It should come as no surprise to any diehard Dallas Mavericks fan that this offseason is key for the team moving forward. The team just missed the playoffs following a trip to the Western Conference Finals and superstar Luka Doncic is entering his sixth season and is in his rookie max contract extension. The path toward contention gets harder, not easier, with the moves Dallas has and hasn’t made in the last several years.
I’m here and ready to help you wade into this off-season with enough information to sound like an expert. You can impress your NBA-addicted friends while at the same time depressing your closest family members with your CBA knowledge.
This is the first part in what should eventually become a three-part series. All of the Mavericks’ three main off-season paths revolve around what happens with Kyrie Irving. Either he stays, he walks for nothing, or they sign and trade him. They would be an over-the-cap team if they re-sign Kyrie or sign and trade him. If he walks for nothing, then they become a salary-cap space team. For all of these scenarios, I will default to the Mavericks keeping and signing the player they draft with the 10th overall pick.
Editors note: Consider these living documents. As we learn more about the new CBA, we may post updates and will note as such in the article.
Staying over the salary cap: The “re-signing Kyrie” path
Let’s start with an assumption that Kyrie re-signs for a 4-year max. His max is 35% of the cap. I’ll be using my prediction for the Salary Cap ($136,021,000) from this piece where I predict the salary cap rising rather than the current NBA Projection of $134 million. The resulting Kyrie contract will look like this.
Fill out the roster!
The Mavericks would have 10 players on the roster but would already be $27-plus million over the salary cap! They must sign three more to satisfy the NBA roster rule of having 13 players rostered. And it’s best to assume they’d like to end up with 14 or 15 players on their 15-man roster. It’s important to note that two-way players do not count toward the 15-man roster and their salaries do not count towards the salary cap. Therefore, I’m leaving two-way information out of this exercise.
The Mavericks must use exceptions to cap to fill out their roster with those three to five players. Let’s look at what those exceptions are and how they work.
Exceptions for the Mavericks’ free agents:
Bird Rights – Teams can offer these players anything up to the max without needing cap space.
- Dwight Powell
- Christian Wood
Early Bird Rights – Teams can offer these players up to 175% of the player’s previous season’s salary or 105% of the previous season’s average salary. This is 11.3 million.
- Theo Pinson
- Frank Ntilikina
Non-Bird Rights: Allows the team to not use cap space but sign them to 120% of the player’s previous season salary or 120% of the applicable minimum for the player.
- Justin Holiday
- Markieff Morris
Two-way free agents: Nothing that allows them to offer more than the minimum exception.
- McKinley Wright
- AJ Lawson
Exceptions that can be used for any player eligible for NBA Free Agency
Minimum Exception: Teams can sign a player at the minimum for up to two seasons.
The different Mid-level Exceptions
- Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: Use of the NTMLE hard caps your team at the Tax Apron for the full season.
- Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: Use of the Tax MLE hard caps you at the second tax apron
- Bi-Annual Exception: Can use every other year. Mavericks are eligible this off-season. However, this also hard caps you at the tax apron. So, you have to be sufficiently below the tax apron to fit in the NTMLE, BAE, and any other players needed to fill out the roster.
Which MLE? Non-tax or taxpayer?
Re-signing Kyrie would put the Mavericks only $8,508,819 million below the tax apron. This would cause them to lose the larger Mid-Level Exception at their disposal because using the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (NTMLE) creates a hard cap for your team. The cap is at the tax apron and lasts for the entire 2023-24 season. Therefore, being close to the tax apron would make using the NTMLE impractical. The Mavericks can’t even use the entire $12.2 million if they are only $8.5 million below the tax apron. Especially because the team only has 10 players. The Mavericks would seem to be destined for the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (TPMLE) instead.
The New Mid-Level Exception rules
- Hard cap: Starting in 2024-25, using the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception would also create a hard cap of 17.5 million above the Tax Line. For the 2023-24 season, they have spared teams this rule. They are phasing in some of the harsh second apron rules, but I’ve been told the hard cap for using the Tax MLE is staying. The Mavericks with Kyrie would be $20,008,819.
