As far as setting up the Mavericks’ summer goes, it was a phenomenal first round.
Enough seeds of doubt have been planted for the two superstars to at least seriously consider leaving their respective Los Angeles teams.
“I don’t know how this whole thing is going to play out,” Paul told reporters Saturday morning, fresh off the disappointment of getting eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies, essentially echoing Howard’s comments about the Lakers’ premature playoff departure.
It took a year longer than the Dallas decision-makers hoped and anticipated when they made their difficult post-lockout decisions, but they’ll finally be able to make recruiting pitches to their two primary targets this summer. (Deron Williams, whom the Mavs whiffed on last summer, was Plan C.)
Landing either of the available superstars is still a long shot. (Landing both is a virtual impossibility.)
The Mavs hoped to have the chance to try to take Paul away from New Orleans or Howard away from Orlando. It’ll be a heck of a lot tougher to talk them out of leaving playoff teams in L.A., especially considering that the collective bargaining agreement allows their current teams to offer contracts that feature an extra year and 3-percent-higher annual raises.
But the opportunity is on the table for Mark Cuban and Co. We’ve got plenty of time to delve into the details and the potential details of the pitches over the next two months.
For now, let’s just deal with the basics of the dollars involved.
A max deal for Howard would start with a $20.51 million salary (105 percent of his salary this season). The Lakers can offer him a five-year deal worth $117.95 million. The Mavs and other suitors with enough cap space -- the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets (with some financial maneuvering) are the biggest threats -- can offer a four-year, $87.6 million deal.
Paul is eligible to make a max salary of $18.67 million next season. The Clippers can offer a five-year, $107.34 million deal. The Mavs and others can offer a four-year, $79.71 million deal.
The Mavs, depending on where the salary cap limit falls within the expected range, will have between $16.1 million and $17.6 million of cap space without any maneuvering this summer.
Creating the cap space necessary to sign Paul could be as simple as waiving Bernard James and Josh Akognon, who have nonguaranteed deals, and dumping Jared Cunnngham's salary via a trade. It might not require the Mavs to move Shawn Marion or Vince Carter, two veterans whom they value.
It wouldn’t be so simple with Howard, although it could help that agent Dan Fegan represents both Howard and Marion, whose contract includes an early termination option he can exercise before free agency begins.
(One potential scenario: Marion opts out of his $9.32 million salary for next season and returns to Dallas after re-signing a three-year deal in the $18 million range. That could be a win-win situation with Marion doubling his guaranteed money and the Mavs keeping their veteran core intact while creating enough space to sign Howard.)
The finances are one reason for Paul to be the Mavs’ preference, but that’d probably be the case anyway.
Coach Rick Carlisle is on record as saying that point guard is the most important position in today’s NBA. Cuban is on record saying that boosting the Mavs’ collective basketball IQ is a major priority. The best way to address both of those areas is to sign CP3, who also doesn’t come with any baggage, unlike the league’s best big man.
Having said that, the Mavs should (and surely would) sign Howard in a heartbeat if Paul decides that he doesn’t want to come to Dallas.
At this point, pulling off one of the pipe dreams appears to be a possibility for Dallas this summer. They might be long shots, but at least the Mavs will have the ball in their hands on July 1.