Under the Microscope

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on June 30, 2013 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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This is it. This is the moment that everyone has been waiting for. As it was apparent that the Mavs weren’t going to make the first time in over a decade, everyone circled July 1st on their calendar. They waited to see if the Mavs could really make progress on improving their team.

Some are waiting to say “I told you so” and that dismantling the championship team was a mistake. Over the weekend, I’ve looked over that roster again and the results and I still stand by my belief that that captured lightning in a bottle and Dirk Nowitzki had one of the greatest playoff runs the league has ever seen. As the Miami Heat celebrate their second championship, Dirk and those Mavs will know that they “got ‘em.”

History may or may not remember the 2011 Mavs for what they did and mainly remember what the Heat didn’t do, but there’s no way to erase the fact that Nowitzki was the baddest man on a basketball court that summer.

Last season was a disappointing one as the Mavs wandered through the wilderness of mediocrity. Nowitzki’s injury derailed the season from the get-go. Despite that, the Mavs were able to find a way to stay playoff relevant until the final week of the season. That shows that Dirk and a cast of characters can be a playoff team, but the front office must now make their move and secure more reliable weapons for their star. “We’re trying to accumulate high quality, high character, high energy, high motor, skilled players to put around Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the draft. “He’s still one of the greatest players in the game and we’ve got to enhance his ability to do what he does.

“We’ve got to enhance the opportunity to keep him playing as long as possible because he loves to play and he’s great. To do that effectively, we’ve got to get the best guys possible around him. That’s a priority and it’ll continue to be one this summer.”

Now is the time. Let’s look at everything under the free agency microscope.

Fight for Dwight:

It’s been reported through various sources that the Mavs will get the second-to-last meeting with Howard on Tuesday. The Lakers will be the team that gets the last word with Howard. First, it’s been stunning how aggressive the Lakers have come across with their pitch. Billboards, photo shopped images on buildings, full-page spreads in newspapers. When did the Lakers get to this stage where they’re desperate?

It still feels like a three-team race between Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas. Reports seem to indicate that Howard will land in Texas, making it a two-team race. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki are expected to be the key components in the pitch to the prized free agent.

Expect them to show Howard the vision that he will be the man in Dallas. Nowitzki can explain that he will defer whenever he needs to. If things are going rough, Nowitzki can be the one to take the media spotlight. We already know that Cuban will do that and has done that.

Negative selling can also happen. If he’s going to Houston, he’ll once again play in the shadows of big men of the past. Houston would have Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming as the shadows. In Dallas, Howard really doesn’t have anyone to go up against. He will clearly be the man in that situation as well.

While history suggests this is a bad idea, the Mavs can sell Howard on being the architect for the Mavs in 2014. With more cap space, they’ll be able to reload the roster and pick players that Howard likes. This probably sounds great to Howard, but players aren’t always the greatest evaluators when it comes to building a roster.

The Mavs can also suggest that Howard might be seen as a coach killer again with McHale only having an option on his deal in 2014. That would, once again, paint him as a coach killer. With Rick Carlisle firmly under contract and a proven championship coach, the Mavs will sell Howard on being able to work a system that caters to him.

Mark Cuban will be the key to this pitch. He wasn’t present last summer for the pitch to Deron Williams and that certainly hurt their chances. Cuban is a star, even as an owner. Howard will naturally be attracted to a power player like Cuban. The owner didn’t make his money by blind luck. He’s a salesman and a businessman. He’ll know his audience and cater his sales pitch to capture his attention to the fullest.

20/20 vision shows that LeBron James clearly left to win. Deron Williams stayed under the illusion of winning, but mainly stayed for the money. Dwight Howard has said that he’s going into this period with an open mind and wants to win.

Dallas can sell him on being a playoff team immediately. They’ll have to make him believe that the two-year plan can work and that he’s a powerful piece to that puzzle. If he wants to be the man, Dallas is clearly the place to do it. It’s not a given that James Harden can hand the reigns over to Howard. It’s not even a given that Harden can co-exist with Howard. Oklahoma City nor Houston never had a dominant big man to work with while Harden has been in the mix, so we have no idea how Harden will work in that scenario.

