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Friday, May 21, 2010
How likely is LeBron-to-Dallas?

By Tim MacMahon

The Mavs are a long shot in the LeBron James sweepstakes, but I like their chances a lot more than I did last month.

That has nothing to do with Mark Cuban’s recent comments indicating his intention to recruit LeBron, which will likely result in the league slapping our billionaire buddy with a fine.

When the playoffs started, I expected King James’ Cavs to win the title. They didn’t get out of the second round, significantly increasing the odds that he’ll opt to leave Cleveland.

The Nets have long been speculated as one of the most likely teams to land LeBron. You have to think New Jersey’s chances took a hit during the lottery, when they missed out on the first and second picks. The Nets aren’t nearly as attractive without John Wall or Evan Turner as a long-term running mate.

You can make the case – and Cuban certainly will – that the Mavs represented LeBron’s best chance to win a ring right away. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd are a couple of future Hall of Famers who would willingly let LeBron take the lead and have games well suited to play with him.

ESPN.com stat geek John Hollinger crunched the numbers and determined that only Chris Bosh would be a better fit than Dirk among the stars who could potentially be paired with LeBron. How do you defend a LeBron-Dirk pick-and-pop? While it’s possible that Bosh and LeBron could decide to play together for the Knicks, they wouldn’t have a point guard like Kidd to make their offensive lives easier.

Kidd has flaws at his advanced age, but he excels at two things that mesh well with LeBron’s phenomenal skills and athleticism. Kidd can get LeBron easy transition buckets in bunches. And Kidd can consistently knock down weakside 3-pointers to make opponents pay for doubling LeBron.

Yet many national media members refuse to even consider the Mavs as a possibility. After all, they have no cap space.

“Despite Mark Cuban's open courting of LeBron, we purposely omitted sign-and-trade possibilities, because for the Cavaliers that's either the ultimate last resort or no option at all,” ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard writes before ranking LeBron’s five most likely landing spots. “In the unlikely event the Cavs open themselves up to a sign-and-trade, then Dallas, Houston and perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers could enter the discussion. But the Cavs know there would be no way to bring back equal value in a sign-and-trade, and they'd kill their future cap flexibility in the process.”

No doubt that Dallas can’t offer equal basketball value for LeBron, but Cuban can offer a package that improves the Cavs’ finances and future cap flexibility.

The key, of course, is Erick Dampier’s contract. The Cavs would never have to pay a cent of the big man’s nonguaranteed $13 million salary if he’s included in a sign-and-trade deal, assuming they cut Dampier. Package that with Roddy Beaubois and his rookie deal, some Cuban cash and a couple of future draft picks and the Cavs could actually make money on the deal.

The Cavs could really free up some cap space if they decide to go into total rebuilding mode and insist on the Mavs taking another big contract off their hands. For example, with LeBron gone, would Cleveland really to pay Antawn Jamison more than $28 million the next two seasons? The Mavs have the expiring contracts (Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea) to expand the sign-and-trade package to provide the Cavs that sort of salary relief.

Not that Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert would be excited about such an offer, but it’d be a heck of a lot better than letting LeBron stay in the Eastern Conference and getting nothing in return. Make no mistake, the only way the Mavs can pull this off is if LeBron presents a Dallas-or-Chicago/New York/New Jersey/Miami ultimatum.

The tough part is convincing King James that his best option is to come to Dallas. Cuban would have no problem putting together a package to make losing a legend-in-the-making as painless as possible for the poor Cavs.