Free Agents (Cap Holds)
It may be a while before we see a title defense as unusual as the Mavericks' in 2011/12. The lockout started things off on the wrong foot, with Dirk Nowitzki showing up for the season unprepared and out of shape. And parting ways with players like Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea, who were integral to the 2011 championship team, was an ominous sign too. Predictably, Dallas didn't go anywhere in the postseason, eliminated by the Thunder in a first round sweep.
As the summer begins, the question facing the Mavericks is whether or not the team's increased cap flexibility will be worth breaking up the defending champs. Without long-term contracts for Chandler and Barea, the Mavs are in good position to avoid increased luxury tax penalties in the coming years. But are they well-positioned to make a splash this summer that will stop fans from asking "What if?"
A brief look at the Mavs' 2012/13 contract situation might be a little surprising -- you'd think a team that was expected to be a player for both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this offseason would have less guaranteed salary on its books than $45MM+. Of course, using the amnesty clause on Brendan Haywood will help create some room, and with Howard locked in for another year in Orlando, Williams is the Mavs' clear top priority now. But if they can't clear salary besides Haywood's, Dallas will barely have the space to make Williams a maximum offer.
With one marquee free agent to pursue rather than two, the need to create additional cap space isn't quite as pressing. However, I still expect Dallas to explore trades involving Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Rodrigue Beaubois, simply because I don't think the roster as constructed is strong enough to woo Williams to Dallas. If the Mavs can clear enough salary to bring in a third impact player to complement a Nowitzki/Williams duo, perhaps that piques the interest of the All-Star point guard.
If Williams turns down the Mavs, virtually every player on the open market becomes a possible target for Dallas, including their own free agents, like Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Steve Nash, Goran Dragic, and Jeremy Lin are a few of the point guard alternatives to Williams, and shooters like Steve Novak and Ryan Anderson make some sense too. The Mavs may end up exploring the market at virtually every position, considering Nowitzki is the only set-in-stone core piece.
In addition to having cap space and the amnesty clause at their disposal, the Mavs kept their top-2o-protected first-round pick this season when it landed at #17. In a draft that's expected to be a deep one, that pick has some value as a trade chip, though Dallas may be better off keeping it. The club could use an infusion of young talent, and there's a good chance an intriguing prospect slips that far, whether it's a two guard like Jeremy Lamb, Dion Waiters, or Terrence Ross, or a young center like Meyers Leonard or Fab Melo.