We've known it was coming, but on Tuesday, Monta Ellis officially opted out of his $8.3 million player option for the upcoming season.
This clarifies things for a Mavericks front office that is ready to move on from Ellis, despite his strong production in Dallas over the last two seasons. Despite the strong foreshadowing, there are a lot of moving parts Maverick fans should be aware of and questions persisting from his decisions. Fortunately, we have answers.
Wait, so could the Mavericks still re-sign Ellis?
Yes, in terms of the CBA, Ellis declining his player option only mean he's a free agent and Dallas absolutely could re-sign him just like they could re-sign any of their free agents. But no, that bridge has been burned. Like it or not, the scenarios where Ellis is in a Mavericks uniform next season don't exist anymore.
Why won't Monta be back?
This might be the toughest question for average fans who watched Ellis score in bunches for the past two seasons and hit tons of clutch shots for the Mavs. Monta was apparently leaning towards opting out and seeking a longer-term deal but when it was leaked that Dallas would trade him should he opt in, it probably sealed the deal.
Ellis's moodiness reportedly became a distraction over the second half of this season. As reliable ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported, he took issue with Chandler Parsons' higher salary and was likely to demand a matching figure or higher in free agency. Considering Monta's limitations as a shooting guard -- he's undersized for the position, a poor defender and has a shaky outside shot -- it makes sense that the team would rather commit to building around Parsons and maximize his abilities as a ball handler. Ellis will hit 30 soon and it was never going to get any easier assembling a squad around him.
Why didn't he opt in and take potentially more money next year?
There's definitely an argument that Ellis should have opted in, lining up his final major payday with the cap increase in the summer of 2016. But that's not how NBA free agents are wired and we see this over and over again. Ellis redeemed his value from Milwaukee and should likely earn at least three more years of guaranteed money somewhere in the NBA this offseason, which assured him and his family nothing bad will happen before he can cash in. Players are always working with the threat of a career-ending injury looming over their shoulder and while it's easy for us on the sidelines to say waiting makes sense, it's a lot harder to do when it's your money and your family at stake.
Can he be sign-and-traded?
Probably not, just because sign-and-trades don't happen nearly as often as a entrepreneurial fan playing general manager suggests it does. It can happen, but the situation has to be perfect. Since he's a free agent, most teams would just sign Ellis outright -- a sign-and-trade is only helpful if they want to go over the salary cap and have a piece of similar value they don't mind parting with. This is assuming Ellis is even willing to help the Mavericks are and consent to such a maneuver, which is also questionable.
How much cap space do they have now?
We don't actually know exactly because the NBA salary cap hasn't been set for the 2015-16 season (this is normal and we will find out in the final couple days of June). However, it's projected to be around $66.5 million to $67.1 million, which leaves Dallas with $30 million, give or take, after renouncing Tyson Chandler's massive cap hold. (He can still be brought back, but you won't have his Bird Rights.)
So who are the Mavericks targeting in free agency?
Dallas is going all in on retooling its roster with Chandler Parsons in mind as the featured player, something MacMahon has reported. But their offseason priority will be adding an All-NBA caliber big man.
Reports indicate that Dallas native LaMarcus Aldridge is likely to be Mavericks' first preference in free agency. After Ellis declined his player option, the team will have enough cap space to offer the four-time All-Star a maximum salary deal outright. There was legitimate discussion this year about finding a way to move Nowitzki to the bench and Aldridge would allow that while approximating Dirk's abilities as a floor spacer.
The Mavs have also been linked to Clippers center DeAndre Jordan almost since they were ousted from the playoffs by the Rockets. Jordan, a Houston native, is arguably the league's most elite defensive big man and a friend of Parsons. It's basically impossible that Dallas finds room under the cap both players. But should they manage to sign one of the two, it will likely dictate what happens with Tyson Chandler. Aldridge and Chandler would be an ideal fit in the front court but if Jordan is the guy, Tyson is probably signing elsewhere.
Who else will the Mavericks look to sign?
With Ellis gone, the team reportedly wants to add a two-guard with more traditional size and a strong outside shot next to Chandler. Rumors Wednesday pegged the Spurs' Danny Green as the target to fill that role. Players like DeMarre Carroll and Khris Middleton are likely to be out of Dallas' price range unless plans to sign a starting caliber big man fall through completely. But Portland's Wesley Matthews, who would have easily commanded eight figures a few months ago, could become a good value after rupturing his achilles tendon while playing against the Mavericks in March. Whether they're able to sign a player like Aldridge or Jordan is the key to what they're able to do on the wing. Signing one of them to a max level deal would leave only about $8.7 million to add a running mate for Parsons.
Free agent options at point guard are slim this year and it appears the Mavs are set on improving the front court and wing first. The team nearly reached a deal with Mo Williams, who resides in Dallas during the offseason, last year and he would be a strong option again this summer. Mavericks fans have been pining for Houston's Patrick Beverley, a Parsons buddy, for months but his restricted free agent status may make him a pipe dream. Jeremy Lin will also be looking for a new home after a disappointing year with the Lakers. But his unimpressive three point shooting numbers could be a turnoff.
Dallas, meanwhile, will have work to do retaining a few of its own teammates. Besides Tyson, the Mavericks will face competition for Al-Farouq Aminu, a player they absolutely want to bring back. Because they only own the most basic form of his Bird Rights (literally called Non-Bird Rights), which doesn't allow the Mavericks to offer him enough money to be useful, Dallas will have to find a way to sign him under the cap.