The Dallas Mavericks faced a lot of criticism in the year after winning the NBA championship in 2011. Dallas let defensive linchpin Tyson Chandler take a lucrative offer with the Knicks and declined to negotiate a long-term extension with Jason Terry (now taking off for the Celtics).
It seemed the Mavericks were content with getting a year older, losing out on their title defense and maintaining cap flexibility.
Dallas did not have a bad season, going 36-30 and falling to Oklahoma City in the first round of the Playoffs. That 36-30 mark though would have meant only 45 wins in an 82-game season, marking the first time since 2000 that Dallas had a winning percentage worse than .610 (or 50 wins).
That incredible streak is not thrown out lightly. Certainly not after winning a championship and certainly not after all the success Dallas has had.
The Mavericks took to their reloading effort with decent seriousness then when they won the bidding for Elton Brand’s amnesty rights, acquired Chris Kaman and traded for Darren Collison. These three players represent needs the Mavericks needed to address, although it is not likely to take them back to the Finals.
After all, Dallas has to replace Jason Terry’s scoring (he was second on the team with 15.1 points per game) and Jason Kidd’s leadership while still relying on aging players such as Dirk Nowitzki (still as good as ever, but Dirk turned 34 in late June) and the mix of Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Delonte West. Excuse me if that does not scream championship.
Adding Brand, Kaman and Collison was clearly Plan B. Plan A was signing Deron Williams, a well-laid plan foiled when the Nets acquired Joe Johnson and Williams agreed to terms with Brooklyn.
Dallas’ end game since winning the championship was to keep cap flexibility. Williams was the prize. As was Dwight Howard, who listed Dallas as one of his preferred landing spots although reports now say it is a far distant second to Brooklyn (no word if that has changed with the Nets all but out of the picture).
The Mavericks sacrificed that title defense for the big free agent prize. And it appears that prize may still be out there to be had.
According to HoopsHype’s salary database, Chris Kaman received a one-year, $8 million deal and the winning bid for Elton Brand cost the team just $2.1 million for this upcoming season. Collison too is still on his rookie contract and is set to become a restricted free agent next summer.
What does this all mean?
Dallas does not have the pieces to trade for a big-name player likely. But, as it stands now, Dallas has only $32 million committed for the 2014 season — in two players, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. This figure assumes the Mavericks decline their team option on Vince Carter’s final year. Marion and Nowitzki’s deal expire after the 2014 season.
The Mavericks may be taking another step back this season, but they seem ready to get after it again with loads of cap space for the summer of 2013. That is when, most notably, Dwight Howard will be a free agent as well as Josh Smith and Monta Ellis among others.
Not quite a Deron Williams/Dwight Howard haul, but paired with Dirk Nowitzki, things could get interesting.
Of course, Dallas has to use this cap room while staying patient for the right opportunity. Mark Cuban thought he had that opportunity this summer with Williams (the hometown kid) and Howard (who the hell knows what he wants) hitting the market. Howard ended up opting in for his final year, and Williams took the money and chance to open the Brooklyn Nets era.
It left Dallas empty.
Right now, the Mavericks appear willing to stick to their plan and save cap space. That could mean a decline on the floor. How will Cuban react to that? Will he pull the trigger on a big trade and take on salary to stay competitive?
Mark Cuban has always been one to spend money. That appears to be no object. This recent frugalness though has to be hurting if his team does not quite deliver. And Cuban might get an itchy trigger finger.
Dallas is playing it smart in loading up with solid veterans who should contribute on relatively cheap and short-term contracts. That, ultimately, will help the franchise in the long run. And maybe there is another title run in Dallas before Dirk Nowitzki’s career ends.