You’re going to see a whole heck of a lot of this over the next few weeks, leading up to the NBA draft on June 27. The Dallas Mavericks did not plan to be and are not happy to be in the lower 14 picks of the draft, due to their first playoff absence in 12 years, and though the team has a fantastic front office and scouting staff (complete with myriad analytic plans they don’t let anyone in on), this is a thin draft and the Mavericks have their eyes set on bigger and better things than their 13th pick in next month’s draft.
Like Dwight Howard, the free agent center that is looking to embark on a tour of suitors this summer that we’re all already annoyed with. In order to clear up more cap space (the 13th pick is set to make $1.7 million next year) to sign Dwight, the Mavericks are reportedly considering shopping their first rounder. From Eddie Sefko at the Dallas Morning News discussed one option on Thursday:
[Dallas owes] the Oklahoma City Thunder a first-round pick before 2018. That pick is protected through the first 20 picks of the draft. But if the Mavericks don’t convey it by 2017, the Thunder gets the pick no matter when it is in the 2018 draft.
The Mavericks are drafting 13th this year, which means it won’t go to OKC. But what if they went to the Thunder and said, we’ll give you that pick to complete the roundabout set of trades that ended up giving Oklahoma City the Mavericks’ pick (it went through the Lakers and Rockets). The Mavericks could get back a future second rounder and maybe a spare part off the OKC roster like the expiring contract of Ronnie Brewer.
The problem with this scenario is that it’s illegal for the Thunder to deal Brewer, a free agent on July 1, in the weeks leading up to the draft or on draft night. On top of that, the Thunder has its own payroll considerations to make. Remember, this is the team that dealt James Harden prior to the season in order to avoid the luxury tax, and rumors abound that they might pass on re-signing guard Kevin Martin, or waive Kendrick Perkins (though general manager Sam Presti shot down the latter at a recent meeting with media) to avoid a tax that they’re currently a few million away from, heading into Martin’s free agency.
There’s also the chance Dallas could whiff again in the free agent period, or any number of complications could collude and create a pretty terrible 2017-18 for the Mavs. It’s hard to see why OKC would do Dallas a favor like this, in a draft this weak, and with its own payroll pushing perilously closer to the tax.
This is what you’ll hear, though, as the draft approaches. GMs will still talk themselves into gems, and the ability to draft for need (a rarity in most cases but a necessity this time around) will be tempting to teams either trying to hoard or keep picks.
Dallas’ need is simple – another superstar to go alongside Dirk Nowitzki, who is already on record as saying he might take a pay cut next summer in order to stack his team’s deck. The way to get there is to go all-in now, and for rebuilding teams this means clearing as much cap space as possible.
This isn’t to say Dallas will make that move, or that they’ve discussed it. It is odd to consider, though, for a team that was once on the vanguard of sending cash toward other teams to buy their draft picks.
For the second consecutive summer, the Dallas Mavericks could have significant salary cap space on hand if they choose to pass on re-signing some of their free agents. And, for the second straight year, this is in spite of Dirk Nowitzki’s much-deserved but massive individual contract, something that paid him nearly $21 million this season and nearly $23 million in 2013-14.
After being passed over by Deron Williams and left wanting in Dwight Howard trade negotiations, he Mavericks did well last year to put together what felt like a good enough roster to make the playoffs. The team acquisitions (O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kamen) all came through with up and down seasons, though, while Elton Brand sadly was a bit of a non-factor. The biggest problem above all was the loss of Nowitzki to a knee injury to start the season. Dallas competed for a playoff berth towards the end of the campaign, but with Nowitzki taking to nearly the season’s midpoint to start playing like the superstar he is, the Mavs just didn’t have a chance.
Now Dirk is talking up the future. He wants Dwight Howard. He wants Chris Paul. He wants to part of the draft decision-making process. And he wants some pizza, dammit.
(He was actually very nice about all these things. From the Dallas Morning News:)
On Dwight Howard and Chris Paul:
Dirk Nowitzki: We'd love to get one of those two. We'd love to get a player in here who can create his own shot and be a superstar-type player. It's still a long way to go until July. Those guys need to clear their minds a little bit and get away and then start thinking what they want to do with their futures. Hopefully, that's where we come in and put a great pitch out there and see what happens.
