Now that the dust has settled on the Dallas Mavericks' season, ESPNDallas.com will explain the big-picture outlook the Mavs need to analyze as they look ahead to the offseason and beyond.
Ever since the 2011 championship, the Mavs have been involved in various installments of the franchise’s "biggest summer ever." They’ve made their attempts to lure free agents such as LeBron James, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. They came up short in those attempts but have done a valiant job in putting together rosters that remained competitive. Be that as it may, the organization doesn’t see just being competitive as the goal.
Sports mortality might make this summer one in which Dallas needs more hits than misses. Dirk Nowitzki is a free agent, but the safe money is on him re-signing with the Mavs. That said, this is likely the last contract Nowitzki will sign with the idea of him playing at a very high level. There’s also a possibility that this is the last contract the 35-year-old signs altogether. With that in mind, the Mavericks have to look at players who can fit during this window as capable supporting mates for Nowitzki, or those who could take on larger roles on the back end of their deals.
Reports are circulating that the Houston Rockets will make another attempt at acquiring Nowitzki. The odds of them getting Nowitzki to turn on the Mavs are about as good as those of sinking a full-court, buzzer-beating shot. The Mavs will re-sign Nowitzki for a number that is respectful for him and the team in regard to preserving cap space. The additional focus will be on retaining Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Devin Harris on team-friendly deals. The cap space will be an intriguing thing to keep track of.
Dallas could theoretically use all the usual avenues of improving a team -- free agency, trade and the draft -- and each path could yield players of impact.
Teams around the league could inquire about some of the Mavs' cap-friendly trade assets such as Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington and point guards Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel. None of them will fetch an elite player in return, but a specific combination of them, money and other assets to the right team could net a valuable rotational player and free up a roster space. In terms of other assets, one ace in the hole for Dallas is that it can finally get back into the trade market with a first-round pick at its disposal.
The first-round pick Dallas gave up in the trade to acquire Lamar Odom ended up in the possession of the Oklahoma City Thunder after it was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Rockets, and is now finally paid in full. That means the Mavs won’t have a first-round pick this season and will have one next season. Due to rules in the collective bargaining agreement, a team can’t trade its first-round pick in consecutive drafts. That means Dallas can officially offer its 2016 first-round pick in deals. First-round picks are now the most coveted form of currency among general managers, and Dallas has shown it's not afraid to wheel and deal.
Speaking of the draft, Dallas has the 34th and 51st picks -- both in the second round -- this year. While second-round picks don’t necessarily guarantee success, they give teams suitable amounts of wiggle room. Second-round picks aren’t guaranteed roster spaces or contracts, thus giving a team like Dallas the potential to go either way with both assets. That might not mean much on the surface, but roster spaces become more and more valuable as the summer moves along.
While ammunition isn’t at maximum value, Dallas has enough wiggle room and flexibility to be a player this summer. That’s a good position to be in, but this is a summer in which there isn’t a definitive route to take through free agency. While there have been big-name free agents available in past offseasons, there’s a strong possibility there won’t be one out there this summer. In addition, there’s always the uncertainty of the trade market. You just never know what will happen in that realm or who will actually be available or is on the trade block.
With roughly $30.5 million in cap space, other assets and no definitive direction in free agency, this summer appears to be filled with unknowns. If that’s the case, it’s good to be in a position like the one Dallas finds itself in, in which it can strike via free agency, draft or trade. The mantra has always been that the Mavs will be opportunistic. Time dictates that opportunity has to strike now.