In Dallas, most were very pleased to see Brandan Wright retained at what appeared to be a very reasonable deal, two years totaling an even $10 million. Given how Wright had closed the previous season, along with the unique niche he filled within the Dallas Mavericks' roster - a big man capable of playing above the rim - there wasn't much to complain about.
However, in the opinion of at least one national site, the Wright contract was the fourth worst to come from last summer, behind only the deals agreed to by Josh Smith, Kyle Korver and another Dallas signee, Jose Calderon.
Per Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com:
Rick Carlisle and his staff deserve credit for resurrecting Wright's career and turning him into a serviceable big. But he didn't generate much outside interest while waiting for the Mavs to exhaust their cap room and undoubtedly could have been brought back at a lower salary. We know centers get paid, but Wright is not a full-fledged center, nor is he a full-time player.
While we know a portion of that justification to be misguided – what appeared to be a lack of "outside interest" was actually an early determination from Wright's camp to remain in Dallas (as Wright himself told DB.com) – it's possible there is a degree of merit to the rest.
With that in mind, contrasted by our own offseason feelings on the deal (which were/are positive), in tandem with what we've seen from Wright this season, we thought we'd take a look to see how Wright compared with other players who are making similar money this season.
In fairness, we should note that the idea for this originated in the feeling that Wright was being underused in comparison to his compensation … and our personal desires to see more of him.
Then, Shawn Marion got hurt, missing four games, and Wright's minutes climbed a bit as he often shared the court with his primary competition for minutes, DeJuan Blair … though, as we'll show below, his time has since fallen as he fights with Blair for time.
To make this comparison, we gathered all contracts falling between $4-to-6 million for the 2013-14 season. We then removed all players still on their rookie-scale deals, as it's not truly relevant to relate a contract signed by a free agent to that of a high first-round pick who has never hit free-agency, restricted or otherwise. Obviously, the expectations are not the same for Brandan Wright as they are for someone like DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis or Kyrie Irving – all players who have rookie-scale deals falling within the $4-to-6 million window this year, and may be the best players on their respective teams.
The final tally came to 36 players (see the full list below), including Michael Beasley, who is actually playing for the veteran minimum with the Miami Heat, but only because the deal that would have paid him $6 million this season was bought out by the Phoenix Suns, making that the value he was originally signed for. This also includes Luis Scola, who's salary cap hit falls in this window due to being claimed via amnesty bid … making that the value teams placed on him at that time.
So, how does Wright rank among these 36 players (per game)?
Of the above categories, Wright ranks in the top third in all but minutes, including sitting atop the pack in field-goal percentage and second in net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), which speaks to his fit with this team … and Rick Carlisle's usage of him.
Some clarification is needed in the "age" category. Wright is 26. There are four players age 25, and three others who are also 26. So, fifth is a little misleading with eight of the 36 being 26 years or younger. Even so, his age should be viewed as a positive trait, both within and beyond these parameters.
As Mr. Bernucca noted, Wright is neither a "full-fledged center" nor a "full-time" player and he's not exactly the Mavs' sixth man, making this a reasonable gripe. When you pay a player between $4 and $6 million, you are hoping for more than the 19.5 minutes per game Wright was averaging when these numbers were pulled (down to 19.1 and ranking 21st after Friday's loss at Brooklyn, where he played 11:44) … and that number may be slightly bloated in relation to his "standard" role, though that definition appears to remain in flux.
Prior to Marion's injury, Wright averaged 19.9 minutes, but this was carried by four games, including his two highest minute totals of the season, in which Samuel Dalembert was either absent or well-entrenched on Carlisle's s-list. Remove those games, and that average drops below 18. In the four games Marion missed, Wright averaged 20.5 minutes, but in the six since Marion's return, he's down below 17 (including Friday) … with all of this, perhaps that 19.5 minutes average is an inaccurate reflection of his "normal" role.
In a vacuum, Brandan Wright has upheld his end of expectation on the court. His rankings among those with similar contracts uphold this stance.
Whether or not his success is a product of Carlisle's selective deployment, hiding Wright from situations that that are less favorable, it is time that grants space for contribution. Time is opportunity.
Time is money … and time is where the Mavs have gotten the least with Wright.
This is a simplistic view, as it ignores the full context of what Wright brings, and how badly Dallas needed someone with his particular skill set on the roster. Even the option of playing him, of having that weapon available, has value. It also doesn't consider the impact he's had on other players, such as the chemistry he has shown with Vince Carter. Nor does it see the potential in what Wright could become, his ceiling, all stemming from the good things we know about his work ethic, attitude and drive.
While it's safe to say you'd like a player who consistently sees the court more than Wright when holding a $5 million-per-year deal in the current marketplace, it's impossible to label this a "bad" contract. Wright has areas he needs to improve in (see rebounding), and still seems more ideally suited for the power forward position, but at no time has anyone inside the Mavs organization (and we assume among the Dallas fanbase) regretted the deal that kept him here.
(Statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com's media site. Numbers current through the games played 1/22/14, unless otherwise stated)
Complete list of 36 players evaluated:
Andre Miller, Boris Diaw, Brandan Wright, Brandon Rush, Chase Buddinger, Chuck Hayes, Corey Brewer, Courtney Lee, Earl Clark, Elton Brand, Gerald Henderson, Ian Mahinmi, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Jason Terry, Jason Thompson, JJ Barea, JJ Hickson, Jonas Jerebko, JR Smith, Keith Bogans, Kirk Hinrich, Lou Williams, Luc Mbah A Moute, Luis Scola (amount of cap hit per amnesty claim), Luke Ridnour, Mario Charlmers, Martell Webster, Michael Beasley (waived by the Suns after a buyout, was scheduled to make $6m this season, buyout amount unknown, playing under vet. minimum deal with Miami), Ramon Sessions, Robin Lopez, Steve Blake, Timofey Mozgov, Tony Allen, Udonis Haslem, Zaza Pachulia.