Dallas Mavericks: Trevor Ariza

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey referred to Chandler Parsons’ three-year, $46 million deal as “one of the most untradeable” NBA contracts he’s ever seen.

Consider that a kind of twisted compliment to the Mavericks’ front office that signed the restricted free-agent small forward to the offer sheet the Rockets ultimately declined to match, allowing Parsons to leave for Dallas.

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The contract was designed to be as difficult as possible for Houston to match. That’s why it includes a 15-percent trade kicker and a player option for the third season. Had Parsons returned to Houston, which declined a team option to pay him $965,000 next season to make him available in restricted free agency, the Rockets also could not have traded him without his permission this season due to restricted free agency rules.

Houston would not have been able to bid on a star free agent next summer with center Dwight Howard, shooting guard James Harden and Parsons combining to count more than $53 million against the Rockets’ salary cap. Morey opted to replace Parsons with a less expensive option, signing small forward Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal, and maintain the Rockets’ flexibility in the future.

“The Mavericks are a smart organization,” Morey said on SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston. “They obviously wanted to get him. That structure of that [contract] is literally one of the most untradeable structures that I’ve ever seen. That’s why it came down to a bet of Harden, Howard and Parsons being the final piece, because we would have had no ability to do anything after that. And Harden, Howard, Parsons could have been good enough. I think Parsons is a tremendous player and is going to keep getting better.

“The question is, is it better with that core or is it better with Ariza plus the hundreds of moves that might be able to upgrade us in the other scenario. And there’s really no moving -- that core was going to be the core that we had to have, because if we ever wanted to move off and go after the other stars, if we ever wanted to go after a different core, it wasn’t going to be possible. A small-market team that might want a Chandler, he can opt out and leave, so they wouldn’t want him. A big-market team that’s planning for free agency, maybe for the elite free agents coming up in the future, he can opt in. There’s a trade bonus in there. Even if the cap is going to go up likely, we’re just guessing likely significantly in the future, his trade bonus makes his contract go up in lockstep with that.

“I’ve seen some speculation, OK, that we could just do this and just move on to something else if it didn’t work. The reality is that we couldn’t. This would have been our team. That would have been the team that we had and we had to be on bet on. We had to bet on that team or all the multitude of options we could have generated in the other scenario.”

Morey had publicly vowed to match any offer for Parsons before the Mavs called the Rockets' bluff, a big bet that paid off for Dallas.

Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson doesn't know if there's such a thing as an untradeable contract in the NBA, but he isn't trying to prove Morey wrong in this case.

"First of all, we're not looking to trade Chandler Parsons," Nelson said later Monday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. "Flat out, we want him to be here for a long, long time. In terms of the tradeability, e've had some pretty interesting contracts in the past and were able to get off of them, so I think there's no such thing as an untradeable contract. Clearly that's not the spirit of what we're doing. We're really excited and not looking to move Chandler Parsons at all."

Mavs' dice roll pays off with Parsons

July, 13, 2014
7/13/14
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The Dallas Mavericks’ front office can exhale now.

Its extremely risky roll of the dice did not come up snake eyes. Restricted free agent small forward Chandler Parsons is officially a member of the Mavericks after the Houston Rockets declined their right to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet to him.

[+] EnlargeChandler Parsons
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsThe Rockets had vowed to match any offer for Chandler Parsons, but fortunately for the Mavs changed their tune after missing out on All-Star power forward Chris Bosh.
At more than $15 million per year, the Mavs are overpaying for Parsons, but they are happy to do it, a luxury afforded by Dirk Nowitzki accepting a major hometown discount on his soon-to-be-official deal for three years in the neighborhood of $30 million. Other than proven superstars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the Dallas decision-makers considered Parsons to be by far the best option in this free-agency class to fill their need at small forward.

The Mavs bid high on Parsons, whose deal is just shy of a max contract, because they wanted to call Houston’s bluff as boldly as possible. The Rockets had vowed to match any offer for Parsons -- who would have been paid $965,000 next season if Houston didn’t decline the team option for the last year of his rookie deal -- but changed their plans after missing out on All-Star power forward Chris Bosh in free agency.

