The Dallas Mavericks are in superstar search mode, that's no secret. This summer's mission failed to reel in Deron Williams, and so the venture moves forward to 2013. The potential for three superstars -- Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum -- to hit free agency in 11 months has been well-documented.
But, there's no guarantee any of the Big Three make it to free agency. That's the risk of the overhauled Mavs strategy under the new collective bargaining agreement. Or, take Paul as an example: He could opt to enter free agency solely to gain the extra fifth season and more money that he can't get by signing an extension and ultimately stay with Lob City partner Blake Griffin and the Clippers.
So what if next July rolls around and there's simply no superstars to chase?
Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson will have difficult decisions to make. This summer, they chose not to eat up next summer's cap space by not chasing players such as Goran Dragic (signed four-year, $34 million deal with Phoenix Suns). Instead, they loaded up one-year contracts that will expire and leave behind cap space to make a superstar pursuit possible in '13.
But if there are no superstars to pursue, then do the Mavs chase the next level of player who would, theoretically, snap up cap space in the summer of '14?
For instance, a tier below the Big Three next summer are potential free agents Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, David West, Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis and Andre Iguodala (the latter two have early termination options).
It will also be an intriguing summer for restricted free agents. Those players can seek and sign offers from other teams and then their current teams have three days to match. The new CBA can throw a wrench into the negotiations as seen with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Both players signed offer sheets from the Houston Rockets, who used the "poison pill" option to increase the players' salary three-fold in the third year of the deal, going from $5 million in the first two seasons for both players to $15 million in the third.
The offering team, the Rockets, is allowed to pay the average of the total contract ($25 million in the cases of Lin and Asek) over the three years, so just more than $8 million per season. Ultimately, the New York Knicks passed on Lin and the Chicago Bulls passed on Asek because of the third-year balloon payment that would wreak havoc with their payrolls and potentially carry unwanted luxury tax repercussions.
The Portland Trail Blazers offered Indiana Pacers free agent center Roy Hibbert a max offer sheet of four years at $58 million. The Pacers ultimately agreed to match to keep their big man, but those decisions can be difficult when looking at the bottom line.
The list of restricted free agents next summer is tantalizing: James Harden, Serge Ibaka, John Wall, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, and Tyreke Evans are the headliners. The Mavs' own Darren Collison will also be restricted.
If the Mavs don't land a superstar in '13, they'll have to decide if they value any of the unrestricted or restricted free agents enough to make an offer, knowing that if they do they could jeopardize their ability to continue their superstar search in the summer of '14.