Perhaps the hottest storyline heading into 2012 NBA free agency is where will New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams go? The supposed early leader for his services is the Dallas Mavericks, but the problem is a lot of things must happen first because the move from Jersey to Dallas is not straightforward.
First off, will Williams be a free agent? He has indicated he will decline to invoke his $17.8 million Player Option and become an unrestricted free agent. Williams has not ruled out a return to the Nets, who can still offer him higher annual raises plus an extra year in a new contract. There are other teams, like Portland and New Orleans, who will be in the market for a starting point guard this summer and have maximum money to offer.
Dallas, on the other hand, does not.
The Mavericks currently sit at $53.4 million in contracts on the books to eight players for 2012-13. The cap will be at minimum the same as this year Ė $58.044 million. The new collective bargaining agreement matched the 2011-12 and 2012-13 caps to the 2010-11 version. The cap could go up for 2012-13 if Basketball Related Income justifies it, but in a shortened season due to the lockout thatís very, very unlikely. All that means is the Mavs donít have cap space without doing some other things first.If they do nothing, they will only have the Mid-Level Exception to offer Williams or any other free agent.
Dallas may or may not have a first-round pick this year. They traded their pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lamar Odom back in December and that pick moved on to the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline in the Derek Fisher deal. However, itís top-20 protected through 2017, meaning if Dallas doesnít have one of the 10 best records in the NBA this year, they keep the pick. Heading into Fridayís games they sat at 11th, just several percentage points behind the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Mavericks do keep that pick and it ends up 20th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, a cap hold of $1.1 million would be placed upon them. As far as second-round picks go, Dallas owns the Lakersí pick from the Odom trade. Their own pick is in Washington, and they also have rights to Minnesotaís and Washingtonís but both are top-55 protected (meaning Dallas will never see them). The second-round pick will place a cap hold on the Mavericks equal to the minimum salary for a rookie, which will be $473,604. (This is the same cap hold added for each open roster spot under 13.)
By waiving Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and Brandan Wright the Mavericks could reduce the amount owed to them to only $4.4 million, down from the $12.2 million they are on the books for. Odomís contract is guaranteed for only $2.4 million of $8.2 million for 2012-13 if he is waived by June 30, 2012. Vince Carterís is only guaranteed for $2.0 million of $3.1 million if waived by the same date (and $2.0 million of $3.3 million in 2013-14). Wrightís $0.9 million is fully non-guaranteed. If Carter is not waived by June 30th, both seasons left on his contract become guaranteed.
Thatís not all. The Mavericks also have $33.2 million in cap holds that will count against them until they either renounce their rights to the player or the player signs with another team. Click this link to see the full list, but the ones that stand out are the $12.9 million cap hold on Jason Kidd and $16.0 million on Jason Terry.
If the Mavericks want to go after Deron Williams, they need to go all-in and clear as much space as they can. Technically the Nets could do a sign-and-trade with Williams to Dallas, but the fact of the matter is the Mavericks, outside of Roddy Beaubois, probably donít have too much of interest to Jersey. The Nets would probably be more interested in doing a sign-and-trade (and giving Williams his higher raise and another year Note: New CBA limits sign-and-trades to four years and 4.5% raises) if the Mavs clear the cap space anyway, doing the deal simply for draft picks and a Traded Player Exception (if it were to come to that).
For this, letís assume the Mavericks donít keep their first-round pick this year and waive Odom, Carter and Wright to maximize their cap space. Letís also assume they renounce their rights to all their free agents, including Kidd and Terry. Where does that put them? It only moves them down to $45.6 million in commitments to five players. Add eight minimum salary cap holds (totaling $3.8 million) and the Mavs will be sitting at $49.4 million. Thatís only $8.9 million in cap space. Williams, a three-time All-Star with career averages of 17.6 points, 9.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game, will cost more than that. More as in max money, which means a deal starting at $16.3 million per season (again, assuming the cap does not go up for 2012-13).
Yes, Williams could sign for less than max money, but he wonít sign for less than half his market value. With Portland gleefully waiving a max deal, Williams would have to really, really want to go to Dallas to choose them instead. Frankly, history says that doesnít happen very often at all, and definitely not to that extent.
The Mavs have one more thing they will have to do in order to clear enough cap space to sign Deron Williams and thatís use their Amnesty Provision. Only three players match the profile of how much the Mavs would have to clear: Dirk Nowitzki ($20.9 million), Shawn Marion ($8.4 million) and Brendan Haywood ($8.3 million). No, itís not going to be Dirk; that leaves Marion or Haywood. Both are starters and primarily defensive players, so how do you choose which one gets cut? Haywood is a year younger, but his contract runs two years longer than Marionís (through 2015-16 as opposed to through 2013-14), meaning thatís a larger check owner Mark Cuban has to write immediately (by about $9.8 million Ė the last season of his deal is not guaranteed if waived by 8/1/15).
Do they choose to amnesty their center and hope they can find serviceable big men to play defense and rebound in the middle? Or do they decide their small forward is easier to replace? For this exercise letís say they choose Haywood. That replaces his $8.3 million with another minimum salary cap hold, putting them at $37.2 million in commitments plus $4.3 million in cap holds, leaving them at $41.5 million.
Voila! Enough cap room to sign Williams to a maximum contract.
But now how do the Mavericks fill out their roster? They have Nowitzki, Williams and Marion, plus two rookie scale deals to Dominique Jones and Roddy Beaubois. They will have about $2 million in cap space (if Williams were to sign for less than the max, the difference would be added to this $2 million to be used for other free agents), then when they use that up they will have the $2.5 million ďroom exception.Ē The room exception is new with the latest CBA and gives teams who maximize their cap space and then spend it all a little something extra to help fill out their roster.
With those two chunks of change, the Mavs will need to find a starting center, a backup center, a backup power forward, another guard and a backup small forward, plus a couple other players to fill out the bench. Unfortunately there really arenít a lot of options at center. The top centers in the free agent class Ė Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Chris Kaman, JaVale McGee Ė will cost much more than the Mavericks can afford. Could they entice Marcus Camby for that price? Nazr Mohammed? Kwame Brown? Aaron Gray? Unfortunately, thatís the caliber of player they will be able to afford.
This begs the question: Is it worth it? Is ripping the team down to the studs Ė metaphorically Ė worth it in order to sign Williams? With Nowitzkiís $20.9 million salary, the Mavericks are limited in what they are going to be able to do to fill out the roster. Is a team built around Williams, Nowitzki, Marion, Beaubois and Jones a good team in the Western Conference? Or will it become stuck in mediocrity, unable to surround the two stars with a good enough supporting cast to once again become a contender?
Those are questions the Dallas Mavericksí management structure must answer for themselves before they commit to going down this path.
Is pursuing Deron Williams the best move for Dallas? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Hit up Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops and drop in for his chat Monday at 8pm Eastern.