Early Bird rights could be the key to keeping Brandan Wright in Dallas, if he can be patient while the Mavericks pursue bigger worms.
Wright and the Mavs have publicly and privately expressed strong mutual interest in bringing the high-leaping, high-efficiency backup big man back to Dallas. The Mavs would love to have Wright return to his role as a 24-minute-per-night spark after he ended his two-year run as a reclamation project on a sky-high note, playing a major role in the Mavs’ 15-8 finish. Wright recognizes that the role suits him well.
But Wright also recognizes that he’s far from the Mavs’ top priority when the free agency frenzy begins July 1. He’s anticipating interest from several other teams that are rightfully intrigued by a 24-year-old former lottery pick whose PER as a part-time player last season ranked 20th in the NBA.
It’s a good bet that Wright will get offers in the range of those landed by the Mavs’ last two successful young reclamation projects (four years, $18 million for Brandon Bass and four years, $16 million for Ian Mahinmi). The Mavs’ Early Bird rights would allow them to exceed the salary cap by giving Wright that kind of contract.
It’s a matter of timing and just how much the Mavs need to trim off their cap as to whether those Early Bird rights come into play.
Warning: Headache-inducing CBA details coming. The language of the Early Bird exception from the CBA:
A team may re-sign its own free agent to a first-year salary of up to the greater of (a) 175% of the player’s salary in the last season of his prior contract, or(b) 104.5% of the average player salary for the prior season, if he played for the team for some or all of each of the prior two consecutive seasons (or, if he changed teams, he did so by trade or by assignment via the NBA’s waiver procedures, including the NBA’s amnesty waiver procedure). A contract signed using the Early Bird Exception must be for at least two seasons.
In Wright’s case, the 104.5% of the average player salary -- a little more than $5 million per year -- is the relevant figure. The Mavs could essentially use Wright’s Early Bird rights as an extra full midlevel exception to sign him to a deal as large as four years for about $23 million. (I don’t know if the Mavs would be willing to pay Wright that much, but they legally could even if it pushes them over the cap.)
But two things have to happen for Wright’s Early Bird rights to come into play.
First, the Mavs have to opt to keep those rights, which would mean maintaining a cap hold of $884,293 while Wright is on the market. That’s NBA peanuts – and not even $400,000 more than the roster cap hold the Mavs would have in place if they renounce those rights – but every dollar counts as the Mavs try to create enough space to give Dwight Howard or Chris Paul a max contract.
Second, Wright would have to be willing to wait until the Mavs have done the vast majority of their summer shopping to sign his contract, since the exception doesn't matter if they have cap space. He might deem another offer too tempting to turn down while the Mavs are reconstructing the rest of their roster. Then again, the Mavs can make him a promise without putting pen to paper.
The Mavs see Wright as a potential complementary piece for a contender. His Early Bird rights could allow the Mavs to respectfully treat him that way while rewarding him with a huge raise and retaining his services this summer.