The Dallas Mavericks jump-started what promises to be a particularly active offseason when they swapped Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin and a combination of second-round picks to the New York Knicks in exchange for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton.
And before we get started, let's examine just how crucial the addition of Chandler may prove to be. Not only do the Mavericks free themselves up from having to chase less proven shot-blockers in free agency, but they filled an immediate need by adding a quality rim protector (1.1 blocks per game last season) and former Defensive Player of the Year.
Given that Dallas ranked 20th and 26th in points per possession surrendered in post-ups and to roll men in the pick-and-roll, respectively, per Synergy Sports (subscription required), the importance of Chandler's addition can't be stressed enough.
But what remains to be seen is how the Mavericks complete their vision in order to rank among the Western Conference's elite.
After nearly stunning the San Antonio Spurs and pushing the eventual champs to seven games in the postseason's opening round, it became clear that the Mavericks weren't your average No. 8 seed.
An offensive rating of 111.2 (No. 3 overall) pointed to the systemic brilliance Rick Carlisle has established in Dallas, and his ability to conjure consistency from the likes of Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter was a revelation.
Now heading into a summer loaded with questions, it's time to explore how the Mavericks can build on last season's success and resemble an upper-echelon contender entering next season.
The Mavs have approximately $26 million in salary-cap space after acquiring center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton in Wednesday's six-player trade with the New York Knicks. Dirk Nowitzki, the longtime face of the franchise, has repeatedly declared his intention to re-sign with Dallas on a hometown-discount deal that would still pay him well enough to feel "respected."
Once Nowitzki re-ups, the task facing Cuban will be selling one of LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony on Dallas as a championship-caliber landing spot.
But just how much money will the Mavericks have to throw around?
They have to take care of Nowitzki first and if his salary starts in the $10 million to $12 million range, then that will reduce their available free agent money to somewhere in the $18 million range.
That’s still close enough to a maximum contract to get a player’s attention, assuming he’s not in it simply for the money.
That's hardly a figure to sneer at, but whether it's enough to appease the appetites of James and Anthony remains to be seen.
What we do know is that LeBron is eyeing a max salary, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, while Anthony figures to garner max consideration, whether it's from the New York Knicks at five years and $129 million or another club at four years and $96 million.
Still, the Mavericks seem to be well positioned to at least pique the attentions of the league's most noteworthy free agents.
And you better believe Cuban has boldly stated that his franchise will go big or go home, according to MacMahon:
"We're going to swing for the fences. I think some of these guys are opting out just to create leverage, and they'll go back. Then there's some that really want to go to different teams. We'll try to put ourselves in position to get them."
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, James' representation will listen to the Mavericks' pitch, although details regarding said meeting remain unclear:
The Mavs believe they'll be among teams making free agency pitch to LeBron James' agent, Rich Paul, but don't have details of meeting yet— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 1, 2014
They're not alone on that front, as the meeting details are deemed "up in the air" by another official with team in pursuit of James.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 1, 2014
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports that the Mavericks will be among the teams to meet with Anthony this Wednesday.
But at this stage in the game, it's hard to imagine either star aligning himself with Nowitzki.
James and his comrades in Miami have all seemingly opted out of their contracts in pursuit of mutual prosperity down on South Beach, and Anthony's options in Chicago and Houston are more appealing when discussing championship-caliber supporting casts.
So if a second superstar is out of the question, where should the Mavericks turn next? Don't worry, they've got plenty of options.
Assuming Dallas strikes out in its pursuit of Anthony and James, it will be time for Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson to set their sights on a few wings.
Both Marion and Carter are hitting the open market, leaving the Mavericks with a considerable hole at small forward.
Fortunately, Dallas will be strapped with the spending power necessary to make a run at the market's best wing talents not named James and Anthony.
Among the compelling options that read as logical fits are Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, each of whom possesses the two-way versatility Dallas is in the market for.
Not only are Deng and Ariza younger alternatives (both are 29 years old), but they offer more from a pure scoring standpoint.
