I don't want to poop on anyone's parade but Tyreke Evans, Nikola Pekovic, Jeff Teague, and the like are pipedreams when it comes to free agency for the Mavs. The Mavs are going to make their second major foray into the free agency market this off-season, and while we would all love to see that big fish landed, we as fans as well as the FO need to be realist about what we can and can't do this summer. Before we get too far into who I think the Mavs have a shot at and who they should shoot for, let's go through some cap info so we have a better idea where the Mavericks will stand at season's end.
If the Mavs renounce all rights this off-season (including not extending qualifying offers) and Juice declines his player option as expected, then they will have anywhere from $17.3mil to $20.3mil depending on how much the cap goes up and what draft pick salary level they end up with (this includes minimum cap holds for empty roster spots so the Mavs could literally offer a single player up to that amount). While that may seem like a lot of dough to throw around, it's really not all that much considering that we'll only have 6 players total under contract (Dirk, Marion, Carter, Crowder, Sarge, Cunningham) and just 3 returning rotation players.
The superstar additions are nice to dream about and Howard would look great in a Mavs uniform but the Mavericks need to use this cap space to actually build an entire team. Overbidding on restricted free agents (Jennings, Evans, Pekovic, Teague, Henderson, Splitter) or overpaying for second-tier free agents (Smith, Bynum, Redick, Milsap, Jefferson) is not an option with such an old core. If the Mavs were bringing back a few young players ready to play 20+ minutes a night, then the decision process would certainly be different. We would be in a position to overpay for someone like Smith or overbid on someone like Pekovic or Splitter since we could bank on our young guys continuing to develop into important pieces for the team and into tradable parts. That is not our situation though. Assuming (and this is a pretty safe assumption) that the Mavs swing and miss on the game-changing free agents (Paul and Howard), the Mavs need to use that space to bring in at least 4 rotation caliber free agents as well as scoring some potential future trade pieces.
Also keep in mind from a cap perspective that if the Mavericks are able to retain and use Bird Rights on one or more of our existing players to go over the salary cap, then we will have access to the mid-level exception of $5.2mil as well as potentially the bi-annual exception of $2mil assuming that the combination doesn't put us over the tax apron (approx. $70.3mil). Doing so requires us to maintain their cap hold while signing free agents which could significantly limit our max salary signing depending on the cap hold size. Just for reference, here are the cap holds for Bird and Early Bird eligible players: Brand - $19.1mil, Morrow - $7.6mil, Collison - $5.8mil, Roddy - $5.6mil, and Wright - $1.3mil. The Mavs could also look to go over the cap and gain access to these exceptions by signing minimum contracts which are salary cap exceptions as well. Either way the goal will be to get over the salary cap to gain access to the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions without going over the tax apron. If the Mavs choose not to use other options and/or don't go over the cap this summer, then they will again have access to the room mid-level exception of $2.7mil for using cap space to sign a free agent and by not using any of the above exceptions.
There are 222 potential free agents: 43 nonguaranteed, 39 restricted, 45 options (team, player, or ETO), and then 95 unrestricted free agents. It is a bit of a crapshoot trying to figure out which non-guarantees could end up getting released, which options will get picked up or won't, and how teams will handle their restricted FAs but let's give it a shot.
Of those that are nonguaranteed, Richard Hamilton, DeShawn Stevenson, Al Harrington, Hedo Turkoglu, and Matt Bonner are the only ones I could see being released so let's forget about the other 38 (all listed at the end if you're interested). On the restricted FAs, as I said the Mavs aren't likely to throw massive amounts of money at most of these guys because 1) the Mavs can't really afford to and still fill out the roster and 2) the ones that the Mavs would like to have will get matched. There are plenty of notable restricted FAs that the Mavs would love to pick up but none that are game-changers that are worth overpaying to such an extent that the player's team won't match. Outside of the 6 I mentioned earlier (Jennings, Evans, Teague, Henderson, Pekovic, and Splitter), there are several other names of possible interest: Maynor, Ellington, Casspi, Daye, and Mozgov. The full list is below.
For those on options, it is pretty easy to guess which way an option will end up given some knowledge about the player, the salary, and the team situation. Again the full list is below but here are the only guys I think could end up free agents: Aaron Brooks, CJ Watson, Jerryd Bayless, Patty Mills, Monta Ellis, OJ Mayo, JR Smith, Josh Selby, Trevor Ariza, Francisco Garcia, Carl Landry, Hakim Warrick, Mike Scott, and Aaron Gray.
Of the unrestricted FAs, there is a handful where you could assume they won't go anywhere like Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili, but for the rest, who knows? You add all of these assumptions together and the numbers go down dramatically from 222 to 145. Of that 145, here are the 25 I think the Mavs should be looking at: Darren Collison, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Eric Maynor, Patty Mills, O.J. Mayo, Randy Foye, Tony Allen, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, Marco Belinelli, Martell Webster, Mike Dunleavy, Wayne Ellington, Dorell Wright, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Omri Casspi, Elton Brand, J.J. Hickson, Austin Daye, Timofey Mozgov, Samuel Dalembert, and DeJuan Blair.
