The Summer of 2010 stands to be one of the most exciting and dynamic in recent NBA history. There’s a slew of talented free agents; several teams have talent + a TON of cap space; owners and players are talking smack and gearing up for a 2011-12 lockout; and if you’re a Mavs fan, you’ve got Cuban’s deal-making abilities waiting in the wings!
Beyond that high-level summary, what does the future hold for the Mavs? And what does the detailed picture look like for other teams?
As far as the Mavs go, the picture is good, but unclear. Doing nothing, the Mavs return a very talented starting four (Nowitzki, Butler, Kidd, Marion), a very talented 6th man (Terry), and a very talented pair of backup point guards (Beaubois, Barea). While that would leave a huge gap at the 5-spot, it’s a safe assumption that Cuban + Donnie Nelson will work out an extension with Haywood, so in this “do nothing” scenario it’s probably more accurate to say “return a very talented starting five, 6th man, and pair of backup point guards”.
That leaves the “what if?” scenarios, where all the fun comes in. What if Dirk opts for Free Agency? What if the Mavs want to land a marquis free agent?
My take is that the Mavs’ approach comes down to two scenarios:
- The aforementioned “do nothing” scenario where the Mavs return the core starters, while making a minor move or two for better bench talent (i.e., backups for Haywood, and the 3/4 spot).
- The – what we’ll call – “PRIME TIME” scenario, where Cuban makes a run a superstar.
(I should start by saying I don’t think Dirk’s opting out of his contract – I think he avoids the labor uncertainty completely and best positions himself for a new deal after 2011. This is a key assumption underlying either of the above scenarios).
The PRIME TIME scenario may seem murky, but it’s a lot more likely than it is at first glance (it’s certainly more likely than what you’d hear in the mainstream press). From a Mavs perspective, there’s no question this would entail a sign-and-trade deal, but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.
I think it’s helpful to start by looking at it from a superstar free-agent’s perspective (i.e., James/Wade/Bosh), where it all comes down to a question of “win now, as in: champs next year” vs. “win later and win for longer”. That is, among teams with cap space for max deals, I’d suggest none are in positions to win now, as in next year. Some have more talent than others, but it’s young talent (Clips, Nets, and Bulls more so than the Knicks, Wizards, and Heat) – not the kind that will elevate ‘Bron or Wade to dethrone the Lakers or Magic in the near-term.
If I’m sitting in their shoes, it’s not a question of salary – they’ll get the most money possible, either by re-signing with their existing teams (not likely, except for Wade), or via sign-and-trade deals. This is a long-winded way of saying no superstar player aren’t likely to just “leave”, because they want the most coin possible. It’s not much, but they can get slightly better deals from their own teams. Meanwhile, their own teams don’t want to let them leave for nothing in return. So think about it, even if Wade and Bosh are leaving town, they and their teams have VERY strong incentives to execute a sign-and-trade rather than just let them leave via free agency.
‘Bron is the exception, because in his case, I really can’t see him going anywhere but the Knicks (despite missing out on the extra salary he’d give up from by-passing a sign-and-trade). Not even Chicago or LA would let him maximize his long-term brand and overall economic prospects like NY would; hence I think he’s a ringer to wear #6 for the Knicks. Quick aside: don’t think NY means Knicks or Nets. It’s Knicks or bust. The Nets may be better positioned to win, but it’s a total Clippers / Lakers scenario: marquis free agents don’t yet go to the Clips, and they don’t yet go to the Nets. (They might yet, if Brook Lopez and Blake Griffin can lead them to consistently winning seasons, but they don’t yet, and that’s a conversation best left for another blog post anyway).
The other superstars can’t match ‘Bron’s brand-empire all-world status and potential, so they’re probably first and foremost about their basketball careers. That is, Bosh and Wade are NBA super-duper stars, but they’re not all-world like ‘Bron. For them I’m guessing it’s all about winning championships.
Hence the Dallas PRIME TIME scenario, where the Mavs land Bosh or Wade. In short, Dallas is a much, much (MUCH!) better home for a free-agent looking to make an immediate run at a ring. As a result, PRIME TIME pretty much depends on those guys preferring to win now, rather than win later. I can’t get inside their heads, so I’m not going to predict with certainty whether we’ll get them. (At this point I’d give the “do nothing” a 60/40 advantage over PRIME TIME).
But fortunately for Mavs fans, I think there’s a decent shot. Not just because Dallas has more mature, immediate talent than the teams with cap room. But also thanks to Cuban’s long-demonstrated commitment to “damn the torpedoes, the Mavs are going all-in to win!”. (For evidence, see: Butler/Haywood, Jason Kidd [extension], Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd [trade], Stack, Dampier, Terry, Walker, Jamison, Van Exel, Booth / Howard, and the list goes on!). Besides the Lakers, no other team has a decade-long history and commitment to doing whatever it takes to make the franchise better. That’s got to be reassuring for a superstar who’s looking at both next year, and the next five years.
And that might just be enough to lure Bosh or Wade: PRIME TIME, baby!
My last drop of knowledge will be a little speculation on what PRIME TIME would look like. To start, it would undoubtedly involve trading Damp. See here for the details, but Damp has a huge contract that would cover most of the salary balance required in NBA trades (i.e., to get a max-contract superstar, the Mavs have to trade approx. max-salaries back to the trading partner).
The key is what gets paired with Damp. The best-case scenario? Damp, a pick, and Matt Carroll. What’s more likely – unfortunately – is Beaubois goes with Damp. I’d hate to see Beaubois go, but I don’t sweat it too much. Primarily because Cuban and Donnie have a track record of using late-round draft picks or the D-league to find starter/backup quality point guards. Perhaps more importantly, it’s probably worth giving up Beaubois if that’s what it takes to land Bosh or Wade. (The Mavs would need to replace Beaubois’ defensive stopping prowess for feisty 1-guards, but I think they can handle that, too). Dallas might be able to get away with packaging a pick instead of Beaubois, but even that’s not a great option (that specific math is more about long-term potential and value that’s not worth getting into here – suffice it to say the Mavs still need draft picks). I should also note there are various other combinations involving Damp, Stevenson, Najera, Carroll, perhaps even Marion.
While “do nothing” is probably the most likely scenario, the bottom line is that Dallas is much better positioned to make PRIME TIME happen than you might think. And regardless of whether it’s PRIME TIME or “do nothing”, the Mavs figure to be pretty AWESOME next year, not to mention however the playoffs turn out this year as well. In fact, the more the Mavs can separate themselves from the teams-with-cap-room by doing well in the playoffs, the more Dallas shines like a free-agent beacon (just like Deion’s bling: PRIME TIME – let’s do this!).