DB.com Classic: The Discovery of DUST

(This story first ran on July 6, 2009)- Here's a scoop: The Mavs absolutely, positively, cannot, should not, must not trade ... Erick Dampier. Why? We'll call it 'The DUST Chip.'

Fast forward to around July 15. Jason Kidd and Marcin Gortat are set as Mavericks (looking solid as we write this). Let's say Ryan Hollins gets re-signed in the interim as well. The Mavs will have two centers, will have zeroed in their use for The Stack Chip, and will be solidifying the roster.

At that point, will it be time for the Mavs to actively solicit offers for Erick Dampier's expiring contract? Our surprising analysis …

We've previously alerted you to the fact that in the summer of 2010, Dampier's deal will be "Stack-like." Many fans already understand the concept, but for those who don't, here's how it works: The Mavs can currently trade Jerry Stackhouse and his $7.25M salary to another team and under the trade rules take back from them up to $9.16M in salary. When they get him, the other team can simply waive Stack and per the terms of his unusual contract, only be required to pay him $2M rather than the contractual amount of $7.25M. That would save them up to $7+M in payroll from the $9+M they sent to Dallas and perhaps just as much in luxury tax obligations. We've labeled this type of deal an "instant expiring" to highlight its desirability to a team in great need of instantly erasing payroll for budget or luxury tax reasons.

Dampier's contract next summer will be similar, and could be even more marketable than Stack's, because on Damp's there is no buyout required to waive him, and his contract will be about twice as big as Stack's is. Double the contract can equal double the savings for the other team.

But while San Antonio was able to utilize two similarly-structured but smaller "instant expiring" contracts (Oberto and Bowen) in landing Richard Jefferson, we haven't yet heard of any teams beating down the Mavs' doors offering prized talent for Stack as we had hoped. And because Dampier is already an expiring deal, and at the trade deadline will still be an expiring deal, we've been pondering whether the best route would be to go ahead and swap him as soon as any sort of an upgrade is offered, using that expiring-contract angle to get something of value sooner rather than later.

The old "bird in the hand" approach. Makes sense, yes? Well, no. Unless some team is offering a top star, the Mavs definitely need to keep Dampier this season.

Why? Because in the Summer of 2010, when there will be top free agents everywhere, Dampier's contract will have tremendous value if the Mavs want to do a Sign-and-Trade. In fact, it could be THE difference-maker in landing a superstar to play alongside (and perhaps ultimately take the baton from) Dirk, and we're calling it The Dampier Ultimate Sign-and-Trade (DUST) Chip, because once it's used, it vanishes like dust.

The DUST Chip.

Here's how it would work.

Next summer Sammy Superstar decides he wants a new team because he feels his old team will never be able to surround him with enough talent to win a title. (Did anyone read D-Wade's comments in that vein earlier this week? Has anybody been following the Chris Bosh saga?) In that summer, unlike most, there will be teams everywhere with enough cap room to give him a max contract, and his old team will know they will be losing Sammy Superstar in free agency while getting nothing back at all.

Meanwhile teams without cap room will try to woo Sammy while persuading his old team to do a Sign-and-Trade. Given the dollar volume of the Kidd and Gortat deals, if Dallas wants Sammy they will have to be one of those Sign-and-Trade teams.

In that process, teams offering Sign-and-Trades will face a huge obstacle. NBA rules require that in getting Sammy via S-and-T they will have to send the old team fairly equal salary. That matching salary may include a lot of talent, and Sammy won't want to come to a crippled team. Meanwhile, the old team won't want to accept and pay the salary for junk. Also, once they lose Sammy they might simply prefer to turn around and shop in the summer of 2010 free-agent pool, and matching salary would hinder that greatly. (For an illustration of how that works, see this summer where Orlando is losing star forward Hedo Turkoglu to free agency, yet is not willing to consider Sign-and-Trades because of the salary they'd have to add to their payroll.)

But Erick Dampier's contract – The DUST Chip -- simply erases all those problems for Dallas.

