Mavs fans all over the country are still waiting to see if their team is going to clear the impossible hurdle that has been the first round of the playoffs over the last 11 years. This playoff series against the Jazz has been one of the most thrilling of the entire postseason, but it’s never too early to look ahead to what will be another crucial offseason for Nico Harrison and the Mavs’ front office.
For starters, the Mavericks do not possess the flexibility they’ve had in recent years. Dallas has 11 players under guaranteed contracts for next year, and will likely have a 12th assuming Trey Burke opts in to the final year of his three-year deal and the team retains Josh Green on his third-year team option. Between the 26th pick of the draft and its cap hold of $2.257 million, and the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception worth a further $6.339 million, Dallas sits just under $33 million over the cap with small cap holds for Jalen Brunson, Eugene Omoruyi, and Jaquori McLaughlin on the books as well.
Dallas is also still sitting on a bit of dead money from waiving Tyrell Terry, and has an interesting trade exception to use from the Josh Richardson-Moses Brown trade worth $10.865 million. With just the taxpayer exception and a potentially gigantic contract for Brunson coming, chances to truly improve are limited for Dallas. But there are several moves that can be made to get them into true title contention just next year.
Step one: Get Brunson on the dotted line
It’s been a long time since one of the most coveted free agents on the market was a Maverick. Chandler Parsons received a max contract from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016, but outside of Zach LaVine and potentially Bradley Beal, Brunson is the most sought after ball handler available this summer. There’s been murky, ambiguous reporting on Dallas’s discussions with Brunson throughout the season, but after hanging on to him through this year’s trade deadline, it’s pretty clear Dallas is going to pony up a good piece of change for him.
New York, Indiana, and Detroit are all expected to throw their hats into the ring for the 25-year-old. Indiana is the only team that can create legitimate cap space without making a major salary dump trade, and have Brunson’s former coach in tow as a selling point. But, considering Brunson’s fit in Dallas and outstanding relationship with Jason Kidd, Dallas just needs to make a good enough offer and they’ll get him back. Before this playoff run, Malcolm Brogdon’s four year, $85 million deal was a good template for contract talks. Now, it looks like Dallas is going to have to exceed that figure. Dallas can get Brunson signed to a four year, $103.040 million deal with a player option on the last year. His 2022-2023 salary would be an even $23 million.
Step two: Boost the front court
Dallas could try to get something similar to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s contract done by front loading the Brunson deal and making it a descending contract over time, but something into the nine figures is going to be necessary. With this deal done, Dallas will be chin deep in the luxury tax, with a bill already north of $54 million, and plenty of moves left to be made.
Dallas’s best bet to improve from here is the sign-and-trade option. Anybody who has watched the Mavericks over these last three playoff series knows a dramatic upgrade at the center position is critical towards advancing in the playoffs. Watching the Mavericks try to keep Rudy Gobert off the glass in this series has been like watching a child throw pennies at a battleship.
There have been rumblings of Dallas preparing a big swing for the star Frenchman, but Dallas should instead set their crosshairs on Mitchell Robinson. Instead of committing multiple future first-round picks and all sorts of combined salaries to bring Gobert in, Robinson is younger and far less expensive. Dallas should aim for a deal starting at $12 million. Ultimately, four years, and $53.760 million ought to be enough for a guy who’s struggled to stay healthy throughout his three years. Nonetheless, Robinson remains one of the most interesting up-and-coming big men in basketball. Dallas, however, needs to throw something the Knicks way in a sign-and-trade to make this work.
Dwight Powell is the obvious candidate here. The longtime Maverick is beloved in Dallas, and despite his limitations, he remains an underrated rotational big in today’s NBA. The last third of the season was the best stretch of Powell’s career on both ends of the floor, even as he remains undersized compared to many of his contemporaries.
With that said, it’s just time for Dallas to make big strides up front. Dallas cannot get caught up in sentimentality or love for one of their veterans if they have the opportunity to get better on the glass and in the paint. Powell just feels like a Tom Thibodeau-type player, and considering Robinson is unrestricted, the Knicks don’t have any leverage if Dallas can just secure Robinson’s interest. With this trade, Dallas’s tax bill climbs ever-so-slightly to a touch under $58 million, with the cap holds for Omoruyi and McLaughlin still on the books.
But Dallas can’t stop there when it comes to the front court. The Mavericks need to sacrifice just a bit of shooting and switching defensively for size and athleticism in the middle. The next move is to poach Christian Wood from the Houston Rockets. Wood is quietly one of the most valuable assets in the league this coming season, as he’s sitting on an affordable, expiring contract entering the prime of his career. Dallas needs to take advantage of a rebuilding Rockets team, and nab Wood for a deal made up of Maxi Kleber, Trey Burke, Josh Green, the team’s 2022 first-round pick, and a first-round pick swap in 2027. Such a deal would have to be made on draft night due to the Stepien Rule.
