- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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One NBA front office executive compares free agency to watching frogs in a pond.
There are only so many lily pads for the frogs to hop onto. As those lily pads start getting claimed, the frogs tend to get a little more frantic, or at least more willing to negotiate deals that could be perceived as team friendly.
Could a similar scenario unfold in this summer’s market for small forwards? Don’t count on it. There are simply too many lily pads.
The Mavs are one of several teams who have ample space under the salary cap and a glaring need at small forward. Other teams on that list include the Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and the couple of teams competing for LeBron James, the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Several other teams hold cards because they own Bird rights or can match offers made to restricted free agents. That list includes the New York Knicks (Carmelo Anthony), Utah Jazz (Gordon Hayward), Houston Rockets (Chandler Parsons), Washington Wizards (Trevor Ariza) and Brooklyn Nets (Paul Pierce). And the Los Angeles Clippers are a contender determined to upgrade at small forward, via a sign-and-trade deal.
That’s almost half the league that’s looking for an upgrade at small forward or trying to keep their starter from last season. The Mavs consider only six small forwards to be Plan A or B options in this free-agency market.
Do the math, and it’s apparent that the Mavs will have to pay market value to sign one of those men.
Those Plan A and B lists are realistically down to three players. Hayward has been eliminated after agreeing to a max offer sheet (four years, $63 million) with the Hornets, a deal the Jazz reportedly plan to match. James is expected to choose between staying in Miami or heading home to Cleveland. Anthony will opt to re-sign with the Knicks or head west to the Lakers, with the Bulls a darkhorse in the Melo derby.
Parsons is a long shot because of the Rockets’ intention to match any offer he receives. That leaves Ariza and Luol Deng among the Mavs’ Plan B targets, and both should have several suitors once the LeBron/Melo dust clears.
Deng has been firm that he deserves a deal with a starting salary in the $12 million range. Ariza is looking for a starting salary of $9-11 million.
The Mavs, who have the luxury of Dirk Nowitzki taking a way-below-market deal, will have to decide whether to pay a premium price for a Plan B target or pay less for a Plan C option such as Pierce or Shawn Marion and use the savings to add depth to their roster. Or roll the dice with Lance Stephenson, although making an offer competitive to the five-year, $44 million deal the Pacers put on the table for him would be a total reversal of direction in the Dallas front office's thinking.
In this market, the Mavs can’t count on getting a late bargain with so many lily pads in the pond.