Fans and analysts have done their best to read the tea leaves containing the Mavs’ off-season plans, but implicit in that process is a lot of assumption. We know that Dallas doesn’t want to sign Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler to the kinds of deals they’re able to secure elsewhere. We know that J.J. Barea was only offered a short-term, and that it wasn’t to his liking. We know that the Mavs are likely to pursue free agents on one-year contracts almost exclusively. From all of these facts — and the reports they stem from — we can try to piece together the team’s strategy, but there will always be bits of logic and nuance missing from our formulations.
Well, prepare to have the blanks filled in. On Thursday, Mark Cuban articulated Dallas’ general strategy in a must-read post by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:
The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past. I realize that everyone is all freaked out about how and where free agents and future free agents are going, but it’s not just about getting one guy.
We are not saving cap room in hope of that one super special free agent being there. It’s about being in the position to improve every year and possibly add some significant, younger players next year and in future years.
What I don’t think people understand is that once a team hits the tax level the ability to improve our team is reduced dramatically. In addition, your ability to make trades is reduced. So basically, if we made the move to keep everyone together with five-year deals, the team we have today is going to be the team we have for the next five years. If we were a young team it would be one thing. But we are not a young team.
In the past, it was different. If we had a problem, I could fix any mistake by having Donnie find a trade and just taking on more money. That is how we got Jet, the Matrix, JKidd, Tyson. It was always about taking on more money. That trick doesn’t work any more for teams over the tax. So we have to change our approach. By getting back under the cap, we have a ton of flexibility not only for free agent signings but also trades. If we can get the right guy(s) via free agency, great. if we do it via trade, great. We have that much more flexibility to make moves.
Cuban’s spiel is well worth a read in its entirety, as it serves to clarify a lot of the questions posed in this space regarding how the Mavericks will operate from this point forward. Other high-spending teams may not be too strained under the new collective bargaining agreement, but Cuban cites a rather significant change in the Mavs’ spending doctrine. Acquiring talent from other teams just got much more difficult for Dallas, as the ability to absorb costly contracts is no longer in Donnie Nelson’s playbook.