- Changed MLE: The new CBA also lowered the Tax MLE. This past season the Taxpayer MLE was $6,476,000. For the 2023-24 season, it will only be $5,000,000. This 22.8% decrease is a significant blow to the Maverick’s ability to re-sign Kyrie and add a rotation player. Below you can see the percent changes for the first-year salaries and total salaries for the four different Exceptions.
This $2 million decrease in the 2023-24 Tax MLE salary would likely make the Maverick’s best-case scenario for the Tax MLE be signing a fringe rotational player at best.
Try to Lower the team salary to use Non-Taxpayer Mid Level Exception
The Mavericks could lower their salary to use the larger NTMLE through different means. They could explore trades. The issue is that you must give up value to facilitate lowering your team’s salary. Either value in a player who is worth their contract or giving other compensation for another team to take on a player that is not worth their contract.
The most feasible way a trade could lower the Mavericks team salary would involve the number 10 pick. For one, it reduces team salary by the $5.2 million that the number 10 pick will earn in 2023-24, but also, the trade would need an actual player attached to return a salary. That’s because the draft pick counts as $0 until signed, but if signed then he wouldn’t be trade eligible until Dec. 15. The Mavericks could attach a player like JaVale McGee or Davis Bertans with the 10th pick and return a player with a lower salary. However, the Mavericks will likely prioritize getting the best player possible if they trade the 10th pick. So, it’s not clear that a trade involving the pick would decrease team salary by enough.
The Mavericks could unilaterally lower their salary by enough to use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception if they waive Bertans and stretch his cap hit by using the stretch provision. This mechanism allows teams to take all the guaranteed money they owe a player and stretch that cap hit over the number of years left on the contract multiplied by two plus one.
Bertans has two years and $22,000,000 in guaranteed money left. He has $17,000,000 in 2023-24 and a partial guarantee of $5,000,00 in 2024-25. The two years would stretch to become five years since two times two is four then you add one for a total five. Therefore, waiving and then using the stretch provision on Bertans would create an equal $4.4 million cap hit for each of the next five seasons. That means the next time the Mavericks wouldn’t have Bertans on their cap sheet would be 2028-29. That’s the season Luka turns 30. The cap sheet is below. The dead cap goes a year past what I even show in this cap sheet.
Benefits and problems for waiving and stretching Davis Bertans
Here are the main benefits of using the stretch provision on Bertans after waiving him.
- Bigger MLE: You’d go from being able to offer $5 million to a free agent to offering $12,221,000. That’s the difference between acquiring a fringe rotation player and acquiring a low-end starter/solid rotation player.
- BAE: If the Mavericks open enough room, then they can also use the Bi-Annual Exception. $4,448,000 for two seasons with a 5% increase in year two. Just waiving and stretching Bertans doesn’t actually give you enough room by itself. I’ll show that below.
- Save draft capital: In using the stretch provision, the Mavericks would avoid wasting draft resources to reduce their salary to use the NTMLE.
- Bigger salary cap in the future: The NBA salary cap is projected to go up each season by a lot. This would reduce the relative pain of the $4.4 Million in dead cap each year. Keith Smith at Spotrac is quite aggressive in projecting future salary caps. With cap smoothing the max the cap can go up is a 10% increase. His projections for the 2025-26 and 2026-27 seasons have the full 10% increases. So, the $4.4 mil could be much more insignificant in the last years of the stretch.
But there are pitfalls in this process as well.
- Is the perfect player available? The Mavericks would be looking for a player who would sign for the full four years and be a potential starter. Those players typically make more than $12.2 million. The perfect free agent would likely be offered more than the NTMLE and even with this provision the Mavericks wouldn’t be able to bid any more than the $12.2 million figure. A player like Bruce Brown (signing for the full four years) would represent the best-case scenario. A 26-year-old two-way wing player who can start or come off the bench, for example. However, another team offering $15 million using cap space could easily go over the top if they also liked him. Jalen McDaniels is another possibility. A 25-year-old, 6’9 forward who can impact the game on both ends. I’m not sure what his market value is but I think it’s more possible than Brown. The bottom line is that whoever they get must be a sure playoff rotation player. Preferably they’d be younger so that when they are a free agent again, we’d want to use our bird rights to re-sign them.
