Summer agenda: Mavericks, Pistons looking at different paths to return to playoffs

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Jon Leuer defends Dirk Nowitzki during a game in February. (AP)
Jon Leuer defends Dirk Nowitzki during a game in February. (AP)

The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a former 20-year executive with the Nets, looks at the possible offseason plans and roster details for every team in the league.

Previous teams in the series: Nets and Suns | Timberwolves and 76ers | Magic and Kings | Hornets and Pelicans | Knicks and Nuggets | Lakers and Heat

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Offseason focus

1. Impact of the lottery

The Mavericks are in new territory. Dallas has built its roster in recent years through free agency and trades.

Out of their 15 players, the Mavericks have a league-leading 10 players who were signed as free agents and only two drafted players in Dirk Nowitzki and A.J. Hammons.

Now with a top-10 pick, Dallas has the potential to add a foundation piece and not rely on the free-agent market to acquire an impact player.

2. Keep an eye on 2018

Nowitzki’s $25 million team option and the restricted free agency of Nerlens Noel likely will limit the Mavericks’ off-season moves.

However, Dallas could have financial flexibility in 2018. That flexibility could be key with Seth Curry set to be a free agent, and it could be the Mavs’ best opportunity to replenish their roster in free agency.

3. Find middle ground with Noel

Noel likely will remain with the Mavericks, and their lottery pick probably will be the team’s sole major off-season addition.

Noel is a fine shot-blocker and defensive presence, but his inability to stay healthy (he has averaged 64 games in three seasons) and limited offensive game should make the Mavericks weary of committing a max-type offer.

Mavericks management and Noel’s agent, Happy Walters, will need to come to an understanding that the next contract should not represent Noel’s on-court accomplishments, but what the future could hold.

Nerlens Noel should be a big part of the Mavs’ future. (AP)
Nerlens Noel should be a big part of the Mavs’ future. (AP)

4. A roster of non-guaranteed contracts

Not including Nowitzki, Dallas will return seven players on partial or non-guaranteed contracts.

Three of those players – Devin Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith and Yogi Ferrell – had roles starting or coming off the bench. The contracts of Ferrell (June 24), DeAndre Liggins (June 29), Nicolas Brussino (July 6) and Salah Mejri (July 12) will be guaranteed if they are not waived by the trigger dates.

Retaining all seven players would limit the Mavericks’ roster flexibility and fail to improve a team that missed the playoffs. The Mavericks will have to measure the upside of each player compared to what is available in free agency.

Summer cap breakdown

Guaranteed                                  2017-18                           Insider info
Harrison Barnes                         $23,112,004                       Trade bonus
Wes Matthews                           $17,884,176                     Extension eligible
Dwight Powell                            $9,003,125
J.J. Barea                                    $3,903,900                      Extension eligible
Seth Curry                                  $3,028,410
A.J. Hammons                             $1,312,611

Non/partial                                   2017-18                        Guarantee date
Dirk Nowitzki                             $25,000,000                 Team option June 29
Devin Harris                               $4,402,546
DeAndre Liggins                         $1,577,230                   Team option June 29
Salah Mejri                                 $1,471,382                              July 12
Nicolas Brussino                        $1,312,611                               July 6
Dorian Finney-Smith                  $1,312,611
Yogi Ferrell                                  $1,312,611                   Team option June 24
Jarrod Uthoff                               $1,312,611

FA cap hold                                   2017-18                             FA status
Nerlens Noel                               $10,961,225                      Restricted Bird

First-round cap hold                    2017-18
Projected No. 9 selection         $3,218,280

Dead cap space                           2017-18
Gal Mekel                                     $315,759

Salary table                                 2017-18
Guaranteed salaries                $61,163,328
Dead money                               $315,759
Non-guaranteed                      $36,361,940
Tax variance                               $635,084
Free-agent cap holds               $14,179,505
Salaries: cap                            $112,020,532
Salaries: tax                              $98,476,111
Salary cap                               $101,000,000
Luxury tax                               $121,000,000
Cap space                      None ($11,020,532 over)
Tax room                                  $22,523,889

Projected cap space

Dallas has $61 million in guaranteed contracts, but remains over the salary cap because of Nowitzki’s $25 million team option and Noel’s $10.9 million cap hold.

