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Launching Pad

The fun is about to begin. We’ve already seen crazy events during the offseason: Tyson Chandler returning to Dallas, Jason Kidd making power plays, Miami contemplating another run with their big three. It’s shaping up be another wild summer in the NBA. The Mavericks will be a very integral part to the summer as they expect to be a major player in free agency.

An important note: free agents become free on July 1, but the salary cap is not set until the league’s audit is completed later in the month. Teams and players must wait for the salary cap to be set before trades and most free agent signings can commence. Teams may negotiate with free agents beginning July 1, but they have to wait until the moratorium ends before signing a contract.

With that in mind, let’s begin the free agency primer.

Cap consequences

There are things to remember with Dallas’ cap situation as we approach free agency. It has been projected by many that the salary cap will be placed at $63.2 million. Dallas currently has seven players out of a possible 12 under contract.

Tyson Chandler: $15,096,888
Monta Ellis: $8,360,000
Brandan Wright: $5,000,000
Raymond Felton: $3,793,693
Jae Crowder: $915,243
Ricky Ledo: $816,482
Gal Mekel: $816,482

The CBA mandates that you must have minimum holds in place for your remaining spots on the roster that aren’t filled by actual players. The set figure is $490,180. With the five empty roster spots and the contracts above, Dallas has $37,249,688 towards the cap.

Cap holds are placed on team’s free agents in order to avoid loopholes being created. A cap hold is the amount of space a free agent counts towards a team’s cap. These “cap holds” factor in when a team signs free agents. If they didn’t exist, a team could use their cap space to sign other free agents until the space was gone, and then re-sign their own free agents using the Bird exception.

Shamsports.com (a truly invaluable resource) has listed these cap holds on Dallas’ current free agents.

Dirk Nowitzki: $23,857,450
Shawn Marion: $13,975,194
Vince Carter: $6,042,000
Bernard James: $1,115,243
DeJuan Blair: $915,243
Devin Harris: $915,243

The cap hold disappears if the team renounces their own free agent, that free agent signs with a new team, or re-signs with the same team. Renouncing rights would give up any Bird Rights that were earned or could be used for a future contract with that free agent if the rights were renounced to remove the cap hold.

For Dallas, it is truly in their best interest to take care of Dirk Nowitzki’s contract as quickly as possible.

Don’t upset Dad

According who you talk to, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin threw some shade at the Mavericks in relation to his son Shane. According to the New York Post, Barry had some strong  thoughts about the team his son was traded from.

“Dallas doesn’t do a good job of developing players,’’ Larkin told The Post in a phone interview from his home in Orlando. “They’re in win-now mode. [Coach] Rick Carlisle doesn’t know how to develop young players, and Shane was a rookie. It always was a struggle for him to figure out what was going on.’’

He continued: “It was up and down, hard for him to regain his footing, no pun in tended,’’ Barry Larkin said. “He didn’t have chance to play in the summer league and get in a groove. His confidence was very high and he has a high basketball IQ but there was hesitancy. He was 100 percent sure mentally his ankle was OK, but you always have that reservation in your mind.

“It was a great introduction to professional sports — of the way it really is. A great learning experience for him.’’

This seems pretty inflammatory coming from the elder Larkin. To be fair, he isn’t exactly far from the truth in regards to the mindset of the Mavericks. They are in win-now mode. Carlisle hasn’t exactly thrived in developing younger players, but you can make a case that he excels in just about every other category known in regards to coaching an NBA team. Barry took to Twitter and claimed that he was upset with the article from the Post.

Maybe Barry said some of these kind words when the Post spoke to him and they chose not to run with them. Who knows? Shane Larkin and the Knicks take on Dallas in the opening game of the summer league in Vegas. That should be interesting.

Negotiations

(Photo Courtesy of Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Photo Courtesy of Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

Mark Cuban made his first public comments since the Tyson Chandler trade to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon on 103.3 FM ESPN over the weekend.

“We’re going to swing for the fences,” Cuban said on “ESPN Dallas GameDay”. “I think some of these guys are opting out just to create leverage, and they’ll go back. Then there’s some that really want to go to different teams. We’ll try to put ourselves in position to get them.”

While he can’t name names right now, Cuban continued to make his sales pitch.

“You can come up with a different range in what Dirk is going to take and realize that for a player who has been in the league 10-plus years, he’s not going to get a max contract here,” said Cuban. “So coming in, he recognizes he’s playing for less than max. That means there’s some reason that he wants to talk to us. And if you look at the other teams, they’re in similar situations as well.

“We’ve got to understand that most likely he’s interested in winning championships and most likely he’s seen over the course of time that coaching is a huge part of winning a championship.”

The ambiguity lends itself to questioning who the Mavericks are actually targeting. Some think that this is saying that Carmelo Anthony is now out of the picture and that they’re shifting gears by saying they won’t offer max money to anyone.

