One of the favorite guessing games in these parts--in all Mavs parts, one supposes--is what Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson are thinking. It's a fun game, first of all, because there's nothing much to do this time of year, second of all the game-changing events which may have taken two Mavs 2013 targets off the board last week, and third of all because, with the number of factors involved in calculating the Mavericks' potential before and after possible philosophical changes, pondering our options is pretty close to a real-time strategy game. And yes, next up is "He who controls Chris Paul controls the universe".
The Mavericks have bathed in a good amount of tepid praise, thanks to their offseason. Even as the Lakers and possibly the Nuggets joined the list of teams that are better bets to win a chip next year (Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Nuggets in the West, Heat, and possibly Celtics in the East), the Mavericks went for broke, missed, and didn't get broke.
They have, therefore, been praised for fielding a competitive team, through obstacles. It has been tepid because they, again, don't seem like contenders, and their prospects for next offseason keep getting dimmer.
But what if that last part isn't as important as we think? While this team's talent level is about what it was expected to be last year (that is, before LO turned into that...well, you know), what if the point isn't this year? What if, instead of providing another stopgap team, the Mavericks instead provided themselves with pieces for a contending team?
What if the path to glory....comes from within?
The problem with the Mavericks' championship math is the years keep passing. You start out looking for a guy to pair with Dirk, soon you need a guy to replace Dirk's waning production, soon you need two guys to replace Dirk period and you find yourself farther, rather than closer to the title.
So, at some point, the Mavericks have to start thinking, can we even do this? Is there a point to getting one of the biggest of big free agents, if we no longer have a team to put him on? The answer will always be yes, of course, but it won't provide the dividends expected of "Dirk and another star in his prime", and that's just the facts.
As many astute readers have pointed out, however, not getting Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard doesn't mean a team is deceased. Somehow or another, all of these guys were playing on teams that weren't the Mavericks when they won a tittle. And that was a year when the Big Three were already playing for the Heat and the Big Three 2 were already playing for the Thunder, if you'll recall. They may not yet have been what they are today, but they were there.
(By the way, the next person who tells me the Mavericks championship was a total fluke gets a fork in the kneecap. Talent-wise, was it clearly better than the Heat or Thunder? No. Was the team, when Caron Butler was playing, playing the best ball of any team in the league? Absolutely. Is Caron Butler THAT important? Ask Chris Paul. What would the Mavericks record have been if they'd won just half of the 10 games Dirk was out? 62 wins, tied for first in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, in a much more difficult conference. Didn't that team miss a 22 game winning streak by exactly 2 points? DIdn't they have last year's DPOY of the year, plus Shawn Marion, plus the single most unstoppable offensive force in the game? Didn't a significantly worse Celtics team just come within one quarter of beating the Heat that everyone is now saying is invincible except for the Lakers?I could go on. I know what Ben and Skin think. Use your heads. Long, long digression. Sorry.)
The point is, loads of cap space doesn't always have to mean the best free agents, it can mean a team of the 2nd and 3rd best free agents and still be pretty good. As of this moment, the Mavs are paying Dirk 22.7 mil next year, Shawn Marion 9.3 mil, Jared Cunningham 1.2 mil, and everybody else is some kind of option or qualifying offer. In the next offseason, they'll lose Marion, if they don't trade him before, and re-sign Dirk to something in the neighborhood of Tim Duncan's 10 million dollar deal. Dirk's deal would be the only definite outlay the Mavs would have that year.
That means they can afford to spend some cash this next offseason even if they won't to preserve cap for the future. And if you're wondering who they might spend it on, well, let me say this.
Chris Kaman is not going to be a Mav, the year after next. Elton Brand is almost certainly gone. But if you're wondering what the difference is between Darren Collison and OJ Mayo on the one hand, and Jason Kidd and Jason Terry on the other, in terms of why the Mavericks would be willing to spend money on them, the answer is too fold.
The first is, as I say, that, thanks to the fact that the season after this one is the last season of paying Shawn Marion and the last season of paying Dirk a max amount, the Mavericks can pay those guys and still have lots of cap space in the next offseason.
The second, of course is that OJ Mayo and Darren Collison's ages combined are 9 more than Jason Kidd has on his lonesome.Are Kidd and Terry as effective a duo as Mayo and Collison? Certainly in some ways. But they are not building blocks for the future. Mayo and Collison could be.
Both players are 24, and loaded with talent. I think it's likely both will once again be free agents next year, since I suspect that Mayo is using his option year, which is a player option, to audition himself. Both will, I believe, be eligible for longer deals from the Mavericks than other teams, though that hasn't been the Mavericks' m.o. But neither has an injury history. Both, despite Mayo's occasional sullenness, appear to be high-character guys. Both have shown enough potential that this year could be a breakout year for either, or even both--if they are, do we really think the Mavericks would mind having one or two in-their-prime guards for the foreseeable?
Obviously, Collison-Mayo-Dirk isn't LeBron-Wade-Bosh. it isn't even Dirk-Tyson, yet. But let's say that the Mavericks can get those guys for 6-10 mil a year. Hell, let's say they both play lights out and earn 10 mil a year, each. It's not, especially in Collison's case, very likely. But even if the Mavericks do shell that out, and do give Dirk that deal I hypothesized earlier, that's still just 30 million dollars on the books for 2014-2015, with then 3rd year guard Jared Cunningham owed no more than a team option of 1.2 million, if he turns into something.
What if Jae Crowder turns into something? What if Bernard James figures out how to translate his elite college defense and rebounding to the NBA--even if his offensive game never shows up, beyond dunking. Would that be so bad?
A lot of this is dreams. But it's not dreams on the level of "Lamar Odom and Vince Carter can overcome the team's lack of rebounding, defense, and scoring". It's just saying that the Mavericks moves this offseason, and the way the next offseason has already been shaken up, have pushed the Mavericks towards the brink of being able to, and wanting to, lock down the services of two young guards, one with all-star potential, one with, at least, the ability to be a dramatic change of pace guy---
And unlike last year's rent-a- team, that could really be a start.
What about trying to add a max deal to that business? Wouldn't that be a good start?