“You have to spend money to make money.” It’s one of those phrases so worn out you start to question whether there’s actually any wisdom in it. But it’s probably true in the NBA.
The Mavericks are currently 23rd in the NBA in active cap space, the total amount of salaries they have under contract, per Spotrac. Maybe that doesn’t include Tim Hardaway’s deal or the additions of Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown. Including those contracts would vault them to 13th, give or take.
But this isn’t unusual for the Mavericks. Last year, they were 18th. The year before that, 16th. In 2018-19, they were 27th. And so it goes. It’s a pattern for Dallas throughout Luka Doncic’s rookie contract, and stretching back a decade to their championship in 2011. They refuse to spend on anyone they don’t deem a superstar, and so far, no superstars have taken their money.
Meanwhile, teams like the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, ranked 1st and 7th respectively in active cap last season, somehow added quality pieces this offseason. The Lakers pretty much remade their team around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Miami Heat are another franchise that perpetually adds players that can contribute in the playoffs, despite always being above the cap.
There’s a myth that if the Mavericks sign players who aren’t superstars to market contracts, they won’t be able to acquire better players down the road. But several teams in the NBA prove this myth to be untrue year after year. The Mavericks lack of success in roster building the last decade isn’t a grim reality of a harsh collective bargaining agreement. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Mavericks refuse to give market contracts to anyone other than the highest tier of NBA superstars. This despite the best way to acquire that type of superstar is by already having quality players on the roster to use in a trade or to entice a superstar in free agency.
It’s well-known throughout most sports that you have to overpay to acquire free agents. It’s just the cost of doing business. Except it’s a cost the Mavericks haven’t been willing to pay. They’ve also completely neglected the draft, which has resulted in a lack of quality young players worthy of lucrative extensions.
“The Mavericks can’t make players take their money” is something that’s said a lot. But somehow the Charlotte Hornets have signed players like Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, and the Atlanta Hawks brought Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari on board. Neither of these teams are in the glamor cities of Los Angeles or New York City, or have a long tradition of winning. They just threw money at the guys they wanted until those guys said yes.
Doncic is already a perennial MVP candidate, which means the Mavericks have a chance to win a championship every year if they have the right supporting players around him. And the best way to do that is spend more money to acquire better players. Only time will tell if they’re willing to do so, and possibly break into the top ten in active cap spenders in the NBA. Maybe then fans will believe they’re doing all they can to win their next championship.