The Dallas Mavericks moved on quickly from losing Dwight Howard, locking up Jose Calderon to a four-year, $29 million contract after Calderon spurned the Sacramento Kings. It's an expensive deal and I don't like a team with cap flexibility giving him four years when he'll turn 32 before the season, but I understand why he appealed to the Mavericks.
Calderon has always been a consistent player with plenty of strengths. Because he's toiled on so many anonymous teams, the average NBA fan hasn't been able to fully appreciate those qualities. He was the same old Calderon even after going to the Detroit Pistons at the trade deadline, running the offense smoothly, hitting perimeter shots and limiting his turnovers. He's a good teammate because he understands how to get everyone their shots, runs the pick and roll crisply and generally won't play outside his means.
Of course, there are also reasons why he hasn't nailed down a starting job. For one, he's abysmal defensively, though he at least tries to position himself well. Point guard defense is less important than wing or interior defense, but many good point guards have field days when they go at Calderon. Calderon's sparking assist/turnover numbers can also be somewhat deceiving because they are a product of his low-risk style. He attempted just 80 shots at the rim all season last year and averages only two free throws per 36 minutes for his career. If he drove more often, he might commit more turnovers, but he'd also make himself into a much more dynamic threat that would tilt defenses and open up even more efficient shots for teammates.
Those weaknesses are why I think four years and $28 million is a bit ambitious for his services. In a lot of ways, Calderon is just good enough to make you and your team mediocre. His strengths allow you to run a coherent offense, but his weaknesses prevent you from making it more dynamic.
On the other hand, Calderon is a very good fit in Dallas specifically. One of the Mavericks' biggest weaknesses last year was the poor passing of their backcourt. Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo both looked for their own shots too often, gunning for stats to make themselves more valuable in free agency. Simple point guard qualities, like throwing an entry pass, were executed poorly, and for a team that has Dirk Nowitzki, that's a major problem. That Rick Carlisle benched Collison for Mike James, who isn't exactly good at exhibiting "point guard qualities," shows the depth of the problem.
Passing, as it turns out, is Calderon's biggest strength. There will never be any problems getting the ball to Nowitzki this season, and a Calderon/Nowitzki pick and roll could be one of the league's deadliest. Nowitzki was at his best when he had Jason Kidd to give him the ball and spot up off his wing isolations. Calderon can fill that role easily.
It's also worth noting that Calderon has never played with an efficient offensive player like Nowitzki. Perhaps Calderon will look to be more aggressive knowing that teams are reluctant to help off Nowitzki to stop dribble penetration. That's how J.J. Barea got a $20 million from the Timberwolves.
All this makes the signing understandable. I just don't love the idea of paying a 35-year-old Calderon over $7 million at the end of his contract when the Mavericks could very well be rebuilding. Ideally, Dallas could have signed Calderon for fewer years at a higher annual salary, but perhaps that wasn't possible.