The NBA Draft Combine is a key point in the off-season. It’s the last major event before the draft where all 30 teams have officials in one place. Although the main reason for the gathering is to interview and get athletic measurements on prospective draftees, trying to determine the priorities and thinking of teams with a variety of options is its subtext.
The Mavericks are one such team whose priorities are being sussed out. Dallas possesses both a high draft pick and significant salary cap room in an off-season where salaries are largely expected to remain flat relative to recent years. It makes sense then that the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor heard a great deal of Maverick-related chatter last week:
“Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle. If the Mavericks do indeed plan to pursue expensive bigs in free agency, then it’d make sense to target a primary scorer, like Porter, rather than Bamba.”
There’s a lot more, so click the link and read it all. But what do we make of this chatter, if anything?
It’s important to know just how good the Mavericks are at misinformation. On an episode of the Back to Back podcast a few weeks ago, Marc Stein told a story about how days before the 1998 draft. He had it on good authority that the Mavericks would end up with Dirk Nowitzki and ran with it in a story in The Dallas Morning News. General Manager Donnie Nelson let him hear it, calling the story false. The Mavericks did, in fact, end up with Dirk and Nelson later told Stein to never believe a word he says before the draft.
Let’s also not forget last year. The Mavericks went so far as to hire a coach of Frank Ntilikina to throw everyone off the trail of who they actually wanted. Dennis Smith, Jr. was mentioned as an option, of course, but the sentiment that leaked (selectively, in retrospect) out of the front office was that they hoped Ntilikina would be there when the team drafted ninth.
I hope the Mavericks have learned their lessons from the last several off-seasons. Passing on a player they like in the draft in the hopes of luring a big-name free agent to Dallas in the off-season is simply bad strategy. Cap space is an asset, but it’s important to understand that the Mavericks will have to over pay for any free agent until the team is good again—even if the market is dry. All three of the bigs O’Connor mentions were connected to Dallas at some point during the season. However, chasing them in free agency is a strange strategy for a team that’s clearly rebuilding.
If Dallas can negotiate a favorable contract, that’s one thing. Yet each player probably expects to be paid handsomely. DeMarcus Cousins repeatedly expresses his feelings that he’s a max player on social media. Why wouldn’t he? Julius Randle is the youngest of the three and puts up top flight numbers. And DeAndre Jordan may well opt-in to the final year of his contract and will be 30 in July. When it comes to signing free agents, let’s not forget the Mavs’ history. Dallas paid top dollar for Wesley Matthews just three years ago.
It’s likely that all of this is white noise. Dallas selecting fifth in this year’s draft muddied the waters quite a bit in terms of future plans, but they have so many options between the draft and free agency that truly deciding on a course at this point in the off-season is unwise. When left to his own devices, Donnie Nelson is a spectacular general manager. Perhaps the best thing we can do is take in all the information we can and try not to freak out. Good luck keeping your wits until June 21st.