There was certainly some luck involved in the Dallas front office's success. The Mavs signed Parsons to the big offer sheet believing LeBron James would go to Cleveland, a domino that would cause Bosh to head to Houston. The Mavs' hope was that the Rockets would wince at paying the luxury tax, prompting them to let Parsons leave.

Well, that's not how it all turned out.

Dallas was right about the LeBron domino, but had the Rockets signed Bosh, they'd have kept Parsons as part of arguably the NBA's best starting five next season. Without Bosh, Houston general manager Daryl Morey apparently couldn't stomach the thought of sacrificing future cap flexibility to match the massive offer to the Rockets' third-best player.

So the Mavs' logic didn't end up being right, but they love the result.

Houston agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal with small forward Trevor Ariza on Saturday was a good sign for the Mavs, but they still expected to hold their breath up until the 10:59 CT Sunday deadline. Houston let the Mavs off the hook about six hours earlier, informing Parsons that he wouldn’t be returning to the Rockets.

By that point, Dallas didn’t have a fallback plan it wanted. Ariza, Luol Deng (Miami Heat) and Paul Pierce (Washington Wizards) all signed elsewhere over the previous 24 hours or so. With all due respect to Shawn Marion, the Mavs wanted to move on from the 36-year-old as their starting small forward. Signing Lance Stephenson would have been an act of desperation for a front office that considered him untouchable due to character concerns when free agency opened.

The Mavs don’t have to worry about any of that now.

They didn’t accomplish their long-standing goal of signing a big fish, but they have hope that the 6-foot-9, skilled, versatile Parsons can grow into a star after averaging 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his third NBA season. He’s a proven player with a lot of promise, giving the Mavs a foundation piece whose best basketball is to come.

For the Mavs, that makes Parsons well worth the price, especially after the rest of the board was picked clean.
The Dallas Mavericks might be in love with Lance Stephenson by Monday morning. Or maybe they'll rekindle the flame with Shawn Marion.

At that point, if the Houston Rockets exercise their right to prevent Chandler Parsons from leaving for Dallas, the Mavs could have that closing-time feel. When the favorite targets have left the dance floor, a sense of desperation kicks in and flaws are a lot easier to overlook.

The concerns about Stephenson's character caused the Mavs to consider him untouchable not too long ago. Now, he's at the top of their list of Parsons fallback targets, by process of elimination as much as anything.

The free-agent small forwards flew off the board Saturday. It started with Trevor Ariza signing a four-year, $32 million deal with the Rockets. Paul Pierce went to the Washington Wizards for $11 million over two years. And the Miami Heat are close to locking up Luol Deng to a two-year deal in the $20 million range.

If Deng does commit to Miami, that leaves Stephenson and Marion as the starting-quality small forwards left in free agency, in the eyes of the Mavs. Of course, the 6-foot-5 Stephenson is really a shooting guard whom the Mavs would shift to small forward out of necessity in the Mavs' starting lineup. And the Dallas decision-makers have done everything in their power to replace the 36-year-old Marion, with all due respect to a man who has arguably earned the right to have his No. 0 hang from the American Airlines Center rafters in the not-too-distant future.

If denied Parsons, the Mavs probably will swallow hard and try to sign Stephenson, who has a five-year, $44 million offer on the table to return to the Indiana Pacers.

They'd be betting on the upside of a talented if erratic 23-year-old who joined Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Nicolas Batum as the league's only players to average at least 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists last season. The Mavs might try to minimize the risk by offering a higher salary on a short-term deal.

An offer for Marion, who has said he hopes to play two more seasons before retiring in the Dallas area, would obviously be short term. It probably would be in the range of $5 million per year, leaving the Mavs plenty of wiggle room under the salary cap, not that there are many appealing options left at any positions in the market.

Cuban talks LeBron, free-agent options

July, 12, 2014
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LAS VEGAS -- LeBron James' decision to go back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers sent shock waves around the league. The city of Cleveland is certainly happy. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he thought James' decision was a positive one.

