Like most of the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks are in a free agency holding pattern as they await news on the intentions of free agent superstars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The two predominant superstars of this free agent class are taking their time in determining what their best course is.
Only two teams will come away satisfied with their decisions, and a number of teams with ample salary-cap space that miss out on these stars will immediately focus their attention on the second tier of free agents.
This is squarely where the Mavericks currently lie. One cannot fault the Mavericks for once again trying to lure a superstar to Dallas, but if we’re being realistic, we can expect LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to pass on the Mavericks overtures.
With this being the likely scenario, the Mavericks must prioritize the remaining free agents based on their current needs. The most glaring need on the Mavericks roster at this moment is the small forward position.
The Mavericks pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James has left the status of 2013-14 starter Shawn Marion in limbo to this point.
The Mavericks did retain small forward Jae Crowder, but in a perfect world he would only play due to injury. The Mavericks will swiftly turn their attention to the likes of Luol Deng, Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and Trevor Ariza once LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony decide where to spend the 2014-15 season.
The Mavericks will have competition for these players services as the teams that have created salary-cap room will look to their own plan B. The present day free agency situation in the NBA has created a players’ market.
There are more teams with salary cap space than there are premier free agents in 2014.
Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Gordon Heyward and Chandler Parsons will all reap the benefits of the current economic situation in the NBA. Teams that want to acquire one of these players must be prepared to spend above what their market value should be.
This should not be an issue for a Mavericks franchise that is in win-now mode. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson must reward Dirk Nowitzki’s selflessness (Dirk signs three-year deal with the Mavericks) with the best roster possible.
While there is a glaring need for a starting small forward, that is not the only position the Mavericks should focus on. The trade for Tyson Chandler solidified the center position but the departure of Jose Calderon left the Mavericks without two dependable options at the point guard position.
Fortunately the Mavericks have agreed on a three-year, $9 million dollar deal with veteran Devin Harris. Harris played well for the Mavericks down the stretch and he proved to be a great fit in Dallas during his second tenure with the team.
Backing up Harris at the point guard position will be Raymond Felton. Dallas is hopeful that Felton bounces back after a disappointing 2013-14 season.
Felton was acquired along with Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks and he is set to be the Mavericks backup point guard next season.
Felton averaged 9.7 points and 5.6 assists for the New York Knicks in a disappointing 2013-14 season. Felton saw his points per game, assists per game, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage all drop from the 2012-13 season.
There is reason to think the Mavericks will be without at least one of their two point guards at some point during the 2014-15 season. The last season that Felton played in at least 80 games was in 2009-10.
If that’s not cause for concern, consider that starting point guard Devin Harris has averaged only 53 games played for the last three seasons.
Even if Felton can turn things around this season, depth will likely be an issue for Dallas. If Felton fails to improve this season and Devin Harris misses time, the Mavericks will be in a bind at the point guard position if they fail to make a move.
With that in mind, lets take a look at how the Mavericks should prioritize the remaining free agents: Clearly LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony sit atop each team’s wish list, but they both remain a long shot for the Mavericks.
1) Isaiah Thomas – Point guard
I’ve outlined why the point guard position remains a priority for the Mavericks and signing Isaiah Thomas away from Sacramento would be a deft, proactive move. Unlike Luol Deng, who is 29 years old, the 25-year-old Thomas could be a critical cog in the Mavericks post-Nowitzki plans.
Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game for the Sacramento Kings last season. Thomas is slightly built at 5’9” but his speed and ball-handling skills would create fantastic scoring opportunities for Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.
Signing Thomas would prevent the Mavericks from pursuing one of the quality small forwards on the market, but that could lead them back to Shawn Marion. If that was the case, the Mavericks would have significantly upgraded their center and point guard position while standing pat at small forward.
There are also a few bargains to be had at the small forward position for depth. If the Mavericks were to land Thomas, they could look to Evan Turner, Francisco Garcia or P.J. Tucker to round out their bench.
2) Chandler Parsons – Small forward
It would likely take the Rockets landing Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to leave Chandler Parsons available, but since the Rockets are still in play for Anthony and Bosh, the Mavericks can keep their eye on Chandler Parsons.
As a restricted free agent, the Rockets have the option to match any contract offer that Parsons receives.
Parsons has evolved into a reliable scoring option and he is only 25 years old. Like Isaiah Thomas, Parsons has improved each season he has been in the league.
Parsons averaged 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive .472 percent from the field during the 2013-14 season.
Parsons would represent an immediate improvement to the current roster while providing Dallas with a significant piece for the future. The odds are not high on the Mavericks landing Parsons, but they will likely present him with a lucrative offer if the interest is mutual.
3) Luol Deng – Small forward
Deng is 29 years old and he will likely take advantage of a free agent class that is short on sizzle. In addition to what he brings on the court, Deng is a tremendous teammate and a hard worker as well.
Any team in need of a quality small forward will surely look his way.
The Mavericks may have to overpay a bit to acquire his services, but Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have publicly stated they want to surround Dirk Nowitzki with the best possible teammates as his career winds down. If this is indeed true and the opportunity is there, the Mavericks should work to make it happen with Deng.
4) Trevor Ariza – Small forward
Trevor Ariza picked the perfect time to have the best season of his career. The nine-year veteran averaged 14.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 2013-14.
Ariza shot 46 percent from the field and he connected on career-best 41 percent of his 3-pointers.
Ariza’s play this year ensures he won’t be a bargain in free agency, but he could be a target for a Dallas team that finds the price on Luol Deng to be too high. There is always trepidation when signing a player coming off a career year, and it will be interesting to see what the market holds for Ariza.
If Ariza does not command a contract that will be problematic down the road, the Mavericks will certainly have interest.
Ariza is the kind of versatile, athletic weapon the Mavericks need. Ariza can hit the open 3-point shot and he would give the Mavericks starting lineup another dependable scoring option.
5) Gordon Hayward – Small forward
Like Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward is a restricted free agent so luring him away from the Utah Jazz will not be easy. While that may the case, a number of teams will attempt to do just that. Hayward is a smart, athletic small forward who would fit in well with virtually any team.
There were rumors that it would take a max contract to land Hayward, but I remain skeptical that is the case. Hayward averaged 16.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Jazz during the 2013-14 season.
Hayward may not come with as much fanfare, but his 2013-14 PER of 16.2 is higher than rival small forwards Luol Deng (15.2) and Chandler Parsons (15.9).