Defending the Desmond Mason Signing

I’m going to assume you’ve already read Tom Ziller’s questioning of the Desmond Mason signing. If you haven’t, here it is.

I’m going to steal a line from My Cousin Vinny to address Tom’s assertion of this Desmond Mason signing:

“That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection. Overruled!”

Okay, maybe I don’t have the authority to overrule Tom Ziller on this issue. Hell, I don’t even really know what that would mean. But I’m going to take a different route with this transaction. I think it’s a good signing overall. Could there have been better signings? Absolutely. The Kings were supposedly set with their roster at 13 guys, needed a backup big man in the worst way, and then a couple days later signed the 32-year old swingman to a team that is now gluttonous with 2’s and 3’s. But I don’t think it makes it a completely nonsensical signing by any means.

This signing wasn’t the same type of transaction as the Celtics signing Marquis Daniels or the Cavaliers signing Anthony Parker. Both of those were to add depth at weak positions and both cost a lot more than the veteran’s minimum. The Kings signing Desmond Mason was the equivalent of the Mavericks acquiring Quinton Ross. They were acquiring a role player to fill a specific need – defense.

So let’s break this signing down into four factors of why this deal makes sense:

1. Players Respect His Defense

When you look at the advanced statistics, Desmond Mason’s defensive ratings over the last five years are startling bad for someone that is supposed to come in and bring a defensive mindset. His last five seasons worth of defensive ratings starting with the most recent are 111, 114, 109, 109, and 113. That’s not good at all. As Tom pointed out, “This is roughly comparable with Kevin Martin (though Martin’s 2008-09 117 DRtg is a bit extreme). Kevin Martin is not known as an incredible defender.”

(Warning: this explanation should be taken with a grain or two of salt due to the fact that I probably understand advanced statistics at an 80% capacity, where as guys like Tom can recite this stuff backwards and forwards. So perhaps, I’m talking out of my ass here)

Advanced statistics are great tools for figuring out quite a few things but defensive rating is a tricky stat to play with in my opinion. To my knowledge, this category factors in the amount of points teams give up while that player is on the court over the course of 100 possessions. Well, the biggest hand up I have with it is we’re deciphering how good a defensive player someone is by factoring what their team does (essentially).

Well, if you look at Mason’s teams over the course of those five years, he’s played on some atrocious defensive teams. In fact, the only above average defensive team he played with during that time was the 2006-2007 Hornets. They were 14th in the league in team defensive rating. Granted, they were almost three points worse per 100 possessions with Mason on the court. The other teams, starting with the most recent, were 20th, 30th, 19th, and 28th in the league in team defensive rating. Granted, in all of those seasons Mason’s team was usually about two points better with him not on the court (according to defensive rating) than with him but I have a hard time ascertaining that this makes him a bad or subpar defender.

When you’re on inherently bad defensive teams and you’re playing extended minutes, more often than not, it seems to me that you would have a bad defensive rating. This doesn’t make him Kevin Martin bad just as much as it doesn’t make him Shane Battier good with defense. I think it’s tough to judge him based on defensive rating. What I think we should judge him on is what people see on the court on a daily basis. I included a quote from Royce of Daily Thunder yesterday and he stated that Mason’s defensive effort seemed to change how his teammates played. I think that’s an important thing to consider from someone who watched Mason last year more than any of us did.

I also was struck by the tweet from Kevin Durant in response to one of your fellow Kings’ fans, @rc360. He stated, “[Desmond Mason] plays harder than anyone I ever seen!! Great defender.” Now, Durant could be completely biased on this subject but I think you can take a lot out of one of the best natural scorers of the past decade stating that about a 32-year old guy with bad wheels. Should we read that statement as irrefutable fact? Not a chance. But it’s something to consider just as much as the defensive rating. And I’m guessing that Durant isn’t the only guy that is impressed by Mason’s defense and work ethic.

2. He Isn’t Going To Be The Sixth Man
There seems to be a worry from a few Kings fans that Mason is going to take valuable time away from some of the young players with such a logjam at the wing positions. I find that hard to believe.

