Mavericks offseason preview: Navigating the new CBA and No. 10’s value

The Dallas Mavericks’ offseason really begins with Thursday’s NBA Draft.

There has been a hyper-fixation on the looming decision the team must make with the No. 10 pick, and rightfully so. However, could you imagine if Dallas hadn’t thrown last season’s final games and lost the pick to the Knicks? If the Nobility had won out, or if Dallas’ 20 percent odds to finish outside the top 10 and thus give the pick to New York had hit? But the team has it, so the decision-makers’ judgment of how to use it will affect the rest of the team’s summer.

I talked to Athletics John Hollinger, himself a former front office decision maker, on what the Mavericks need to do, what goes into their decision and what comes next.

Tim Cato: John, we might look back in a few years and say this was the offseason that decided Luka Dončić’s future in Dallas. It’s important, and it’s unusually unclear how they’re going to proceed!

Let’s start there. I’ve been asked if Dallas should keep or trade its No. 10 overall pick, and I feel like that’s too narrow of a question. It depends on what players are available, what trades are possible and what the Mavericks think will happen in free agency. But given these unknowns, what are they to do?

John Hollinger: I think the best case scenario for Dallas is the drafting of Derek Lively II. He’s the absolute perfect fit for this Dallas team, a Tyson Chandler clone who doesn’t need the ball but can stop the rim on defense and be a lob threat next to Dončić and (hopefully) Kyrie Irving in the attack.

I’m biased towards using the pick in general, because if the Mavs are going to have two expensive players on the edge, having at least one key player on a cost-controlled contract for the next four years is paramount. In fact, it is arguably the only realistic way forward in the new CBA.

Cato: You’re absolutely right about the incoming CBA, but that’s why, if I were them, I’d prefer a trade that moves one of their bigger salaries, brings back a rotation veteran, and still gives them another first-rounder later . A lot to ask, no doubt, but potentially possible.

What if the Mavericks could pull off the rumored trade with Atlanta that trades Dāvis Bertāns and No. 10 for Clint Capela and No. 15? (Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer reported the deal hasn’t gone through because the Hawks prefer to include John Collins over Capela.) Capela is the ready-made center Dallas needs, and No. 15 gives them another shot at the cost-controlled, rookie-scale player.

Hollinger: I would make that trade in a heartbeat and I think it’s a complete laugh for Dallas. I’d also be shocked if the Hawks made that trade with no other conditions; Hardaway is BargainBin Bogdanovic.

If it’s John Collins instead of Capela … I can actually still do it as Dallas. I think Collins’ role has been totally miscast in Atlanta, but he’s a really effective rim runner who should thrive next to Luka. The reason his numbers are down in Atlanta is because Capela took that job.

Historically, the difference between picking 10th and 15th just isn’t that big, certainly not big enough to outweigh trading a backup for a starter. Sometimes the player you want at 10 may still be there at 15.

The other way Dallas could handle it is to trade down as part of a salary dump. For example, the team could move from 10 to 20 and send Bertāns into Houston’s cap space, vaporizing enough cap money to give the Mavs full use of their mid- and semi-annual exceptions to sign some decent role players. Maybe it will even leave enough behind to bring back Dwight Powell.

Cato: I agree and I really like the prospects projected just beyond the lottery. I’ve suggested Jalen Hood-Schifino, but that’s just one of many that could be thrown out.

Hollinger: I’m not a big Hood-Schifino fan. His heavy play on the ball in the midfield is a bad fit for a team that already has Luka and Kyrie. However, there is a lot of wing shooting to be had in the 15-to-25 range: Jordan Hawkins, Jett Howard, Kris Murray, maybe even Gradey Dick if he slides. Or the Mavs could go with someone like Olivier-Maxence Prosper if they want to focus more on getting a defenseman.

Cato: Are you convinced that the draft should take place after free agency? I’ll discuss the team’s supposed re-signing of Irving, and the ramifications of that, but the one qualifier — that the team’s decision to use its draft pick depends on the front office’s expectations in free agency — matters a lot. When you were in a front office, how much did free agency intelligence influence draft night decisions? How much time was spent hypothesizing what might happen?

Hollinger: I always preferred to have the draft first and then free agency later. Especially for teams that pick near the top, what happens on draft night dictates some of the moves that follow in free agency. Like, if you’re Portland’s No. 3 pick and you don’t know if you’re going to end up with Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller, doesn’t that have a pretty big impact on what your strategy is going to be in free agency?

There are two other parts to this that I don’t think people consider enough. First, many teams use draft night trades to set their free agent cap, and it’s harder to pull off in reverse. And secondly, the draft has a definitive end. Free agency, not so much. It’s just a much cleaner way of operating to make the cap in the “old” cap year and then start free agency in the new one.

Cato: For example: A league source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, told me Dallas has been talking to the Boston Celtics about a Grant Williams sign-and-trade. Dallas isn’t interested in using its pick to acquire him, and the team could decide on an offer — something more than the mid-level exception — that would be big enough that Boston wouldn’t match. But Williams makes good sense in Dallas, and there may be other ways to complete that deal with Boston’s help if Dallas decides to seriously pursue it.

