading with the Knicks to bring Tyson Chandler back to town, the Mavs had more free cap space than any other team in the league).
So, here we are again, chasing a free agent cure-all to fix our lack of player development, pitching our championship–caliber organization and our once-in-a-generation player via cartoons.
What the team can't offer, though, is a top-four market or a coast or a young stud player to build a team around.
No, the Mavericks are selling something much less tangible.
The Mavs are selling intellect.
The big question is whether Carmelo Anthony and the like savvy enough to pick up what we’re putting down.
Fortunately, Melo's not the only prize out there this offseason. There are, indeed, options. And Melo might not even be the best one.
Below are my free agent rankings for the Mavericks' 2014 offseason, along with a breakdown on the player and the team's possibilities for him.
(Note: My factors for these rankings were based around how much I personally like the player, how much I think the Mavericks like the player, the probability that the player would be interested in the Mavericks over other possible destinations and swag.)
8. Gordon Hayward (restricted free agent).
Age: 24 years old.
Weight: 207 lbs.
If you aren't a basketball nerd and only see a handful of Utah Jazz games a year, you probably only know Gordon Hayward as the kid from Butler who nearly beat Duke in the 2010 National Championship game with a half court heave. No one blames you for that. if he's sunk it, it would have been the shot to end all shots. Now, though, it's just another footnote in the history of Duke basketball.
Anyway: I've made it almost 100 words here without comparing Gordon Hayward to Mike Dunleavy, so congrats to me.
Still, thinking that Hayward is just another four-year, small-school role player whose game doesn't translate in the pros any better than most of the guys on the And 1 Mixtape Tour (RIP, Escalade) is incorrect. For one thing, Hayward left Butler after two seasons. Now he's hitting free agency at age 24, and coming off his highest-scoring and highest-usage season yet — albeit not his best.
Let's get nerdy, girl: Hayward's best season came at age 22 in the 2012-2013 year, when he scored 14 points, grabbed 3 boards and dropped 3 dimes in 29 minutes of play per game. His counting numbers were actually stronger last season (16 points, five rebounds, five assists), but that was in 36 minutes of play, and his shooting dipped significantly last season, especially on the three-ball.
In 2013 Hayward shot an incredible 41.5 percent from deep. But, in 2014, he was below league average on the threes at just 30.5 percent. What was the difference? Does seven more minutes a game make them legs too tired to shoot the ball from far away? Or is it something else?
It looks like something else to me: While Hayward cut down on his total amount of threes taken in 2014, he still shot close to the same number of corner threes while dipping down to a 27.5 percent clip from the corner as compared to 40.4 percent mark from the corner the previous year.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: The obvious interest in Gordon Hayward comes from the sinkhole that will be the Mavericks' small forward position come July 1st. As of the start of the new NBA season Jae Crowder will be the number one small forward on the Mavericks' depth chart. The Mavericks need a starting caliber small forward with a solid two way game worse than this whole soccer deal needs trap doors.
Is Hayward the answer? Well, no, not necessarily. But he doesn't murder your cap sheet. And he just turned 24. The unreasonable expectation would be for Hayward to take over the team from Dirk when he steps away. He's ust not that guy. What Gordon can be is the Mavericks' best offensive small forward since Josh Howard. Before you laugh, remember that Josh Howard was an All-Star-caliber guy that averaged 20 and 7 in multiple years for a 50-win team.
Of course, Hayward is a restricted free agent, and the Mavericks have shown little to zero interest in the restricted free agency process since getting their balls toasted by the Orlando Magic on the Marcin Gortat deal back however many years ago that was. So this deal probably won't come to pass.
Talkin' turkey: In searching for comparable deals for players like Hayward, you stumble across two names that seem to make a ton of sense when projecting a contract: Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum, who are making 4/$42mm and 4/$44mm, respectively. The low-end comp would be somewhere around Thaddeus Young/Ersan Ilyasova dollars, which is roughly $8mm per year. My projection for Hayward's next deal is four years and $48 million.
7. Trevor Ariza (unrestricted free agent).
Age: 28 years old.
Weight: 200 lbs.
First thing's first: Trevor Ariza’s nickname is “Switchblade.” Yikes,
Even the scarier, though, is that Ariza has played for six different teams in 10 seasons.