"I think it's great for the league," Cuban said as he was watching the Mavs' summer league team play. "As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh, it's great to see the old-school cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, we're usually the brunt of the jokes and people talk about leaving.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James' decision to return home to Cleveland resonated with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who is from Pittsburgh.
"It's always good when I go back to Pittsburgh and it's just that type city. It's a Pittsburgh city and Cleveland is very similar. It's great for the area and the city."

James took a massive public-relations hit in 2010 for his one-hour televised special announcing he would join the Miami Heat. Cuban says he believes that time has done wonders for James and his approach to his latest decision.

"It's obvious that LeBron has grown up quite a bit since 'The Decision,'" Cuban said. "How he handled it, his words, his approach were night and day. I think he deserves a lot of respect."

Here are other highlights from Cuban's chat:

Still in doubt
The clock continues to tick as the Houston Rockets have to decide if they're going to match the Mavs' offer for restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. The Rockets have until 10:59 p.m. CT Sunday to decide whether to exercise their right to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet Parsons signed with the Mavs.

"No," Cuban replied when asked if he had any inkling what Houston would do. "It's just a waiting game. I know what I would do. I don't expect them to do anything different."

Cuban wouldn't divulge what he would do in the situation.

(Read full post)

The Houston Rockets have a sound replacement plan if they decide not to match the Mavericks’ big bid for Chandler Parsons.

That doesn’t necessarily pave Parsons’ road to Dallas, however. It just guarantees that perhaps the Mavs' preferred fallback target is gone with the Rockets signing Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal.

Sources close to the situation tell ESPN’s Marc Stein that the Rockets are still weighing whether to exercise their right to match Parsons’ three-year, $46 million offer sheet from the Mavs. The Dallas front office definitely does not expect its Interstate 45 rivals to do it the favor of tipping their hand until the 10:59 p.m. Sunday deadline.

If the Rockets let Parsons leave, they can plug Ariza into their starting lineup and pocket as much as $7 million in cap space for next season, depending on how Houston fills out its thin bench. A sum that large could be the difference in being bidders in the potential Kevin Love sweepstakes, if the All-Star power forward doesn’t get traded to a destination he likes first.

Houston’s breathless pursuit of Chris Bosh illustrated how much general manager Daryl Morey values a stretch 4, a perfect complement to max-salary stars Dwight Howard and James Harden. Love, who rebounds like Moses Malone and shoots like Dirk Nowitzki, is the best stretch 4 in the business at the moment.

All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is another 2015 free agent who could be worth Houston's saving up to sign him to a max deal next summer.

If the Rockets hang on to Parsons, he could theoretically form a small-ball forward tandem with Ariza, although neither player is built to bang with physical power forwards. Houston also has a pair of power forwards on rookie deals -- returning starter Terrence Jones and rotation player Donatas Motiejunas -- on the roster.

It’s up to the Rockets to decide whether clogging their cap with Parsons is worth it. All the Mavs can do is wait until the last minute of Sunday night to find out whether they must pluck through market’s the leftovers at small forward.

Cuban: Stephenson 'certainly on the list'

July, 12, 2014
7/12/14
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Add Lance Stephenson to the list of the Mavericks’ targets if the Houston Rockets exercise their right to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet to Chandler Parsons.

Stephenson, who was considered toxic by the Mavs due to his character issues a couple of months ago, is somewhere on the top tier with Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng, a source told ESPNDallas.com. There is not a consensus opinion among the Dallas decision-makers about the rankings of those three unrestricted free agents.

"We're exploring a lot of options, a lot of different people," Cuban told reporters at the Las Vegas summer league later Saturday, after Ariza agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with the Rockets. "Hopefully, the Rockets won't match and we'll have Chandler and that changes what we're able to do but Lance is certainly on the list."

The 23-year-old Stephenson, who has balked at the Indiana Pacers' attempt to re-sign him to a five-year, $44 million deal, unquestionably has the highest upside of the Mavs’ options if Parsons returns to the Rockets. He averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists for the 56-win Pacers last season.

However, there are significant concerns about how Stephenson’s antics would affect the Mavs’ chemistry. His immaturity and tendency to rub his teammates the wrong way was cited as one of the factors for the Pacers’ slide in the second half of the season.

