The one certainty for the Mavericks in this free-agent market is that they’re prepared to pay a premium price for a starting small forward.
How much? To whom?
The Mavs’ offer to Carmelo Anthony had a starting salary a bit north of $18 million, but he’s expected to take a max deal either by returning to the New York Knicks or relocating to the West Coast with the Los Angeles Lakers. They’d find a way to carve out room to give LeBron James a max deal starting at $20-plus million, but it appears that James will either go back to the Miami Heat or back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Of the Mavs’ four Plan B targets, Trevor Ariza is arguably the best fit, considering his 3-point shooting and defense. He’s also likely to be the most affordable.
Ariza, 29, is asking for a four-year contract with a starting salary in in the $9-11 million range. That’s less than what Luol Deng wants – and one source expects Deng to get the deal he’s seeking from the Atlanta Hawks. It’s probably less than what it would take to get restricted free agents Chandler Parsons or Gordon Hayward, given their current teams’ right to match any offer.
The Mavs will seriously consider calling the Houston Rockets’ bluff on the 6-foot-9 Parsons, a versatile offensive threat who averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a 25-year-old last season. If the Rockets succeed in their attempt to poach Chris Bosh from the Miami Heat, maybe the threat of entering luxury-tax territory would prompt Houston to shy away from matching a large offer sheet to Parsons. Or the Rockets might have to renounce Parsons' rights to make room for a max Bosh offer, making the small forward an unrestricted free agent.
Hayward, who is reportedly meeting with the Charlotte Bobcats and has had extensive talks with the Cavs, is asking for more a deal that starts in the $12-14 million range. The Mavs aren’t likely to get in the bidding for Hayward at that price.
The Mavs also have no intention of paying Deng that much. They have significant concerns about the 29-year-old Deng’s durability after years of him being a workhorse for the Chicago Bulls and dealing with back and Achilles tendon issues recently. They value him as a versatile, tenacious defender with a career scoring average of 16 points per game, but Deng’s subpar 3-point shooting isn’t ideal for a Mavs team that is suddenly short on long-distance threats.
Ariza, on the other hand, shot 40.7 percent from 3-point range while averaging 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Washington Wizards last season. He’s also a good defender who readily accepts the role of guarding the opponent’s best wing scorer. And he's a proven playoff performer, playing well during as a role player during the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009 title run.
The biggest concern with Ariza: He’s a journeyman coming off a career year in a contract year. If he can’t repeat that production consistently, he’d be well overpaid given the salary range that he’s seeking.
But Ariza’s game fits what the Mavs need from their starting small forward, on both ends of the floor. His price tag fits their budget, too. That probably makes him the Plan B target the Mavs are most likely to sign.