DALLAS – Nobody maximizes the veteran’s minimum like the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs have managed to build one of the West’s best benches almost solely with vets who accepted minimum contracts to come to Dallas. With a $3.9 million salary, Devin Harris is the exception for the Mavs’ second unit, and he returned to Dallas on a minimum deal last season. The rest of the reserves in Dallas’ rotation – Amar’e Stoudemire, Al-Farouq Aminu, J.J. Barea, Richard Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva – make the minimum.
At that cost, the players typically have plenty of options, particularly a high-profile midseason free agent such as Stoudemire. What makes the Mavs so attractive to the vet-minimum crowd?
“Guys like that want to come play with great players that can enhance their games, and Dirk [Nowitzki] is a guy that people have such great respect for,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s been a big draw here for a long time and continues to be. The other reason is Mark [Cuban]. They know he’s a great owner that takes care of players and is going to do all the right things to help us win.”
Cuban, the billionaire who will spare no expense to build a winner but sweats every cent while managing the salary cap, lists three major reasons that Dallas is a destination city for veterans willing to play for NBA peanuts.
“We have an amazing medical staff,” Cuban said via the Cyber Dust messaging app. “We have an open style of play that can play to the strengths of any player. And we are in the playoff hunt in the West.
The Mavs have long prided themselves on their ability to find quality in the “merry minimums.” In terms of acquiring a bunch of bargain-priced talent, this might be the front office’s finest season yet.
Stoudemire, who will make less than $500,000 the rest of this season after negotiating a buyout in the final year of his five-year, $99.7 million deal with the New York Knicks, might be the best vet-minimum addition in Mavs history. Like Peja Stojakovic in 2011, Stoudemire is a former star who joined the Mavs midseason searching for his first championship ring and eager to contribute to a contender.
Stoudemire’s knees will no longer let him log the minutes he did during his days as a six-time All-Star, but he’s still capable of explosive production in limited playing time when healthy. The sterling reputation of Dallas athletic trainer Casey Smith was a critical element in making the Mavs clear frontrunners for Stoudemire before his divorce from the Knicks was even done.
“I was very, very familiar with the organization from playing against them so many times during my time in Phoenix,” Stoudemire said after scoring 14 points in 11 minutes during his Dallas debut. “I knew about the training staff here that was a really, really good training staff, which is a positive for me to prolong my health.
“And then the players are guys who are ready to win. Obviously, coach Carlisle is a phenomenal coach and a champion as well. All those tangibles I thought about. “
Barea was another buyout blessing, but he joined the Mavs during the first week of the season. Like Harris the previous year, it was a homecoming for Barea, who spent his first five seasons in Dallas and was a key role player during the title season. He has resumed his role as a playmaker off the bench who is capable of being a solid spot starter.
Villanueva simply wanted to salvage his career after it fizzled the last few years in Detroit. He accepted a camp-invitation deal with no guaranteed money, choosing the Mavs over the Los Angeles Clippers because he thought Dallas could use a reserve stretch power forward and was convinced Carlisle would have him a legitimate shot. Villanueva earned a roster spot and eventually a limited role with a green light to shoot.
Aminu, like Brandan Wright four years ago, arrived in Dallas as a young lottery-pick bust whose career took off under Carlisle. Aminu has emerged as a multi-positional glue guy with the Mavs whose defense, rebounding and energy have drawn comparisons to Shawn Marion.
Jefferson, a former 20-point-per-game scorer, was a starter for the rebuilding Utah Jazz last season. He was more than willing to sacrifice minutes and money to have a chance to contend for a championship.
“You start looking at the roster and what they’ve accumulated,” Jefferson said after his 10-point, 10-rebound, four-assist performance filling in for injured starting small forward Chandler Parsons in Sunday’s win. “I’m in year 14 now. I want to win. If that means I have to take less money for a year or two to help a team win, then so be it.”