- Dirk Nowitzki ($22,721,381)
- Shawn Marion ($9,363,313)
- Vince Carter ($3,180,000)
- Jared Cunningham ($1,208,400)
- O.J. Mayo ($4,000,000*)
The asterisk next to O.J. Mayo's $4MM salary is an estimate based on the amount of cap space the Mavs had when they reached an agreement with Mayo last week. Mayo's reported asking price was $8MM per season, and the second year of his deal is a player option, so if he plays well this year, there's a strong chance he'll opt out and free even more space for the Mavs. The salary listed for Cunningham, the 24th pick this past June, assumes he signed for 120% of the rookie scale amount, which is standard for first-round picks. Marion has an early termination option for 2013/14, but it's unlikely he'll exercise it.
If all those players are still on the Mavs' books by next summer, they'll have about $40.5MM in commitments for 2013/14. That doesn't count cap holds for the contracts that expire after this season or their first-round pick for next season, which goes to the Rockets if it's not in the top 20. Let's say for the purposes of this post that the Mavs finish with one of the league's 10 best records next season and wind up without a first-rounder next year. The salary cap currently sits at $58.044 million, though it's subject to change for 2013/14, and there's been plenty of speculation it could go as high as $60MM. We'll play it conservatively and bump it up by $1MM, to a hypothetical $59.044. If the Mavs renounce the rights to all their own free agents next summer, that leaves about $18.5MM for Howard and seven other players,$3,431,260 of which would be eaten by holds equaling the rookie minimum salary for each empty roster spot. So, the estimated cap room would be a little more than $15MM. If Mayo opts out, that number jumps to about $18.6MM.
Howard will make $19,563,360 with the Magic this year, meaning his maximum salary for 2013/14 will be $20,541,528. It's unlikely he'd take a discount, so the Mavs will have to find a trade partner or two willing to take on salary. Sending Marion away would be the most obvious solution, but if that proves impossible, trading both Carter and Mayo and renouncing the rights to their own free agents would give the Mavs about $21.27MM of cap space in our scenario. They'd also have the $2.652MM room exception at their disposal, allowing the team to add Howard and squeeze in the rest of their 2013/14 roster on about $3.4MM.
So while the Mavericks could conceivably get Howard, it seems like a longshot. With so many variables in play, from the Mavs' team salary to possibility that the Magic trade Howard to the Lakers or Nets, with whom he'd likely re-sign, GM Donnie Nelson faces a multitude of obstacles to landing the franchise center. There are other avenues for acquiring Howard next summer, such as a sign-and-trade with the Magic or a parting of ways with Nowitzki, but those seem unlikely.
Even if they do wind up with Howard, a team of D12, a 35-year-old Nowitzki, and low-salaried complementary talent doesn't sound like an automatic contender. If the Mavs miss out on Howard, they could have a shot at Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, James Harden and a host of other All-Star caliber guys, as our list of 2013/14 free agents shows. All of them would command a lower maximum salary than Howard, given their current salaries and years of experience. So, while the news of Howard's fondness for Dallas may let Mavs fans dream, the likely reality of going without him may provide an easier path back to the Larry O'Brien trophy.