Clearing the Red Tape

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 8, 2009 under Commentary, Roster Moves, Rumors | Read the First Comment

The Marion-to-the-Mavs rumors clearly aren’t ready to die, but there are some considerable snags.  Before the Mavs find success at the negotiating table or on the court, there are going to have to be some changes in approach.

As you, oh intelligent reader, probably already know, the Raptors are not able to sign Hedo Turkoglu until they renounce the free agent rights of Shawn Marion. The proposed deals coming from our end are centered around Jerry Stackhouse’s unguaranteed contract, but even his deal comes with a $2 million cap hold and an equal monetary commitment.  It’s not much in NBA terms, but it would be enough to step on Toronto’s toes; The extra $2 million would inch the Raptors closer to the salary cap and prevent them from signing Hedo to his proposed contract.

So essentially, the Mavs have two options, which could conceivably be used in conjunction with one another:

  1. The Mavs and the Raps re-work the deal to include another Toronto player, and said player would need to make at least $2 million in the 2009-2010 season.
  2. The Mavs and the Raps need to get a third team in on the trade, optimally with a trade exception or cap room.

It seems like a short list, but those two factors could very well kill any dreams of Marion in Maverick blue.

First, let’s look at the players on the Raps that could reasonably be included as throw-ins in the deal, as well as their salary obligations:

  • Forward Kris Humphries, $6.4 million over two years (player option for the second year)
  • Point guard Marcus Banks, $9.4 million over two years
  • Shooting guard Anthony Parker, unrestricted free agent who could be signed-and-traded
  • Forward Joey Graham, unrestricted free agent who could be signed-and-traded (Graham would be a base year compensation player and would need to be included with another player)

Not a long list, and not a particularly appetizing one.  The Raptors apparently want to get out from under the considerable weight that is Marcus Banks’ contract, but that’s a bit of an unnecessary strain on a team that looks to have pretty good cap flexibility from here on out.  It’s also a bit more damaging to a team over the luxury tax, which the Mavs are likely to be.  Still, it’s worth noting that if the Mavs’ are willing to take on Marion’s new contract, they’re likely ditching their plans to be actors in 2010 via straight up cap space.  Any plans on the big free agent market would come through Erick Dampier’s incentive-based contract, a latent prize that David Lord broke down earlier this week.  That means that taking on Banks’ deal would really only hurt the Mavs in the wallet.

Taking back Kris Humphries wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s a lighter blow to Cuban than Marcus Banks would be.  Then again, all of these proposed deals floating around are laced with a few assumptions: For one, that Marion would be willing to accept an offer substantially less than the one Toronto gave him (maybe starting at $6.5 mil).  Also, the Mavs would almost be required to include another player to make the numbers work, and Shawne Williams seems to be the only truly expendable candidate.  That first assumption in particular could be a giant leap of faith, given Marion’s deep-seeded desire to get those dolla dolla bills, and his storied insecurities as a player.  Those insecurities can be quelled with an over-sized check, a photo-op, and some back rubbing, but it’s in the Mavs’ best interest for the long-term to commit as little as possible to an aging Marion.  Bargains are the name of the game, and inking Shawn Marion to a deal starting around the $8 million/year mark the Raps offered would be a mistake.

Joey Graham is pretty much a non-option due to base year compensation rules (even if the Raps give him a deal to balance the $2 mil for Stack’s cap hold, he’d only be valued at his former contract’s price tag for trade purposes…making a trade with him much more difficult than it has to be.), but Anthony Parker is an intriguing option.  The Raptors (and likely Colangelo, in particular) are looking to do right by Marion and his agent, Dan Fegan.  It’d also be nice to shed some of the salary guaranteed to either Banks or Humphries.  But if the Raptors are truly interested in maintaining their business relationships with important agents, they might consider doing the same for Henry Thomas.  Thomas happens to be the agent for Anthony Parker and one Chris Bosh, with whom the Raptors are hoping to nurture a long-standing relationship into an even longer-standing contract next summer.  If we’re all trying to play nice here, the Raptors could conceivably include Parker in some kind of modified deal.  It makes the numbers a bit more complicated, but the returns from the Mavs’ perspective are even more valuable.

Naturally, that assumes that Parker actually wants to come to Dallas, which hasn’t even been rumored.  It also assumes that Parker would not be able to get a chunk of someone’s midlevel exception, a fact which we won’t know and can’t know until late in the summer.  The Raptors clearly need to get this deal done in a jiffy in order to finalize things with Hedo Turkoglu, and waiting for Parker and his Henry Thomas to get a read on the market would not be the way to facilitate that.  So while the incentives may be there for both teams to get Parker involved, it seems like a near impossibility.

If the Mavs and Raptors remain the only teams involved, it’s going to take a concession.  Either Cuban will have to bite the bullet and take Banks’ contract on the books, or the Raptors will need to take a back-seat in trade talks and make the deal for Marion’s sake.  Considering that their only real motivations for getting this deal done (sans shedding Marcus Banks) are professional courtesy, I’m not sure how willing the Raptors will be to play ball.  I guess we’ll find out in the next few days.

But that brings up another point that’s been bugging me: The much touted answer to the stalls in trade talks has been the proposed inclusion of a third team.  The Raptors clearly have some vested interest in getting Marion where he wants to go, but what incentive would a third party have in this equation?  The easiest solution to the numbers game is to get a third team involved, but what reason could the Mavs give them to stay on the phone?

Trade exceptions and cap space are both valuable commodities in the NBA, and it would take quite a few favors for another GM to forfeit that commodity for nothing.  If a third team took on a contract or two in the deal, what would they get in exchange?  Stack’s virtually expiring contract, which is $2 million more than they would have been paying otherwise?  A few second round picks, which could either bite the Mavs in the future or pan out as practically nothing?  The Mavs and Raptors would essentially be asking a third team to take on salary with little or nothing to show for it, while possibly sending something to the Raptors to make it worth their while.  For a GM, that’s somewhere between fiscally irresponsible and just plain dumb.  Just to make matters worse, four of the eight holders of trade exceptions are Western Conference rivals (Houston, L.A., Portland, Denver).  And as for the teams with cap space, I think it’s safe to say that Portland would be out of the equation, both for their vested interest in the Mavs staying right where they are and what could be some bitterness about Turkoglu’s bolt in the night.  Without those teams’ involvement, the potential for finding a third team willing to cooperate declines substantially.  The motivation isn’t there for a third team to get involved, so don’t expect a savior to come rushing in at the 25th hour to fly Marion to Dallas.  The logic just isn’t there without a major restructuring of this deal.

Stay frosty for an analysis of where Marion might fit on this team if he does find a way to Dallas.