For Mavericks fans, the very idea of summer free agency causes many to shudder. The last six years in particular have fostered a sort of love-hate relationship. Or hate-hate. Yeah, basically just hate.
Dallas’ free agency successes are few (mainly Harrison Barnes, though I still smile at Chandler Parsons signing an offer sheet in a club with Mark Cuban), but the list of failures is long (we don’t need to get in to it here, but remember when the Mavericks had a free agent held hostage by his old team?). But over the last 12 months, the organization has shifted focus.
The team has abandoned its “strategy” of aiming for the biggest free agent on the market, taking a nose dive, and then scrambling to somehow assemble enough scrap parts for 40-plus wins. Instead, this year they’ve embraced the long game.
As our own Ian Miller recalled on draft night, things can change pretty quickly:
12 months ago Dallas didn't have Barnes, Curry, Noel or Smith.— Ian Miller (@SmitheeMMB) June 23, 2017
So what now? Free agency is fast approaching, and the Mavericks might actually have the semblance of a core to build around. Bailey Rogers reviewed the Mavericks’ roster before the draft, but now that Dennis Smith, Jr. is a Maverick, what do Donnie and Cuban do next?
First, they should do what you should do: take a deep breath and remember that the Mavericks are rebuilding. And if we’re being really real, they’re probably entering Year 2 of a four-year rebuild to even sniff truly competitive play.
The second step is to take the top portion of the free agency list and remove it. Cut it off. Turn it in to an Arya Stark list of names that Dennis Smith, Jr. will dunk on next season. That means no Blake Griffin. No Paul George trade. Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap are out. Why? Because we’re in a rebuild, remember?
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s dig in to each position.
If we count the names on the roster as it stands today, the Mavericks are near capacity at 13 (including Smith, who hasn’t signed his contract yet). We’ll look at the partial and non-guaranteed contracts on the roster (there are five), but numbers alone don’t always foreshadow activity on the free agent market.
You’ll also notice two giant names aren’t on that list, because the Mavericks did not exercise their team option on Dirk Nowitzki, and Nerlens Noel enters restricted free agency on July 1. So the signing of both players becomes top priority.
The Mavericks do not lack players at this position. If we take Rick Carlisle at his word, we’ll pencil in a depth chart of:
- Dennis Smith, Jr.
- J.J. Barea
- Yogi Ferrell
Dallas doesn’t need to be looking for a point guard in July. If they do decide they need veteran depth, names like Shelvin Mack might get thrown around. But don’t count on him or other point guards landing in Dallas.
- Wesley Matthews
- Seth Curry
- Devin Harris (partially guaranteed)
The emergence of Curry last season (at a bargain price) was a welcome relief. He has the potential to turn in to JET 2.0, but his free agency looms next summer. And while Wes Matthews is a proven veteran leader, his numbers haven’t been great (especially at not a bargain price), and he’ll most likely play a decent amount of small forward.
So, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look for a shooter on the market. Maybe Langston Galloway, Justin Holiday or Ian Clark. It’ll need to be someone at a conservative price, and preferably not a restricted free agent who ties up cap space.
- Harrison Barnes
- Dorian Finney-Smith (non-guaranteed)
- Nicolas Brussino (non-guaranteed)
The depth at the forward positions get a bit murkier. Brussino’s contract becomes fully guaranteed after July 6. Finney-Smith has a number of check points to his contract.
The depth feels up in the air because the evolution of Harrison Barnes as a power forward is ongoing and adding Matthews to the mix here is valid, too. But if Justin Anderson taught us anything, expectations around serious growth from the undrafted duo of Finney-Smith and Brussino should be tempered. It’s certainly possible, but the Mavericks need help at small forward.
Restricted free agents like Otto Porter, Jr. and Shabazz Muhammad are pipe dreams. But guys like C.J. Miles and K.J. McDaniels (both unrestricted) and Reggie Bullock (restricted) are solid options to add spacing and two-way ability.
- Dirk Nowitzki (unsigned)
- Jarrod Uthoff (non-guaranteed)
- Johnathan Motley (non-guaranteed)
This is bleak, I know. In reality, that number two spot goes to Harrison Barnes. But to simplify things, players are only listed at one position. Some would also argue that Dwight Powell should be on this list, but Carlisle has moved him to center because he hasn’t proved to be a reliable shooter.
Uthoff (partial guarantees through December) joined the team in March and was fine in garbage time, but shouldn’t see the court often. Motley is a new, intriguing option for the Mavericks. He was signed on a two-way contract after going undrafted last week and may, in time, provide some depth at this position. But outside of Dirk and Barnes, there’s not another reliable stretch four.
An Ersan Ilyasova or Mike Muscala type (both unrestricted) could be useful. The Chicago Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic and Joffrey Lauvergne (both restricted) are other options. But, the Bulls are expected to match offers on Mirotic.
- Nerlens Noel (unsigned)
- Salah Mejri (non-guaranteed)
- Dwight Powell
- AJ Hammons
The Mavericks are expected to sign Nerlens Noel outright or by matching an offer, so the future of the position looks to be safe. Combine that with Dirk logging minutes at the five and the trio of other centers under contract, and this position doesn’t feel pressing. Carlisle likes to use a two-center system, and Mejri has been a serviceable backup. And at his team friendly price, don’t expect much action here either.
If they were to add a player, guys like Kelly Olynyk or Jordan Hill may get some attention.
The Bottom Line
The Mavericks should approach free agency conservatively, only pulling the trigger if a can’t-miss opportunity presents itself. The most success they’ve found in July in years past has come from identifying teams trying to shed salary or make trade moves and grabbing undervalued players from those rosters. The front office would be smart to watch teams like Boston, Houston, Toronto, the LA Clippers, Indiana and Utah to see if they’re looking to create space by dumping contracts.
A rebuild takes patience, and the best course is finding players to develop. If an opportunity arises, the Mavericks should pounce, but don’t hold your breath. It could be a quiet summer.