Houston might be considered the favorite, but a lot of things can change within the next few days. Cuban is in a position that he likes. He’s openly said that he doesn’t want to be the first person to pitch; he wants to be one of the last.

Time will tell if his belief pays off.

Beantown Rumor:

Rumors were eventually confirmed over the weekend that the Mavs have kicked the tires on trying to trade for Rajon Rondo, the 27-year-old point guard. With the Celtics making their blockbuster trade on draft night with Brooklyn, it appears that they’re in rebuilding mode. Rondo, naturally, becomes the next piece that could easily move.

The Mavs have always fed off the philosophy of being opportunistic and this is a situation that follows that to the T. That said, it’s still incredibly unlikely that a deal happens. The problem is that Dallas doesn’t have the assets to make a deal work. Boston has asked for Dirk Nowitzki in exchange for Rondo. That will immediately end the first phase of the negotiation as Dallas will not deal him. Boston’s intentions sound mixed if they want Nowitzki only to rebuild. The purpose of that would be to use him as a trade chip for a contender who wants to give Boston buckets of picks or other assets.

Dallas simply can’t pursue Rondo while they’re chasing Howard. If Boston unloads a junk contract or two with Rondo and takes all of Dallas’ trade assets, the Mavs won’t have the max room to offer to Howard. If they don’t have that space, there is no point in making the offer to Howard. They can say they WILL pursue Rondo, but they need Howard to commit first before they can truly pursue that.

If Howard decides to go elsewhere, the Mavs can then pursue Rondo with more aggression. As of right now, it still looks unlikely that Rondo will be a Mav. The chances could change once the Howard situation is taken care of but my advice would be to not hold your breath.

What about them?

Shawn Marion’s silence indicates that he will not exercise his early termination option. That means that the versatile forward will be locked in to the final year of his deal worth $9.3 million. There were hopes and actual discussions of restructuring Marion’s deal once he opted out of the deal, but those never really materialized.

There’s a line of thinking that suggests that Marion can now be traded as the Mavs still need to create cap space to make the max offer to Howard. That is possible, but it’s also possible that the Mavs may need to hold on to Marion if they do actually want to pursue Rondo, with Howard or not.

If Marion is the one who stays in the short term, Vince Carter is the man who will be shipped off. Carter is slated to make just under $3.2 million this coming season. Not taking into account the non guaranteed deals for Bernard James and Josh Akognon, they would be roughly $2.73 million short of a max deal for Howard. The Mavs could trade Carter away for “nothing” and that would create the space they need. The Mavs have been in communication with Carter through the process and everyone is well-aware of what could happen.

Yahoo! Sports reported that the Mavs did not extend a qualifying offer to Darren Collison, making him a restricted free agent. This is expected to happen for Roddy Beaubois, as well. These moves don’t mean that they won’t be back, but the Mavs want to create space as quickly as possible and these moves, or actual non-moves, help facilitate that.

The Oregonian reported that the Blazers will meet with Chris Kaman’s people as free agency begins. Portland was interested in the big man last year after they lost out on Roy Hibbert. Kaman eventually picked the Mavs and we saw how that turned out. O.J. Mayo appears to be in high demand as will likely meet with Minnesota, Utah, Milwaukee and others as free agency begins.

The Mavs will renounce rights of the players if it is necessary to reduce spots to cap holds of $490,180. They might hold on to certain players in order to use them as sign-and-trade pieces. Now certain teams won’t be able to take players in via sign-and-trade. A team like the Lakers or the Knicks, Nets and etc wouldn’t be able to obtain the players the Mavs have to offer via sign-and-trade due to rules in the CBA.

If the Mavs do renounce rights, I wouldn’t expect Brandan Wright to be one that is let go. The Mavs will want to wait out the process with their bigger priorities and hope that Wright is still available. They would be able to go over the cap to sign Wright as they have his Early Bird Rights, which would allow the Mavs to exceed the cap to sign him to a multi-year contract up to the 104.5 percent of the average NBA salary from last season, is $884,293. Anything in the in the range to what Ian Mahinmi got on the open market last year, $16 million for four years, will likely be favorable for the Mavs.

