Dallas Mavericks: Thomas Robinson

How can Houston afford Dwight Howard?

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
4:34
PM CT
It’s been widely reported that the Houston Rockets are a team that intrigues Dwight Howard. The Rockets might even rank ahead of the Bird-rights-owning Los Angeles Lakers as the Mavericks’ primary competitors for the perennial All-Star big man.

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Here’s one problem for Houston: The Rockets would have to do some significant payroll slashing to be positioned to offer Howard a max contract.

Howard’s max salary next season would be $20,513,178. The salary cap is expected to be set between $58.5 million and $60 million. The Rockets have $48,571,158 worth of contracts on the books, assuming they decline Francisco Garcia’s $6.4 million team option.

It doesn’t take an MBA from MIT -- which Rockets general manager Daryl Morey happens to have -- to figure out that the math doesn’t add up for Houston and Howard.

Morey made sure the Rockets had some built-in wiggle room with seven nonguaranteed deals on the roster, although that list includes six-figure bargains Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith that are inexpensive, integral parts of James Harden’s supporting cast. Houston might have to sacrifice one of their major additions from last summer to make room for Howard.

That could mean trading point guard Jeremy Lin or center Omer Asik to a team with cap space for no immediate return. That is a nice way to say dumping an $8,374,646 million salary, the amount both Lin and Asik are due in the second season of their identical three-year, $25.12 million contracts.

Such a salary dump would put the Rockets close to being able to afford Howard, but they’d still have some work to do.

They could waive sixth man Carlos Delfino ($3 million) and/or reserve point guard Aaron Brooks ($2.5 million), both of whom have June 30 deadlines before their salaries become guaranteed, meaning a decision would have to be made before the Rockets are allowed to meet with Howard. The nonguaranteed salaries of young projects Tim Ohlbrecht ($788,872) and James Anderson ($916,099) could also create the necessary space depending on where the cap falls, although the Rockets would pick up a cap hold of $490,180 in the process if they cut both because their roster would dip under 12 players. A salary-dump deal that would send 2012 No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson ($3.53 million) to his third team is another alternative.

A much less attractive option than finding an under-the-cap trade partner to take on the contract of Lin or Asik: Waiving one of them and using the stretch provision.

In that case, the Rockets would still have to pay the $16.75 million remaining on the contract, but they would be allowed to spread the cap hit over five years (twice the length remaining on the contract plus one year). So Houston would create a little more than $5 million in cap space with such a move – and then have to get rid of nonguaranteed salary and/or make salary-dump deals to ship off young talent (Robinson, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas).

The Mavs would also have to do some maneuvering to give Howard a max contract, but not nearly as much as the Rockets.

The Rockets can free up enough money for Howard, but it would require slicing into the supporting cast of a playoff team -- and perhaps paying a $16.75 million tax in addition to his max deal.
DALLAS – The last time the Mavericks endured a losing season, there was a lot of legitimate, tangible reason for hope.

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Michael Finley was an established, young franchise cornerstone. Steve Nash turned a corner in his career midway through that season, when he was 25 years old. And a 21-year-old finesse 7-footer named Dirk Nowitzki had begun blossoming into a star.

Those 1999-2000 Mavs finished the season with a 31-19 run, setting the foundation for the franchise’s dozen-year playoff run that will almost certainly end in six weeks.

Let’s be optimistic and assume these Mavs, who are seven games under .500 with a little more than a quarter of the season remaining, manage to end this frustrating season strong. Is there anything that can happen down the stretch that could benefit the Mavs in the future, much like their last losing season?

[+] EnlargeCollison
AP Photo/John RaouxDarren Collison has continually ceded crunch-time minutes and doesn't really seem like a long-term fit with the Mavs.
“That’s tough to see,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, we’ve got nine guys or whatever we’ve got on one-year deals, so the team might be completely different next year. We didn’t have that scenario (13) years ago. We obviously knew that Steve and Mike and myself were going to be the core for a lot of years, so we had that going for us, which this year is not the case.”

And that might be the most frustrating part of this miserable season. The Mavs aren’t experiencing growing pains that could pay off next season. They’re just passing time.

There was a ton of talk about potentially developing the backcourt of the future this season with 25-year-old rentals Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle continue to dangle that carrot, but it’s extremely hard to envision that being a reality.

If the Mavs see Collison as their point guard of the future, why did he lose his starting job to a point guard they recruited out of his rocking chair earlier this season? And, after Derek Fisher’s departure, why does Collison keep losing crunch-time minutes to a different graybeard point guard that was called up from the D-League?

