The Dallas Mavericks have always been a different kind of team. Thriving for a decade, in an era when, even previously to superteams, Kobe had Shaq, Duncan had Manu and Parker, Kobe had Pau Gasol, etc., this one-star anomaly has stayed close to the pack, often o'erleapt it, first with its own collection of lesser stars (Nash and Terry, of course), but especially with smart management and good coaching. In the Dirk Era, they've had the winningest coach of all time, one of the top two or three coaches in the game today, and Avery Johnson---who,despite the fact that I think he was a pretty poor coach, certainly got Dirk to expand his game for use by other, better coaches.
Nevertheless, through it all, they have remained a one-star team. And it is for that reason---and contract reasons--that the summer of 2014 is going to be one of the more dramatic shakeups a team has gone through in recent memory, no matter what happens.The Spurs, just as an example, have already had their 2014. It was last offseason, when Tim Duncan re-upped for 10 mil a year. Yes, as it will for the Mavericks, that move freed up about 10 mil in cap space a year. No team is financially flexible that has Dirk Nowitzki's salary on the books. One additional player paid half so well--Shawn Marion in this case--means that the team can only ever afford one more max player and some spare change, or, in a much more unlikely scenario, two more near max players and absolutely nothing else.
But, for the Spurs, this change doesn't make much of a difference because it comes for them at a period of continuity, not change. Manu's a free agent next year, but will almost certainly sign back on, Parker's there until 2015, and has emerged as one of the best players in the game. Plus, they were pretty damn close to taking the Thunder last year. In that situation, 10 million dollars is just 10 million dollars.
For the Mavericks, the situation is very different.
One of the favorite things for Mavericks' front-office homers to do is act like Shawn Marion's salary can't possibly be traded. This enables them to forestall people from saying things like "If the Mavs traded Shawn Marion's 9 million dollar salary next year, and didn't keep, say, Vince Carter and Delonte, they could pay for Tyson Chandler's 14 million dollar salary right there".
Of course, it can be traded, but at this point, why would it be? Contract's up after next year, the last year of paying Dirk 22 mil, and he adds too much to the defense to worry about one extra offseason--especially since the Mavs basically have no other salary next year.
I've talked about this a little bit, in my article about the Mavericks building from within, but the fact of the matter is that mathematically speaking, the Mavericks can pay OJ Mayo and Darren Collison to stay, when they couldn't pay Terry or Chandler or Caron to stay WITHOUT endangering financial flexibility. How, you say? Because of the lack of other contract obligations.
Like I say, a team paying 22 mil in salary to one guy can't really be flexible. If you add on to that, the 10 mil they were paying Terry and Kidd each, and the 9 mil they were paying Marion, flexibility was all a dream--which is precisely why the Mavericks had to go below the level of appetizing to have a chance at paying Deron Williams. Never forget--the Mavericks lost out on Deron Williams because their team looked too bad to compete with Joe Johnson. That's a real, true, and sad story. But they couldn't do anything else. Too many commitments.
In 2014, the Mavericks will have no commitments left over from this moment in time. None. They will have a qualifying offer on Dojo and a team option on Jared Cunningham.That means even if they pay OJ Mayo and Darren Collison, and give Dirk the 10 million dollar salary that Duncan got, how much would that run? 26 mil all told? 30, at most?
Now, Dirk has said he might retire in two years. I hate to think of it, and mostly, I'm going to pretend he didn't say it, but it's especially likely, I think, if the team is starting over. But, in that case, if he retires, the Mavericks will be starting over with only whatever contracts they sign between now and then, and so will have huge amounts of cap space to reboot. Suck for a year, get a high draft pick, try to lure big ticket talent. It won't be easy--don't kid yourself that Dallas has attractions besides Dirk--but as Alan Smithee is always saying, it's at least the right process.
And if he chooses to play for a few more years, which should be in all of your nightly prayers? They still get to build around him with 30 mil or more of cap space, plus or minus whatever they do next offseason.
Could be worse, eh?