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Marion, 36, remains an impactful contributor in spurts, but adding a perimeter cog like Ariza or Deng is simply too appealing at this stage in the game to stick with the status quo.
And after they surrendered the league's seventh-most three-point attempts last season, it's time for the Mavericks to upgrade and acquire a prized lockdown defender.
According to NBA.com, Ariza's plus/minus rating of 13.1 was tops among all Wizards players during that five-game series, while the club was a team-best 13.3 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor in that span.
Which player would be a better fit for the Dallas Mavericks?
The question that remains is whether Ariza is capable of replicating similar productivity when he's not playing for a new contract.
Deng, meanwhile, saw his numbers take a hit after being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But what he has to offer is well known at this point.
CBS Sports' Matt Moore summarized Deng's strengths succinctly with the following:
Versatile offensive weapon, able to create his own shot in the pick and roll, attack off the cut, and sneak inside for scoring opportunities. Solid-not-great perimeter shooter. Terrific defender who is two seasons removed from being arguably the best perimeter defender in basketball. Strong in the post, quick on the edge, and long enough to contain on the perimeter defensively.
And while the Mavericks can't go wrong with either player, Deng's dependability may give him the edge over Ariza.
First call to free agent forward Luol Deng's reps tonight: Dallas Mavericks.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 1, 2014
Re-Signing Their Own
After Nowitzki commits to finishing his career in Dallas and wing options are explored, the Mavericks will need to turn their attention to re-signing some more of their own.
Devin Harris and Shawn Marion will also get calls from Mavs tonight. Mavs want to bring back Harris/Carter/Marion. For how much $? TBD.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 1, 2014
We mentioned Marion earlier, and he would represent a tremendous value if the Mavericks can cut his annual salary in half.
If Marion sees the value in taking a pay cut in order to help the franchise, bringing him back as a backup to either Deng or Ariza could make for some brilliant depth at the 3.
The more pressing need, though, will be point guard, where the Mavericks should move swiftly and decisively to re-sign Devin Harris, who proved his worth against the Spurs in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
And according to ESPN's Marc Stein, it appears as though the Mavericks aren't wasting any time:
Mavs' first face-to-face meeting tonight is owner Mark Cuban and his own point guard: Devin Harris— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2014
During that seven-game span, Harris scored the rock at a cool 11.4 point-per-game clip while shooting 47 percent from the field and 44 percent from three while dropping 3.9 dimes a night.
And while he's not the sort of versatile offensive weapon that Calderon once proved to be (his individual offensive rating ranks No. 9 all-time, according to Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster), Harris is a capable game manager whose 7.8 dimes per 36 minutes are indicative of future prosperity in a larger role.
Finally, Dallas should look to bring back the ageless Carter on a short-term, team-friendly deal.
According to MacMahon, "there is strong mutual interest in Carter's return to the Mavericks, but several playoff teams are expected to express interest in the 37-year-old swingman."
Since arriving in Dallas in 2011, Carter's steady production has been a revelation, as he's shot better than 36 percent from three in each of his last three seasons and knocked down 48.4 percent of his looks from deep during the 2014 postseason.
Retaining Carter would provide Dallas with sorely needed depth at the 2 behind Ellis, and considering his last deal clocked in at three years and $9.3 million, he figures to be in line for a nominal pay cut at 37 years old.
There's room for tremendous growth this summer, and the Mavericks have wasted no time targeting faces old and new.
Nabbing a talent like James or Anthony may be out of the realm of possibility given both players' financial and organizational desires, but there's no shame in settling for tier-two talents.
Understand that all Mavs phone calls made tonight to free agents from other teams are feelers. Melo is clear priority. LeBron is pipe dream.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 1, 2014
After all, Carlisle's had a knack for maximizing the potential of second-tier talent during his six years in Dallas, and with ownership aggressively looking to upgrade in order to improve in the win column immediately, the formula's in place for the Mavericks to have a prosperous summer.