There are several examples of players who were considered character risks when the Mavs acquired them flourishing in Dallas. There are also cases such as Josh Howard and Lamar Odom, where character issues led to painful endings.

It's a matter of how much the Mavs are willing to pay to roll the dice on fire and ice.

At 6-foot-5, Stephenson played primarily shooting guard in Indiana but would start at small forward in Dallas.

It would not be ideal to pair 6-foot-3 Monta Ellis and Stephenson on the wings, making the Mavs a little undersized at both spots. But the rugged, 230-pound Stephenson is an upgrade over Shawn Marion as a rebounder – and Marion led the Mavs in rebounding the last three seasons. The Mavs also believe the presence of Tyson Chandler would minimize the defensive issues of being so short on the wings.

The Mavs also continue to be in contact with the agents of Paul Pierce and Marion, but they are on a tier below Ariza, Deng and now Stephenson.
Luol Deng, Shawn Marion, Trevor Ariza Getty ImagesLuol Deng, Shawn Marion and Trevor Ariza could be among the Mavs' options at small forward.
The Dallas Mavericks, well-aware of the Houston Rockets’ ambitious plan to match the Mavs' offer to Chandler Parsons and hopefully sign Chris Bosh, must make exploring alternative scenarios at small forward their priority.

The Mavs will be handcuffed until the Rockets officially match the offer, which could happen as late as 10:59 p.m. CT Sunday.

There is still a possibility that Houston can’t execute its plan and Parsons ends up in Dallas, but the Mavs are moving on. Actually, they never stopped their conversations with the agents of other small forwards on their short list.

Of course, those agents are talking to several teams around the league. There’s no guarantee that these guys will be available when the Mavs can get back to doing business.

A look at those players:

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If the Rockets match the Mavs' offer to Chandler Parsons, who will be the best option for Dallas at small forward?

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Luol Deng

What he wants: A multiyear deal with a starting salary of at least $12 million

Pros: The 6-foot-8 Deng is an elite defender capable of guarding multiple positions and a versatile scorer who has averaged 16 points per game in his career. He’s also considered to have outstanding character and would be a great fit for the Mavs’ culture. Coach Rick Carlisle raved about Deng’s toughness when he came to town with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.

Cons: There are significant concerns about the 29-year-old Deng’s durability after years of being a workhorse for the Chicago Bulls, particularly after he missed 19 games last season, primarily due to a sore Achilles tendon. The fear is that Deng’s decline has begun prematurely, although he’d likely benefit from the supervision of the Mavs’ outstanding medical staff. He’s also a subpar 3-point shooter (32.9 percent for his career), an issue for the Mavs with a backcourt that lacks perimeter shooters.

Trevor Ariza

What he wants: A multiyear deal with a starting salary of $9-11 million

Pros: His strengths suit the Mavs well. Ariza is a very good defender and shoots the 3 well (40.7 percent last season), especially from the corners. He has championship experience as a role player with the 2009 Lakers, and his leadership was a critical element of the Washington Wizards winning just their second playoff series in three decades.

Cons: Ariza’s price tag is based on his production (14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG) as a 28-year-old in a career year/contract year. That’s a massive commitment to make to a journeyman who has career averages of 9.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting only 43.4 percent from the floor.

(Read full post)

What will Mavs do if Rockets match?

July, 10, 2014
7/10/14
4:01
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DALLAS – What would the Dallas Mavericks do if the Houston Rockets exercise their right to match the three-year, $45-plus-million offer to Chandler Parsons?

The short answer: Keep searching for a starting small forward.

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“I tell you, we’ve got a lot of greaseboards in that office up there with lots of different scenarios,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “I can’t tell you which scenario is going pan out, but one of them is going to pan out. We will have a small forward with the Mavericks next year. Guaranteed.”

The Mavs will stay in contact with the agents of Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng, the two unrestricted free agents on Dallas’ Plan B tier of small forwards. They’ll also keep in touch with the representatives of Plan C small forwards Paul Pierce and Shawn Marion. Same with Lance Stephenson and so on.

