DALLAS — Even with the feel-good story of Giannis Antentounkoumpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taking the championship still fresh, any lull in the activity for the NBA is about to make way for what’s become the most exciting offseason in the major sports leagues.
League storylines get a fresh new twist as NBA free agency kicks off this week and fans frantically refresh Twitter, where rumors spread like wildfire on player movement. Most of all, teams will be swinging hard for the ability to close the championship gap on their rosters.
For the Dallas Mavericks, the free agency period is also the first test of their newly revamped front office, which saw the first major change in over twenty years with the firing of General Manager Donnie Nelson and the resignation of 2011 championship-winning coach Rick Carlisle.
Former Nike executive Nico Harrison has been entrenched in Nelson’s former role, and Jason Kidd has returned for his third iteration with the franchise as the new head coach. The Harrison and Kidd hires were in reaction to the changing landscape of player movement, with Dallas clearly wanting to reap the rewards of their relationships around the league.
The Mavericks’ offseason wishes of years prior have not exactly gone to plan, but they have an ace in hand with the 22-year-old Luka Dončić, currently tearing up the Olympic stage and elevating Slovenia to a possible medal.
While the Mavericks have seemingly pivoted away from the dry powder debacles that left them scrambling to fill out their rosters with ill-fitting pieces after their main targets would sign elsewhere, they remain connected to players that could take this playoff team to the next level.
The Mavericks won’t wait on the off-chance that Kawhi Leonard or Chris Paul decide to leave their respective teams and have created max cap space for themselves with the trade of Josh Richardson to the Boston Celtics.
This provides an ample opportunity for improvement in their search for a shot creator that eases the burden on Dončić, and if all goes well, a second star to pair with him. The Mavericks currently have one max contract on their books – Kristaps Porzingis – and reducing his role to a third option, as he continues to try and remove the injury-prone label from himself, is perhaps best for all parties.
The biggest get for the Mavs would be their reported first choice in free agency: Kyle Lowry, a championship-winning point guard from the Toronto Raptors. While Leonard is likely still the biggest name available, his teammate on the 2019 World Champions was just as crucial to Toronto’s run.
Known as a premium defender and shot creator, Lowry would fill an immediate need for the Mavericks. Signing Lowry would definitely come with risk, however, as the likely three-year deal required would take him through his age 37 season.
The Mavericks would be paying a premium to secure the services of one of the best defenders in the league who can still lead an offense when needed. Lowry finished 2021 averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game and would immediately slide into the starting lineup next to Dončić.
Chasing Lowry could spell the end of Tim Hardaway’s tenure in Dallas, but the team could get creative with a Lowry sign-and-trade deal that would allow them to keep both with Hardaway signed using his Bird Rights that allows the Mavericks to operate over the cap.
As with any top target in free agency for the Mavs, actually landing Lowry won’t come easy as rumors suggest that the six-time All-Star could have a tandem with Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat as his preferred destination.
Continuing their search for an offense initiator leads Dallas back down a familiar path, with 33-year old Mike Conley back on the market and back on the Mavs’ wish list. Conley was the Mavericks’ main free agent target ahead of the 2016 season that saw him re-sign with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Traded halfway into his contract to the Utah Jazz, Conley’s playmaking skills have continued to flourish next to Donovan Mitchell, with Dallas wanting to replicate that fit with Dončić in the backcourt. Conley averaged 16.2 points per game and shot over 41% from deep. The competition to sign Conley will be from his current team, as they are currently over the salary cap and would be unable to replace him with any matching salary if he left outright.
The Mavericks wouldn’t need to look far for a secondary scorer if they were to sign former San Antonio Spurs standout Demar Derozan. While his three-point shot won’t be scaring any defenses, his ability to drive to the rim and score in the mid-range makes him a major asset to a team that could surround him with shooters and already has a young, world-class star.
Derozan (age 31) is a 20.1 points-per-game lifetime scorer, but if Dallas doesn’t have the right figures for him, he is likely looking to head West and play for one of his hometown Los Angeles teams.
The Heat are expected to pick up Goran Dragic’s $19.4 million team option but he could potentially be an option for Dallas if Miami is Lowry’s landing spot as the Heat look to make the cap figures work. Teaming up the fellow Slovenian Dragic with Dončić almost happened a few years ago, and would be a boon in the mindset of keeping Luka happy.
The Mavericks have a myriad of ways to upgrade a roster that took the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games in the playoffs. With the trade of Richardson, Dallas opens free agency with around $35 million dollars in cap space if they also part ways with Willie Cauley-Stein.
Moving on from Hardaway Jr. could also be a way to gain more cap space but the guard has really grown into his role on the team as the sixth man that can easily slide into the lineup to add scoring when needed, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dallas retain the second piece in the Porzingis trade.
Landing a player or two named above, and keeping Hardaway, would go a long way in revitalizing this roster, with the hope that new coach Kidd can elevate Porzingis closer to the player that he was in New York. Combine those things with finding themselves a shooting specialist to fill the role that J.J Redick was supposed to fill, and they can push to become a real threat in the West.
The Mavericks really don’t need to go big game hunting anymore. They already took care of that by finding a generational player in Dončić. As long as the Mavericks simply look to fill their roster gap with pieces that fit their leading man, and don’t get caught stargazing with their cash in hand, they should enter Luka Dončić’s fourth season in adequate shape to take the next step.
Which free agents would you like to see the Mavericks sign as they look to improve with Luka Doncic? Share your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.