- Long-term cap hit: Bertans’ cap hit could haunt the Mavericks for a long time. The player Dallas acquires needs to have a lasting positive impact on the team. Although many are clamoring for them to use this provision, we have no idea which player they would get using this. Imagine if Reggie Bullock was not only our NTMLE acquisition in 2021, but getting him required the Mavericks to add $4.4 million to the cap for three more seasons from now (that’s two longer than he is signed for). The fans who are currently behind using the stretch provision might change their minds in the future. The Mavericks front office must be sober minded in their judgment about if waiving and stretching Bertans is the right move.
- Future hard salary cap: The $4.4 million does count towards the hard cap as well as the salary cap. As Luka’s and Kyrie’s maxes grow, then the potential issue of having to dance below the tax apron while adding talent is a significant one. We’d like to be able to use the new larger NTMLE each season to replenish the rotation. Despite the increasing cap figures, that $4.4 million might be problematic in 2025-26, 2026-27, and 2027-28.
Benefits and problems for waiving and stretching Reggie Bullock
The Mavericks could also waive and stretch Bullock to get more relief, but that is a bit more complicated. Here’s the rundown as to why.
$5 million of his current $10,489,600 2023-24 salary is non-guaranteed. They could waive him now and that automatically lowers the Mavericks salary by $5 million.
However, it would also mean they have to replace a rotation wing. Bullock isn’t a perfect player but he’s a very useful rotation player. Bullock’s salary fully guarantees June 28. That’s before free agency starts. Waiting to have the exact right opportunity isn’t possible without both Bullock and the Mavericks agreeing to move the date. Bullock has no incentive to do that.
If he was going to get waived (and lose $5 million) then he’d rather that happen before free agency begins. They could spread the $5,489,600 dead cap hit using the stretch provision over three years (one-year remaining times 2 + 1 = 3 seasons).
Despite all the complications, I want to show the result of waiving and stretching both Bertans and Bullock. The Bullock waive and stretch would have to be done blindly three days before free agency starts. The Mavericks wouldn’t know for sure at the time if they’d actually get any of their desired targets. They’d have to read the tea leaves and make the leap. Here’s the cap sheet if the Mavericks re-sign Kyrie to a 4-year max while waiving and stretching both Davis Bertans and Reggie Bullock.
Sign-and-trades while keeping Kyrie Irving
Receiving a free agent in a sign-and-trade? You might look at prospective free agents and desire the Mavericks to acquire them. Receiving a free agent in a sign-and-trade hard caps the Mavericks at the 1st tax apron ($171 million in my projection). Also, the trade math is complicated if the free agent is getting a raise of more than 20%. Plus, if you get below the tax apron enough to receive this player, you are likely blocking yourself from using the Non-taxpayer MLE unless you drop even more salary. In addition to that, it would be an expensive endeavor in terms of assets. Therefore, targeting a free agent via a sign-and-trade would have 4 costs
- The player and/or draft assets you trade to get them
- The contract they sign
- The assets or players you use to dump our salary to open the space to fit the contract below the tax apron
- Forgoing the use of our Non-taxpayer MLE and the Bi-Annual Exception since we’d have to use more assets to drop our salary even lower to create space to use them
Sign-and-trading Christian Wood away? The Mavericks could use Christian Wood’s bird rights to obtain a player and/or assets from a team that wants him. However, this presents issues. It would likely lead to the Mavericks not only having to forgo the Non-Taxpayer MLE, but they would also lose access to the Taxpayer MLE. Bringing back a player with a similar salary (as trades require) as Wood increases Dallas’s 2023-24 salary above the 2nd tax apron (which is $181.5 million in my projection). It would be great to trade Wood for only draft assets and not salary but that would mean the other team has cap space or a large trade exception. If they have cap space then why do they need us at all? The asset compensation would be low. Only Brooklyn has a large enough trade exception but already has a lot of salary along with Cam Johnson’s pending RFA. They’d have to manage the hard cap if they acquire Wood via a sign-and-trade. We could waive and stretch Bertans in that scenario to try and get the Tax MLE, but the Taxpayer MLE is not nearly valuable enough for that. I would heavily discourage taking on 5 years of a dead cap hit in order to offer a 2-year $10,250,000 total contract to free agents.
