Less than three months after their breakthrough postseason performance that saw them land in the NBA‘s Western Conference finals following an upset over the Phoenix Suns, the Mavericks are in the throes of a particularly un-celebratory offseason. Jalen Brunson bolted to the Knicks to open free agency, and in the aftermath, the plight of the Mavericks has been brought into especially sharp focus.
There’s Luka Doncic. Next to him, there’s no secondary star, only a handful of maybes and hope-fors—Christian Wood and Spencer Dinwiddie, for example. The Mavericks don’t have the assets on hand to help bring another star to Big D.
That could force the team to get creative this season, even if it means taking a step back in the short term. It starts by shedding some salary in hopes of having room under the salary cap to pursue a major free agent next summer. The Mavericks are right around $130 million in salary for next year, and would likely need a two-transaction approach to getting far enough under the cap to bring in a difference-maker.
“They have never really sold anyone on the idea of playing with Luka because they’ve always been capped-out,” one league source told Heavy Sports. “They need the room to go after free agents to make it work. They don’t have it now, and they have not had it since he has been there.”
Trading Tim Hardaway Jr. is Step 1 to Cap Space
But they could potentially get it, and the Mavericks have a clear first priority to do so: Unload Tim Hardaway Jr.’s contract. Hardaway just signed an extension last summer, and it’s not a bad deal for the team—a descending contract that goes from $19.6 million this year to $17.9 million next year and $16.2 million in the final year of the contract, 2024-25.
Hardaway is coming off a poor season, averaging just 14.2 points on 39.4% shooting and 33.6% 3-point shooting, and things got worse when he suffered a fractured foot that ended his season in January and limited him to 42 games.
He won’t be easy to trade, but just getting off his contract is an incentive for the Mavs.
The key is to get back players on one-year deals, preferably guys who could still help the team stay in short-term contention. The source speculated (to be clear, no such deal has been concretely discussed) that a deal for Hardaway is out there.
“Teams like him. You know what you’re getting. OK defender, streaky shooter, high basketball IQ, a veteran guy,” the source said of Hardaway. “The Lakers are a team looking for an upgrade, a veteran guy like Hardaway, there is something that could get done there if there was another team involved and a draft pick. He makes sense there. The Mavs need to create the room.”
Jazz Could Make a 3-Team Trade Plausible
Indeed, bringing in a rebuilding team like Utah could grease the wheels on a Lakers-Mavericks Hardaway deal, which would look something like this:
Mavericks get: Patrick Beverley (Jazz), Kendrick Nunn (Lakers)
Jazz get: Talen Horton-Tucker (Lakers), Wenyen Gabriel (Lakers), Lakers first-round 2027 pick
Lakers get: Tim Hardaway Jr., 2023 least-favorable first-rounder from Houston, Brooklyn or Philadelphia (Jazz)
Beverley, who was pursued by Dallas before, is a dogged defender who would land with the Mavs, and Nunn is a talented guard who missed all of last season with a stubborn knee injury, but is worth a flier for the Mavericks.
The Jazz give up Beverley and park Horton-Tucker’s salary. They get what could be a hugely valuable 2027 pick from the Lakers—an upgrade on the pick they’d send out.
The Lakers get a much-needed scorer on the wing. Sending out the 2027 first-rounder would be too high a price for THJ, so the Lakers would also get the 2023 pick the Nets sent to Utah for Royce O’Neale. That will likely be Philly’s pick and fall deep in the 20s, but it’s still a first-rounder that the Lakers can use as another trade chip.
There Are ‘Gettable’ Free Agents in 2023
Sending away Hardaway’s salary could leave the Mavs almost $20 million under the cap. Potentially, the Mavericks could create more than $35 million in space by also trading away Davis Bertans, which would require Dallas to add a draft pick.
“It won’t be a great class next year,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “Obviously, the Mavericks would love a guy like Khris Middleton, but he won’t be leaving Milwaukee, I think. Kyrie Irving, if you want to put him with Luka which, I wouldn’t.
“But there will be opportunities, gettable guys, some restricted free agents out there, Cam Johnson or Tyler Herro. We’ll see what happens with Minnesota and D’Angelo Russell, and Collin Sexton in Cleveland. There’s Myles Turner, a Texas guy. You could go hard after the Warriors, whether it’s (Jordan) Poole or (Andrew) Wiggins. You’d rather go with a younger guy, a guy like Poole, but the Mavs could do worse than adding Wiggins to that mix.”
First, though, they need the cap space.