By using it for the salary match, the Mavs will not gut their team, because his "instant expiring" contract can trade-match a salary up to $16.4475M. One player and done. In addition, the old team merely waives Dampier once the trade is done and ends up with $0 added to their payroll. Dallas of course includes a sizable "tip" to the deal (such as picks and/or cash) along with the DUST, and the old team ends up netting picks and/or cash for a player they were losing anyhow, without any of the normal cap increase that accompanies sign-and-trades.

This could even be an afterthought deal. The old team sees Sammy Superstar ready to sign with another team and says to Dallas, "Hey, we're about to lose Sammy for nothing. We don't want any of the S-and-T offers we're getting. Send us That DUST Chip, and we'll help get him to Dallas."

What's in it for Sammy? A lot. In that scenario, he can be added to a Mavs team that's 100-percent intact and that can pay him significantly more money than any of those pure free-agent offers. For example, with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, a Sign-and-Trade can be six-years and $125.1 million, while an offer from a team with cap space could only be five years and $96.1 million.

Heck, if the Mavs need him, they might even re-sign Dampier once he's been waived!

Sammy Superstar wins by getting more money and going to a better team. The old team wins by getting picks and cash instead of nothing. Dallas wins by getting Sammy and adding him to an intact team.

Everybody wins.

Thanks to the possibilities made possible by The DUST Chip … You're losing your star, and want to start over as cheaply as possible with cap space, some extra picks and some cash to rebuild with? Call Mark Cuban.

Couldn't the old team leave all their cap space intact anyhow, just by letting Sammy walk? Of course. But why turn down something for nothing, if he's walking anyhow? Let him walk to Dallas, and add some assets for your rebuilding efforts. It literally costs nothing.

Would every team with a star free agent want such a deal? Of course not. It's obvious that Sammy's old team might find a preferable Sign-and-Trade offer with sizzling talent in return. But keep in mind that Sammy will be choosing the destination, so often it's not who can offer his old team the most, but rather who can find the best way to balance the old team's interests and also those of Sammy. The DUST Chip provides just such a way.

Just as importantly, this angle wouldn't have to work on every star free agent in 2010. It only takes one. In the supply-and-demand equation, there will be lots and lots of free agents and only one DUST Chip available to be used on only one max-salary deal. If it doesn't work on Sammy, how about LeBron or Dwyane or Chris or Joe or Amare or Rajon or Paul or Kobe or LaMarcus or Rudy or Josh or Brandon or Manu or Carlos or Mehmet or Steve or Ray or Shaquille or ... Also, it doesn't have to be reserved for a totally-maxed player, it could be used on any free agent Sign-and-Trade the Mavs wanted to pursue.

Next year might not be another Summer of Nuclear Winter. But there will be plenty of products on the shelves.

How much flexibility would The DUST Chip offer? Plenty. It could be used to match a first-year salary as big as $16.4475 million. For use on a player like LeBron, Wade, or Bosh who will be eligible for deals starting at $16.569 million, it simply takes a tiny addition and the matching requirement is all done. In fact, if the Mavs sign a minimum-salary player this summer to a two-year deal with the second year non-guaranteed, there's the rest of the matching on such a player, and it's all instantly erasable.

In addition, there still remains the option for The DUST Chip to merely be one part of a Sign-and-Trade, with some valued talent also being sent by the Mavs. In such a deal, DUST is still highly advantageous, in that the other team would only need to accept whatever talent they prefer, without any extra salary landing on their payroll due to NBA mandates.

There's one other argument for waiting that can't be ignored. Dampier is still a very useful center and has a well-defined role for the Mavs, especially defensively. If he's traded, unless it's for a better defensive center, the Mavs will be pinning their hopes in the middle against the Duncans and Howards and Shaqs of the world (all of whom they've been very successful against in recent years) on the lightly-tested Gortat and perhaps Hollins. That seems foolish – especially when it's so unnecessarily.

If there's a superstar being offered right now, and Dampier's contract needs to be part of the deal, then of course the Mavs should pull the trigger. Otherwise, let Dampier's trade value grow into The Dampier Ultimate Sign-and-Trade Chip – The DUST Chip -- for use in the free agent bonanza of 2010.

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