DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks played their offseason trump card Tuesday, dealing Erick Dampier and his juicy contract.
All they got for it was a backup big man.
The Mavericks consider that oversimplification. To club president Donnie Nelson, the three-for-two deal with Charlotte that brought them Tyson Chandler fills a lot of needs without any drawbacks and, most of all, it bulks up their front line to better take on the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
"This gives us a really nice, athletic punch," Nelson said. "We have a really formidable front line. It's just a really good fit for our team. ... This might not be a grand-slam home run, but it's pretty good for what we've got to go up against in the West."
Mavericks fans have been viewing Dampier's contract like a winning lottery ticket ready to be cashed in because of its unique status: expiring at $13 million and non-guaranteed. That meant a team could give away a high-dollar player or two to get Dampier, then cut him without paying him a cent.
Dallas' best-case scenario was using Dampier in a sign-and-trade for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. The worst-case scenario was using his contract to replace Dirk Nowitzki and-or Brendan Haywood if they left as free agents.
Once the top-tier free agents went elsewhere, and once their own guys were back in the fold, the Mavericks were ready to start dealing. They went after help in the front court, preferably someone young and dynamic.
Al Jefferson was a serious target. Just when Minnesota's asking price started going up, Charlotte's proposed deal that would've sent Chandler to Toronto fell apart.
"So we switched," Nelson said. "We'd talked to Charlotte about him in the past, but we just couldn't put the right thing together. Then the opportunity presented itself. We got lucky with the timing and came to some middle ground."
Jefferson is younger and could be dynamic. But he wasn't a perfect fit. He's far more of a scorer than a defender and Dallas already has one of those in Nowitzki. Plus, the Mavericks would've had to give up more to get him, including future draft picks, and take on the remaining $42 million over three years that's left on his contract.
Chandler is older and coming off two injury-marred seasons, but he's only 27 and the Mavs consider his physical problems more flukes than a guy who is injury prone. He's not a liability on offense (like Dampier often was) and, most of all, they consider him a strong complement to Nowitzki and Haywood on defense.
"You've got to have those weapons to go against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum," Nelson said. "I think that, coupled with the fact this didn't cost us significantly in terms of the future of our franchise, those two things kind of made it come together."
There's one way Chandler can help on offense. In a playoff series against Dallas three years ago, he feasted on lobs from Chris Paul, the kind Jason Kidd also is capable of throwing.
"We certainly remember those," Nelson said, laughing.
Then there's the cost. Dallas sent Matt Carroll and his contract ($11.7 million, three years left) back to Charlotte (the team that gave him that deal) and threw in Eduardo Najera. No draft picks were lost, and the Mavericks also received 7-foot center Alexis Ajinca. Chandler also is playing for a new contract, which tends to bring out the best in guys. And if he doesn't work out, his expiring contract ($12.7 million) should be easy to move.
Dallas still has its midlevel exception and biennial exception left to spend. Power forward Al Harrington — who played for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle in Indiana — is among the players being considered, but there's a question of whether he's worth the money (likely the full midlevel exception) without many minutes left for him.
The Mavericks' rotation is solidly players deep: Nowitzki, Haywood and Chandler in the frontcourt, swingmen Caron Butler and Shawn Marion, then a crowded backcourt of Kidd, Jason Terry, Roddy Beaubois and J.J. Barea. They also have DeShawn Stevenson, another swingman.
First-round pick Dominique Jones and center Ian Mahinmi were signed Tuesday, too.
Mahinmi, who spent the last two years with the Spurs, and Beaubois are good friends and teammates on the French national team. Ajinca is French, too.
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