I take it as he is talking about Anthony. It comes off as a bit of a hardball stance, but the Mavericks could easily create more money by trading Brandan Wright away for space. Either way, Cuban’s main point was that the organization, including the culture, coaching and chemistry, is the huge selling point for any prospective free agent.

Nowitzki’s deal will be part of the positioning with going forward with their big attempts in free agency.

With everything involved with the deal with New York last week, Dallas will have up to $26.1 million to spend in free agency, as was mentioned at the top. With the money the organization took in with bringing back Chandler, would Nowitzki consider going lower than the perceived “sweet spot” number of $10 million? Would getting his probable best teammate back in Chandler and the possibility of luring a star in Anthony make Nowitzki consider taking even less?

Another angle in all of this is what Miami is doing with their big three. It appears that Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are primed to take significant cuts in order to preserve the ability to improve their roster. The kicker in all of it is that it’s being reported by Yahoo! Sports that LeBron James could be earning max money in the process, presenting the first opportunity for him to be the highest paid player on his team. That seems counterproductive for what the Heat could ultimately do, but the point is that Bosh and Wade are going to do their part and take less money. Depending on the number, that could be another talking point with Nowitzki.

Would Nowitzki be willing to take less than $10 million? I think he would, but it would take some a little convincing. That said, I still think it’s in play.

If not Melo, who?

Dallas is going to be right in the mix with Houston, Chicago and any other wild card team in regards to Carmelo Anthony. If things don’t go their way, which is still very possible, the Mavericks will address the small forward position accordingly. The deal to acquire Tyson Chandler has likely shifted the point of emphasis with the small forward position.

Losing Jose Calderon in the deal means they lost one of their most potent perimeter shooters. Smokescreen or not, it appears that the Mavericks will roll with Devin Harris (if re-signed, which still seems likely) and Raymond Felton as the point guard duo. They could still look at a cheap option to create further depth, but that’s not the primary focus in free agency. The focus shifts to finding a scorer who can stretch the floor at small forward.

To me, Luol Deng – who was perceived to be the most inevitable option at small forward – is now the least likely option. Deng struggles from long range as he’s below average in terms of shooting percentage. Back in the 2012-13 season, he shot 32 percent from 3-point range and shot 30 percent from 3-point range this past season. While it’s possible that Monta Ellis, Harris and Felton could present better opportunities for him and Nowitzki’s gravity could open things up, recent data is suggesting that this notion could be a stretch. He’s potentially the best defender of the bench, but the Mavericks have a larger need for shooting.

That means the two stronger options are Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons, with Gordon Hayward being a dark horse. The idea with Hayward seems unlikely because Utah values Hayward as the leader of their franchise.

(Photo Courtesy of Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Photo Courtesy of Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images)

There’s intriguing questions to ask about Parsons. How much of his interest based on the fact he was such a bargain, since he came into the league as a second-round prospect, making next to no money? If he was selected in the middle of the first round, would his star still be as bright? Your starting point always has an influence on things.

Parsons is only 25 and averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and four assists while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range for the Rockets last season. He has legit size as a small forward with his 6-foot-9 frame. In today’s ever-evolving game, he does hold some moderate value as a small ball power forward. The small ball lineup is something the Mavericks operated within over the years, and started to experiment with it again as their run this season was coming to a close. Alongside the current pieces in Dallas, the offense could become even more potent.

Defensively, he can guard his position, but he still leaves more to be desired as a whole. It’s not Jose Calderon bad, but it’s rough. That’s where Tyson Chandler is valuable, as he covers a lot of sins on defense. Playing alongside James Harden in Houston, you have to wonder how much of a commitment has been made on the defensive end of the floor. Maybe a new organization presents a different Parsons in regards to defense (not necessarily All-NBA defense, but better than what he is at the current moment).

An interesting subplot to the Parsons angle is that he was scheduled to participate in Nowitzki’s charity baseball game last week, which he did last summer. He was scheduled but ultimately backed out. There’s no sure way to suggest that means anything other than it happened.

(NOTE: A source has confirmed Parsons had to miss the event due to an NBA event.)

The Mavericks, or any team for that matter, can’t get creative and fight the Rockets with a poison pill deal when it comes to Parsons. Do the Mavericks want to go upwards of $9-10 million to try to get Parsons (and that’s just a starting point)? If so, how would Monta Ellis handle knowing he’s going to be lower on the paying pecking order? Could that ruffle his feathers? There’s quite a bit to consider when making a run at Parsons. There’s a lot to consider, but I think they make a run at him.

(Photo Courtesy of Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Photo Courtesy of Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Contract-year fever might have hit Ariza in a big way this season. The biggest cause for concern is his 3-point percentage. Ariza shot 40.7 percent from 3 this season after not shooting above 33 percent for seven straight years. There has been incremental improvement to his percentages, but there is cause for concern to see a huge spike as he approaches a new contract.