Kleber is in a similar position to Powell. While excellent defensively and a career 36 percent three-point shooter, it remains necessary for Dallas to simply improve in the front court at the expense of some defense on the perimeter. Such a trade actually reduces the tax bill by a few million bucks as well. Houston could receive better offers than essentially Green and a late first for Wood, but selling the big man for assets is probably his best use right now anyway.
Step three: Deepen the wings
Having lost Green and Kleber, Dallas needs another wing to spell Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock defensively. Robert Covington is a good candidate for the TPMLE. Dallas should be able to get this done with a one-and-one type deal. A two-year deal with a player option on the second year worth $12.995 million gives Dallas some more perimeter defense, and another reliable three-point sniper.
Dallas has a couple of options with the Josh Richardson trade exception. One option could be Cleveland’s Cedi Osman, but given Dallas’s incredibly limited assets at this point, Dallas can’t really make a competitive offer for him. The best course of action, instead, is Dario Saric. The Suns will likely try to shed salary as they make a long-term call on Deandre Ayton. Saric would cost next to nothing for Dallas, and Phoenix could attach some cash to the deal in exchange for a top-55 protected second round pick in the future. But, such a deal would skyrocket the tax bill to over $123 million. That’s way too much for nearly any owner. As such, Dallas should trim away one of their biggest contracts next.
Step four: Shed salary wherever possible
Dallas still has one more trade to make. Davis Bertans is nice to have off the bench, but with Christian Wood and Mitchell Robinson starting, and the ability to go smaller being featured with Finney-Smith, Bullock, and Covington, Dallas should use Boston’s huge trade exception to dump Bertans. The Celtics are a mediocre 14th in three-point percentage, and could use a stretch four for the inevitable night off for the aging Al Horford. Such a move would save the Mavericks nearly $70 million in tax money.
Step five: Fill out the roster
The only thing left to do is add a couple minimum salary contracts. With three remaining roster spots, Dallas should look to re-sign Frank Ntilikina. The four-year guard had some nice moments this year, but between an injury and the rotation shrinking later on in the season, Ntilikina hasn’t seen the floor much since March. Dallas has some size at the guard spot with Spencer Dinwiddie, but having at least one respected defender at point guard is important for this team. A fully healthy season might be good for a player who still has some interesting upside.
Another potential addition with a minimum contract is Goran Dragic. Even with Tim Hardaway Jr. back, Dallas simply cannot add enough shooters and ball handlers around Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson. Dragic wouldn’t exactly have to play much, and could basically be seen as a seldom-used veteran who has publicly expressed interest in playing in Dallas. Dragic is a minimum-salary player at this point in his career, and given his relationship with Doncic, this is pretty much a no-brainer.
Finally, one last big man is needed even for a team that will mostly be featuring their deep stable of wings around the perimeter. Robin Lopez would be happy to finish his career on a contending team. What he lacks in athleticism and sheer skill, he competes hard and adds a bit of experienced depth up front if nothing else. Jalen Smith would be a nice flier, but he figures to be a room exception-type signing. These three deals push Dallas to a steep tax bill of just over $70 million.
It’s simply time for Mark Cuban to pay the tax, however. This is the tenth consecutive tax-free year in Dallas, but this may be the first time Dallas has a true chance for a deep, deep playoff run. This is the same team that traded emerging star Isaiah Roby for a bit of cash and the roster spot to bring in Willie Cauley-Stein. This is his best chance to get back to the NBA Finals since Doncic has been around.
- Re-signed Jalen Brunson to 4 yr/ $103.04 million deal using Bird Rights
- Signed Mitchell Robinson to 4 yr/ $53.76 million deal(sign-and-trade, Powell traded to NYK)
- Traded Maxi Kleber, Trey Burke, Josh Green, 2022 first-round pick, 2027 first-round pick swap to Houston Rockets for Christian Wood
- Signed Robert Covington to 2 yr/ $12.995 million deal using Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception
- Traded a 2028 top-55 protected pick to the Phoenix Suns for Dario Saric and cash considerations
- Traded Davis Bertans to the Boston Celtics for a 2028 top-45 protected pick
- Re-signed Frank Ntilikina to a minimum-salary contract
- Signed Goran Dragic to a minimum-salary contract
- Signed Robin Lopez to a minimum-salary contract
Under this model, the depth chart looks like this:
Jalen Brunson—Spencer Dinwiddie—Goran Dragic—Frank Ntilikina
Luka Doncic—Tim Hardaway Jr.—Sterling Brown
Dorian Finney-Smith—Reggie Bullock
Christian Wood—Robert Covington—Dario Saric
Mitchell Robinson—Robin Lopez—Boban Marjanovic
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