After a 24-58 season that underrated the strength of the team, especially defensively, the Dallas Mavericks will select fifth in Thursday’s NBA Draft, likely adding a strong defensive center to a team that finished 16th on that end of the floor last season. Where they go with that draft pick to pair with Dennis Smith and what they do with anywhere from $15-27 million in cap space this summer will go a long way toward shaping the future of the franchise in Dallas. They’ll have the opportunity to overhaul a majority of their roster this summer, but patience is the key for the Mavericks, as their books are incredibly clean after the 2018-19 season and a much better free agent crop awaits them a year from now.
Dallas goes into the draft with $69.2 million in salary on the books for next season, which includes $5 million for franchise stalwart Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki will absolutely be back with the team next year, as he’s already confirmed that he’ll play a 21st season in 2018-19. The Mavericks hold a team option on Nowitzki’s contract for next season, but don’t be surprised if they opt out of his contract and even renounce his cap hold this summer. As they did last summer, Dallas can opt out and clean Nowitzki off their books completely while they use the cap space that move creates, then bring him back with whatever money is left over after their other summer moves.
The Mavericks’ most important free agents are wing Doug McDermott and guard Yogi Ferrell, both of whom will be restricted free agents this summer as soon as Dallas tenders qualifying offer for both guys. McDermott did not qualify for starter criteria, lowering his qualifying offer to just $4.3 million, which will only be signed if his market completely dries up. He should have suitors across the league for most of a team’s mid-level exception. In what may become a trend this summer, restricted free agents who move quickly for a team’s mid-level exception may find themselves out-earning their better counterparts who push for larger deals and are left to pick up the scraps later on in July. McDermott is one such player in the former camp, who could come to a $6-8 million deal early in free agency and pressure Dallas to either match or let him walk for nothing. A high-level shooter, McDermott fits well on the Mavericks; somebody has to finish all the plays their dual point guard lineups create. Ferrell’s market value should be lesser than McDermott’s—a $4 million deal would give him a raise on his $2.9 million qualifying offer and would keep him in Dallas, where he’s thrived so far in his young career.
Seth Curry’s market will be very, very interesting to watch this summer. He missed the entire 2017-18 season with a left leg injury and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Offers from multiple teams in the range of the bi-annual exception ($3.5 million) would make sense for Curry, who has shown similar high-level shooting to brother Stephen but doesn’t have the same playmaking and handle as his older brother. If Curry can prove that he’s fully recovered from his injury on a one-year deal, he could be in for a multi-year pay day next summer in the range of a team’s mid-level exception. Whether that one-year deal comes with the Mavericks or not remains to be seen—they liked him enough to sign a two-year deal in 2016 and the 2016-17 season should do nothing to create any concerns about his ability to play in Rick Carlisle’s offense, but they may have lingering concerns about his injury and be unwilling to retain his $3.9 million cap hold on their books if they’re keen on using cap space this summer.
As much money as they can generate in cap space this summer, it would be smart for the Mavericks to mostly roll over to next year, perhaps using their space to retain Curry on a one-year deal and bring in expiring bad contracts in addition to draft assets. Denver is reportedly looking to move Kenneth Faried’s $13.8 million salary for next season and are willing to attach a draft pick to do so; this deal is perfect for a team like Dallas, for whom there are no downsides: Faried isn’t worth that money but would have a role on the Mavericks, his contract expires after the 2018-19 season and thus doesn’t interfere with their 2019 plans, and they could pick up another draft asset to add to the war chest, whether in this draft or a future year. There will be multiple teams who are looking to take on Faried’s contract, but Dallas using their cap space on a deal like that to take on one year of bad salary would behoove them.
After Wesley Matthews’ contract expires in 2019, the Mavericks are looking to be very near double max space in a free agency class that’s much, much stronger than this year’s group. Players like Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Boston’s Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, and San Antonio’s (for now) Kawhi Leonard will all likely be free agents next summer, with only Thompson standing out as somebody who’s almost sure to stay with his incumbent team. Every other player on that list has either expressed discontent with his current team or is at the very least open to a move, and Dallas will be able to nab two of them next year to add to an intriguing core of Dennis Smith, the No. 5 pick in this draft, and their first-round pick in the 2019 draft, which should be worse than No. 5 after historically bad performance in the clutch in 2017-18 normalizes next season. Harrison Barnes will also likely be under contract for $25.1 million for 2019-20 (he has a player option) and while he might be most famous for his lackluster performance in the 2016 playoffs, Barnes would be a great third or fourth banana on a team with two max superstars and burgeoning young players from the past few drafts.
Spending this summer will be enticing as one of the few teams with cap space, but the light at the end of the tunnel that is 2019 free agency should keep the Mavericks’ guns holstered for another year as they bide their time for a true superstar. Unless something massive changes with regards to Kevin Durant or LeBron James this summer, Dallas will likely be looking at spending their space on lesser players, which would impact their 2019 space and leave them in a worse long-term position than if they had waited out this summer with one-year deals and rolled over their space to next year. There are precious few opportunities for a team to ever have double max space in a single summer without a once-in-a-lifetime cap spike and Dallas should not throw away that chance by overextending themselves this year in an attempt to be competitive as soon as possible. One more year for Smith to develop with low expectations and a year for the No. 5 pick to grow into Carlisle’s system will do both players wonders when it’s time to play on a highly-competitive 2019-20 Mavericks team.