As long as there’s not a huge drop in his percentages taking away the contract-year luster, Ariza still holds a lot of value as a shooter. On top of that, he’s a versatile defender.

The Mavericks will have to wait to see how it shakes out with Anthony before they decide if they need to pursue their other options at small forward. It’s unlikely that they will miss out on these three players as they wait out Anthony. Most agents are smart and they’ll wait while the teams who have cap space finish their business (or lack of business) and try to see if their client makes a fit for them. The only angle that may hurt is the Parsons one. An outside team may force the issue and sign him to an offer sheet, forcing the Rockets to make their decision within three days. At that point, Houston will have a very difficult decision to make. I doubt Dallas is putting up a massive smokescreen and showing interest in Anthony only to poach Parsons away. I think they’re genuinely interested in both. It sounds like if Anthony isn’t a Maverick, they will pursue Chandler, but the smart money could be on Ariza (mainly because he would be cheaper and isn’t restricted like Parsons).

Pursuit of Pau

(Photo Courtesy of Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Photo Courtesy of Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

Even with the acquisition of Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks still seem interested in trying to make a run at Los Angeles Lakers free agent center Pau Gasol. The interest still makes sense as he would be a dual insurance policy, both for Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki. He would likely get most of his minutes at the power forward position, giving Nowitzki valuable rest during the regular season. It’s still an option that he could log backup minutes at center, but the Mavericks would still have Brandan Wright in the mix and it is still possible that they re-sign the likes of DeJuan Blair and/or Bernard James, though the option of Blair returning seems more realistic than James.

It appears the Mavericks will have competition in regards to trying to obtain the services of Gasol in the form of the Lakers and the New York Knicks. The Lakers would like to keep their center for continuity purposes, the Knicks would want to acquire Gasol in an attempt to appease Carmelo Anthony. Minutes might be more available for Gasol in Los Angeles or New York, but the better roster might reside in Dallas.

The Mavericks certainly have to be thinking about Gasol now and a Gasol for the future as Pau’s brother Marc will be a free agent next summer. The Mavericks would have ample cap space to work with next summer to try to bring the brothers together, if they are successful in acquiring Pau this summer.

Going after Pau makes sense if the Mavericks are unable to acquire Anthony. Something along the lines of a haul of Trevor Ariza and Gasol could be a nice return for the summer. It doesn’t seem likely to get Pau if the Mavericks get either Anthony or Chandler Parsons, unless Gasol is willing to sacrifice a lot of money to join a new emerging contender.

But not least…

With the options in play, it’s looking less and less likely that Shawn Marion will return as the starting small forward for the Mavericks. That said, it’s still possible he returns as a reserve. With Tyson Chandler back in the mix, having Chandler join the remaining Mavericks in their pitch to have Marion return (likely hovering around the veteran’s minimum) will help the cause. We’ll have to see if Marion still believes it wouldn’t take much for him to return.

If Marion returns as a reserve, things could become tighter in terms of roster space for Vince Carter. With perimeter shooting being at a premium for Dallas, Carter’s return seems like a desired result. It will be interesting to see how things fit for Carter and Marion. If I had to guess, I’m thinking Carter returns while Marion departs.

It appears that Devin Harris is slated to return to the Mavericks, signing a deal around the deal he originally planned on signing before a physical revealed he needed toe surgery (three years, $9 million). That’s still not a bad deal for a point guard. If the Mavericks do happen to get Carmelo Anthony, they’ll need Harris to consider a different amount (Spoiler: it would be lower). Harris loves being in Dallas, but it might be a stretch to assume he would love it enough to consider signing another deal at the minimum. That would mean Dallas has to shift their attentions to a strong point guard market for a reserve. At that point, it would have to be assumed that Raymond Felton becomes the starting point guard of the team. Some already think that Felton will hold the position, going with the better player (Harris) coming off the bench. Based on how things are shaping up, the point guard position very well could be the weakest position for the finish product roster. That would create quite the polar opposite from the previous season.

As mentioned during the retcon, the opposing teams around the league now have to observe that Brandan Wright is the most obtainable trade asset the Mavericks have. It’s very possible that Dallas may have to deal Wright. The likely scenario where it becomes a priority is if LeBron James (not likely) or Carmelo Anthony (more likely) says that they require a max salary from Dallas. If they throw that out there, you’ll see a Mark Cuban-sized hole in closest door because he has left to find a trade partner to unload Wright.

It kind of defeats the purpose for either player to say that they want max money, while the growing trend is that players are willing to take less money for the idea of improving a better supporting cast. That’s what is surprising about the news that James is reportedly pursuing max money. The Mavericks would be better with either superstar, but they would be even better if the superstar took a little less to where they didn’t have to unload Wright for space. We’ll have to see what happens there.

TL;DR

It’s going to be a wild summer, and the Mavericks will be in the mix for nearly every option. Buckle up.