Of course, the agents for those players will actively pursue deals with other teams during the three-day timetable the Rockets have to make their decision on Parsons. There are several teams in the market for small forwards, so there is a chance the market could be picked pretty thin by Sunday night.

Maybe the Mavs, with no leverage, are left to look through the leftovers Monday. The Dallas decision-makers will hope for the best with the Parsons situation and do everything possible to prepare to avoid the worst if that doesn't work out.

“We have some pretty good ones in the mix now, too,” Nelson said. “Our worst-case scenario is give young Jae Crowder an opportunity.”

Mavs go all-in on Chandler Parsons

July, 9, 2014
7/09/14
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The Dallas Mavericks have called the Houston Rockets’ bluff.

The Mavs are rolling the dice by agreeing to terms with Rockets restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet for three years in excess of $45 million, as first reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Dallas reached the agreement with Parsons, who averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists last season, without knowing whether the Rockets would follow through on their vow to exercise their right to match any offer for the skilled small forward just entering his prime. The Rockets will have three days to make that decision after Parsons officially signs his offer Thursday.

The Mavs’ hope is that the timing of Houston’s pursuit of Chris Bosh, as well as the size of the offer sheet, causes the Rockets to reconsider their plan to keep Parsons at any cost. Letting Parsons leave would actually make it easier to get Bosh, at least as far as salary cap math goes, because it’d remove his $2.9 million cap hold.

According to a source close to the process, Dallas made the offer to Parsons with the belief that LeBron James would head back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading Bosh to see Houston as his most attractive option. The Rockets have offered Bosh a max contract worth $88 million over four seasons, but Houston has some significant cost-cutting work to do to have that much room under the cap.

The best-case scenario for the Mavs is that they’ll acquire a talented 25-year-old whose game will blossom playing with Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler. Parsons, a tremendous steal for the Rockets as a second-round pick, has steadily increased his scoring, rebounding and assist totals in each of his three seasons in the league. His ability to knock down 3-pointers and create off the dribble makes him a phenomenal fit for coach Rick Carlisle’s flow offense.

The worst-case scenario? After a three-day wait, the Rockets match the offer and Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng reach agreements with other teams. In that scenario, the Mavs would have to scramble to fill a hole in their starting lineup with the top two tiers of small forwards off the board.

It’s a risk the Mavs are willing to take, going all-in with a massive offer to Parsons.

Players have leverage in SF market

July, 9, 2014
7/09/14
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Chandler ParsonsBill Baptist/NBAE/Getty ImagesChandler Parsons is a long shot because of the Rockets' intention to match any offer he receives.
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.

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Who is the most realistic option for the Mavs at small forward?

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Case in point: Monta Ellis, who settled for a lot less than his initial asking price last summer when the Dallas Mavericks were the lone lily pad left in the pond.

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.

(Read full post)

Ariza most likely among Plan B targets

July, 7, 2014
7/07/14
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Trevor ArizaBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Ariza, 29, is asking for a four-year contract with a starting salary in in the $9-11 million range.
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?

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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.

(Read full post)

Mavs soften stance on Lance Stephenson

July, 7, 2014
7/07/14
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Lance Stephenson is no longer an untouchably toxic topic for the Mavericks’ front office.

Stephenson, the talented Indiana Pacers free-agent swingman with some significant character red flags, is by no means near the top of the Mavs’ board. However, the Mavs have registered mild interest in Stephenson recently, as ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported.

“He definitely needs to be on the list,” a team source told ESPNDallas.com. “You’ve got to look at all those guys. They’ve all got warts or they’d get max contracts.”

Make no mistake: the Mavs will not outbid the Pacers, who have offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal that he considers far too low. Dallas does not intend to come close to that offer but could negotiate with Stephenson if the Pacers move on from him. For him to sign with the Mavs, a source said, the contract couldn’t be too cumbersome for the team to move on if it deemed necessary.

But if Stephenson tumbles through the cracks of free agency, like Monta Ellis last summer, Dallas is a potential destination for him if the Mavs miss out on the superstars and Plan B targets such as Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng.

