Posted Apr 21 2010 11:54AM
DALLAS -- Richard Jefferson and Shawn Marion were on the lot last summer and the Mavericks kicked the tires on both. The two offered many of the same features: 6-foot-7 slashers, playoff experience, history with Jason Kidd.
As with many used cars, the price was a big factor. Marion offered value. Jefferson, sticker shock. But comparison shopping in Dallas wasn't done with CarMax-speed. Time -- and a lucky bit of timing -- were involved.
"This wasn't just a case of either-or," Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson said as the Mavs readied for Game 2 of their first-round series against San Antonio, scheduled for Wednesday night here. "This was really about the right deal presenting itself."
Milwaukee shopped Jefferson, along with Michael Redd and anyone else with a long-term, big-money contract that wasn't part of the future. Marion, a longtime pest for both San Antonio and Dallas, was a free agent after a 17-month detour through Miami and Toronto.
|Tale of the Texas Tape|
|Dallas' Shawn Marion|
vs. San Antonio's Richard Jefferson
|Regular season stats|
For a deal to work, the Bucks were asking for a load of expiring contracts in return. The Mavericks had plenty -- Erick Dampier, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse for starters -- but making a play for RJ and the $29.2 million left on his contract didn't make financial sense. Not even with Mark Cuban's billions.
It also didn't compute on the player side. The Mavericks were reluctant to part with Howard, hoping they could make a deteriorating relationship work. Stackhouse's contract wouldn't get it done alone. And moving Dampier would have left Dallas without a center. (Had Orlando not matched Dallas' offer sheet for Marcin Gortat, the Mavericks might have parted with Dampier.)
Dallas passed. The Spurs pounced, electing to pass on the big-ticket items in free agency by trading for Jefferson before the Draft. San Antonio's end of the deal included Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas, two aging vets that many in the Alamo City might like to see in this series.
Spurs fans, at the time, lauded the move. Jefferson had played with Tim Duncan and for Gregg Popovich on Team USA. Jefferson had that San Antonio sensibility, a mix of track record and humbleness.
Dallas followers moaned. San Antonio had done it again, bringing in exactly what that team needed to rebuild while missing out on what the Mavericks could use.
Nelson, instead, waited and the dominoes began to fall. Few free agents were getting more than the mid-level exception, with many teams already planning for 2010. A buyers' market took another turn in Dallas' direction when Hedo Turkoglu backed out of a deal with Portland in favor of Toronto. The Raptors couldn't keep Marion and sign Turkoglu.
"We got lucky there with Shawn," Nelson admitted. "The reality is that Turkoglu thing went in a different direction. That was something that was a shock to everyone. We were in position to do something. It was a good fit for Shawn and there we were."
Nelson began putting together a complex deal that eventually included four teams, and the Mavericks moved Stackhouse, Antoine Wright and fillers in a complex sign-and-trade. Marion was brought on board for five years and $39.9 million, with a first-year salary ($6.6 million) less than half of Jefferson's $14.2 million.
"It's like deer hunting and you've got one or two bullets," Nelson said. "You've got to take your best shot when it presents itself. That's kind of what it was. Situations present themselves to different teams at different times."
The Mavericks going cheaper tells only part of the story. The decision to hold onto Howard, though it backfired early, led to the midseason trade for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. Suddenly, the Mavericks had two tough-minded 6-foot-7 former All-Stars in Marion and Butler.
Meanwhile, Marion, though hardly enjoying a standout season, was at least a fit. He doesn't demand the ball. He's able to guard nearly every position. He even asked coach Rick Carlisle to check the opposition's best scorer nightly, winning over his teammates and coaching staff in one swoop. He has been low maintenance and high versatility all season.
"It was his all-around game that drew us to him, and drew Mark and Donnie to him," Carlisle said.
Marion has seen only a fraction of the scrutiny Jefferson has faced in San Antonio. Following a 100-94 loss in Game 1, the Spurs' Popovich had some stinging words for some of his players. Jefferson -- who played 32 minutes, scored only four points and grabbed seven rebounds -- was the No. 1 offender, at least in the eyes of fans.
Jefferson's pricetag is a big reason behind the criticism. He made about as much this season as the combined total of George Hill, Matt Bonner, Antonio McDyess, Roger Mason and Keith Bogans -- the Spurs besides the Three Amigos (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) who played in Game 1.
Jefferson was supposed to give San Antonio a Fab Four. That's why the Spurs willingly took on the last two years of his contract, believing Jefferson would flourish on a team in desperate need of explosiveness on the wing. Peter Holt was praised for opening his wallet and allowing the front office to exceed the luxury tax, a long-held no-no in San Antonio.
Jefferson finished the season on an uptick, as Popovich noted before the series started. Without the benefit of a Kidd-like, pass-first point guard, Jefferson renewed his commitment to rebounding and running the floor during the Spurs' surge following the All-Star break.
What Jefferson gave Sunday was forgettable. Slowed by foul trouble early, he didn't score in the first half and remained non-existent while San Antonio tried to mount a fourth-quarter rally. Marion didn't fare much better in his matching 32 minutes -- nine and five -- but he chased Ginobili, blocked a couple of shots and the Mavericks won.
"We all know he can get a lot bigger numbers than what he's scoring," Dirk Nowitzki said of Marion earlier this season. "Ultimately, if you want to win the championship, the whole team has to make sacrifices."
When it comes to second-guessing, Marion may always have the easier road in Texas. Without a title in the rafters, the Mavericks' shortcomings will always land at Nowitzki's sneakers. Those that have come to Dallas are charged with trying to get Dirk a ring.
The Spurs' basketball trinity are living/playing legends. While they're not entirely above reproach, is anyone really going to fault Timmy, Manu and Tony for falling short? They've got a lifetime pass after a decade of dominance. So when the Spurs don't win the last game in late June, it's someone else's fault.
That's probably going to be Jefferson this year if the Spurs get knocked out in the first round for the second straight year. Jefferson can opt-out of the last year of his contract and become a free agent this summer.
"I want to be as successful as I possibly can here," he said recently. "I've enjoyed my time in San Antonio. I'd love to continue staying here and playing here."
There's no way the Mavericks or Spurs could have predicted the season either Jefferson or Marion would have or the reaction each has generated. Both seem so similar. Both scored about 12 points per game. Had the Mavericks moved on Jefferson, maybe Marion finds his way into silver and black.
"They made a real solid deal and I thought ours was a solid deal," Nelson said. "Of course, every move looks great on paper. It's not what goes in the oven, but what comes out."
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