Remember that terrible contract that Ariza inked with the Rockets after blowing up for 23 games in the playoffs with the Lakers in 2009? He's just now wrapping up that deal. Ariza was the original Big Market Role Player that bounced for way too much money because of playoff exposure. I'm weary of Trevor Ariza in a very Astronaut's Wife sort of way. Like, where the hell you been, dude?
Still, Ariza's win-shares this season are the equivalent of his previous three seasons, combined. So, yeah: Get that money, Trev.
He will, too. This season for Ariza was bananas. I really don't know why it took so long for a coach to simplify Ariza's role into a pure 3-and-D guy. Well, actually, I do: You see that athleticism and size, and you think he should be able to do a little bit of everything; but the league is made of toolsy guys that have an elite skill in one finite area, and, despite everyone's attempts to the contrary, Ariza's one of those guys.
Let's get nerdy, girl: Ariza shot 40.7 percent from three last season, and 52 percent of all of his shots were threes. His bread is buttered on the spot-up three-ball, too, as he knocked down 43 percent of those last season. That's not quite Jose Calderon good, but it's still damn fine.
Also? His athleticism isn't just a practice thing that isn't utilized in games. Ariza's raw explosiveness registers on his numbers when he cuts to the basket. Last season, Ariza averaged 1.45 points per possession off of cuts — a number good enough for 13th best in the league. Once he's by you, he's gone and he's finishing at the rim. Some perspective: His points per possession on cuts to the basket was actually better than Lebron's were last season.
Tap the breaks on how good Ariza is defensively, though. I mean, you know how bad the wing play in the Eastern Conference was this year, right? It was bad. And Ariza? Yeah, he was good. But he wasn't “shutdown defender” good. His one neat trick is defending the pick and roll ball handler (which is basically the only set that NBA teams run in the final two minutes of any game). Last season, when defending pick and roll ball handlers, Ariza allowed only .66 points per possession, which is incredibly low and good for 22nd best in the league. Ariza also limited pick and roll ball handlers to 37 percent shooting, while creating turnovers 24 percent of the time.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: The reasons the Mavs should be interested in Ariza are the same as the ones I listed for Hayward. But Ariza is a better defender. The question remains:: Would you be willing to pay good money for a bit player like him? Personally, I'd rather have Hayward on this roster. But, again, he's restricted.
Ariza isn't, as his Wizards backup (Martell Webster) basically does the same thing that he does, is a year younger and is locked up for less than $6 million per season for the next three years. Also, the third overall pick in last year's draft (Otto Porter) is sitting on the bench behind Ariza, too. So the Wizards will have roughly $18 million committed to the small forward position alone. And it's arguably be their weakest link in their starting lineup, which is weird.
Talkin' turkey: This is scary business, y'all. If Ariza gets iced out from asking too much initially, I could see him in that Thad Young, $8 million a year range. If the Wizards feel pressured into retaining this team when looking at how weak the East is and how solid their starting five would be if they just held on to it, I could see him get $12 million a year. My projection for Ariza's next deal is 4 years at $36 million with a team in the West.
6. Chandler Parsons (restricted free agent).
Age: 25 years old.
Weight: 200 lbs.
This is a sticky wicket if you don't follow the NBA closely. Chandler Parsons had a fourth-year option for less than one million dollars that the Houston Rockets declined, this making him a free agent — albeit a restricted one — a year earlier than he would have if they had let him hit unrestricted free agency next season. And here's the thing: Parsons has improved every single year since being a second round pick in the 2011 draft, eventually becoming the Rockets third-best player and a deadly sniper from deep. He's also at least partially responsible for the luring of Dwight Howard to Houston.
So, why would the Rockets decline an option to bring Parsons back for super cheap? The simple answer is that it clears space for Houston to add another max dollar player to its Harden-Howard combo. The ramifications of this are that Parsons has to sit and wait on the Rockets to pitch those max-out players, and then work out a deal with Houston for whatever is left for the Rockets to spend up to the hard cap on him. (Note: You can eclipse the soft cap to retain your own players, but not to add free agents.) In the end, Houston can match any offer that any other team throws at him.