The Mavs are operating under the assumption that they won’t land Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. Parsons is a long shot because of the Houston Rockets’ right to match any offer for the restricted free agent. There is an anticipation that Deng will sign with the Atlanta Hawks, making Ariza perhaps the Mavs’ most likely Plan B target.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Stephenson, who averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists while leading the league in triple-doubles as a 23-year-old last season, is far from a perfect fit for the Mavs. There are legitimate basketball issues, such as his tendency to over-dribble and the fact that he’d be undersized as a starting small forward. But his potential negative impact on the team’s culture is the primary reason the Mavs had been so cool on Stephenson, who repeatedly rubbed his Indiana teammates the wrong way long before his controversial antics drew so much attention during the playoffs.

A week into free agency, the Mavs have at least become lukewarm on Stephenson. It’s still a long shot, but that’s a long way from the Mavs’ first stance against adding Stephenson entering the summer.


Once upon a time, the Dallas Mavericks were heavily criticized for passing on polished Kansas prospect Paul Pierce to draft some goofy German kid who wasn’t ready for the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki turned out to be a decent player, to say the least. So did Pierce. They are both destined to spend eternity in Springfield, Massachusetts, the site of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Nowitzki and Pierce believe they still have some good basketball left in those legs that have logged 16 NBA seasons. Ages after they went back to back in the 1998 draft -- the ninth and 10th picks, after forgettable players such as Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz and Robert “Tractor” Traylor went off the board -- there’s a possibility that Pierce and Nowitzki could play together.

[+] EnlargeDirk/Pierce
AP Photo/LM OteroPairing Paul Pierce with Dirk Nowitzki might make sense for the Mavericks.
A case can be made that signing “The Truth” to a short-term deal is the best realistic scenario for the Mavs to upgrade at small forward.

That’s assuming the Mavs can’t pull off the miracle of signing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. And that the Houston Rockets will exercise their right to match any offer made to Chandler Parsons, as the Utah Jazz will with Gordon Hayward.

That would leave Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza among the Mavs’ Plan B targets, and they are looking for long-term deals with eight-figure salaries.

Would the Mavs be better off paying a steep price to one of those players for four seasons or making a lesser commitment to Pierce in salary and years?

Pierce, who turns 37 in October, can still play. He isn’t going to add to his 10 All-Star appearances, but he was a productive member of a playoff team last season, averaging 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28 minutes per game for the Brooklyn Nets. He still has the offensive skills to flourish in Rick Carlisle’s flow system next to 7-foot shooter extraordinaire Nowitzki and dynamic driver Monta Ellis.

If the Los Angeles Clippers and Nets can work out a sign-and-trade agreement, Pierce would love to be reunited with Doc Rivers on a contender in Lob City, but those talks have reportedly bogged down. The Mavs, who tried to trade for Pierce a couple of years ago, should be an attractive option to Pierce if his ideal scenario of going to L.A. doesn’t pan out.

After all, the Mavs have a glaring need at small forward and a great recent track record with aging former All-Stars such as Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, in part due to their outstanding medical team and Mark Cuban’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of sports science.

The price for Pierce, which figures to be north of the midlevel exception but significantly south of what Ariza and Deng are asking for, would likely leave the Mavs enough room to re-sign Carter as the sixth man and fill out the rotation with a backcourt shooter (Mo Williams or D.J. Augustin?) plus a backup power forward (Jason Smith?) or big-man banger (DeJuan Blair or Emeka Okafor?).

The years of a deal might be as much of a sticking point as the salary in negotiations with Pierce.

Maybe the Mavs could give him a partial guarantee for a second year. Perhaps there could be performance-related triggers that turn it into a player option. The front office could work out those kinds of things with agent Jeff Schwartz, whose long-standing, strong working relationship with the Mavs’ management most recently includes Devin Harris’ new deal.

Pierce makes sense for the Mavs if signing him instead of a Plan B target would allow Dallas to have more depth next season. He makes sense for the Mavs if they value future financial flexibility and fear overpaying for Deng or Ariza.

It also would make a great story, pairing Pierce with Nowitzki years after the daily comparisons between the two.

