Dallas Mavericks Smart to Stay Flexible for Next Summer's NBA Free Agent Class

Joel C. Cordes@@bballJoelNBA Associate EditorJuly 16, 2012

They were left holding the bag, but the ball is still in Dallas' court.
They were left holding the bag, but the ball is still in Dallas' court.Harry How/Getty Images

After a disastrous start to their offseason, the Dallas Mavericks could have hit the reset button or they could have overreacted. Instead, they stayed competitive, patient and focused.

The sheer disappointment, after blatantly selling their 2011 title defense short for this moment, could have been overwhelming.

Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea were sacrificed on a cap-space altar. A team that had always flanked Dirk Nowitzki with sidekicks was hoping to create their own triumvirate of superstars.

Yet neither Dwight Howard nor Deron Williams ever came within a stone's throw of American Airlines Center. In fact, it was never even close. 

Then, Steve Nash, Roy Hibbert and seemingly every other reasonable fall-back option passed them by. Even old hands like Jason Kidd and Jason Terry bolted out the door as fast as they could.

It not only seemed as if the gamble had failed, but that 2012 would also be the end of the franchise's greatest era.

A lesser owner than Mark Cuban might have thrown up his hands in despair. A lesser GM than Donnie Nelson might have panicked, feverishly reaching out for whatever leftovers were there to save his job.

Instead, the "Plan B Mavericks" will be an entertaining, albeit clearly-flawed team in the mold of the Don Nelson-era squads this franchise once trotted out.

From 1999 to 2005, Dallas had a strange collection of seemingly disjointed parts who were one of the most feared, yet easy-to-root-for regular season teams of their time. While they never made much noise in the playoffs, they were endlessly watchable.

In place of the Dirk, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel, Antoine Walker, Sean Bradley and Antawn Jamison variations of the past decade, the 2013 Mavericks will trot out a similar combo of slightly over-the-hill names and fringe contributors.

Only this time, Dirk and Dallas' future isn't actually resting on Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones. Yet, this crew will be productive next year, and the Mavericks are going to be a strangely fun team to watch.

Dirk, Kaman and Brand will form one of the better low-block and mid-range trios in the league, despite the fact that not a single one of them can protect the basket.

Collison and Roddy Beaubois will frenetically push the tempo and attack the basket, despite being undersized and overrated. Carter, Jones and Marion will still be competent and mobile two-way players, despite the erosion of their skills.

Dominique Jones and Brandan Wright will hopefully take another step forward in their development, providing some athleticism and steady contributions. Yet, their careers have been so inconsistent that they're unlikely to be more than auxiliary parts.

As my colleague Ethan Sherwood Strauss mentioned on our episode of Basketball by Association the other day, the Mavericks are all but ensured a 50-win season as long as Rick Carlisle is coach.

He will get them to buy into the underdog status, and they will play hard as a deep, veteran group. This will be a smoke and mirrors team, but the magic will be there often enough during the regular season.

Any success they have in the playoffs will be gravy, but the icing on the cake is yet to come.

Except for Dirk, every single one of those guys is simply a place-holder for the 2013 offseason. Practically the entire Mavs roster is one giant expiring contract.

Beaubois, Marion, Dominique Jones and Nowitzki are the only ones with guaranteed money for next year, totaling just under $33 million. Carter and Brandan Wright's non-guaranteed deals can be wiped to save another $4 million.

Dallas will once again offer the equivalent of two max contracts to a free-agent class with just as many big names as this year's.

Dwight Howard will still be in the mix. Deron Williams is locked up, but Chris Paul won't be. Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson and Manu Ginobili will all be on the market.

Even slightly-lesser names like Steph Curry, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, James Harden, Tyreke Evans and David West would all be fabulous catches at the right price.

Hopefully this offseason's failures weren't a sign that big-name free agents will frequently fly over Dallas.

With all the cash they'll have to offer, that's a highly unlikely chance, especially considering how other big spenders like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets just locked up their cap space for the long term.

It would have been easy to panic after what transpired during the first few weeks of this July.

Lesser management might have considered trading Nowitzki and starting over. They might have traded and/or overpaid for whatever name-scraps could still be had.

Instead, the Mavericks calmly shifted to their secondary options. They perfectly positioned themselves to be right back at the buyers' table next season, while ensuring their fans a competitive squad who should have no problem returning to the playoffs for a 13th straight season.

Dallas will be easy to cheer for in 2013, but it's the following years that could be even more special.

Heck, we may forget how disappointing this offseason was before you know it.


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