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NBA Free Agency 2017: The Mavericks punting this summer doesn’t bode well for 2018

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Dallas is content with saving cap space for next summer, a plan that has never gone wrong for the Mavs before.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

The 2017 Dallas Mavericks are, by all accounts, taking this off-season off. They’re hording cap room, developing the core of Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel (he’ll be signed eventually) and Dennis Smith, Jr.

They’re saving that cap room for the summer of 2018, when Seth Curry comes off his extremely modest 2-year, $6 million contract. They’re saving it for a whole gaggle of young free agents that will flood the class, like the Magic’s high-riser Aaron Gordon.

Here’s the thing: the Mavericks told us the off-season was going to go down this way. Since the night of the draft, everything out of the Dallas front office was they were content with their young core and bringing back Noel. That’s fine.

By no means should the Mavericks have wasted their time entertaining any of the top free agents in this class. There was no point to chasing Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Serge Ibaka or Blake Griffin. Definitely no sense in signing over-30 veterans like Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay or George Hill.

I’ll even give you the Mavs passing on pricey, second-tier free agents like Danilo Gallinari and Jrue Holiday. Those would have been wonderful fits in Dallas, but the price doesn’t make sense for a team rebuilding. I get it.

Here’s where it breaks down though — just because the Mavericks told us they were going to have a quiet off-season, doesn’t mean it needed to be silent.

There were plenty of intriguing B and C-level free agents that fit the timeline of the Mavs current core, wouldn’t clog the cap and would also give the fan base a signal that while the team is focused on the post-Dirk era, they’d give the impression they were trying to give the greatest player in franchise history one more shot at some postseason burn.

By no means was I hoping the Mavs would throw out contract like the Knicks gave to Tim Hardaway Jr. or the Pelicans gave to Holiday. All I wanted was for the Mavs to stop chasing ghosts.

We’ve done this before. From the summer of 2011 to the summer of 2016, the Mavericks paid lip service to their clean cap and pursuit of star free agents. It never worked, of course, because cap space isn’t a terribly valuable asset compared to actual players and the stars just used the Mavs for leverage to ensure they got the deal they wanted from the team with actual players they wanted to sign with.

At times I thought the Mavs snapped out of it — signing Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, trading for Tyson Chandler, stealing Chandler Parsons — all great moves (at the time) where the Mavs threw cap space out the window and focused on bringing in talent. Here’s a dirty secret about the Mavs front office: when they decide they want to sign guys, they’re actually pretty good at it!

Those names above, plus Brandan Wright, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, Elton Brand, and Devin Harris, are all guys clearly below the star-level in their free agent class. But they're all dudes that played good basketball.

Which is why it puzzles me that the Mavericks decided to sit on the sideline while these cheap deals went down:

  • Justin Holiday, a 28-year-old, 3-and-D guard goes for 2-years, $9 million. He could have been useful wing off the bench and insurance for when Finney-Smith shoots 29 percent from three next season.
  • Ben McLemore, a 24-year-old former top-10 pick, got 2-years, $10.6 million. Admittedly, McLemore is terrible, but that’s still not a huge price to pay for raw talent on a team that’s experimenting with younger guys like the Mavs.
  • Tyreke Evans, a 27-year-old, former Rookie of the Year wing who can handle the ball and give the Mavs a boost off the bench with some size, got a 1-year, $3.3 million deal.
  • Omri Casspi, a versatile and sharpshooting forward, got the 1-year, veterans minimum with Golden State. I’ll give the Mavs a pass here, as Casspi is chasing a ring.
  • C.J. Miles is off to Toronto for 3-years, $25 million. While not in the same age range as Smith, Noel and Barnes, Miles could have offered the Mavs some good veteran presence and shooting as a swing forward. Definitely worth it for less than Dwight Powell gets paid per year.

Even with those names off the board, there are other intriguing ones the Mavs could go after: Ian Clark, Nikola Mirotic and Shabazz Muhammad to name a few. Again, none of these names would break your cap space and curse the roster for the next four years. All of them would help the Mavs try to sneak into the playoffs, while giving youngsters like Yogi Ferrell, Smith and Noel as many talented pieces to help build their games around.

And then you have one of the more interesting scenarios pop up with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in Detroit. The Pistons are a team in cap hell and after trading for Avery Bradley. They wouldn’t have been able to match an offer for the restricted Pope that was north of about $16.5 million per year, give or take. Pope is a 24-year-old shooting guard that has shown elite defensive potential and enough offensive game to make him a threat. He’s basically a better, 24-year-old version of current Wesley Matthews.

Despite Pope offering everything the Mavs are looking for on paper when evaluating who to bring on their rebuilding team (he’s young, he fits the timeline of Smith-Barnes-Noel, he compliments all three of their games and offers the defensive, switching versatility the Mavs are thirsting after), the Mavs seem very uninterested. This is despite the fact there was a window where the Mavs could have made some cap moves and then signed Pope to a yearly amount less than Wes currently gets paid.

There’s a lot of ifs with that scenario, of course — maybe the Mavs don’t like Pope, maybe they couldn’t make the cap moves they needed (like dumping Dwight Powell) and maybe Pope wouldn’t even sign the offer sheet at that amount to begin with. Fine, I can accept that.

What’s harder to accept though is the Mavericks sitting out a summer while they have a golden opportunity to add young (ish) talent at an affordable cost. It seems insane that there’s a possibility that Seth freaking Curry is dictating the moves of TWO summers and I’m a Seth Curry guy! It seems insane that the Mavs think they can hoard cap room for next summer and assume they’ll get their guys. You know what sucks about the future? It’s the future and it’s unpredictable. Players get hurt, guys sign extensions, people get traded. The Mavs have no control over where the market will be in the summer of 2018. What they do have control over is this summer, right here, right now. Instead, Barnes is texting Zach Lowe about why aren’t the Mavericks an off-season winner in his free agency column because the Mavs saved cap space for next year. My God, they got to him.

This isn’t a call to just sign dudes to fill up space. It’s a call to improve the roster in even the smallest of ways, while the greatest player in team history still wants to hoop. There is a middle ground between being capped out on bloated contracts and not lifting a finger during the off-season to preserve cap space. This is a thing that can happen.

Perhaps the Mavericks tried and couldn’t get some of these guys to the offers they wanted. Maybe they’ll surprise us with a low-ball signing of Clark or some other intriguing talent. Or perhaps the trade for Josh McRoberts to save cap space for next year ends up being the only move of note the Mavericks will make this summer. There's always a chance the Mavs are keeping space open to make another Noel-like trade mid-season for a young restricted talent. That's not a bad plan, but it's once again anticipating a market the Mavericks can't control. It's risky.

With the Mavericks though, I feel like we’ve gone through this cap-saving dance before. It never turns out well.