There were serious rumblings with the Mavs on the clock that they were looking to trade out, probably for either more second-round picks or a future first-round pick.
Obviously a trade partner was not found and the Mavs selected Cunningham, a player that most draft experts had going either late in the first round or early in the second. He was one of three targets the Mavs said they pinpointed and he was the only left when they went on the clock at No. 17. Suspecting they could nab Cunningham lower, they made the deal with Cleveland for Nos. 24, 33 and 34.
But why would Dallas want to get out of the first round all together? For no other reason than the invaluable commodity of cap space.
For months the Mavs have made no secret about their desire to clear cap space for this summer's free-agent spree as they begin to remake a roster that has numerous spots to fill. Free-agent shopping begins with luring Deron Williams on board with a max contract, and that will take some roster maneuverings to make the dollars work. The more cap space the Mavs can clear in advance, the less daunting that task becomes.
It's why they tossed small forward Kelenna Azubuike and his nearly $1 million contract into the trade. Had Dallas exited the first round without a pick, they would have saved close to an additional $1 million for $2 million in total cap savings.
Instead, Cunningham's guaranteed salary for next season will be close to $1 million.
By moving from No. 17 to No. 24, the Mavs saved about $350,000 on the rookie sliding salary scale for a total savings of around $1.35 million when added to the Azubuike savings.
Now, should the Mavs' desired slide to No. 24 followed by an attempt to trade out of the first round mean they valued cap space more than a potential rookie contributor? And should that be seen as good vibrations within the franchise that they will soon be successful in reeling in that big fish?
Maybe. Maybe not.
"Obviously, the more cap space we have the better it is," owner Mark Cuban said. "No matter who it is."
That is true. If not D-Will, then the Mavs will have to make room available to sign other free agents, potentially Steve Nash or any number of players at multiple positions that hit the market.
As coach Rick Carlisle noted after the draft, this is a "time of change."
Carlisle also said Thursday night that they've liked Cunningham since meeting him face-to-face at the combine in Chicago. Dallas didn't bring him to town for a workout, but that doesn't always mean much. Some draft experts regard the selection as a bit of a stretch, but Carlisle and general manager Donnie Nelson described the 6-5 Cunningham as the kind of athletic force a team must have in its backcourt to compete with the likes of Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.
"The way the game is being played now, you’ve got to have quickness, you’ve got to have dynamic athleticism and you’ve got to have the ability to get by people and make shots and make basketball plays," Carlisle said. "We feel he’s good and has a chance to be exceptionally good, but it’s going to be hard work. Things we know about him is he’s a terrific kid, he works extremely hard and loves to play."