Court Changes: Tyson Returns to Big D

This is another installment of Court Changes—a summer breakdown of trades and free-agency signings. The series will get into the motivations behind the moves and how these transactions will affect teams’ trajectories. All opinions are those of the writer.

The New York Knicks traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin. The Knicks also received the 34th and 51st pick in this year’s Draft.

The Knicks made this trade because: Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher desired a point guard suitable for the notorious triangle offense.

Even though the Zen Master might not have created the triple-post offense, more commonly known as triangle offense, Jackson certainly gave it national recognition and legitimacy at the highest level of play. With Derek Fisher—someone who understands it better than possibly any other point guard—coaching from the sideline for the first time, his players should expect nothing less than a complete implementation of Jackson’s schemes that helped him win 11 Championships.

Spacing has always been and will continue to be a crucial part of the system. A coach executing this offense requires the usage of countless pick-and-rolls leading to points in the paint and corner three-pointers. As long as a point guard can make smart decisions, keep the ball moving inside-out and knock down shots from deep, he can comfortably settle into a defined role while in the triangle.

The Spaniard point guard meets all the requirements.

Recognized across the League as having one of the purest strokes, Calderon made 44.9 percent of his threes on 5.2 attempts per game last season. He rarely forced his shot or shied away from rising up when he found breathing room. His basketball IQ also shouldn’t go understated as he took care of the ball and only turned it over 2.1 times per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.

As Jackson works in the front office for the first time and Fisher soon embarks on the treacherous journey of being an NBA coach, an intelligent orchestrator on the court will make both of these transitions smoother. Calderon might not last more than a season or two in New York before the Knicks find another team to take on his hefty contract just as the Mavs did, but for the immediate future, he fits in the triangle offense.

(Could he be the trick in somewhat revitalizing Bargnani’s play, since Calderon was the main distributor in Toronto when Bargs averaged a career-high 21.4 ppg?)

The Mavs made this trade because: Chandler mends many of the interior issues Dallas has had since Chandler left.

When the big fella played his sole season with the Mavs during their Championship run, he (and Shawn Marion) anchored a defense that really came together as the season progressed. Dallas only gave up 105.0 points per 100 possessions (eighth best in the NBA) while holding opponents to 45 percent shooting. By the time they made their way to the Finals, that defense held the Heat under 100 points five times during the six-game series. (Chandler also was going straight up against LeBron before Hibbert made it cool.)

Since those glory days, defensive intensity has been all but nonexistent as Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Chris Kaman and Samuel Dalembert have taken their respective turns at the center position. Even last season when the Mavs rekindled their offensive touch and national relevancy, they gave up 108.7 points per 100 possessions—the worst among all 16 Playoff teams.

He might have hit that discouraging sports age of 30 while in New York and showed some wear and tear, but Chandler comes back to a defensive system he understands and thrives in. No matter Dirk’s level of play, the Big German will never be the intense, emotional force every competitive professional sports team needs. Chandler brings the intangibles on and off the court that turned a consistently one-and-done Playoff team into a contender and eventual Championship squad. It isn’t a surprise that Nowitzki is welcoming back his fellow frontcourt partner with open arms—the power forward saw the Chandler effect in 2011 and has been craving something of the sort ever since. It’s back.

This is good for the Mavs’ off-season aspirations because: their reunited frontline is enticing for free agents.

The glaring issue with Chandler is obviously his inability to stay on the court, as he has missed a total of 43 games the past two seasons. And unlike before when Dallas brought in the injury-ridden center, he’s on the verge of being 32 rather than 28.

But this difference doesn’t change the fact that the Mavs just increased the possibility for free agents to do a double take when considering Dallas as a conceivable destination. Particularly during the past few seasons, coveted free agents have often times valued aggressive signings over the emptiness of cap space. The Mavs experienced this firsthand when Deron Williams chose to pair up with recently signed Joe Johnson in Brooklyn rather than see what Dallas could accomplish after going back to his hometown.

Chandler has shown the type of demeanor and passion other players want to be around, and unrestricted small forwards will be tempted to consider joining Dirk and Chandler in a frontcourt that scaled the NBA mountain once before. This trade provides some justification behind the Mavs’ sudden emergence as “real players” for LeBron and Melo. As unrealistic as it is to consider either of these players in blue, the existence of these reports shows Dallas’ improved positioning.

(Let me be clear: This is a much older, less dominant duo in Dirk and Chandler that won’t have close to the same force as in 2011, but that’s not what this is about. Due to the aforementioned success, the lure for a free agent to try and help recapture this magic is very potent.)

This is bad for New York’s chances of re-signing Melo because: Calderon and Dalembert don’t scream “Championship pieces.”

Unlike the Mavericks’ move to bring in Chandler, the Knicks haven’t aided their Melo hunt by trading for Calderon and Dalembert. Yes, each incoming part holds value in and of itself, but as a whole, the trade has given Anthony less motivation to stay in New York.