But let's say the Rockets get Melo — something which would require them trading Jeremy Lin, and that hasn't been something that other teams are open to yet — for his max (about $22 million per year). Another team could then push the Rockets in a test to see how far they're willing to go into the luxury tax to match a deal on Parsons. It's all very fluid, depending on Melo's number and Lin, but if you offer Parsons more than maybe $10 million per year, it really starts to hurt the Rocket’s pocketbook.
As you can see from the scenario laid out, the Rockets have a Flying Saucer's worth of spinning plates in the air right now as they try to manipulate every loophole the CBA has left. You'd assume that Rockets GM Daryl Morey has explained every step of this process Parsons with an underlining theme that the Rockets will take care of him, but you really never know. A similar situation happened with Brook Lopez a few years back when the Nets were trying to land Dwight Howard. Lopez got impatient and signed a max-out offer sheet with another team, thus ending the Nets' pursuit of Dwight. It's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, though, because Parsons and Melo play different games and positions, I know. But what's to keep Parsons from accepting an offer of four years and $48 million from someone like Dallas? Absolutely nothing.
Let's get nerdy, girl: It doesn't take a genius to realize that Parsons is the equivalent of basketball nitro when he's on the offensive end for the Rockets. For Parsons to be able to shoot 47 percent from the field in the same season in which he launched almost 400 threes is downright insane. That's the Houston philosophy of “if it's not a layup, it better be a three” for you, though.
Also worth noting: Parsons sits just outside of the top 20 in offensive win-shares (5.1) for last season, which is especially interesting in that he's not a ball-dominant player.
The surprising thing about Parsons, though, how well-rounded his game has become. A nightly line of 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal is not what I — or anyone else for that matter — had on mind when Parsons burst onto the scene in 2011.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: Parsons plays the same position as the first two players we talked about, so the fit is obvious. The card that Parsons holds that Ariza doesn't is that he's a more well-rounded player, somewhat surprisingly. He's actually very similar to Gordon Hayward — well, if Hayward were developed in the Rockets' system.
Plus, the opportunity to pull the rug out from under Morey is more tempting than one might think. Of the small forwards on this list, Parsons might actually be the best fit for Dallas' roster since the Tyson trade went down. The problem is the whole restricted free agency thing again. My hope is that Houston lands Melo — that would be a beautiful disaster of a team — and the Rockets don't have the money to match Dallas' offer to Parsons.
Talkin' turkey: It's hard to find an exact number on the maximum contract that Parsons is allowed to accrue, but I'm pretty sure it's the standard $14.7 million per year that most players can draw under their second contract. I don't believe he gets max money, though. Something in the ballpark of four years and $48 million makes sense for what Chandler Parsons can bring to the table.
5. Kyle Lowry (unrestricted free agent).
Age: 28 years old.
Weight: 175 lbs.
Where to begin with Kyle Lowry? For starters, most people don't know how good he is. That's largely because, immediately after he began to burst on the scene in 2010-2011, he got hurt and missed almost half of the next season. The following year, he was shipped to Toronto, a team that seemed to be in the midst of a disastrous bulldozing and reallocation of assets. Turns out, though, Lowry can still play no matter what third-world team you send him to.
What are we missing about the tiny point guard that was once traded for Skip 2 My Lou? Well, he doesn't exactly get along with everyone. I know that's a vague way to merge all the loose internet reports of Lowry being “hard to work with,” but I’m not in that room. All the same, Lowry has paid his dues on losing teams and been the point guard to some irrational “stars,” among them Tracy McGrady and Rudy Gay. For the majority of the '13-'14 season, Lowry was the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. He put the T-Dot on his back and took a Nets roster that cost $50 million more than his team's to seven games.
So, why is nobody particularly interested in paying Kyle Lowry the top ten point guard money — $10 million or more per year — that he's earned?
