Mavs pick up pieces, stick to plan
In wake of whiffing on D-Will, Dallas rebuilds while maintaining financial flexibility
When the Dallas Mavericks introduced their trio of rookies Tuesday at the American Airlines Center, the gathering didn't feel as much a welcoming party as it did a funeral.
With the previous week's free-agency damage still smoldering and no clear direction of where and when the recovery would finally begin, coach Rick Carlisle, emotional over the losses of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, drove home one clear point about his bosses in the front office.
"With these guys' track record," Carlisle said of owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, "I think anything's possible."
On Wednesday, Cuban and company reminded the masses that the team's silence over the past 10 days didn't mean they were dead. They rebounded with a flurry of activity, their first foray of the free-agency period.
It wasn't Dwight Howard by any stretch, but the day's maneuverings were creative and met with approving nods. Center Chris Kaman, a Dirk Nowitzki pal and teammate on Team Germany in 2008 and easily the most gifted low-post presence the Mavs have had in recent times, will sign up on a cap-friendly, one-year deal for $8 million.
Soon after came plans to drop the amnesty hammer on underachieving big man Brendan Haywood, a move Dallas has not yet officially exercised. The impending move positions Dallas to make an aggressive bid for amnestied Philadelphia 76ers power forward Elton Brand, who is owed $18.2 million on the final year of his contract. The Mavs fully expect to win the amnesty bidding process and acquire Brand, a league source said.
A team's winning bid is the amount it will owe of the player's overall salary. The player's original team is responsible for the balance. A Mavs bid could stretch north of $5 million.
"[The Mavs] are going to save Philly a lot of money," the source said.
Then came a surprising sign-and-trade that delivered Dallas it's new starting point guard. No, not Deron Williams, but Darren Collison, an exciting, fearless and team-focused 24-year-old selected four spots ahead of Rodrigue Beaubois in the 2009 draft.
To get the speedy, 6-foot Collison -- which puts negotiations with Ramon Sessions and any other guards such as Raymond Felton on the backburner -- the Mavs sent backup center Ian Mahinmi, a free agent already bound for a new home, to the Indiana Pacers in a sign-and-trade that also netted Dallas 6-6 defensive-oriented shooting guard Dahntay Jones.
If the Mavs are successful with their amnesty bid, they will in essence have flipped Haywood and Mahinmi for former Clippers teammates Kaman and Brand, two players who have combined for three All-Star appearances.
"That's a good get," a league source said of Kaman and Brand. "A front line of Dirk, Kaman and Brand, you can do something with that."
All the moves keep Dallas' cap-space priority on course -- or as Nelson prefers, keeps the powder dry -- for next summer's second chase at a star. Collison is due $2.3 million in 2012-13 on the final year of his rookie deal. He will become a restricted free agent next summer and is a valuable trade asset in the meantime. Jones, 31, is owed $2.9 million on the final year of his deal.
Start planning the parade route in downtown Dallas? Not exactly. Although, compared to nine days ago when Williams rejected the Mavs and a week ago when Kidd kicked dirt into an open wound, and compared to just two days ago at the rookie introductions, the Mavs have dusted themselves off and gotten back in the game.
If it wins the bidding for Brand, Dallas will have 10 players under contract plus the three draft picks. The impending amnesty of Haywood means the Mavs will get under the salary cap (a mandatory step to bid on Brand), forcing a forfeiture of their trade exceptions and annual exceptions.
Dallas will have its $2.5 million "room" exception that could be spent on re-signing Delonte West if he is agreeable or unable to find a better deal. Dallas can then sign multiple players on minimum contracts to fill out the 15-man roster.
Wednesday's acquisitions seemingly continued the Mavs' theme communicated on draft night of bringing in high-character, blue-collar-type workers with Collison, Jones, Kaman and possibly Brand to surround Nowitzki as he heads into the third year of his four-year deal at age 34.
The current roster doesn't stack up to the West champion Oklahoma City Thunder, the wildly intriguing Los Angeles Lakers with Steve Nash, Chris Paul's Los Angeles Clippers or the San Antonio Spurs. The Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves might also have superior clubs, and arguments can be made for others.
At least now the Mavs are off the mat. As reality sets in that Dallas will construct teams on a year-to-year basis while waiting on a foundation-setting superstar who might not ever come, at least the newest roster edition now has legs as a blend of veterans and youth that should be interesting to watch and will play hard every night.
And come next July, Cuban and company will be ready to pounce on a willing superstar.
Debate the merits of the plan, but the strategy was set last December and the Mavs plan to stubbornly stick with it -- for better or worse.