In all actuality, putting Calderon in a starting lineup with Carmelo might provide dividends for both players. Melo, though, has always been about the bright lights, major headlines and big names. The Knicks got rid of the one player (Tyson Chandler) Anthony has made clear he likes as a teammate. While the Rockets are offering as teammates Dwight Howard and James Harden (or LeBron James), the Bulls are offering Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and the Mavs are offering Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks can’t offer much more than a longer contract with more money. (When you also factor in the inexperience of Fisher over the likes of veteran coaches Kevin McHale, Tim Thibodeau and Rick Carlisle, New York seems to continue dropping on Melo’s short list.)

Even before Jackson made this move, it seemed doubtful the Knicks had enough to offer Anthony. Now? It seems inevitable that the Melo-era in the Big Apple has all but come to an end.

This is temporarily bad for the Mavs’ ability to stretch the floor because: they lost the key player who did this the majority of last season.

Carlisle did a fantastic job transforming Monta Ellis’ game and turning a bad-decision chunker into an incessantly penetrating force. Calderon’s (and Vince Carter’s) ability to hit the long ball spread out the defense for Ellis and frequently opened some lanes for the shooting guard to carve up.

As of right now, all of that is gone with Calderon being traded and Carter a free agent. Calderon ended his season with the Mavs making a team-high 191 three-pointers and Carter behind him with 146. It is just as important for Ellis to sustain or improve upon his recent success as it is for Dallas to fill other holes on the roster.

Ellis has regressed in the past after breakout seasons, and the Mavs should do everything in their power to get a similar Monta Ellis this year as they developed last season. If they strike out again on big fish and settle with Harris and Felton as a point guard tandem—two veterans who probably won’t be finding their shooting touch anytime soon—those easily found lanes to the basket for Monta might start to become more elusive.

This is good for the Knicks’ future because: they are no longer ignoring it.

I am shocked—the Knicks made an off-season move involving young assets and draft picks coming to New York. As in, they aren’t giving them away. It simply feels wrong.

This is a fantastic first move for Jackson, who is showing he’s not afraid of a future without his superstar. As hard as it is for any team to let go of a franchise piece like Anthony, Jackson realizes the money Melo covets would put the franchise right back in the fiscal hole they currently find themselves in.

With the two received picks, the Knicks brought in Cleanthony Early, a natural scorer many had going in the first round, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, a project player with an amusing name and the ability to make an impact in a few years.

These aren’t major moves that will vault the Knicks back into the discussion for the Larry O’Brien trophy, but they might finally be taking necessary steps to reconstruct this roster and invest in young talent.

This is good for the Mavs’ future because: they attained a “win-now” piece while still creating flexibility for the 2015 offseason.

Daryl Morey and the Rockets have shown the NBA it is possible to chase and capture star power in successive seasons. The Mavs clearly traded for Chandler in order to get the most out of Dirk’s 2014-15 season, and they still plan to make a push for LeBron and Melo once free agency begins. No matter whether or not one of those pursuits becomes a reality, they will have the flexibility again in 2015 to chase free agents looking for similar contracts.

This next season, the Mavs owe Chandler just under $15 million and Felton about $3.7 million. Come the end of the season, though, Chandler will be a free agent and Felton has a player option worth just under $4 million. Brandan Wright’s contract ($5 million) will also be off the books.

Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have found a way to start the process of building upon their team’s recent Playoff run while leaving the door open to make a significant signing come this time next year.

Both the Mavs and Knicks won this trade because: they had distinct off-season goals in mind and effectively took crucial first steps toward fulfilling those plans.

Neither of these teams are close to being finished with their 2014 offseason. As easy as it is to quickly and irrationally react to the trade, this move can’t be analyzed by itself. It must be understood more changes are just around the corner on both sides.

With each team fixating its attention on Melo at the moment, they will have to make major decisions once he makes up his mind. Whether he stays in New York, goes to Dallas or chooses a different team altogether, both these organizations are ready to move forward with their off-season strategy.

Fisher needed a veteran point guard to assist him in implementing an entirely new offensive structure while Jackson has had no choice but to prepare for life without Melo. Even though there seems to be no one left on the roster who will play defense, the Knicks are starting to look like a franchise with a plan and a future.

The Mavericks entered this summer needing to make three major changes: 1) improve interior play on both ends of the floor, 2) find a 3-and-D wing and 3) fix the Calderon-Ellis defensive catastrophe. Well, (a healthy) Chandler has cleared up all issues down low while the departure of Calderon begins the process of bettering the defense up top. With only about $3 million added to the Mavs salary obligations next season and Dirk taking an eventual pay cut when he re-signs, the Mavericks will have plenty of options at the small forward position. (Deng, Ariza, Parsons would all be serviceable.)

These teams had plenty of holes before the trade and brought out their sewing kits to start mending the roster. Don’t be surprised if you see one or both of these teams make another appearance in SLAM’s Court Changes.

Previously in 2012-13 offseason:
Court Changes: Jennings Finally Finds a Home
Court Changes: The New Argentinian Sixth Man
Court Changes: Nate The Lil’ Nugget
Court Changes: Monta Ellis Picks Dallas
Court Changes: Iggy Joins the Dubs
Court Changes: Josh Smith Going To Motown

Court Changes: Superman to Houston
Court Changes: Clippers Get Two Sharpshooters
Court Changes: Knicks Acquire Andrea Bargnani