To your point, it makes a big difference to Dallas’ summer plans if a deal involving a free agent like this would be agreed on draft night involving the No. 10 pick or otherwise completed after the fact.

Dallas cannot afford to lose Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. (Photo: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

Anyway, when Dallas traded for Irving at the deadline, it was with the belief that the team would re-sign him. The front office have to. It’s debatable whether trading for him was the right decision, but the team’s path to contention becomes, well, more difficult if he goes for nothing.

Hollinger: “Trickier” is a huge understatement. I just don’t see how they can realistically hope to contend for anything significant without re-signing Irving, as they would have a hard time creating meaningful cap space for a replacement if he leaves.

Cato: You’ve written about the tougher penalties in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, specifically the “second berth.” With the team’s current roster, re-signing Irving at the max would put Dallas more than $21 million over the league’s projected salary cap of $134 million — and about $8 million away from the first luxury tax threshold.

If Dallas has $87 million (just under 65 percent of the projected salary cap) committed to two players next season, what challenges does that pose for the team’s roster construction? What should the priority be?

Hollinger: The biggest question mark is whether the team could generate enough wiggle room to use its full non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which is the Mavs’ most realistic path to adding another role player who is at least halfway decent.

If Irving re-signs for his max, it will be challenging, but not necessarily impossible. However, Dallas would have to do one of the following: waive and extend Reggie Bullock’s partially guaranteed deal; find a taker for at least one of Bertāns, JaVale McGee or Tim Hardaway, Jr.; or trade out of the 10th pick in the draft.

Stretching Bullock, for example, leaves them with just enough money to spend about the entire exception and then sign four minimum contracts to fill the final four spots on the roster. They would be stuck at 14 all year and have virtually no flexibility to add money the rest of the way.

Cato: It would be easier if Dallas had more pieces of value. It’s not entirely this front office’s fault, but it makes this summer and the years to come tougher. If you were a team interested in trading Dallas, who or what would you want? The No. 10 pick, Josh Green and Jaden Hardy, for sure. Maybe Hardaway or Bullock? Dallas doesn’t even own most of its future picks: just a 2027 first-rounder and a 2025 second.

Hollinger: If I were to rank Dallas’ assets, I’d obviously rate the 2027 unprotected first at the top, especially since Luka might be gone by then. (Just the messenger!) That would be my focal point in any negotiation.

If that pick is not in play, then I will value the 10th pick in this draft far above anything else. The other stuff just isn’t that exciting for another front office. Green is interesting, but we don’t know exactly what he is yet or if he’ll ever shoot at a high volume, and the acquiring team would have to pay him after this season. Hardy might rank higher on some teams’ boards because he’s on a cost-controlled contract for longer and arguably has more upside given his youth (turns 21 on July 5). But again, I don’t see him as more than a utility piece in a trade for a starter-level player. Perhaps he can change that view before midseason.

I don’t see a market for Hardaway or Bullock. Hardaway is doing too much for who he is right now. Even in the best situation he will ever have in his life, playing as a hired gun next to Luka, he is a good option and 31 years old. Bullock’s level of play dropped off too much last year, and his age (32) and injuries are also a concern.

Cato: I’ve felt that Hardaway’s volume shooting and declining contract structure make him a slight upside, but I’ve certainly talked and written about the idea that playing next to Dončić can reduce his teammate’s value around the league. Especially for shooters, other teams can’t realistically believe they’ll provide a better environment for such players than they already have in Dallas, playing next to the league’s best 3-point shooter.

Dallas might prefer a dramatic overhaul this summer, but adding a drafted player, a veteran by trading down and another throughout the middle may be the most likely outcome this summer. Green and Hardy, as you noted, have roles to play next season and could develop more league-wide value if they perform well in them. That would set Dallas up for another move at this deadline or later, which the team could very well need. Then again, so much movement is expected that Dallas can find cheap veterans without even having to use its first-round pick.

What is your prediction? I won’t ask you for specifics, but how dramatic or quiet of an offseason will this be for the Mavericks in terms of a broad roster overhaul?

Hollinger: I think the Mavs are in a similar position to many teams this offseason: They’ve painted themselves into a tough corner contact-wise, with no easy way out. The result of that will probably be a lot of phone calls and trade rumors, but as far as earthquake moves, I’m not sure you’re going to see much.

The options are just so slim right now that it’s hard to convince yourself that anything significant is happening. I think the most likely endgame for the Mavs’ offseason is a couple of minimum contracts, spending exception money to the point that Irving’s new contract will allow, and maybe a salary-dump trade. Maybe things will spice up in the offseason when everyone has seen what it looks like on the field.

Cato: That is the safest bet. I guess we will soon have to see if the team can surprise us.

(Top photo: Sam Hodde / Getty Images)

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