The Dallas Mavericks have a generational talent in Luka Doncic, but they’ve lost in the first-round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. The most recent defeat revealed flaws the Mavericks must address to avoid future shortcomings. Doncic’s team has an uncertain summer ahead of it that will determine how successful the franchise becomes.
While Doncic’s supporting cast could undergo several transformations in the coming months, the coaching staff won’t suffer a similar fate. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban offered support for head coach Rick Carlisle after Dallas got eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers for the second time in ten months.
“Let me tell you how I look at coaching,” Cuban told ESPN. “You don’t make a change to make a change. Unless you have someone that you know is much, much, much better, the grass is rarely greener on the other side.”
Stability in the front office and coaching staff creates one less problem for Dallas, but that’s never been the biggest issue for the Mavericks. They’re running out of time to build a championship contender around Doncic before the superstar wraps up his rookie contract. The only way to do it now is with a summer of roster reconstruction.
The Luka Doncic Extension
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported on June 7 that when asked if he plans on signing a supermax extension over the summer, Doncic smiled and said, “I think you know the answer.”
Doncic qualifies for the rookie extension supermax because he earned an All-NBA selection last year and will receive another selection in a few weeks. Players on their rookie deals that earn All-NBA selections twice in their final three years or their last season before the extension can sign contracts worth up to 30% of the salary cap. Normal rookie extensions max out at 25%.
The designated veteran player extension, or veteran’s supermax, is available for qualified players with seven or eight years of NBA experience. Those contracts occupy 35% of the salary cap and represent the ceiling for all deals available under the current CBA.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks provided a breakdown of what Doncic’s extension will look like.
Here is the breakdown on what a Luka Doncic extension would look like:
2022-23 | $34.7M
2023-24 | $37.5M
2024-25 | $40.3M
2025-26 | $43.1M
2026-27 | $45.9M
This is based on a $115M cap in 2022-23
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 7, 2021
Giving Doncic the rookie extension supermax handcuffs Dallas’ ability to build around him, but the Mavericks don’t have many options. At 22 years old, the Slovenian standout is already one of the ten best players in the NBA. Letting him hit restricted free agency after the 2021 season isn’t an option.
Doncic plans on playing for the Slovenian national team during the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Expect his extension to be on the books by the time the games end.
Trading Kristaps Porzingis
Despite Porzingis recovering from a torn ACL, the Mavericks traded for him in Jan. 2019. Dallas sent the New York Knicks DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., a 2021 first-round pick, and a top-ten protected 2023 first-round selection for the disgruntled 23-year-old. The trade also netted Dallas shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Mavericks hoped Porzingis could become a core building block of the franchise. He was a young All-Star capable of providing rim protection with his 7-3 frame while raining threes on offense. Porzingis signed a five-year, $158.25 million maximum contract with Dallas two summers ago. Two years and a $36 million player option for 2023 remain on the deal.
The Latvian unicorn is reportedly unhappy with his role in Dallas. In an article for ESPN, MacMahon wrote,
“Porzingis has been frustrated, often feeling more like an afterthought than a co-star as Doncic dominates the ball and the spotlight.”
The report runs contradictory to a quote Porzingis gave MacMahon on June 5.
“It’s obviously not easy, but I accept it,” the Latvian big man said of serving as a floor spacer instead of an offensive focal point. “That’s what the team is asking me to do and I’m willing to do whatever, whatever is necessary for us to go forward.”
Cuban previously admitted on the K&C Masterpiece show that Doncic and Porzingis haven’t always gotten along and aren’t close friends.
“On the court they are fine. I mean, coaches coach, and coach kind of runs the show so everything gets worked out on the court. That’s not to say there aren’t dust-ups, because there are,” Cuban said. “Yeah, I mean, KP and Luka get along fine. It’s just that they’re different people. They like to do different things.”