So after trading away Christian Wood for a player, we could only offer free agents minimum deals. Trades would be our only means of changing the roster. And the problems would last. Our salary being really high in 2023-24 would likely carry over into 2024-25. And that’s when the even more cumbersome 2nd Tax Apron rules come into effect. A sign-and-trade Christian Wood only makes sense if it’s for an expiring contract with assets that are better than the possibility of using the NTMLE via waive-and-stretching Bertans.
A CORRECTION Crazy CBA Math
**When I published this article I did not know the second part below named Apron. This renders my prediction and math incorrect.**
Sometimes the amount the player gets paid and the cap hit differ. When a player with 3 or more years of experience signs a 1-year minimum deal is one of those situations. In order to not penalize veterans, these players only count the amount of the minimum of a player with 2-years of experience. So even when a player with 10+ years of experience signs a 1-year $3,148,955, he would only count $1,989,698 against the cap. The league actually reimburses the team the amount above the 2-year minimum amount. Again, this is to protect veterans from being overlooked for financial or salary cap reasons.
For veterans with 3 or more years experience it’s the same for the apron. They only count the minimum of a 2-year experienced player against the apron. Teams, and I, might then be tempted to fill in the back of the roster with rookies to make it work. The players association knew this loophole and therefore the rules actually make rookies and players with 1-year experience count the 2-year minimum towards to apron. So teams won’t shy away from veterans to stay below one of the aprons. This means that when calculating if you can fill out the back end of the roster and stay below the apron, you need to keep $1.989,698 for each spot.
**When I published this article I did not know that minimum one-year contracts of rookies and players with one year of experience count as two-year experience players for apron purposes. This renders my below prediction and math incorrect for the back end of the roster.**
I’m not going to predict trades because the number of possibilities is nearly endless. So, this prediction starts with re-signing Kyrie and keeping the 10th pick. I would pick Taylor Hendricks, Jarace Walker, or Anthony Black if they are there but I’ll predict they are all taken before the Mavericks pick at 10. Since I don’t have the option for a trade-down, I'll choose Dereck Lively II with the 10th pick. He is a great potential long-term fit. For this season he’d be able to incrementally play more and more as the season progresses. I could have chosen a different player at 10. Substitute Gradey Dick or Cason Wallace or Kobe Bufkin or whoever you’d like.
After that, here’s the steps I’d take:
- Waive and stretch Davis Bertans. That takes them down to nine players
- Sign Jalen McDaniels to 4-years, $52,550,300 (player option on fourth year). Would have loved to say Bruce Brown but I think he’ll get more from another team after his fantastic playoff run.
Cap sheet with Bertans stretched and signing McDaniels to the NTMLE would look like this.
This still leaves the Mavericks needing to fill the back end of the roster. The Mavericks have $9,887,819 left below the hard cap. They can use their Bird Rights, minimum salary, or the Bi-Annual Exception to fill in the last 3-5 players on the roster.
- Dwight Powell re-signs for $2,862,686 for one-year. For this exercise, I’ve somehow convinced him to go for this. It saves critical space because his cap hit would only equal the minimum of a third-year vet. That’s $2,061,266.
- McKinley Wright IV signs a 2-year minimum deal with a team option on the second year. That would count as $1,774,999 for 2023-24.
- Use Bi-Annual Exception on $4,448,000 on Jeff Green. Fringe rotation small ball center can help. I saved on the money with Powell to spend here. The options for the BAE are very limited.
- Sign an undrafted rookie to a 2-year non-guaranteed deal with a team option on year two. Maybe the Mavericks get into the second round, but in this, I’m just predicting an unnamed undrafted rookie free agent. Counts as the rookie minimum of $1,102,929 for 2023-24.
For the cap Sheet after all of that, the Mavericks have a 14-man roster with only $500,625 to spare. Can’t afford to add a 15th player unless they shed salary.
I do want to reiterate that I am using my own cap space prediction which is $2 million more than the current projection listed on Spotrac, RealGM, and other great sites for NBA CBA content.
If you made it this far, then you’re one of the true NBA and Mavericks diehards I write things like this for. Next week, I hope to explore the path for the Mavericks if Kyrie Irving were to opt to walk away from the Dallas Mavericks and sign elsewhere. That would result in Dallas becoming a cap space team, and we can investigate how much and what they could do with it.