Let's get nerdy, girl: In Kyle Lowry's contract year, he balled out. He upped every offensive category from his career averages. This is to be expected when you play your career high in minutes, but his player efficiency (20.1 compared to career average of 16.9) and win-shares went through the roof (11.7 compared to previous season high of 7.0). Toss in the league’s 15th best offensive rating and Kyle Lowry gonna get that money, folks. Oh, and I bet you didn't know that he was the league's 17th best spot-up shooter last season, connecting on 45 percent of his spot up threes. I also bet you didn't know he was one of the best pick and roll ball handlers in the league thanks to that three-point shooting ability.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: Prior to the Tyson Chandler trade, an addition of Lowry made no sense. But with the current state of the Mavericks backcourt, it makes almost too much sense. Think about a point guard stacking of Lowry, Devin Harris and Gal Mekel! At this point, it's obvious that Lowry isn't the Mavs' main target, but, much like last offseason, when the team was washed out in free agency, the second-tier players become cheaper (see: Elllis, Monta) and you shift your focus to building an all-around roster. Lowry's ability to knock down the spot-up three eases the worry that should have arose to every Mavericks fan's mind when Calderon and his floor spacing was shipped to New York. If Lowry falls through the first layer of blue chip free agents and is sitting there come Friday, it'd be hard for me to imagine Mavs front office head Donnie Nelson not at least making a phone call.
Talkin' turkey: The Raptors don't want to pay Lowry “Ty Lawson Money” (four years at $48 million) and they probably shouldn't have to. Word is they're not comfortable going north of $40 million for Lowry, which seems like fair market for him. The Heat are interested in Lowry, though. And they damn well should be. Lowry's worth is incredibly volatile on the open market, but my best guess is he gets four years and $44 million from somebody other than the Raptors.
4. Lance Stephenson (unrestricted free agent).
Age: 23 years old.
Weight: 210 lbs.
I know the Mavericks aren't big fans of Lance Stephenson’s basketball IQ. But they probably weren't big fans of Monta Ellis' basketball IQ a year ago from today, either.
The lesson here? When you miss on your main target, you start to push aside the little inconsequential flaws of your backup plan.
And Stephenson ain't a bad contingency option. “Born Ready” is what he likes to be called, and unlike the other millions of NYC ballers whose games flamed out by the age of 20, his game has adapted and he's found himself a role in the NBA. Say whatever you want about Stephenson and his lack of maturity, but he's playing a child's game for millions of dollars after growing up in the hardest hood you can imagine, all the while surrounded by people telling him he's God since he was 10 years old.
It'd probably take me a little adjusting as well.
I'm not here to debate Lance Stephenson’s character, though. You're either a fan of how hard he plays the game, or he scares you to death. Neither of these things typically gets dissuaded with logical arguments. Still, let's talk numbers.
Let's get nerdy, girl: You don't get better on the defensive end than Lance Stephenson. His defensive rating was 14th in the league last year — and that's from a guy that's willing to guard the best perimeter player on the opposing team on every single night.
He's also a creator on the offensive end — and I don't feel like he gets recognized enough for that. He assisted on 20 percent of his teammates field goals last season when he was on the floor, which was the most among Indiana starters. All the other leaders in assist percentage in the NBA in that range are point guards or James Harden.
Truth is, Stephenson is incredibly crafty, and though that’s a word that doesn't generally have a lot of numerical value, it does here. For the second season in a row, the guy shot just under 70 percent at the rim, which is incredibly difficult to do as a guard because the second defender is typically meeting you there. Another neat trick he's added in the last season: His corner three, which he knocked down 49 percent in the ’13-’14 season.
For a guy that defends the other team's best player every night, it's incredible that he gets better in the fourth quarter, too. But that's what he did last year. In the fourth quarter, he shot 51.9 percent from the field. Guy just doesn't take bad shots late.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: 23-year-old studs do not become available all that often. Ideally, you'd want to figure out a way to not overpay Stephenson, and find a way to add a decent point guard before rolling into the '14-'15 season. I could see that happening. And it wouldn't make me insane. Even though Stephenson's natural position is shooting guard, the same position as Monta Ellis, this isn't much of an issue. It doesn't matter much on the offensive end, and on the defensive side of things, Stephenson can guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. So he fits in any lineup you roll out. Plus, the defense that Stephenson would bring to the Mavs heavily outweighs any concern anyone might have with the risk you're taking by giving him a deal. But, again, the Mavs aren't big fans of Lance. Will it come to the point, though, when their tune changes and they become beggars instead of choosers?
Talkin' turkey: OK, I'm just going to cheat on this one take the exact prediction that the much smarter people have said, which is generally around four years and $42 million. Makes sense: Earlier today, Stephenson turned down five years and $44 million from the Pacers.
3. Luol Deng (unrestricted free agent).
Age: 29 years old.
Weight: 220 lbs.
