The Mavericks have had sky-high aspirations for their offseason each of the last seven summers. July 2019 will be no different for Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban and the Mavs front office as this shapes up to be what could be a vital offseason that will drastically affect this team’s present and future.
Once Dallas traded Harrison Barnes and his potentially $25.1 million salary for 2019-2020 to the Sacramento Kings for a role player on a rookie contract in Justin Jackson and the right to waive veteran Zach Randolph’s expiring contract, Dallas made it clear it wasn’t content with just counting on newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis to be its biggest “addition” to next season’s team. They had their eyes set on getting back into the free agency fray with new cap space possibilities that could allow them to realistically chase some of the names at the top of this summer’s free agency crop.
While the possibilities seemed endless at the time, expectations have been lessened to only anticipating Dallas having a realistic shot at the second-tier of players available like Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic to name a few. While those aren’t the league MVP-caliber players like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard who are anticipated to ponder leaving their current teams this summer, they are all very talented players and three of them made the Eastern Conference All-Star squad in 2019.
With those great accolades to their names, each will likely start out free agency expecting their max salary in ’19-’20 of $32.7 million as a player who has been in the league for 7-9 seasons. By giving any of those players the max contract they’re allowed, Dallas would be committing four years and $141 million and a monstrous $37.6 million for the 2022-2023 season.
Am I crazy if that gives me serious pause?
If this was for Durant, Leonard or Klay Thompson, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Certainly not for Nikola Vucevic, a big man who had a career year at the perfect time. Not for Middleton, a great player, but simply not at that price (who’s admittedly unlikely to leave a Milwaukee team that seems bound for at least an NBA Finals appearance this season). Not even for Kemba Walker.
For some reason, we’re still in this phase of the NBA where simply being a high quality player equals you’re entitled to make the maximum amount of money that the rules possibly allow you to make. Whenever the players association was battling the league in CBA negotiations, did they really intent for EVERY pretty good player to be taking up a third of a team’s salary cap? It was probably intended for the league’s top ten to fifteen players to reap the benefits and then everyone below that take a salary that measures up fairly to their production.
If it were up to me, someone like Vucevic would get a four year/$75 million contract this summer with an AAV of $18.75 million. A raise from the $12.75 he made this season and also giving him long-term security as a 28-year-old big man whose game has showed its limitations. Unfortunately. that’s probably a ridiculous ask and Vucevic will be chasing up to $110 million more in a max contract from the Orlando Magic this summer. Yikes.
The argument for a max contract is stronger for the likes of Middleton, Harris and Walker. Middleton has grown into the type of shooting, defensive player that any team could squeeze into its fold. The same could be said for Harris, who has even been a #1 guy for a Los Angeles Clippers team that was at the top of the standings early this season. Both seem to be better fit for being the #2 or even #3 guy on a contending team. Walker has been “the man” for the Hornets franchise for several seasons.
Giving any of these players the max contract they’re eligible for would automatically give them the highest salary of any player in Mavericks history when training camp begins in September. I get it, times have changed big time. The league’s salary cap is almost twice as much as it was when the Mavs won the title almost eight years ago. The idea of a Doncic/Porzingis/Walker or Middleton trio is tantalizing. But think about the effects if they’re swing and miss on this and/or Porzingis?
Dallas pushed a lot of chips into the KP trade with multiple first round picks. It seems like there’s no doubt they’re eventually locking the 24-year-old who missed the last 15 months with an ACL injury up to a max dea, whether it’s this summer or next. That’s a sizable risk with his injury history and potential future as a 7’3 big man. While we all expect Porzingis to return to an All-Star caliber level of play, it remains a distinct possibility that the Mavericks could be paying someone $40 million to play in 40 games that season three years down the road.
With a Walker, Middleton or Harris pursuit, none are clearly worth a max contract that will eventually pay them close to $40 million a season. As of right now, it appears that will be the price of a serious pursuit of them. I don’t think injuries are too much of a concern for any of those players despite Middleton appearing in less than 30 games in two of his seven seasons. Walker has been an All-Star each of the past three seasons, but he turned 29 on Wednesday. Where does he go from here? Does it help or hurt the Mavericks if they land Walker and he improves on the 25 points per game he scored this season? How does that affect the play-making ability of Luka Doncic or the insertion of Porzingis into their offense?
They’re good problems to have in the short term, but there is no way of just getting a taste with these guys. It will be a four-year commitment or bust.
If I were in Donnie Nelson’s shoes, not just for fun like whenever my two-year-old wears mine, but like, if I had his job… I’m not swinging for the fences with these guys this summer. I’m using my cap space for a capable defender to plug next to Luka Doncic in the backcourt and trying to find an undervalued scoring wing that is regarded as an above-average shooter. While it wouldn’t be as exciting as a Walker or Middleton signing, it would allow the Mavericks to see what they have with the Porzingis gamble they’ve already made and then reload on ammo after they’ve given up a lot of it in the trades they’ve made to acquire Doncic and KP.
I know that this is a star-driven league, and there are a ton of stars throughout the NBA. To win at the highest level, however, you have to have the right stars. I’m not quite sure that any of the second-tier stars available this summer are the right ones for Dallas at this point when the potential of Luka Doncic is so high. Landing any of these players would set Dallas up to have their payroll dominated by them for the next four seasons. If something goes wrong and it’s time for Doncic to sign his second contract with the Mavs, what stops him from pulling the increasingly popular trade demand?
It might sound extreme, but it’s something to consider as we all enter the season of devouring every player movement rumor we see on Twitter.
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