Dallas could decline Nowitzki’s option and sign him to a cap-friendly contract, but doing so would not give the Mavericks substantial salary-cap room.

The likely scenario is the Mavericks retain Nowitzki, Noel and their lottery pick and have the $8.4 million mid-level exception and $3.2 million bi-annual exception to use in free agency.

June draft picks

Dallas is projected to have the No. 9 overall pick in the draft.

Because the Mavericks did not convey a first to Philadelphia this year as part of the Noel trade, Dallas will send the 76ers its own second-round pick at No. 39.

Future draft picks

The Mavericks own all of their future first-round picks.


Offseason focus

1. Find the right chemistry

One year ago things were looking promising for Detroit.

After a six-year playoff hiatus, Detroit was back in the playoffs. But after an offseason in which Detroit spent nearly $50 million, the Pistons are back in the lottery.

The roster is set with the exception of restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, so the Pistons’ next step is to focus on chemistry, which starts with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. For the Pistons to find success, both players need to rebound from a year in which their leadership and play regressed.

2. Establish a budget

The benefit of a team signing its own free agents to long-term contracts is that it doesn’t have to turn over its roster each summer.

The downside – other than cost – is when that team doesn’t make the playoffs. The Pistons’ $109 million in salary ranked seventh in the NBA and will increase with the No. 12 overall pick in the draft and if the team keeps Caldwell-Pope.

Early projections could see the Pistons’ payroll next season approach $125 million, and the team could be a luxury-tax candidate.

The Pistons are in a tough spot with restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (AP)
The Pistons are in a tough spot with restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (AP)

3. The hole at shooting guard

The Pistons are boxed in a corner when it comes to Caldwell-Pope. While restricted free agency protects Detroit in the short term, Caldwell-Pope, the top shooting guard available this summer, will have suitors because of the average market for wings. Signing Caldwell-Pope, a 24-year-old who contributes at both ends of the court, will restrict the Pistons in the future and likely put them in the luxury tax. Not matching an offer sheet does not give the Pistons cap space to find a replacement, and Detroit doesn’t have a backup guard on the roster to fill the void.

Summer cap breakdown

Guaranteed                           2017-18                       Insider info
Andre Drummond               $23,775,506                   Trade bonus
Tobias Harris                      $16,000,000                Extension eligible
Reggie Jackson                   $16,000,000
Jon Leuer                             $10,497,319
Boban Marjanovic               $7,000,000
Aron Baynes                        $6,500,000              Player option June 29
Ish Smith                             $6,000,000
Marcus Morris                     $5,000,000
Stanley Johnson                  $3,097,800
Henry Ellenson                    $1,780,800

Non/partial                             2017-18                      Guarantee date
Darrun Hilliard                     $1,471,382                            July 1
Michael Gbinije                    $1,312,611                           July 15

FA cap hold                              2017-18                          FA status
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope    $9,195,798                    Restricted Bird
Reggie Bullock                       $5,639,110                   Restricted Bird
Beno Udrih                             $1,471,382                       Early Bird

First-round cap hold               2017-18
Projected No. 12 selection    $2,759,280

Dead cap space                       2017-18
Josh Smith                              $5,331,729

Salary table                                2017
Guaranteed salaries            $96,151,425
Dead money                          $5,331,729
Non-guaranteed                  $2,283,993
Free-agent cap holds          $19,065,570
Salaries: cap                        $122,832,717
Salaries: tax                         $103,767,147
Salary cap                           $101,000,000
Luxury tax                           $121,000,000
Cap space                   None ($21,832,717 over)
Tax room                              $17,232,853

Projected cap space

The Pistons do not have cap flexibility this summer.

Detroit has $96 million in guaranteed contracts with the $9.2 million free-agent cap hold of Caldwell-Pope pushing the Pistons over the salary cap.

The Pistons will likely have the $8.4 million mid-level exception and $3.2 million bi-annual exception to use but will need to be careful of the luxury tax and becoming hard capped.

Use of the bi-annual exception or more than $5.2 million of the mid-level would place the hard-cap label on Detroit and further limit its roster flexibility.

June draft picks

Detroit has its own first-round pick, projected to be No. 12 overall.

As part of the trade to acquire Reggie Jackson, Detroit sent Utah a second-round pick, No. 42 overall.

Future draft picks

Detroit has all of its first-round picks.

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