The veteran standby that might actual be the safest and smartest option? Yeah, that's probably Luol Deng. He's not flashy and he's not going to sell that many tickets, but he's an incredible basketball player and, based on basically every account out there, he's one of the best character dudes in the league.
Still, the last 12 months were easily the weirdest in Deng's NBA career. Whether it was the spinal tap that put his life in danger and caused him to miss the final seven games of the 2013 playoffs, the Achilles injury from last season or his being traded for a draft pick and a player that they immediately waived (Andrew Bynum), the guys' last year was just plain nuts.
But set aside the last 12 months — and I do realize that this is a tough thing to do — Deng is as much of a rock as there is in this league.
Let's get nerdy, girl: The main issue when considering giving Deng a long-term (read: four-year) deal is the fact that Deng has accumulated an incredible amount of minutes in his 10 NBA seasons. In consecutive seasons ('11-'12 and '12-'13), Deng played more minutes than any player in the league. Even with that said, prior to the injury last season, Deng was playing exceptionally. In his 23 games prior to the Achilles injury, he was scoring at a career high clip (19 points per game), posting a career high usage numbers (25.1 percent) and netting an elite defensive rating. What Deng has also developed is low-key one of the best post games from a small forward in the league. With Chicago last season, he shot 49 percent when posting up and finished 18th in post-up points per possession (1.02).
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: There's a thirst that needs to be quenched with the current Mavericks' roster, and it's outside shooting. Luol Deng does nothing for that. He's not a good outside shooter, and he never has been. What you'd be getting with Deng is a very good two-way player and the perfect guy for the room. If you secure a guy that can shoot from the one-spot via free agency, then you don't necessarily need a small forward that can stroke. If Deng is the small forward that falls through the cracks, the Mavericks immediately have an incredibly talented and defensively stable veteran front-court.
Talkin' turkey: Deng deserves $10 million a year from his track record alone. Does his really weird last 12 months scare off potential free agent suitors? Minus the spinal tap, Achilles injury and just not great play with Cleveland last year, I'd assume there would be 15-plus teams interested in Deng. Now it feels more like five or seven teams. The good news: Smaller pools means smaller money. I still think he gets taken care of, though, with something around four years at $44 million.
2. Carmelo Anthony (unrestricted free agent).
Age: 30 years old.
Weight: 230 lbs.
Oh, Jesus Christ. We're here already. This is the day I never saw coming. Carmelo Anthony a prime target of the Dallas Mavericks in free agency? I’ll re-rack a coined phrase I stumbled into mid-season last year: Melo may be the best player in NBA history that I have no interest in being on my team. Do I feel the same now that he's firmly in the Maverick's crosshairs and visiting Dallas today?
Well, not exactly.
You know how on Facebook, you can describe your relationship as “complicated” or whatever? My feelings about Carmelo Anthony are legitimately complicated. Not like “I'm tired of you living 500 miles away and who's that dorky guy in your new photos?” complicated, though. The dude is obviously one of the three most talented human beings on the offensive end in the NBA right now. He also routinely finishes in the top three in field goal attempts, usage percentage. But he doesn't play defense and might be more interested in scoring titles than actual NBA titles.
So what's changed? OK, bear with me here: When you start thinking about a Mavericks roster that doesn't involve Dirk Nowitzki in three or four years, who takes over as the star to build around? The best plug-in replacement that will be in the market this offseason is Carmelo Anthony.
Let's get nerdy, girl: Melo used to not shoot threes. Two a game was his standard through his first five seasons. But as he's gotten older and less explosive, he's started to drift out to the three point line five or more times per game. It's a good thing, though: Melo knocked down just over 40 percent from deep last season. In his 11th season, Melo registered career highs in minutes, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, blocks and rebounds. The cool part of Melo's game that gets lost in all the field goal attempts and three-point heaves is his elite post-up game. Melo uses the post-up 20.5 percent of all of his offensive possessions and shoots 49.4 percent on post-up situations.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: We've had our run-ins with Melo from his time with the Nuggets. I think a large portion of the distaste for Melo comes from that one Nuggets team of Billups-JR Smith-Melo-Kenyon Martin-Nene-Birdman from '08-'09 that knocked the Mavericks out of the playoffs.
If I remember correctly, though, the majority of the beef was with Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith. Melo just happens to get lumped in with those guys because he was the face of that team.
