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Mavs Fantasy GM: Project Joe Johnson

Today we’re launching a new fantasy offseason series. What would we try and pull off if we had the keys to the Mark Cuban vaults and access to Donnie Nelson’s relationships? Some of these will be of the Hail Mary variety. Others will be small moves we feel could have an impact without taking on giant chunks of salary. For installment one, we use Atlanta’s disappointing second-round thrashing at the hands of the mighty Magic to explore the idea of getting Joe Johnson in a Mavs uniform.

The Basics: Johnson would serve the Mavericks’ obvious need for a true shot-creator to take advantage of all the attention Dirk Nowitzki demands. It was widely reported that he already passed on an Atlanta offer of four years and $60 million before the season started. After a rough series against the Magic he’s being widely criticized and most are questioning whether he’s even worth that original Atlanta offer. I’d argue he’s worth substantially more to the Mavericks than he is to most teams. Pairing Dirk with a third-team All-NBA guard would be big. Johnson hasn’t played with a player as talented offensively as Dirk since he played with Steve Nash. Funny, the same exact thing can be said of Dirk playing with Johnson. Johnson is an unrestricted free agent who would have to want to come to Dallas. After being booed by his hometown fans during the playoffs, Dallas would probably sound just lovely. It would have to be done via sign-and-trade since the Mavs have no cap space. Dallas doesn’t have a whole lot that Atlanta would covet that they’d be willing to give up, and the Hawks aren’t strapped with bad contracts. I definitely wouldn’t part with Roddy Beaubois to make it happen. But the Atlanta Hawks could use 'em some Brendan Haywood.

The How: There are a couple of variations of the deal to get it done, but my goal would be to make the trade happen without giving up the oft-written-about Erick Dampier non-guaranteed contract that will take on a trade value of approximately $13 million come July 1. Without getting too nuts and boltsy, realize that since both teams are over the cap the total value of the salaries of the players exchanging teams must be within 125 percent. You can see where a contract as big as Damp’s that has no financial implications to the team taking him in the trade is essential for acquiring a “max-salary type” guy. So I would present the Hawks with two different options in which they would net Haywood at a starting salary of $10 million per season -- with the length of the deal to be determined by Haywood and the Hawks. Because Haywood made $6 million last season, he’d become a base-year compensation player and the value that the Mavericks would be allowed to take back would impact Johnson’s starting salary depending on which incarnation of the deal Dallas would make. The deal I would present if I were the Mavs would be Caron Butler and Haywood in a sign-and-trade with a starting salary of $10 million. Based on the numbers I’m using (which may not be 100 percent accurate since I’m not sitting at Keith Grant’s desk right now), the Hawks would have to sign-and-trade Johnson with a starting salary of $16.5 million to make it work and not have to include any other players. The other possibility is Haywood (same starting salary) along with Eduardo Najera and DeShawn Stevenson for Johnson with a starting salary that could be anywhere from $14 million-$16 million. We’ll just say the original four-year/$60 million for simplicity.

The Why: If the Hawks are going to lose Johnson, they’ll want to get a player of need in return. As proven once again over the past week, the Hawks stand no chance against division foe Orlando unless they get bigger inside. Acquiring Haywood to man the middle would allow them to play Al Horford at his natural power forward position and move Josh Smith to the three. They’d be big and athletic along their front line, still have the flexibility to play Marvin Williams and have a great smaller lineup, and Jamaal Crawford would start at the two in place of Johnson. The Hawks might be more compelled to take back less money in the form of Stevenson and Najera than the higher salary and higher production of Butler, though you can make a decent argument for either deal from the Hawks' perspective in terms of fit. If the Hawks saw Butler as a fit at two, they could continue to keep Crawford in his sixth-man role. As for the Mavs, it’s debatable how successful Haywood has been here. When he’s been on, he’s been the best center presence in Mavs history. When he hasn’t been on, he’s been as frustrating as Dampier has been at times, though he’s significantly more talented. Truth be told, I’d be really nervous giving Haywood the type of guaranteed deal the team gave Damp at about the same age with a career year at about the same production level in that contract year. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but that’s my sense. There’s no question about the talent however -- which is why I believe the Hawks would be interested in this deal. Of the teams with cap room who I see as being willing to give Haywood a $10 million-a-year deal, only Miami strikes me as the type of team that would covet him at that kind of money, so I suspect that Haywood would be down for this scenario. I could very well be misreading that. Because the Mavs already have a significant financial commitment to Shawn Marion, I feel that the Butler/Haywood deal actually works better for them. I think Stevenson and Najera would be valuable trade pieces for the type of deal the team would eventually be able to pull of with the still remaining Damp contract or to acquire a mid-level type center replacement for Haywood.

The Bottom Line: You can argue as to whether or not Johnson would be overpaid, he probably would be. But I think the combination of Johnson, Dirk and Jason Kidd would be worth the investment. They’d still have the explosiveness of Beaubois to develop off the bench, and Marion and Johnson would give them some great wing defensive options. So while we’re throwing the Hail Mary downfield, how much interest would King James have in coming to play with Dirk, Kidd and Johnson? Now that’s a fantasy worth exploring.