No harm in Mavs' holding pattern

July, 5, 2014
7/05/14
11:07
AM CT
Why don’t the Mavericks just move on?

That’s a question I’m getting in various forms a lot on Twitter. The logic is that the Mavs are such long shots to land LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony that they might as well shift their attention to other targets, making sure they don’t end up empty-handed after the first wave of free agency.

There are two good reasons that patience is the right path for the Mavs right now.

First, no matter how slim the chance is, it’d make no sense for the Mavs to walk away from talks with an in-his-prime superstar without being told no. The potential reward, particularly with James, is simply too high. The reality is that the Mavs are a star away from being a legitimate title contender, so they should run out every ground ball when the rare opportunities arise to try to get one of those guys.

Second, the market for small forwards is frozen until Anthony and James make their decisions anyway. For that matter, most of the role players on the Mavs’ radar are in a holding pattern, too.

Unless they’re blown away by an offer, it’d be bad business for Luol Deng or Trevor Ariza to agree to a deal before the big fish choose their ponds. The Mavs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are all in the same boat -- looking to upgrade at small forward and holding out hope for one of the superstars. If you’re a second-tier small forward in free agency, why get a deal done now when the market could be much bigger in a few days?

A common suggestion: Hurry up and sign restricted free agent Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet while the Houston Rockets are filled with Melo hopes? Here’s the problem with that: No offer sheet can become official until July 10 anyway. Unless Anthony drags his decision out a lot longer than anticipated, the Rockets won’t be rushed in deciding whether to exercise their right to match an offer to Parsons.

Parsons is still in play for the Mavs, but he’s a long shot because of the Rockets’ stated intention to keep him. Ariza and Deng are still possibilities.

None of that is likely to change by the time the superstar suspense stops.

Should Mavs make Thomas a priority?

July, 3, 2014
7/03/14
11:34
AM CT
The Mavericks’ primary focus in free agency has been finding a younger, higher-scoring small forward. Should that change in the likely event that Carmelo Anthony doesn’t choose the Mavs?

Here’s a suggestion: Bump point guard Isaiah Thomas to the top of the priority list.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Thomas
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesIsaiah Thomas could be an affordable option for the Mavericks.
Thomas is a restricted free agent, but the Sacramento Kings appear to be ready to move on after reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $16 million with Darren Collison. The Mavs put out feelers to Thomas on the opening night of free agency, but their plan all along has been to address point guard by re-signing Devin Harris.

But Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists last season, might be the most impactful player within the Mavs’ reach in free agency.

The odds of getting Chandler Parsons or Gordon Hayward are extremely slim due to their status as restricted free agents and their teams’ intention to match any offers. Maybe that changes with Parsons if Anthony heads to Houston, but it’s still a slim possibility.

If Washington succeeds in its goal to keep Trevor Ariza, that’d likely leave Luol Deng as the Mavs’ lone available Plan B small forward target. Deng is a high-character guy, great defender and career 16-point-per-game scorer, but he’s far from a perfect fit for the Mavs due to his durability issues and lack of perimeter touch.

The tiny Thomas, listed at 5-foot-9, isn’t a perfect fit, either. (Coach Rick Carlisle raved about Thomas’ big, uh, courage when the Kings were in town this season.) That’d be an awfully small backcourt, pairing him with Monta Ellis. But, man, it’d be explosive with two dynamic off-the-dribble creators.

Thomas will also likely be paid less than Deng, who wants his salary to stay in the eight digits and is likely to get his wish, as his suitors with cap space include the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers.

Pure speculation here, but let’s say Thomas can be signed for a deal that has a starting salary in the $8-9 million range. In that scenario, the Mavs could probably re-sign Shawn Marion to start at small forward and Vince Carter as the sixth man.

Pay premium for Deng and the Mavs probably have to pick between Harris and Carter with their cap leftovers.

The Mavs might not agree, but I’d rather bet on the little guy, especially if his salary is smaller.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
19.1 4.2 1.9 33.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.4
AssistsR. Rondo 6.3
StealsM. Ellis 1.9
BlocksT. Chandler 1.2