The Dallas Mavericks’ offseason may have reached a short team pattern. With Damian Lillard’s trade request hanging over the league and because offer sheets for restricted free agents can’t be presented until July 6, Dallas’ summer — certainly not yet seen as complete or satisfactory by those in the front office — could linger into this extended holiday weekend .
The Mavericks’ expectation this summer was to bring in a wing defender while trading for a starting center, even a stopper. After re-signing Kyrie Irving and Dwight Powell while signing Seth Curry and Dante Exum, the team has 11 players who will be on next season’s roster: these four, Luka Dončić, Reggie Bullock, Maxi Kleber, Josh Green, Jaden Hardy and the team’s two draft picks (Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper).
There are three more players under contract — Tim Hardaway Jr., JaVale McGee and Richaun Holmes — that Dallas is trying to trade. Holmes is the most likely of the three to stick around, while Hardaway and McGee can’t be on Dallas’ roster if the front office wants to end its offseason the way it envisioned.
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Irving’s contract, a three-year, $126 million deal that had become inevitable, has been criticized because Irving “didn’t have a market.” But he did.
Yes, most NBA teams opted against pursuing Irving this summer, but that was because Dallas literally created a “hire Irving” market by trading valuable assets for him last February. There was an implied understanding of the contract he would receive from Dallas, a number that matched his value on the field. The fact that no other team presented him with an official offer just means they understood it was pointless if the offer wasn’t for more than what Dallas eventually paid.
Dallas’ decision has also been explained as a byproduct of the team not wanting to make Irving feel disrespected. Yeah, sort of? The team traded for him with this contract — if not a bigger one — ready to be offered. Signing Irving significantly below the max, which greatly aids the team’s offseason flexibility, was an indisputable win after this team committed to a long-term future with him.
Irving will make about $126 million over the course of the contract, but the exact terms of the deal have not been reported because they are likely not finalized. Irving could receive eight percent raises, the most allowed, between his three years, but Dallas will likely sign him to a more front-loaded contract if its cap sheet allows. (It won’t be a descending-scale contract, to be clear, but it could have year-over-year raises of less than eight percent with more money presented immediately.) The team won’t know if that’s possible , before every other move is completed.
The same goes for Seth Curry, who signed for the monetary price of the semi-annual exception. Dallas can use that mechanism to sign him if necessary, but he could end up within the team’s mid-level exception — keeping the semi-annual open for next season — depending on the team’s remaining moves.
For example, a potentially ideal conclusion to the Mavericks’ summer could involve a sign-and-trade for Boston Celtics restricted free agent forward Grant Williams and a salary dump involving Hardaway and McGee. Curry could then be signed through the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, with the rest of that ($7.9 million) then used in an offer sheet for Portland restricted free agent Matisse Thybulle. It’s all theoretically possible, and Dallas’ interest in Williams was first reported by Athletics in June, remains strong.
But it’s a lot to work through, it could take time, and it could prevent Dallas from acquiring another entry-level center. It would be less complicated to sign Williams to an offer sheet outright using the full midlevel exception, thus using the semi-annual exception on Curry. But the Celtics are encouraged to at least suggest they would match the offer and keep Williams, throwing off Dallas’ plans. Maybe the Celtics would actually do it! That would put Boston above the new CBA’s second apron, but Williams could be traded around the deadline before the harshest penalties associated with that kick next summer. Either way, Boston threatening to match a full mid-level exception offer puts Dallas in a situation where the team must either call Boston’s bluff or work with them to give something to ensure Williams comes to Dallas — even if just is the exception for traded players who would come from a sign-and-trade.
Likewise, Williams’ camp wants a bigger contract than the full mid-level exception. (Who wouldn’t?) If they want to go to Dallas, they’re incentivized to push for a sign-and-trade as well, adding the necessity of a third team and the front office’s own set of motivations. If Hardaway isn’t wanted by the San Antonio Spurs, the one team left with real cap space to absorb contracts, then a fourth team would be needed to redirect him to a team looking for a shot. (There’s no chance Boston is interested in taking on Hardaway, to be clear.). Plus, who’s to say the Spurs (or maybe the Hornets if they move on from PJ Washington) couldn’t court Williams even with their cap space instead,
Do you see how complicated this gets quickly? That Dallas has virtually no draft picks – only a 2025 second-rounder and a 2027 first that should either be unprotected (too valuable for a salary dump!) or protected in a way it might not convey (less valuable! ) – adds to this tight puzzle for Dallas to solve.
Meanwhile, if Dallas trades for a center, it resets the options in a different direction depending on who it is, what that player does and what it costs to acquire him. Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen and LA Clippers’ Ivica Zubac are reportedly both available, to some degree. But if these trades are even possible, the Mavericks may have to prioritize one of these two, or another center, over a Williams sign-and-trade based on the limited number of pieces of value the team has. They would? Would you?
Powell, Holmes and Lively aren’t the idealized center rotation Dallas wants heading into next season, but that trio with Williams might be preferable to an Allen trade that would leave them with Thybulle as the primary wing acquisition at best. And that calculation needs to happen while evaluating whether the Portland Trail Blazers would match an offer sheet that starts at the $7.9 million figure mentioned above, or if Dallas would have to offer more.
The choice between a starting-caliber wing defenseman and a stopgap center seems easy – take the big wing – if it’s binary. But it’s not binary.
Dante Exum was drafted fifth overall in 2014 by Dennis Lindsey, a newly hired consultant to the team’s front office. However, he is best viewed as a Frank Ntilikina replacement rather than a rotation wing. Yes, the 27-year-old has improved his 3-point percentage while playing the past two seasons in Europe, first with FC Barcelona and then Partizan Belgrade. But his 42.1 percent 3-point rate came on 110-of-261 shooting in 2,516 minutes. That is 3.7 attempts per 36 minutes on the shorter European 3-point line. Ntilikina has averaged 4.2 attempts per game. 36 minutes from 3 in his career.
Exum is a ferocious on-ball defender, and he’s tall enough (6’5) to match up with both point guards and small forwards. But he hasn’t turned himself into a shooter per se, just someone Dallas hopes can knock down wide shots a little more often than Ntilikina did while being a little better with the ball in his hands. He was not a starter for Partizan last season. Don’t build expectations too high for him next season.
Powell’s return on a three-year, $12 million deal makes sense, and his role should continue to decrease in the coming seasons. There’s always room for respected, culture-first veterans in a locker room, and Powell obviously still has value on the court and established chemistry with Dončić.
Curry’s return makes it exceptionally clear that Dallas expects to be successful in trading Hardaway in the coming days. Curry, with two previous stops in Dallas, is a player everyone should know what to expect. Dallas sees him and Hardy as enough of a replacement for Hardaway’s contributions, but it will be curious if either player can lock down regular rotation roles or if they’ll compete with each other for minutes.
(Top image of Kyrie Irving vs. Atlanta: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)