The Mavs and Collison just don’t seem to be a long-term fit. As far as Mayo goes, that probably depends on the market this summer for the Mavs’ leading scorer whose decision-making and defense have repeatedly drawn Carlisle’s wrath.

The rest of the Mavs’ one-year men are a collection of complementary players, not building blocks, at this point of their careers. They’re essentially financial placeholders, and the vast majority (if not all) of them will be on another team’s payroll next season.

Any hope for a major Mavs rebound would arrive this summer, not be foreshadowed in the final 23 games.

“We went for a big fish last summer,” Nowitzki said. “We didn’t get him, so we decided to go that route with a lot of one-year deals, so the situation could be completely different next year. We’re going to make this push for the playoffs and see what happens this summer.”

The Mavs’ foe for this home-and-home series also looks forward to seeing what happens this summer. However, the Houston Rockets are somewhat reminiscent of the ’99-00 Mavs, albeit with a better record and a good shot at making the playoffs.

The Rockets have managed to put together a tremendous young nucleus while almost totally turning over their roster since last season. Chandler Parsons, the second-year second-round pick who scorched the Mavs for 32 points in Sunday’s rout, is the only player remaining from Houston’s roster last season.

Houston GM Daryl Morey has done a masterful job collecting assets, cashing in many of them to acquire a bona fide, 23-year-old superstar (James Harden) and surrounding him with a strong young supporting cast (center Omer Asik, 26; point guard Jeremy Lin, 24; small forward Parsons, 24; power forwards Donatas Motiejunas, 22; power forward Thomas Robinson, 21, combo guard Patrick Beverley, 24). And the Rockets have the cap space to recruit a co-star this summer.

The Rockets are several steps into their rebuilding plan.

The Mavs’ rebuilding plan begins again this summer.

Can Mavs climb out of Lone Star cellar?

March, 3, 2013
3/03/13
10:57
AM CT
HOUSTON -- If the Dallas Mavericks manage to sweep the home-and-home series with the Houston Rockets over the next four days, we can continue entertaining their slim hopes of making the playoffs.

The reality, however, is that Dallas’ 12-year postseason streak is on its deathbed.

Really, there shouldn’t be any shame to that. It was a remarkable run that featured 11 50-win seasons, two Finals appearances and one title. All great things must come to an end.

Granted, the San Antonio Spurs might be an exception to that. They’re about to win 50 games for the 14th consecutive season. The last time the Spurs failed to win at least 50, they celebrated the first of their four NBA titles, parading down the RiverWalk after Tim Duncan’s lockout-shortened sophomore season.

It’s been a hard fall for the Mavs over the past 21 months. They’ve gone from the NBA penthouse, popping a $90,000 champagne bottle in a Miami Beach club while celebrating the franchise’s first title, to the Lone Star State cellar.

And the Mavs have their work cut out for them if they’re going to catch the Rockets, much less the Spurs, anytime soon.

The Spurs' ability to sustain excellence is unparalleled in today’s NBA. That will be tested when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili call it a career, but it’d be foolish to doubt a franchise with the league’s best coach (Gregg Popovich) working with a brilliant front office.

The Rockets, who have won only one playoff series since two-time champion Hakeem Olajuwon left town, appear poised to soar again soon.

After three frustrating years of being better than .500 but not good enough to make the playoffs, Houston general manager Daryl Morey made a breakthrough move just before this season started. He acquired the bearded face of the franchise, James Harden, in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The 23-year-old Harden, who is averaging 26.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, has proved to be a legitimate superstar after getting out of the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s surrounded by a good, young supporting cast that is locked into reasonable contracts (26-year-old center Omer Asik and 24-year-old point guard Jeremy Lin) or rookie deals (small forward Chandler Parsons, power forward Donatas Motiejunas, power forward Thomas Robinson, etc.).

And the Rockets will have the cap space to be major players in free agency again this summer, when they can potentially acquire a co-star for Harden.

Of course, there are no guarantees for Houston, which will have to fight to stay in the playoff picture with the Los Angeles Lakers making a charge. There have been many young teams that looked great on paper that fizzled out, but Houston has an excellent plan and has already executed several steps.

The Mavs, on the other hand, have a plan that has been publicly questioned by its superstar, the lone player on the roster who is a sure bet to still be a Dallas resident in two years. As Dirk Nowitzki has said several times, this is a big summer for the Mavs.

Much work must be done for the Mavs to approach the high standard they established over the past dozen years.

This isn’t a franchise that will be satisfied to fight for eighth place in the West or settle for third place in the state of Texas.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9