Dallas should consider trading Porzingis unless there’s a clear shift in his mentality and game this offseason. The soon-to-be 26-year-old was not nearly as protective of the rim this year compared to past campaigns. He also shrank in the playoffs, scoring less than ten points in three outings against the Clippers this year while only making 29.6% of his threes.
Unfortunately, Porzingis’ contract and health make him a difficult trade asset. Without throwing in too many moving pieces, the Mavericks could send the former All-Star to Boston for Kemba Walker. Other trade targets with contracts that equalize Porzingis’ include Al Horford, CJ McCollum, Kyle Lowry, and Andrew Wiggins.
Dallas won’t get back everything they invested in Porzingis if they trade him this offseason. His value isn’t where it was two years ago. However, the Mavericks could still get a haul of potential contributors for the Latvian, especially if they package him with Josh Richardson.
Dallas Mavericks Free Agents
While all eyes are on Porzingis this offseason, one of the other players that came over in that trade from New York is heading to free agency. Hardaway scored 2,578 points during his 160 games with the Mavericks, which translates to 16.1 points per appearance. The former 24th overall pick also significantly raised his three-point field goal percentage while in Dallas.
Hardaway hits the open market this summer. He told MacMahon and reporters, “If you talk to anybody that’s around me, they would tell you that I love it here in Dallas.” However, the 29-year-old is arguably coming off the best two-year stretch of his career. There’s a good chance the Mavericks can’t afford his price tag.
Fans can get a rough idea of Hardaway’s market by looking at the contract Bogdan Bogdanovic signed with the Atlanta Hawks last offseason. Bogdanovic, who is only a few months younger than Hardaway, is a three-point specialist who entered free agency having made 37.4% of his threes during three seasons with the Kings. Atlanta gave him a four-year, $72 million deal.
Bogdanovic had a career year with the Hawks, but Atlanta gave him a contract worth $18 million annually before the breakout campaign. Over the past three years, Hardaway has hit 37.7% of his threes while averaging 16.8 points per game. Even accounting for COVID-19’s impact on the cap, Hardaway should get offers in the ballpark of $15-19 million annually.
Dallas’ other notable free agents include Boban Marjanovic, Nicolo Melli, and J.J. Redick. While Marjanovic is a fan-favorite, he only played 33 games this season and averaged under nine minutes per outing. Melli (a restricted free agent) and Redick arrived as part of a trade with the Pelicans in March. It’s unlikely either remains with the team.
The Mavericks have two players with options. Richardson, who became a liability against the Clippers, has a player option worth $11.615 million. Given his recent performance and gradual decline since leaving Miami, it’s unlikely Richardson turns down his option.
Willie Cauley-Stein’s contract has a $4.1 million team option for 2021. The 27-year-old played 53 games for Dallas this season, averaging 17.1 minutes per outing. He’s a reliable defensive center the Mavericks should keep around, especially if they let Marjanovic walk.
Cap Space and Free Agent Targets
Cuban’s team doesn’t have any draft picks this year, making signing free agents or retaining current talent is essential. RealGM’s Keith Smith puts Dallas’ maximum projected cap space between $34-35 million, while Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz puts it at $36.9 million. Both estimates include Richardson turning down his player option.
We’ll work under the assumption that Richardson stays in Dallas, but the Mavericks part ways with Cauley-Stein and their other free agents. That leaves them with somewhere between $23 and $25.2 million in space. Dallas could use most of that money on Hardaway, offering him that deal worth $15-19 million per year.
Alternatively, the Mavericks have more than enough room to retool the roster with smart free agent investments. Need playmaking? Miami might decline Goran Dragic’s team option. Want more outside scoring? Danny Green, Doug McDermott, and Patty Mills are unrestricted free agents. As for rim protectors, Dwight Howard and Nerlens Noel fit the bill.
The Mavericks should consider long-term investments and depth instead of throwing all of their available cap space at one or two players. This isn’t a top-heavy free agent pool, but it features plenty of contributors capable of transforming a franchise. Dallas should go after three of four proven veterans that mesh with Doncic’s game.