When the Mavericks missed out on Deron Williams a year ago, the team moved on to Plan B, which involved adding a number of players on one-year contracts via free agency and trades. Of the Mavs' non-rookie additions last offseason, only O.J. Mayo received more than a one-year deal, as the 25-year-old's contract included a player option for 2013/14. However, after emerging as the second-best scorer on a Dallas team in the hunt for a playoff spot, Mayo appears poised to turn down that option in search of a new contract this summer.
Mayo's 16.4 PPG is a significant step up from his scoring averages in his final two seasons in Memphis (11.3 and 12.6 PPG), but he's also seen a major boost in minutes since arriving in Dallas, playing 35.7 per game after averaging 26.8 during his last two years with the Grizzlies. As such, Mayo's points per 36 minutes average this season is actually right in line with his career mark.
Nonetheless, the improvement in Mayo's free agent stock shouldn't be viewed as entirely artificial. He's scoring his points more efficiently than he did in his first four seasons, averaging career-highs in FG% (.462) and 3PT% (.416), while taking fewer shots per 36 minutes than he ever has before. That efficiency is reflected in his PER as well, which presently sits at a career-high 15.2. Throw in a career-best assist rate, and it's not hard to see why Mayo is in line for a raise in July.
Coming off his fourth year in Memphis in 2012, Mayo didn't receive a qualifying offer from the Grizzlies, but still landed an offer from the Mavs that would have been worth most of the mid-level exception, at $4.02MM (Dallas signed him using cap space). If we assume the former third overall pick is a lock to turn down his $4.2MM option for 2013/14, it's probably also safe to assume that he'll be seeking a starting salary worth more than the mid-level.
Of course, just because Mayo will be looking for that sort of salary doesn't mean he'll receive those offers — he was seeking more than the MLE last July, and didn't have any luck. But given his performance this season, I'd expect Mayo to earn at least one or two offers worth north of $6-7MM annually. That would rule out taxpaying teams, who can't offer more than the mini MLE and can't acquire players via sign-and-trade. Over-the-cap teams could work out a sign-and-trade for Mayo, so there may be a few that enter the mix, but it's the clubs with cap room that figure to be the primary suitors.
The Mavericks are one team poised to have cap room again, and if they're going to keep any of the players currently on one-year deals with the club, Mayo appears to be the best bet. He'll likely be a Plan B again, since the team wouldn't be able to afford to pursue this year's top-tier free agents with Mayo on its books. But there are scenarios in which the Mavs could conceivably have room to bring back Mayo and sign another second-tier free agent such as Brandon Jennings or Paul Millsap.
Multiple Detroit-based writers have suggested Mayo could be near the top of the Pistons' wish list this summer, and the team is expected to have a good chunk of cap room at its disposal. It's hard not to mention the Hawks as a potential suitor for just about everyone, since the team has less than $20MM in guaranteed commitments on its books for next season, and has given no real indication of what its plan will be. Other possible fits might include the Bobcats, Cavaliers, and Suns.
Having already played his way into what should be a nice payday this summer, Mayo could improve his free agent stock even more with a strong finish to the 2012/13 season. A year ago against the Clippers, Mayo laid an egg in the first round, scoring 8.9 PPG on 27.4% shooting, and you could certainly make an argument that the performance cost him a few bucks in free agency.
The Mavs are extremely unlikely to make a run at a title this season, but a playoff berth certainly appears within reach, given the recent struggles of the Lakers and Jazz. If Mayo could help the team sneak into the postseason and perhaps win a first-round game or two against a team like the Thunder or Spurs, it may convince a few NBA execs that he can be a go-to scoring option on a contending team. In that case, I'd expect him to easily exceed the mid-level deals signed by shooting guards like Jamal Crawford, Louis Williams, and Jason Terry in 2012.