It seems that Mason is more rounding out the roster than he is applying for starter’s minutes with this signing. I think he’s a bit of an insurance policy to add depth to the shooting guard position if Kevin Martin finds the injury bug once again. If he plays more than 20 minutes per game this season, it’s probably because he earned it, there was an injury, or Paul Westphal has lost his mind. I think the third option here is the least likely of these situations to happen.

Mason isn’t going to take minutes from Francisco Garcia as much as he’ll be there in case of health issues and/or player development issues. He isn’t being asked to come in here and be Bruce Bowen for the title contending Spurs. He will be a role player from the bench that will earn his way onto the court or be a Mateen Cleaves on the sidelines.

3. He Has a McFarlane Figure

Check that out!

They don’t just make those of anybody! He earned that!

4. We’ll Find Out What The Young Guys Have
This is the most important part of this signing in my opinion. He’s going to challenge the young guys every day in practice with his alleged hard-nosed defense and “legendary” work ethic. There’s nothing worse than waiting on young guys to develop and eventually realizing that they just don’t have it to compete for your beloved team. As a Wolves fan, I know this better than just about any other fan base. So when you have the chance to get a guy like Mason who can theoretically weed out the young guys who don’t have it, I think you should bring that player aboard.

Omri Casspi is a complete enigma in the sense that we don’t have a lot of information or evidence of what this guy can do. I watched him for five games in the Summer League and think that I know what he brings to the table. He seems like a guy that has a player-maker’s instinct somewhere inside him and is fearless and poised no matter how he is playing. But that was Summer League and who knows if he’s a legit young guy or someone that can look like he has promise against guys who may or may not make the D-League.

Donte Greene is an even greater enigma. He’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by a David Blaine trick (one of the few that works). We don’t know if he’s real or a figment of our imagination. We don’t know if he’s the next Tim Thomas or what Tim Thomas was supposed to be. We just don’t know anything with him. The only time he’s impressed me in the last year-plus was when he dropped 40 in a Summer League game. Other than that, he’s been hugely disappointing as a rookie with limited opportunities, he didn’t dominate a local pro-am, and he never really had a great game during this summer’s Vegas vacation.

I’m not a guy that likes it when young people or players are given something without earning it. I regaled against the media when it seemed like they were trying to get LeBron James an MVP award three years ago, despite the fact that there were clearly more deserving players and it seemed like we were just trying to justify the hype early. I don’t think that all kids playing little league sports deserve a trophy just for trying. And I don’t think young, pro athletes should get playing time just because they could be the future. I think young people have to learn how to earn things in life. And that’s what this Desmond Mason signing means to me.

Casspi and Greene shouldn’t just be given time on the court to see what they can do if they can’t beat out Desmond Mason in practice. Giving them an inflated sense of self worth is probably the worst thing you can do for this struggling franchise (other than giving Beno Udrih the full mid-level exception). They need to earn their time on the floor by proving they can out play, out hustle, and out work a 32-year old veteran with a horrific jump shot and bad knees. This business isn’t about being nice and giving everybody a chance. It’s about proving you’re more worthy of a job than the guy next you on the bench. It’s how you weed out the deserving players from the busts.

That’s the environment that the Kings need right now. They need work ethic, toughness, and pride. They didn’t seem to have much of that last season. That’s why I’m all for the Desmond Mason signing. You don’t have to prove yourself with some young roster filler that should probably be assigned to the Reno Big Horns. You usually win your minutes based on your salary and draft position. With Mason, there’s only one way to prove yourself. Beat out the old guy.

If the Kings young swing men can’t do that, you’ve answered the question of whether or not you can build a foundation with these guys.

Were there more pressing needs for this team? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean this signing can’t be invaluable on the practice court and in the development of this franchise’s young assets.

Although there is one point Tom brought up that is undeniable, “Try cupcakes! Little children such Greene and Casspi loves cupcakes!”

Cupcakes are great motivational tools.

You may now commence skewering me for thinking Mason’s signing is legit.

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