The Mavericks seem to have but one plan for the offseason: Plan Powder. Get Dwight or CP3. Get one at all costs. It's not a plan I'm particularly fond of, but it's the plan we're stuck with, like it or not.
Regardless of whether Plan Powder is a massive success or a massive failure (because it can only be massive, one way or another), the Mavericks need one important thing: max money. They NEED max money, either for Dwight, for CP3, or for picking up high enough quality role players to fill out a decent roster. Max money is an absolute necessity.
The Mavs have dug themselves in a hole. They're wildly mediocre, and it's really hard to get good again without getting really bad first. It may not even be possible without scoring the wildly unlikely D12 or CP3 in free agency. It'll take a lot of smarts, a lot of work from development, and...a lot of money.
We here at Mavs Moneyball have consistently been of the mind that the Mavericks can't keep trying to manage by buying a good team. It takes development, the draft, trust, good scouting, and smarts. But if the Mavs are gonna get good without getting bad first, it's going to take all of that, plus the funds necessary to pick up a new cast.
It turns out, regardless of how you play it, it takes a lot of funds when you have over $31 million committed between two players (Dirk and Marion).
Without any of the disposable assets (expiring contracts, etc.), the Mavs have $19 million in cap space. That's $19 million to spend on a player for every position other than wings and power forwards and a bench. That's not max money, and it's not enough to build the team that everyone wants.
Dirk has already said that he'll come back at a discount in 2014 to make the financial side of free agency easier, but there's nothing really the Mavs can do with his contract for the time being.
But there is one other thing the Mavs can do: address the Shawn Marion issue.
If you don't love the Matrix, then...I dunno, I guess you're just wrong. He's the defensive anchor to a team that's hanging onto -- at best -- a passable defense; he keeps the defense from flying wildly off the cliff to "worst-in-the-league," at about 120 points allowed per 100 possessions.
He has the weird ability to do absolutely whatever necessary at any point in time. He's the jack-of-all-trades who does just enough to make sure that every necessity for the Mavs is covered. He's a wildly underrated player who is probably the second most important foundation of this Mavericks team.
The Mavericks shouldn't trade him. He's very good, he's not as valuable on the trade market as he is on the court, and he's integral to the team's scheme as it is typically laid out.
These are per 48 minutes stats, above average in almost every category for his position, and this isn't even taking his foundational defense into account:
Similarly, his shot chart for the last year is shockingly good, minus some dead-zone horror:
But he is also being payed $9,316,796 next season, almost half of the Maverick's max available cap space. That's too much for the Mavericks to pay if they're going to try and pull something like Plan Powder. Paying Marion that much and getting Max money for a superstar (or, hopefully, for just really good role-players) are mutually exclusive goals.
Luckily, there is a way to get that money off the books without trading him.
Marion has an Early Termination Option on his contract for this next coming season, meaning that Marion can choose to terminate his contract now and enter free agency. In doing so, he opens up the ability to have the Mavs resign him at a discount, much in the same way as Dirk.
Ultimately, whether the Mavericks have the kind of money and freedom in free agency that they want hinges on whether or not Shawn Marion will agree to keep playing NBA basketball for way less money.
So, I'm going to beg your indulgence for a moment and ask you to pretend to be Shawn Marion. Really imagine that you're him. I don't mean that rhetorically or in the irritating "what would you do personally in this scenario" sense, but I really want you to stop for just a moment and really try and inhabit the body and mind of this guy, as well as possible.
Perhaps you -- Shawn Marion -- are sitting on your couch in front of the TV. I have no idea what the Matrix's couch is like, but I imagine it's leather of some kind. Leather that's so nice that it's gaudy, in the same way that your -- and by your I mean Marion's -- outfits are gaudy. You're probably wearing one right now. There you sit, on your impressive, gaudy furniture, the back of the coach reaching only the middle of your abs because your upper body is so long, wearing maybe black skinny jeans with a matching black suede vest over a bright spotted purple button down and a white bow tie.
Your TV practically shimmers its so nice. People ask if the screen is made of diamond, and the friends who aren't fellow NBA players are only partly kidding when they ask. Something is on, but it's one of those throwaway shows that you don't have to pay attention to. You're drinking your favorite alcohol, just a little bit, to nurse away the last of the hangover that you spent thousands last night to get.