On the pitch to free agents:
Dirk Nowitzki: I'll definitely be a little involved. But I'll be in the draft 'war room' for the first time ... order some pizza and talk some basketball. I got one year left on this deal and then I'm coming off the books. So if that helps for us to be better I'm going to take a paycut. That's part of the pitch. [Team owner Mark] Cuban and Donnie [Nelson, the team’s general manager] have got to be part of the pitch.
(If that last part is a shot at Mark Cuban, who infamously declined to go visit Deron Williams at a free agent recruiting last year in order to work on his television show ‘Shark Tank,’ then Dirk should take it easy, here. No team was going to drag Williams away from the Nets, who could offer him more money while stocking his roster with high priced name players like Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.)
(We don’t think that is a shot at Cuban, though.)
On Thursday, Nowitzki re-iterated his stance in a talk with reporters at an anti-texting while driving promotion, even calling the potential pay cut “significant,” if the Mavs are lucky enough to pry Howard or Paul from the clutches of the City of Angels.
"It's not about money. Obviously, Cuban took care of me for a long, long time. I always tried to pay him back by hard playing and being here for this franchise, so I don't think we're going to fight over money. I want to compete over these last couple of years. That's going to be the goal."
"I guess that's something we need to look at next summer when it gets to the point, but I'm sure it will be a significant pay cut," said Nowitzki, the lone constant on the Mavs' roster during the 12-year postseason streak that was snapped this season.
Of course, Nowitzki’s not hurting for dough.
ESPN pointed out that only four players – Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan – have made more money in salary than Dirk Nowitzki over the course of their careers, and each of the active players on that list may walk away from the game when their current contracts expire. And Nowitzki may have already passed those top four in overall cash retention, due to the fact that his max contract status has never been in question, so Nowitzki has gone into all contract “negotiations” without an agent, without having to pay an agent fee for the deals he put pen to.
Every bit of extra bread counts, y’know?
Again, though, the Mavs may fall short. Plenty of teams have cap space this summer, with the NBA’s best center and point guard available, but the Lakers and Clippers have too much on their side for competitors to overcome unless either player makes a completely unexpected decision. Both the Lakers and Clippers are frustrated with their first round ousters, but Dwight Howard doesn’t like to hurt feelings and take chances, which is why he picked up his player option to stay in Orlando over a year ago even though he didn’t want to play for that team. And Paul will have plenty of say in all Clippers personnel and coaching matters moving forward, encouragement to stay.
Most important is the money, though, as Howard and Paul (who both struggled with at-times debilitating injuries last year) have the security of an extra guaranteed year to convince them to stay with their incumbent teams, and the ability to make far more money overall. And if this ticks NBA fans off, understand that this is a direct result of fan complaints following the sort of free agent star-hoarding the Miami Heat executed in 2010. The same sort of set-up Nowitzki is trying to encourage in Dallas.
And before we canonize Nowitzki, understand that the Mavs star should be taking a pay cut next year. Even a significant one.
Dirk will be 36 when the 2014 offseason hits, and though we expect Nowitzki to bounce back with an All-Star level season in 2013-14 (he was out of shape for parts of 2011-12 and injured for most of this year), age ain’t nothin’ but a factor. It’s also worth pointing out that a “significant” pay cut in Dirk’s terms doesn’t have to mean the Mavericks legend has to work for a minimum salaried contract. Dipping down to even $13 million a year instead of nearly $23 million? That’s significant. I don’t care how many bedrooms you can afford.
Through all of this, Dirk may be smartly angling for something he seems well-suited for following his active career. By working as a 7-foot intern of sorts in the Mavericks’ front office this summer, Nowitzki can get used to the ins and outs that championship creators Nelson and Cuban are already quite used to. Helping sway players and giving the team cap space to work with can only endear Nowitzki to the team’s front office more.
As if that’s even possible, at this point.
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