The Dallas Mavericks have failed to land a superstar free agent every summer since breaking up the team that won a title in 2011. As a result, the twilight of Dirk Nowitzki’s career has been marked by consistent overachievement in the regular season before the limitations of Dallas’ roster rear their ugly head in the playoffs.
It speaks volumes of Nowitzki’s all-encompassing offensive impact, Rick Carlisle’s schematic genius, and the front office’s keen ability to scrape the barrel of second-tier free agency for impactful additions that Dallas has made the playoffs four out of the past five seasons. But Mark Cuban seems to have finally realized that those hard-fought exits in the first round are a direct product of his team’s all-or-nothing approach every July, and may take a different route to improving as early as next year.
The extra $5 million the future Hall of Famer will earn in 2016-17 is of no consequence to Dallas; the team is still below the luxury tax apron at approximately $109 million in committed salary. What really matters here is the season after the coming one, when a 38-year-old Nowitzki will earn $25 million should he decide to lace them up for one final time. The Mavericks will pay him in 2017-18 regardless, as these adjusted terms include just $5 million in guarantees. If Dirk chooses to play a 20th season, though, he’s due the full $25 million, leaving Dallas without enough space below the $103 million salary cap to sign a max-level free agent.
Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams are the only players on the Mavericks’ roster who will definitely hit free agency next summer. Renouncing the veteran center and point guard would leave Cuban, general manager Donnie Nelson, and company with approximately $86 million in guaranteed salary assuming Nowitzki gives it another go. Problem? The starting maximum salary for even restricted free agents will be over $25 million this time next year, while the initial number for more established star players is even higher.
Teams that don’t have enough room below the cap to ink max-level free agents routinely chase them regardless. There is almost always a way to create financial flexibility if a pricey player wants to come to town. Dallas, for instance, could free up max cap room by trading Wes Matthews or shedding the contracts of Dwight Powell and a player like Devin Harris or Seth Curry. The Mavericks won’t be forced fishing for role players only next July if they don’t want to be.