I realize that that might be a boring list to folks hoping for a big swing in free agency but I think those are realistic, achievable, and desirable targets. A team is rarely built in one year much less one off-season - even Miami's miracle took a season to come together - so the Mavericks should be looking to build something with their cap space this year through smart, attractively sized deals. 17 of those 25 are 27 years old or younger, they are all going to sign affordable contracts (with only OJ and JJ possibly costing more than $8mil season), and they could all fill specific needs for what is pretty much a blank canvas team. This off-season is hugely important to the future of the franchise and to our future happiness/anguish as fans so let's make sure that we have our expectations and priorities in order heading in. Don't think that just because the Mavs lose out on Howard or Paul that this off-season is a waste - if the Mavs can pick up the right pieces for the right prices, then it is the start towards our next contending team. Who would you like to see in a Mavs uniform?
Notes: A full list of the upcoming FAs can be found here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/2013-nba-free-agents.
Nonguaranteed: Kyle Lowry, Rodney Stuckey, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Duhon, Scott Machado, Richard Hamilton, Shannon Brown, DeShawn Stevenson, Willie Green, E'Twaun Moore, DeAndre Liggins, Cory Higgins, James White, Lance Stephenson, Kim English, Kent Bazemore, Kevin Murphy, Paul Pierce, Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington, Chandler Parsons, CJ Miles, Dominic McGuire, Quincy Miller, Sasha Pavlovic, Tyler Honeycutt, Lance Thomas, P.J Tucker, Darius Miller, Kris Joseph, Tyler Hansbrough, Jason Smith, Jared Jeffries, Trey Thompkins, Kyle O'Quinn, Robin Lopez, Greg Stiemsma, Bernard James, Hamed Haddadi, Greg Smith, Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton
Restricted: Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison, Eric Maynor, Toney Douglas, Charles Jenkins, Rodrigue Beaubois, Darius Morris, Donald Sloan, Julyan Stone, Pablo Prigioni, Ben Hansbrough, Diante Garrett, Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, Wayne Ellington, Terrel Harris, Darius Johnson-Odom, D.J. Kennedy, DeQuan Jones, Omri Casspi, Devin Ebanks, Chris Copeland, Byron Mullens, James Johnson, Austin Daye, Jon Leuer, Ivan Johnson, Jeff Pendergraph, Luke Harangody, Luke Zeller, Nikola Pekovic, Timofey Mozgov, Tiago Splitter, Samardo Samuels, Dexter Pittman, Josh Harrellson, Robert Sacre
Options: Aaron Brooks, Mario Chalmers, CJ Watson, Greivis Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless, John Lucas, Patty Mills, Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis, O.J. Mayo, Ray Allen, Brandon Rush, J.R. Smith, Ben Gordon, Carlos Delfino, Josh Selby, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Andrei Kirilenko, Shawn Marion, Trevor Ariza, Metta World Peace, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, James Jones, Linas Kleiza, Tobias Harris, Al-Farouq Aminu, Dante Cunningham, Francisco Garcia, Boris Diaw, Carl Landry, Marreese Speights, Charlie Villanueva, Rashard Lewis, Larry Sanders, Hakim Warrick, Mike Scott, Emeka Okafor, Ekpe Udoh, Aaron Gray, Kevin Seraphin, Kwame Brown, Gustavo Ayon, Andris Biedrins
Unrestricted: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Devin Harris, D.J. Augustin, Shaun Livingston, Daniel Gibson, Nate Robinson, Beno Udrih, A.J. Price, Will Bynum, Nolan Smith, Earl Watson, Royal Ivey, Jamaal Tinsley, Sebastian Telfair, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Randy Foye, Tony Allen, JJ Redick, Nick Young, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Marquis Daniels, Anthony Morrow, Leandro Barbosa, Wesley Johnson, Marco Belinelli, Martell Webster, Mike Dunleavy, Reggie Williams, Dominique Jones, Elliot Williams, Raja Bell, Dahntay Jones, Keith Bogans, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Damien Wilkins, Roger Mason Jr., Stephen Jackson, Dorell Wright, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Josh Howard, Corey Maggette, Matt Barnes, Josh Childress, DeMarre Carroll, Sam Young, Alan Anderson, Cartier Martin, Luke Babbitt, Jerry Stackhouse, Luke Walton, Josh Smith, David West, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, Antawn Jamison, Lamar Odom, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Tolliver, Rasheed Wallace, Andray Blatche, Brandan Wright, Lou Amundson, Chris Wilcox, Josh McRoberts, Kurt Thomas, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jason Maxiell, Troy Murphy, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Chris Kaman, Samuel Dalembert, Zaza Pachulia, DeJuan Blair, Nazr Mohammed, Joel Przybilla, Jermaine O'Neal, Darko Milicic, Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf, DeSagana Diop, Jason Collins, Johan Petro, Earl Barron, Cole Aldrich