The Powder Endgame

There's been a lot of talk in Mavsland about the front office's new strategy, what Donnie Nelson calls "keeping the powder dry." This seems to encompass the basic ideas of conserving cap space, being judicious with free agent signings, and always being in the position to strike should some big opportunity arise. In a vacuum, these seem like excellent principles for running a team -- just like front offices and coaches these days are managing their players and lineups with an eye towards efficiency on the court, they are also looking for efficiency off of it, which comes in the form of maximizing the utility of draft picks, trade assets, and cap room.

Indeed, many of the front offices that are deemed the "smartest," and not just the ones that can afford to spend the most money (cough, Lakers and Knicks), have adhered to these strategies in order not just to attain dominance, but also to make small tweaks and changes to improve their teams over the years. The oft-repeated term -- and now Mavs' mantra -- of "financial flexibility" is absolutely crucial, at least on the periphery. For example, teams like the Spurs and Thunder have never had boatloads of cap room, but they also haven't had too many bad players or bad contracts (both of which are hard to trade), so they could always make little moves that paid huge dividends on the court -- like the trades for Stephen Jackson and Kendrick Perkins.

The main point of all this is that championship teams, at least sustainable ones, can't be just thrown together willy-nilly by spending all available cap space with no wiggle room, especially if the players being signed aren't even worth it in the first place. Even the greatest, most talent-laden offseason concoctions have to be able to make small trades or signings to stay on top over the years -- no great team can afford to be static. If a team can't win a championship and it's inflexible, it usually gets stuck losing in the second round or the Conference Finals and has no way of improvement (think the Atlanta Hawks the past several years). And if the team wins a championship, there's even more reason to make changes -- Bill Simmons' "disease of more" sets in and the cheaper bargain players go on to greener financial pastures, leaving the more dubious contracts still on the roster. Other teams amp up their efforts to dethrone the new champ and the same team that won a year before, more often than not, can't repeat. So with all this in mind, it boggles the mind to see teams like the Knicks and Celtics splurging on mid-tier free agents and basically using up all their cap space for the next two or three years. Time will tell whether four-year $36 million deals for players like Jeff Green are a good idea or not, but I know which way I'd bet.

Anyways, now that there's reason to believe the Mavs' philosophical approach might be a good one (or at least better than some alternatives), it's time to examine what that really means in a specific, non-general sense. Unfortunately, with the Deron Williams quest having come and gone and with no other "big fish" on the free agency horizon this summer, we haven't really gotten a clearer picture of what possible opportunities there could be. Keeping the gunpowder dry is fine and dandy, but what if there's nothing on earth to shoot?

With that in mind, I've listed out all of next summer's targets we could potentially have, both in trades (these could even happen this season) and free agency, and broken them down into tiers. The trade targets (marked as T) are ones that have been discussed or rumored to have been shopped at some point. Free agents are designated as restricted or unrestricted by the letters R and U. Players with an early termination option are marked with ETO.

Tier 1 -- Superstars

Chris Paul, PG -- U

Kevin Love, PF -- T

Dwight Howard, C -- U

Tier 2 -- All-Stars

Manu Ginobili, SG -- U

James Harden, SG -- R

Andre Iguodala, SF -- T

Josh Smith, SF -- U

Andrew Bynum, C -- U

Tier 3 -- Borderline/Potential All-Stars and Promising Youngsters

Brandon Jennings, PG -- R

Ty Lawson, PG -- R

Jeff Teague, PG -- R

Jrue Holiday -- PG

Stephen Curry, PG/SG -- R

Ben Gordon, SG -- ETO

Monta Ellis, SG -- ETO

Tyreke Evans, SF -- R

Rudy Gay, SF -- T

David West, PF -- U

Paul Millsap, PF -- U

Al Jefferson, PF/C -- U

Tier 4 -- Solid Players

Darren Collison, PG -- R

Jose Calderon, PG -- U

Jarrett Jack, PG -- U

Eric Maynor, PG -- R

Kevin Martin, SG -- U

Tony Allen, SG -- U

J.J. Redick, SG -- U

Gary Neal, SG -- U

Richard Jefferson, SF -- ETO

Trevor Ariza, SF -- ETO

Metta World Peace, SF -- ETO

Marvin Williams, SF -- ETO

Kyle Korver, SF -- U

Stephen Jackson, SF -- U

Corey Brewer, SF -- U

Corey Maggette, SF -- U

Taj Gibson, PF -- R

Serge Ibaka, PF -- R

Lamar Odom, PF -- U

Tyler Hansbrough, PF -- R

Nikola Pekovic, C -- U

Samuel Dalambert, C -- U

Emeka Okafor, C -- ETO

Andris Biedrins, C -- ETO

Tiago Splitter, C -- U

Zaza Pachulia, C -- U

Timofey Mozgov, C -- U

As you can see, I'm being quite charitable with some of these classifications. Both at the top and on the whole, next summer is a drastically better free agency market with plenty more options at all positions.

I'm also leaving out a whole host of players who have team options, for the sole reason that I'm pretty sure most of their teams will pick them up: John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Eric Bledsoe, Norris Cole, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Evan Turner, MarShon Brooks, Klay Thompson, Jimmer Fredette, Avery Bradley, Paul George, Derrick Williams, Gordon Hayward, Kawhi Leonard, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Kyle Lowry, Iman Shumpert, Kenneth Faried, Ekpe Udoh, Enes Kanter, Kevin Seraphin, and a few others.

Feel free to add any more names you want in the comments and discuss who you think the Mavs should pursue with their newfound flexibility.

Let's hope it's someone good.

Reader Submitted

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