Last Season: 42-40, 6th Seed in the West
Off-Season Gains: SF Harrison Barnes (free agent), C Andrew Bogut (trade), PF Quincy Acy (free agent), SG Seth Curry (free agent)
Off-Season Losses: SF Chandler Parsons (free agent/Memphis), C Zaza Pachulia (free agent/Golden State), PG Raymond Felton (free agent/Clippers), PF David Lee (free agent/San Antonio), C JaVale McGee (waived/Golden State), SF Jeremy Evans (trade/Indiana)
Off-Season Stock: Time to fire your broker.
League Pass Team?: Yes, to hate-watch Barnes and love-watch Dirk.
Before I begin this rant, I just want to put on the record that I have nothing against Harrison Barnes personally. By all accounts he is a wonderful fellow. I've listened to him interviewed multiple times and found him insightful, interesting and entertaining. His former teammates with the Warriors speak highly of him, as do the journalists who cover the team, a couple of which I know personally. I've got nothing but respect for Harrison Barnes: Person.
However, when it comes to Harrison Barnes the basketball player, his signing with the Mavericks is a glaring neon beacon for everything that's wrong with the league's new financial reality. His contract is ridiculous, even relative to his peers.
If you're not aware, Barnes, 24, a career 10.1-point scorer with a 11.6 PER (15.00 is the league average) in four seasons at Golden State, signed a four-year, $94.4 million max contract with the Mavericks. If you've watched Barnes at all these past few years, then you certainly don't need me to explain to you how absurd this was. Simply put, Barnes is a mediocre player. He cannot dribble. He cannot create his own shots. He cannot create for others. He's not good in pressure situations. His main skills are that he can rebound decently for his position and guard people adequately as a stretch-four in small-ball lineups. He makes open threes -- occasionally -- but is streakier than a Manhattan skyscraper's windows in November. He is not someone to invest $23 million a year in.
Call me crazy, but I don't think you should pay anyone max money unless you'd trust them to execute the basic requirement of their job with a game on the line, and I wouldn't trust Barnes to hit an open three in the playoffs, ever. Heck, just the fact that his whole career has been a series of wide open threes is a testament to why his contract was absurd. He's not going to be getting those in Dallas.
The remarkable thing is that I seem to be in the minority here. I can't even count how many articles I've read or podcasts I've listened to from the basketball illuminati explaining how you can't judge the figures in these new contracts by the context of the old salary cap. After all, the cap will be increasing from $70 million last year to $94.4 next season and somewhere in the neighborhood of $102 million-$108 million in 2017-18.
So let's split the difference and call it $105 million, for the sake of argument. That's a 50 percent increase over the old cap of $70 million and we need to valuate the contracts similarly. $23.6 million a year works out to 22.5 percent of a $105 million cap.
Would you pay Barnes 22.5 percent of your team's salary? Do you expect him to score 22.5 percent of the Mavs' points? Well, he might once Nowitzki retires. By almost any measure, Barnes is a glaring downgrade from Chandler Parsons and handing him that kind of money, is a grievous waste of resources and a bastardization of the whole point of having a "max contract."
I declare, with all sincerity, that I would prefer Danny Green to Barnes, all day, every day -- and Green's making $10 million. Understand, I'm by no means yelling at clouds and declaring that players are overpaid collectively. It's not like I think the owners should pocket all the money. But contracts such as Barnes' will be what undoes the CBA and lead to another lockout, the same as when relatively unproven young players like Kevin Garnett signed that six-year, $126 million contract a generation ago that caused such a fuss.
I believe the solution is simple. Install a "hard" cap, get rid of "Bird" rights (which allow teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own guys) and get rid of max salaries. Make those changes and not only will owners be more judicious about signing players to exorbitant contracts, but it'll create more parity in the league and fewer "super teams." Stars will be less willing to play with each other for $20 million a pop when there's maybe a $45 million salary awaiting them elsewhere. The max players would actually be stars instead of just random guys who happen to be free agents at the right time.
Barnes wasn't the only Warrior the Mavs acquired, of course. They also traded for Andrew Bogut and even signed the basketball-playing son of Dell Curry. Okay, so it was Seth. Still, the genes are in there somewhere and his contract represents a better value than Barnes'. Bogut is still a difference-maker when healthy, a terrific passer and screener on offense and smart in his own end, but his athleticism and endurance have both slipped with age and he fouls too much. More than anything, he's injury-prone, which is why I'd be wary of signing him. Personally, I was rooting for no one to trade for Bogut, because the Warriors wouldn't have been able to sign Kevin Durant to the max without moving the Aussie's contract off the books. It'd have been the greatest act of collusion ever and also hilarious.
About the only thing the Mavs did that I liked was rewarding Dirk Nowitzki for years of service -- the last several of which came at a steep discount so that the team could (ahem) go after free agents. The gigantic German remains their best player by a mile, even though he's six months younger than me and similarly immobile. That he's more reliable offensively than Barnes by several orders of magnitude is kind of a sign that the franchise has a boatload of money at risk. There's another guy worth rooting for in Wes Matthews, whom I'm hoping will be back to 100 percent after a down year in 2016 coming back from that Achilles tear. When he's right, Matthews is one of the best two-way wings in the league. Someone I'm less optimistic about is his backcourt-mate Deron Williams, who's been league-average going on three years now and decidedly sub-par defensively a lot longer than that.
"But what about the bench?" you ask. I guess it could be worse. Devin Harris is still here, to play well against the Spurs and exactly no one else. J.J. Barea's on the roster, in case you found yourself missing Facundo Campazzo. Dwight Powell and Justin Anderson are a couple of youngsters with promise. Backup center Salah Mejri's claim to fame is talking trash to Pop.
There just isn't a lot here to be excited about, at either end of the floor. Like with most ordinary teams, the guys who can score don't play any defense and vice versa. The Mavericks figure to contend for the seventh or eighth seed, and that's it. They've been a side of broccoli for years now and thanks to the Barnes deal they don't look like they'll be anymore appetizing in the future.