The Butterfly Effects, Pt. II: Remaining Chains

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 29, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

With the unofficial, metaphorical ink on the tentative CBA structure beginning to dry, we’ll take to look at how the new agreement impacts the Dallas Mavericks teams of today and tomorrow.

The NBA’s owners entered collective bargaining with several specific goals in mind. Among them: to limit the flexibility of taxpaying teams as much as possible, creating a systemic conflict between high payrolls and roster freedom. As a part of that objective, the new agreement includes a completely remodeled set of salary cap exceptions that reward teams for staying under the tax line, and restrict the free agent involvement of spend-happy clubs like the Mavericks. Dallas will likely be a luxury taxpayer again next season; so the franchise has been for the last six-plus years, and so they may be for the next several. Such is the price of keeping this particular contending core in place. Mark Cuban will be mindful of the wrath of the repeater tax, but that likely won’t stop him from keeping his team in tax territory for the first two seasons of the new collective bargaining agreement, during which he’ll only face a $1-for-$1 luxury tax penalty akin to that of the previous CBA. Cuban has shown a willingness to foot the bill on that tax, but would be understandably reluctant to pay according to the exorbitant demands of the more demanding luxury tax rules that will become active for the 2013-2014 season. But the Mavs’ taxpaying status will still affect their offseason plans on a more immediate timeline. According to a memo detailing the tentative agreement between the players and owners (via SI.com), taxpaying teams will no longer have access to the league’s mid-level exception (a salary cap exception used to sign free agents for up to around $5 million per season); instead, they’ll be forced to make do with the “taxpayer mid-level exception,” a provision that allows for the signing of a free agent to a deal up to three years in length (rather than four) starting at a mere $3 million. As one might imagine, this is a fairly radical change. Last summer, for example, Dallas vied for the services of Udonis Haslem and Al Harrington with their full mid-level exception. Neither player would even be a remote possibility on a $3 million salary offer. The crop of available free agents has been closed off to Dallas, leaving the Mavs to pursue one-dimensional players rather than more versatile talent. There are still useful contributors among them, but they’re from a decidedly different echelon than the Haslems and Harringtons of the world. Additionally, the bi-annual exception — a small, $1.9 million cap exception that can be used to sign players to deals of either one or two years — will no longer be available to taxpaying teams. That leaves Dallas with only a few precious ways to add talent via free agency:

  • Re-sign a free agent Maverick using Bird rights – The Mavs will be able to re-sign any of their current free agents, despite the fact that the team is currently over the salary cap. That doesn’t mean that Dallas will bring back Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea, et al, but the option is certainly available to them in the new collective bargaining agreement.
  • Sign a contributor with the taxpayer mid-level exception – In an off-season preview for the Dallas Observer’s blog, Unfair Park, I threw out Anthony Parker, Jeff Foster, and James Jones as three sensible candidates for part of the taxpayer mid-level. Any signee would likely be in that class; this exception was seemingly made for limited contributors who can fill in gaps for taxpaying teams, but offer little more.
  • Sign a free agent for the veteran minimum salary – Even teams over the tax line can sign players for the minimum salary. One would think that incumbents like Brian Cardinal or Peja Stojakovic would be more likely candidates for a roster spot than veteran minimum candidates, but this possibility is open to the Mavs if they wish to move in a different direction with their end-of-the-rotation players.

The tax line alone may not be a powerful deterrent for Dallas next season, but when coupled with the restrictions facing taxpaying teams in the era to come, the Mavs simply don’t have all that much free agent facility. There are still tough decisions to come regarding players like Butler and Barea, but expect the Mavs’ championship core to remain more-or-less intact as a result of financial gridlock. Other topics of interest for the Mavericks in the new collective bargaining agreement: the luxury tax.

  • Andrew

    Very good 2 articles that make it clear many of the consequences of the new agreement, very helpful for someone who was confused on a lot of the issues.  Looks like the Mavs won't be able to spend their way to 50 wins every season like they used to.
    Re-sign Chandler, drop Butler (because he will ask for too much), and make a tough decision about Barea.  From what I saw from him last year, he was a bit too inconsistent to be signed for too much.  If they develop Beaubois, he could serve a similar role of creating offense through penetration and hitting jumpers.