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Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Which Mavs player is most likely to leave?

By Jeff Caplan

Until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, NBA teams will be in roster limbo because they just don't know the parameters of what the next salary structure will look like.

That being said, teams must plan for the 2011-12 season as best they can. The Dallas Mavericks know they want to re-sign center Tyson Chandler. They'd love to bring back J.J. Barea. Heck, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said he wants to keep the entire 15-man championship crew.

On Monday, ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon provided a piece called Take 'em or Trash 'em, in which he followed Nelson's lead and opted to bring them all back. But, that's probably not reality. Financially, it's just not going to happen.

So, who is most likely to go?

Along with Chandler and Barea, four others will be free agents on July 1: DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojakovic. For this exercise, let's assume -- and by no means is it a guarantee -- that Chandler and Barea return next season.

At first glance, Stojakovic would top my list as most likely to move on. While he had no place in the NBA Finals, Stojakovic did have some nice playoff games against Portland and Los Angeles. If Dallas still finds value in his 3-point shot they could probably re-sign him for the veteran minimum. Even so, if the Mavs re-sign Butler, Shawn Marion likely moves back to the bench and there's still springy, 6-foot-9 small forward Corey Brewer signed for the next two seasons.

There's some interesting debate about Butler. Do the Mavs offer him more than one season? If not, does another team risk a guaranteed second year on a 31-year-old small forward coming off a major right knee injury? The best scenario for the Mavs would be a one-year contract around $5 million or $6 million. It would allow them to re-sign the rugged veteran who inspired the team during his relentless rehab, and allow Butler to stay with the club he's fully embraced, prove his value and hit the open market in a year.

Brian Cardinal is another veteran minimum-type that would likely love to stay in Dallas. He became fast friends with Dirk Nowitzki -- which can only help his chances of staying -- and coach Rick Carlisle loves the guy's work ethic, readiness and physical brand of ball.

That leaves the heavily tattooed, defensive-minded, motor-mouth Stevenson. He made $4.15 million last season and he shouldn't expect to sniff that kind of money in an offer from the Mavs. The first issue is where does he fit? Dallas will look forward to having a healthy Rodrigue Beaubois. Jason Terry will be back, we've stated Barea will be back and Dallas has to look at developing youngster Dominique Jones.

Stevenson might have completed the most unique season of any NBA player this year. He started it at the end of the bench, became the starting two-guard, returned to the end of the bench some 50 games later when Beaubois finally came back from injury and then returned as the starting shooting guard in the regular-season finale. Finally, he became a key reserve small forward in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals.

As 103.3 FM ESPN's Jeff "Skin" Wade pointed out in his "Inside Skinny," the Mavs are already on the hook for $60 million in 2011-12 salary -- more than the 2010-11 salary cap -- before a new CBA comes into play and before re-signing any of their six free-agents. It would figure the Mavs could not offer the 11-year vet much more than the minimum.

Stevenson proved to be a professional throughout the regular season and his defensive work spoke for itself during the playoffs, especially in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Add that he shot the 3-ball at nearly 40 percent throughout the playoffs and at 56.5 percent (13-of-23) in the Finals and Stevenson likely earned himself a more lucrative offer elsewhere.

Still, things can change, but if narrowing it down at this moment, figure Stevenson to be the most likely not to return for the title defense.