Listen: Melo's fit here is pretty clear. He could ease the transition into a secondary player for Dirk and, with his improved three-point shooting, he can shift back into a more traditional small forward role rather than the stretch-four that he played last year. And when Dirk decides to slide into his front office role, Melo will be into his 30s and probably welcome a shift back to that stretch-four, post-up role.
I have no idea what Melo's feelings toward Tyson Chandler are, but if your front court ended up being Melo-Dirk-Tyson, that's pretty much light years ahead of every other team in the league. The problem is that Melo will use up almost every dollar of the Mavericks cap room. In turn, they'd have to bring back everyone from last year, filling in wisely with veteran minimums. And they'd have to hit a home run with their mid-level exception.
Talkin' turkey: Pay that man. Pay that man his money. It's not even up for debate: Melo is getting five years and $129 million if he stays in New York — and that's roughly $30 million more than any other team can offer him, which is four years and $95 million, barring a sign and trade. I think he stays for that extra paper. Also, the whole New York thing.
1. Eric Bledsoe (restricted free agent).
Age: 24 years old.
Weight: 190 lbs.
You thought I was going to say Lebron, didn't you? Nope. Never going to happen, so let's not waste our time.
Instead, give me Mini Lebron.
Yes, I'm talking about Eric Bledsoe. The guy has missed a quarter of his games as a pro, and that's part of the reason why he was traded last year and could be available if offered a max contract (four years at $58.8 million). Granted: The Suns have said they'd match anything offered to Bledsoe, but that was before they got visions of Lebron and Melo and Kevin Love in their eyes.
Now, a talent like Eric Bledsoe doesn't come available every offseason — or even every three offseasons, for that matter. Yes, Melo is a better player right now, but to me the upside of Bledsoe as an elite two-way player is unparalleled in this free agent class — and largely throughout most teams in the league.
Meanwhile, the Suns are thinking they've arrived after one “good” season, and are trying to cash in. They have $33 million in cap space and will probably end up snagging one of the guys on this list with a max offer. Hayward makes sense. So does Ariza. But the Suns' dream is to get in front of Carmelo or Lebron. And if that doesn't work out, maybe they'll pull off a trade for Kevin Love and watch him not sign an extension with them.
Bottom line: If they get really greedy, Bledsoe is gone. And if that's even a remote possibility, it's one the Mavs need to look into.
Let's get nerdy, girl: Bledsoe had a jump of 12 minutes a game last season — probably the biggest jump out there, if anyone kept such stats, but they don't — and, as any pessimist would have projected, he got hurt.
But in the 43 games he did play, he was phenomenal, dropping 18 points per game, with five assists, five boards and two steals per game, too. The only players in the league to do that last year: Westbrook, Wall, Harden, Curry, Lowry, Lebron, Chris Paul and Bledsoe. And only three other players in NBA history have ever gotten to those numbers while playing under 33 minutes a game.
Also? In Bledsoe's first two seasons, it looked like his jumper was busted — he shot under 28 percent from three both years, but, in his last 119 games, he's shooting 37.2 percent from deep. And he's excelled at the corner three, hitting 50 percent and 54.5 percent from that spot in consecutive years.
Please come to Dallas in the fall time: The quote from the Suns on resigning Bledsoe is “whatever it takes.” I'd look at it the same way if I were Dallas. Max contract? Sign-and-trade? Whatever it takes, bro.
Bledsoe is the anti-get-rich-quick scheme for this offseason because you're not going to be able to pair him with an elite small forward with $14.7 million of the Mavericks' $26 million in cap space tied up in Bledsoe before even Dirk's deal gets done.
But envision this: Bledsoe at point for the next four or five years, with Dirk under contract for three more years and the team having the ability to offer a max contract to Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez or whichever big man they want next year.
Yes, I know the Mavericks aversion to the restricted free agency process. But I don’t care. You'd put up with the RFA process for a 24-year-old Russell Westbrook, wouldn't you? Of course you would.
This guy is worth whatever hoops you have to jump through.
Talkin' turkey: Bledsoe's getting max money, whether that's through a new deal with a new team or a sign-and-trade that nets him that fifth year. He’s getting paid. If he comes to Dallas, that means four years at $58.8 million. Let's do it.
Carmelo Anthony cover photo by Tim Shelby, via WikiCommons.