Rumor Mongering: Just Like Last Time, Only Different

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 10, 2010 under Commentary, Rumors | 2 Comments to Read

Al Jefferson wouldn’t have been a suitable replacement for Brendan Haywood, nor is he a particularly wise usage of Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract. But what if he could be had for something far less? That’s apparently what the Mavs are asking of the Timberwolves, according to Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas:

Dallas, meanwhile, is determined not to ship out Dampier’s fully unguaranteed $13 million contract just to take back someone else’s long-term deal. The Mavs are telling teams that they have to furnish a clear roster upgrade if they want the ability to acquire Dampier, cut him instantly and wipe $13 million off the books.

Sources say Minnesota has been urging Dallas to part with Dampier’s contract and draft considerations in exchange for Al Jefferson, who has three years left on his contract at $42 million. The Mavericks keep telling the Wolves that they won’t surrender Dampier’s contract in a Jefferson deal because they have it earmarked for a Gasol-type trade, such as a theoretical sign-and-trade arrangement for James or as the centerpiece of Dallas’ longstanding pursuit of Paul. The problem? It’s a steep drop in terms of difference-makers that might be available after LeBron and his good buddy CP3.

The Mavs’ hard-line stance could always change if they miss out on their other summer targets. For now, though, look for them to take a measured look at their options on the trade market for the next month or so, disappointing as it would be if they can’t turn their best asset into tangible help for Dirk Nowitzki after so much hoopla. Just to be clear, though: Sources say Dallas does remain interested in Jefferson if the Wolves prove amenable to a deal that does not involve Dampier’s contract.

The Mavs would understandably want to pick up Al Jefferson for expiring contracts and Matt Carroll while holding on to their most valuable trade chip, it just seems awfully unlikely that Minnesota would ever agree to such terms. Al’s contract is rather large for a player with such glaring holes in his game, but he’s not enough of a burden that he warrants unloading for cap savings alone. If Dallas really wants to add Jefferson, it’s most likely going to take Dampier. Expecting anything less is just a part of the negotiation, but hardly worthy of anything more than a rumor.

There are only a few core deals that the Mavs could use to trade for Al Jefferson without using Erick Dampier’s contract, assuming that the only player coming to Dallas is Jefferson:

  • DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera (with his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) for Al Jefferson
  • DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and J.J. Barea for Al Jefferson
  • Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and Matt Carroll for Al Jefferson
  • Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract for Al Jefferson

Terry and Stevenson make the most sense for the Wolves, but only if their intent is to clear as much salary as possible. They would trade Jefferson’s $13 million salary for $5 million guaranteed if they opt to waive Terry, and Dallas could include cash and draft picks to sweeten the pot if they so choose. Would all of that be worth it to earn the right to pay Jefferson over the next three seasons? Perhaps, but only if the Mavs don’t intend to force him into an uncomfortable role: playing center alongside Dirk Nowitzki.

Dirk is a unique cat, and his game isn’t easy to build around. It takes a particular set of players that can complement his strengths while making up for his weaknesses, and in that regard Jefferson disappoints. They’re not comparable, just familiar; even if Nowitzki and Jefferson aren’t the same in form, they are in function. It’s a neat diversion, but wouldn’t work as a starting pairing.

Now, a big rotation of Dirk, Brendan Haywood, and Al Jefferson? $13 million is a lot to pay for a big off the bench, but yeesh. Diversion turns to full-time fancy, and concerns about fit are obliterated. It would likely be painful for Mark Cuban to absorb both Jefferson’s deal and the tax implications, but considering it’s salary the Mavs would have been paying out to benchwarmers (and possibly Terry) this season anyway, the financial difference this season would be rather negligible. It’s all about how optimistic the Mavs are in their ability to move under the tax line (and conceivably the cap) in the coming seasons. With Nowitzki, Haywood, Marion, and perhaps another player yet to be determined all eating up space until 2014 at least, it may not be as financially liberal as it seems to throw in Al.

  • Andrew Donaldson

    The Cavs are reportedly offering the Wolves money from the $16 million exemption and picks for Jefferson, and the Cavs aren’t in the West, so it’s probably too late for the Mavs to get Jefferson at any price.

    But way to hold out for a deal no one was ever going to take.

    The Wolves were never under pressure to get rid of Jefferson. He’s valuable now; he wouldn’t grow less valuable before the trade deadline, when teams realize they desperately need a big man to make a playoff run.

  • Andrew

    Rob, I’m curious about what you think a good use of Dampier’s contract would be. While I recognize this is, essentially, the Mavs last best hope to get better, in the last few years they have where that will definitely matter—I don’t see much out there. Pretty hard to buy, too, that anyone would be as dumb as Chris Wallace, again. Even he might not be that dumb…