The Mavs have a lot to do this offseason to build a contender around Luka and creative cap management can maximize it. Let’s look at how.
As the Mavs finish out the season, there is little left to truly play for. Dirk passed Wilt last week. Luka has all but locked up the Rookie of the Year honor with his 7th triple double on Tuesday. Kristaps isn’t playing, no matter how much you want him to. But we can start our homework for how the Mavs can upgrade this team in the offseason. I will be doing a series called THOUGHT EXPERIMENT to explore different ways the Mavs COULD maneuver this team back to contention over the summer. I am not reading the tea leaves of what they WILL do, but examples of what they COULD do. The first segment can be found here.
The Mavs have a very important offseason ahead of them. It’s safe to say that there is room for improvement as we head towards the conclusion of our 3rd sub-35 win season in a row and we have all means available to us to improve. We have a puncher’s chance of retaining our first round pick, we have a trade exception as outlined here, and money available for free agency. We’ll address the draft once we know where the ping pong balls fall, so for now we can analyze the free agency portion.
Free agency presents the Mavericks with a world of opportunity as they have the 4th most Practical Cap Space of any team in the NBA per Sportrac. Practical Cap Space is a number created by assuming the Mavs renounce ALL rights to ALL non-guaranteed contracts, so it requires some gymnastics to use it all as wisely as possible. One way to do that is to control the order of signings to maximize all money available to the roster. First we need to understand where the Mavs are coming from to see how they will proceed.
Operating Over The Cap
First of all, the Salary Cap is projected to be around $109M next year, so that’s a starting number to work with. However, most NBA teams operate with roster salaries over this number because there isn’t a penalty for doing so until they hit $132M in salaries, so that gives teams an extra $23M in salary to spend just by adhering to the rules in a unique way. Unique thinking is how the NBA works and you can bet Mark Cuban LOVES thinking up clever ways to make money out of thin air…
The Mavs only have 5 contracts that are fully guaranteed for next year at this exact moment, barring future trades. The team will absolutely have Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Justin Jackson and Jalen Brunson. All other players are free agents or restricted free agents, which we’ll get to in a moment. These 5 players represent a little over $43M in salary leaving the rest of the Maverick’s cap open for use by either re-signing players they want to retain OR acquiring new players.
The following sections are the order in which the Mavericks should act in order to maximize the priorities they currently hold. As a reminder, the Mavs have vocally announced that they want to sign Kristaps Porzingis to a 5 year max contract and keep him and Luka together for 20 years. They also want to sign big named free agent(s) by Donnie Nelson saying, “We like stars”. They also have made it known they want to re-sign their home grown talents Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber to longer term contracts as well. Not to mention Dwight Powell has a $10M player option they probably want him to opt into after the way he’s played in 2019.
Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts to this, so I’ll try and keep it organized.
Step 1: The Draft – 6/20/19
The 2019 NBA Draft takes place on June 20th, 2019, a little over a month after the lottery decides if the Mavs get to keep their first round pick or if it conveys to Atlanta. Whether the Mavs keep their first round pick or not, they also have a second round pick and any picks count monetarily against their cap. A top 5 pick would cost the Mavs anywhere from $4M-$7M, second rounders are far less. Once they get through the draft, they have the start of their working numbers for the summer.
Step 2: Dwight Powell Player Option – 6/24/19
Dwight Powell has a $10M option where he can decide if he’d like to stay with the Mavs next year or try out free agency in an effort to either get more money or a longer dear, or both from another team. Given Powell’s team focused attitude, I would assume he opts in to play with a team going places, but you never know. We should know on or before 6/24 if the Mavs have either a 6th player for 2019 or an extra $10M to spend in free agency a week later.
Step 3: Qualifying Offers to RFAs (THE IMPORTANT ONE) – 6/30/19
This step may sound arbitrary, but it is the crucial move that allows the Mavs to both sign high dollar free agents while still making sure we don’t lose any of our current roster we want to retain. The Mavericks can extend qualifying offers to Porzingis, Maxi and Finney-Smith to ensure that even while they pursue free agents from other teams, there is an understanding that they will deal with them after they have signed free agents with their cap space. This is complex, but the way the league has it set up, the team can go over the cap to sign players that are currently on their roster, but not to acquire outright free agents. This is the step that makes it all work. The 3 players can take offers from other teams during free agency, but the Mavs would have the right to match it before free agency ends. It’s the best way for the Mavs to retain these players and I’m sure conversations have already taken place with all of them as to this process.
Step 4: Free Agency!!!!!!! – 7/1/19
This is it! The moment we’re all waiting for. The Mavs should have anywhere between $35M-$52M to spend depending on how the previous steps have gone. Kristaps has already said he will be big into recruiting for the Mavs in free agency and the excitement around him and Luka might attract some very enticing names. It could be one ‘star’ addition. It could be a few quality role players to put around our young Euro pair. The Mavs will be among the most active teams, both roster wise and monetarily, at the start of free agency and this should be an exciting time for MFFLs. Whatever we get out of here will most likely determine the final dollar amounts attributed to our players we extended qualifying offers to.
Step 5: Sign the RFAs – 7/15/19
Two weeks after the start of free agency starts, the Mavs will have officially signed their restricted free agents to any contract they like, going over the cap and having a stacked team built the way they want. It’s true, a team could offer Kristaps a huge contract, but they would have to wait for the Mavs to offer back two weeks later, tying up their money and interest in other free agents only for the Mavs to beat their offer with a max deal no other team could offer at all. This is because the Mavs have his bird rights and can offer more years and money. In other words, it’s a bad idea for teams to chase restricted free agents unless they feel they can outbid the original team. The Mavs might lose one of Dorian or Maxi, but it would only be because a team offered more than the Mavs were willing to pay.
Also at this point in time, the Mavs would be extending offers to role players and a player eligible for cap slots like the MLE (mid-level exception) that the Mavs regularly use to go further over the cap (This would be an awesome spot to retain the services of one, Dirk Nowitzki, for one last ride to the playoffs…). Most of your roster fills out by this date.
Step 6: Waive or Stretch Players (Optional)
By mid-July, Mavs fans should have a really clear picture of what their roster looks like for the 2019-2020 season. Let’s say, however, that the Mavs overspent because their options were TOO GOOD. While unlikely, it is possible. At that point a player like Justin Jackson could be cut for money’s sake. Or a player like Courtney Lee could have his contract stretched, via the Stretch Provision, over several years to make roster spots and money work. This step is about correcting for errors.
So as you can see, it all comes down to order and timing to build this team right over the summer. While it can get complicated, knowing WHY the Mavs are doing what they are doing rather than signing everyone IMMEDIATELY will give you insight into WHAT they are doing. Knowing your tools to build your team is as important as the players on it.
No, we did not look at names for several of these steps, but as we approach them, you can bet that Mavs Nation will have you covered.
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