One possibility is that the Mavericks have been saving up all of their performances against good teams until now, for the greatest surprise championship run ever.
For all other possibilities, it's worth thinking about where the Mavs go from here. As things stand, they have exactly 5 players signed through next year---Dirk, Matrix, Carter, Crowder, Cunningham. Two other players, Collison and Bernard James, are RFAs. OJ Mayo technically has a player option for 4.2 million dollars that he is definitely not going to exercise.
All indications currently are that the Mavs are deeply into Mayo. It's really hard to know what to make of his market value. If teams see a young guy, one of the better distributors from the two at the game, a smart player who has improved his ball-handling considerably and is capable of being a 20 ppg scorer, the sky is the limit. If, on the other hand, they take a more realistic--and in these cash-strapped times, a more likely approach--they'll see a guy who shoots well, distributes well, defends poorly and is pretty bad at making his presence consistently felt.
Although Mavs' fans fear of giving nine hundred million to OJ makes it seem inevitable that somebody will, I think it's hard to see that REALLY. It's clear Mayo is not Steph Curry or James Harden offensively and no better than they are defensively. I expect his contract to be a reasonable 8ish mil, and I expect the Mavs to pay it and I expect to feel good about it. I expect them to keep Bernard James.
I'm not sure what they expect to do with Collison. Regardless of Mike James' recent spate of good offensive games, the fact that a 37-year old is playing point guard poorly when a 25-year old could be playing point guard poorly makes me physically ill. But, as was recently pointed out to me, if Mavs don't plan to keep either, yolo. Let's assume they don't.
Then, you've got something like 46 mil tied up in Dirk, Marion, OJ, Crowder, Cunningham, Carter, James, which is not a great number.I would not be surprised if the Mavericks trade Marion's 9 million dollar salary to avoid this, because this is bad news. As bad as they were this year, they had the benefit of super cheap contracts for Mayo and Elton Brand as well as benefiting from some still-cheap rooks like Brandan Wright. All of which means that with just 12-14 mil to spend, the Mavericks actually might be worse than they were this year, at least worse than they'll be at the end of this year with a healthy Dirk, fully integrated.
That team is not terrible, but it's not beating the Thunder. So Mavs thinking here can go one of two ways. They can decide, and to me this is the most reasonable, to try to pick up one big building block in the summer with a 10- 12 million dollar contract, then wait for the summer of 2014 when 34 million dollars in the form of Dirk, Marion and Carter's salaries fall off the books. Re-sign Dirk for 10 mil a year for three more years and you have 24 mil to spend to add to Dirk-Mayo-X star picked up in 2013, and that is not bad at all.
Under this strategy you can bring back guys like Elton Brand and Brandan Wright who have been so useful this year. It's sort of hard to know the market for either guy. A week and a half ago, I would have assumed Wright, who averaged just 10.5 minutes in February, was on his way out despite his incredible scoring efficiency. But in March, as the Mavericks play their best basketball of the season, he's averaging 24 minutes, shooting 60% and averaging 12-6. Does this make him more or less valuable? I don't know. On the one hand, no team can say "if only he got 20 minutes a night, think how good he'd be," since it's 12-6, not 18-6. On the other hand he's shown serious value as a seventh or even sixth man. What does that go for? 3 mil? 5?
As for Brand, while he's hitting the Mavs' cap for nearly nothing, he's actually, out of Mark Cuban's pocket, finishing up a 16 million dollar contract which would have made him the second highest paid Maverick by nearly 7 million dollars. Brand is such a valuable-in-hard-to-see-ways guy I don't even know how to guess at his market. Anyone who has watched the Utah games, and seen Brand wrestling with Utah's enormous fleet of bigs single-handedly couldn't help but be aware of how much good he does for this team. Is a 3 year, 15 million deal beyond the pale of what the Mavs could possibly pay? Could well be, though in my opinion it'd be a heck of an investment. Brand brings defense, rebounding and interior toughness, which makes about one player who does that on the current roster.
In short, here's how things break down. Let's say the Mavs can get Brand and Wright (oh god. Brand and Wright is SO CLOSE to Brandan Wright. Oh god. Oh god.) for a combined 8 mil. Well, now we're talking about them having only 4-6 mil to spend in the offseason which they absolutely will not do, even if, again, Brand, Wright, Dirk, Mayo, offseason acquisition X could ALL be had with 20 mil to spend in 2014.
A more realistic approach to imagine is that the Mavericks will lock down Mayo, let everyone, including Collison, Brand and Wright, walk, go into this offseason with a cap figure of around 45 million--or less, if they can somehow find a taker for Marion that doesn't bring much back in salary--and hope to replace them with something worth what they're worth all in one paycheck. This seems more like their MO of recent years.
So I guess what I'm saying is, enjoy this Mavericks team while you can! Mike James and all.