I'm not sure where the Matrix lives, but I imagine, somehow, a penthouse Condo, from which I/you/Shawn can look out of a wall made of glass onto the gentle late evening sun setting downtown Dallas alight in a warm roasted-orange glow. But perhaps you live in a small, tasteful mansion in the suburbs, from which you can look out from your vaulted archway on your balcony to you perfectly manicured lawn.
It is good.
Then, you get a call from Mark Cuban. He asks how your time off has been, probably a little sarcastically, because 'you know Cubes!' Maybe you laugh a little and tell him to screw himself or something of the sort, or maybe you just just say that the time off is good, or maybe you just say that you wish it wasn't time off at all. Cuban gets through the small talk and asks you to come talk with him.
You know, then, that the interaction involves contract negotiation. That you, four time all-star Shawn Marion, are approaching the end of your current deal. But that more importantly, you have an early termination option and that Cubes is looking to clear up space.
Are you nervous? Frustrated? Neither? I don't know for sure, but I can imagine a lot of things swirling through my/your/our head. I just want you -- real you, not Marion -- to think about it. You -- Marion, you -- know you have plenty of money, but maybe you worry about whether the rest of your family, or maybe your future kids, will be set for life in the way you might have wanted them to be.
Maybe you can't say exactly why, but maybe you just wish that Cuban wouldn't put you in the position to have to choose between the team and yourself. Maybe you fell like you've already given Dallas so damn much already. I just don't know. But think about it. Or maybe you're just thrilled by the chance to negotiate, to help your team. How do you feel?
So then you're walking to Cuban's house to meet him and you're at least a head and a half taller than everyone else around you; and there's something to be said for that. Your whole personal experience with the world is defined by you literally being above everyone else. You are set apart physically from everyone else just by walking around. As defined by just your eyesight level, you are different. Physically better.
Then remember that you've had at least two All-Defense quality years in the last three years, four time all star, and are one of only two players left from your championship year with this team. Along with being reminded anytime you're out anywhere that you're different by sheer height, that difference is reinforced by the accolades, the reputation, the knowledge that you're great.
So then Cuban tells you that he won't let you go, but he does really want you to re-sign with the team at a discount. That you, the Championship team member, all-star, Maverick needs to do this for your team to be able to really improve next season one way or another.
Are you hurt? Offended that you've done so much only to be told that you need to give up what you feel like you've earned (regardless of whether or not playing basketball is worth millions; your sense of worth is probably reinforced daily)?
And it's probably worth mentioning that teams generally pay you in increasing amounts as you help the team more and more and more and it seems like an uncomfortable and irritating catch-22 and double standard that all of a sudden the best way to help the team is to fly in the face of this tradition and actually take less money, even though helping the team is supposed to net you more money.
But then do you jump on the opportunity to help your team, knowing that you're certainly financially secure and that you probably don't need another nightclub adjoining your mansion? Are you happy to take the discount?
Even if you're offended, frustrated that the team's success rests on a sacrifice that you find unfair, do you do it? Do you take the less money because you know you're expected to?
And how do you feel, knowing that the fans won't understand if you decide to opt out of exercising your early termination? Do you feel trapped? Is it not surprising? Do you even think about this at all?
Does Marion accept this, and give the Mavs the max money they need, or doesn't he?
I include this because I realized that we make so many demands of these players without thinking about what those demands would seem like to them. And I'm not saying that the demands are all unreasonable, I'm just saying that we don't typically think about the player when we demand things of them. Just the team. Our team.
To an extent, whether you think that it's reasonable to ask Marion to take a discount or not, there's still a vital human importance to being able to empathize with him before you make the demand. If you've done that -- and I mean really done that, truly thought and felt what he might be feeling -- then you can suggest he should do x, y, and z; but not before.
The largest discount the Mavericks could get from Marion is about $8 million. The Veteran minimum for Marion next season would be $1,399,507, in contrast to his expected $9,316,796.
Does he take that discount?
What about a $6 million discount, which would net Marion about $3.4 million? Is that more reasonable?
The Mavericks would need him to take at least a $5 million dollar discount, netting him $4.4 million, to be able to pull of Plan Powder for Dwight. And at that amount, it would be even more dicey than it already is, since there would be little to no budget for anyone else.
The Mavericks' success this offseason essentially rides on what Marion is willing to give up, and he may very well give up plenty to give the front office the leverage they need. He also may not. But remember what you're asking.