We are reportedly currently and very cautiously racing with Atlanta and Cleveland to bid on hobbled superstar Andrew Bynum, who is in my humble opinion, our last hope of getting a player here who could possibly make Dirk Nowitzki the second best player on the team. After our multiple free agent rejections, I don’t see any of the 2013 difference makers realistically coming here via free agency in Summer 2014, nor do I see any of the rising superstars who will become RFAs next summer being let go by their current teams. The ETO guys are all on contenders already in desirable locales, so why leave for Dallas to play with a late-30's Dirk?
Cleveland can offer $15m for one year of Bynum, a lot more than we have remaining in our cap space, so we will need to propose a multi-year contract if we want to beat their offer.
Now, any contract, even a one year contract, should depend on our team’s doctors finding that he has a realistic chance of playing again and returning to anywhere near his former glory. If that’s not realistic based on their medical findings, we should move on and hope Boogie Cousins makes himself unbearable in Sacramento over the next year so they are willing to let him walk for a max bid in restricted free agency next summer or be traded earlier.
But assuming there is any realistic chance of an all-NBA Bynum resurgence, we should consider the longest term deal at a reduced per annum salary, say 4 years, $44 million with Exhibit 3 protections. Many will balk at this huge gamble on a player who may never play again, but in reality it is not as scary as it sounds for several reasons when you understand how both Exhibit 3 and the stretch provision works, as well as realistic prospects of where this team will be when Dirk retires in 3-5 years.
In order to be able to waive a contract under the stretch provision, it has to be a four or five year deal according to the CBA. You can divide the remainder of the contract over the course of twice the number of years remaining on the contract plus one. So if we pay Bynum $11 million a year to sit on our bench for two years, and then decide he’s never coming back from his injuries, we can waive the last $22 million and divide it over the next five years, or a cap hit of about $4.4 million a year.
That’s significant money to pay for a waived player when you are needing every dollar up to the salary cap to remain competitive or you are in luxury tax territory. But realistically if the Bynum experiment fails that miserably, we will probably be rebuilding from total scratch at that point anyway. And rebuilding from scratch involves trying to get near the league minimum in salary and accumulate rookie contracts and cheap assets until a free agency opportunity presents itself or a rookie turns into a max contract.
Utah just assumed $24m worth of Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush just to make the league minimum salary and get a couple of likely low first round picks. They are basically going all in on their rookie contract players, and hoping they can grow into a contender by tanking a bit and improving gradually. But realistically, paying Bynum $4.4m a year to sit at home tooling with his cars is not much bigger of a waste than paying one of these guys’ bad contracts to waste space on the bench.
Also, Exhibit 3 of the CBA puts a pre-existing injury condition in the contract that reduces player salaries if they can’t get healthy enough to play competent basketball. While I’m not sure from the language in the CBA whether that reduction affects our cap, it does keep more money in Cuban’s pocket for future biddings and it simultaneously encourages Bynum to commit to his rehabilitation and not live up to the stereotypes (true or untrue) of him being lazy and careless.
If a 4-year gamble on Bynum pays off, we will not only be a contender for a ring, but we should have even more money to improve our roster with than we would have paying twice as much for Dwight, as we will be paying Bynum only a fraction of what he would have likely earned per year were he totally healthy.
It’s still a huge gamble. But even at worst, it seems far less of a waste of money than, say, the Lakers paying Kobe Bryant $30 million in salary and paying $30 million more in luxury taxes for him to sit on the bench for a season with a potentially non-recoverable Achilles injury for a very longshot chance of contention instead of just amnestying him and re-signing him next summer.
There is one more reason to make this gamble, even if it does not get us another ring. In 2018, the first round pick we gave up for Lamar Odom becomes guaranteed. Inconveniently, this will be right in the middle of our rebuilding timeline, a year or two after Dirk likely retires. If we want any chance at keeping our likely high lottery pick that year, we want to get back in the top ten teams as quickly as possible. If Bynum is healthy for one year out of the four and can bring us into the top ten teams, that will let us get that monkey off our backs now instead of later when we will desperately need every lottery pick we can get.
We didn’t want to be at this point, but here we are. Making a high-risk gamble to give Dirk one last shot at contention with the Mavericks, our last hope is a player with bad knees and a bad attitude that many Mavs fans will never forgive for the "bush league" JJ Barea decking in 2011.
Luckily, the risk of a long-term contract for a risky player like Bynum can be mitigated thanks to the CBA -- and honestly the timing for a big gamble probably couldn’t be better. Unlike Cleveland, we have nothing to lose at this point with Dirk’s career winding to a close, and if we can’t emotionally afford to trade him to a contender for bad draft picks and pieces, he deserves at least a noble try at another ring.
Let's put it one other way: if there was some chance that you could bid on Andrew Wiggins today for a max contract starting in 2014-15 but knowing that he might get critically injured next year in college and never play a game for you, would you make that gamble? Even if Bynum doesn't play next year, but could come back the next as a superstar, mightn't it be worth that risk?