Wild Cards by Association:

Both Nick Calathes and Gal Mekel have been linked to the Mavs. Calathes was the second-round draft pick from four years ago who arrived in Dallas last week for some visits with the team. It appears he finally feel the time is right to see if he can make it in the NBA.

At the very least, I would suspect he will travel with the Mavs to Vegas for the Summer League. If the Mavs don’t feel he will be a piece for the future, they’ve said they will do what they can to send Calathes to a team where he can have an opportunity.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the Mavs have been interested in Gal Mekel. He was named MVP in Israel for the 2012-13 season after helping claim the Israeli Super League championship. It’s his second MVP trophy in four pro seasons in Israel. The Mavs were very quiet about Mekel after the draft, likely because he is a target that can be signed as a free agent. Whether he is signed to minimum deal or a make-good deal, he will have to fight for a spot if he is actually a part of the plans for the Mavs.

Linked In:

The Mavs have essentially been linked to every free agent under the sun as free agency has now begun. Andrew Bynum, Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, the Mavs have been linked to them all. That shouldn’t be a surprise as the Mavs have cap space and it’s still possible that they won’t get Dwight Howard.

If the Mavs do strike out on Dwight Howard, I expect the Mavs to be very cautious with their approach to the remaining crop. There is a concern or fear that the Mavs might making a Pistons mistake of the past where Detroit overpaid for mediocre talent such as Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva. I don’t expect the Mavs to make those kinds of moves. I also don’t expect them to make moves like last summer where they sign guys to one-year deals. They will still be selective with how they spend their money, though.

If they like guys like Ellis, Jennings or Smith, they won’t pay them the money they’re hoping to make. They’ll start to get interested if it plays out as it did last summer for O.J. Mayo. The market started to dry up for the guard and the Mavs got him at a value price. Clearly, the value price wouldn’t be that low for the players listed above, but they would be open if the value is right.

One person who isn’t a big free agent who could see extreme value? Keep an eye on Jose Calderon. The point guard crop of free agents is relatively healthy and Calderon could easily be a point guard who slips through the cracks.

Laying in the Weeds

Signing free agents is one way to clearly improve your team. Brooklyn and Boston are showing that trading is another way to do so. As it was mentioned earlier, the Mavs could pursue Rajon Rondo as a target. Marcin Gortat, the center out of Phoenix is another name to keep track of. If the Rockets are successful at acquiring Dwight Howard, the Mavs could easily pursue Omer Asik as their new big man.

Another name to keep an eye on is Greivis Vasquez. With the Hornets acquiring Jrue Holliday on draft night, there is a significant log jam at the guard position. Eric Gordon is likely harder to dispose of, and New Orleans can get more in return for Vasquez.  The same verse but different song could be used when it comes to Tyreke Evans. He is restricted and the Mavs have said they don’t plan on pursuing restricted free agents, but his availability might be even more open now due to the Kings drafting Ben McLemore.

There is a beauty to the trade market. You just never know who is really available until you go down the rabbit hole. The names listed above are fairly educated guess, but there’s just an entire spectrum of players that may become available based on goings on of the draft, the CBA punishing teams more or the willingness to prepare for the loaded 2014 draft.

The waiting (at least the waiting to figure out real targets) is officially over. The fuzzy puzzle will now become clear. Enjoy the ride.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University, studying ideologies of Clark Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.

  • Hank Chinaski

    Good article, but I was slightly distracted by:

    “It’s not a given that James Harden can hand the reigns over to Howard.”

    I’ve seen the improper use of reigns vs reins on a few basketball blogs lately when referring to control of a team. Because reign means to rule, it is easily and often misused in the popular idiom “handing over the reins”, a reference to metaphorical reins used to control a horse (and not to ‘reigns’, which are periods of a leader’s rule).

    Homophones, yo!