Roadmaps For The Mavs' Quest for D12 And CP3

We like the idea of D12 or CP3 signing with Dallas, but what if Dallas wants both? We take our numbers, some Mavs' thinking, and stir-and-serve to offer an exclusive look at what works (and what doesn't), direct routes and complex ones, and the smallest cap it takes to land both players in Dallas. It can be done (at max-money levels, too). Step inside as we outline the possibilities.



In July the Mavs will attempt to sign NBA star free agents Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, or both, and in its abbreviated form it sounds like a title to a Star Trek episode: "2013: In Quest of D12 and CP3." Where will that adventure take Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle and company? We don't know, but we can help set the landscape for what can happen and why. Here we go!

Let's start with a bit of perspective. If the Dallas Mavericks try to sign Howard and Paul, what will be the biggest obstacle? Where the salary cap is set? Working sign-and-trades to the LA teams? Clearing cap room by making trades of existing players to other teams?
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The biggest challenge will be the Mavs' ability to recruit Howard and/or Paul to join the Mavs. In all the fuss over numbers, that's the often-overlooked biggie. The rest, by comparison, is the small stuff.

All year I've openly stated my belief that Howard and Paul are going nowhere. I've felt that each had reached a level of satisfaction in their location, once they were traded to LA, and were no longer looking elsewhere. Even with the ugly exit from the playoffs by each, my personal view has not changed. We'll demonstrate the financial possibilities, but we aren't assuming anything. Just "what if" stuff here.

But to their credit, the Mavs aren't listening to my negativity; and if they are to prove me wrong, it will take salesmanship. So let me detour to offer some unsolicited advice to them here.

I've been highly critical of the Mavs last July in attempting to land Deron Williams, as neither Cuban nor Dirk Nowitzki attended the meeting. While it's true that the basic sales pitch can be executed by others, why would the player opt to join the Mavs when he can get more money elsewhere? Isn't it to play with Dirk? And to entrust his basketball future to Cuban? That being the case, having those guys in the room can make a difference. Shark Tank can wait.

One more item: If I was setting the tone, my sales pitch would center on the difficulty of winning a title in their current locale. They are making little headway, and have to battle the Miami Trio, the SA Trio, and the OKC Trio. What better way to create a title legacy than to join with each other, and with Dirk, to create a new and balanced trio of superstars, with the league's best PG, the league's best C, and the league's most-versatile PF? Each has proven their mettle with years as The Guy on separate teams. They know the frustration of carrying the load with little help, and fighting the stacked teams seemingly alone. Together, and only together, create a transcendent legacy; or stay where you are and struggle.

That's the approach that Pat Riley used to land the Miami Trio. He dazzled with his rings, and with a stunning audio-video presentation focusing on the legacy possibilities for each if they came to Miami. Can the Mavs do the same? No one should be able to match the resources Cuban has to do likewise, and leave them wowed and understanding why there's no real choice for them but Dallas. It takes a vision, and it's the Mavs job to make sure they see it in all its glory. No excuses.

ITEM 1 – So if the Mavs get both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul to agree to come to Dallas, is it even possible to squeeze both into the Mavs' cap? If so, how?

The simple answer is yes. But explaining the exact "how to" is complicated by some items presently unknown: the NBA's 2013-14 salary cap, the size of the salaries that will be demanded by Howard and Paul, and more. So in the items below, we'll examine some of the things that can be done, some that can't, show the cap numbers where these possibilities will work, and explain how the Mavs and the players could work together to make things happen, if they all decide to team together.

As an aside, our sources tell us the Mavs are already looking at both players, and weighing the relative merits of each. Is it preferable for the center-loving Mavs to have a best-of-his-generation center who is dominant on defense and can also draw attention in the paint? Or is the premiere offense-running, ball-controlling, ability-to-get-a-bucket point guard the one they'd want, if they have to choose? How about both?

ITEM 2 – Would adding both be dependent on a huge jump in the NBA's salary cap? If so, how much of a jump are we talking about?

The higher the cap, the more possibilities there are for the Mavs, but there are get-‘em-both solutions that don't derive from a massive cap increase. (As for how high the cap will go this summer, it's really hard to say. David Stern boasted of a looming 20% increase in revenues this season but that was way back in November and may have been more bluster than analysis.)

However, if we want to hope for a cap increase big enough for the Mavs to simply clear out their roster and then sign Howard and Paul to max deals, the minimum cap number it would take for that would be $67,097,168 (Dirk - 22,721,381; D12 - 20,513,178; CP3 – 18,960,809; 10 cap holds for empty roster slots - 4,901,800). But we think a cap of $67,097,168 or more is very unlikely.

The Mavs themselves have done the same math – and we have been made aware that they too have walked away from that $67M+ number looking for other possibilities.

ITEM 3 – Is it even possible for the Mavs to "clean out" the entire roster of salary commitments, as needed?

We don't see a problem. Every player under contract is on an expiring deal at the end of 2013-14, and all are either proven veterans with an all-star resume' (Marion and Carter) or kids on cheap contracts with a reasonable amount of potential (Cunningham, Crowder, B James). A deal offering talent, with no talent required in return, should be easy to find in a summer where there will be lots of teams with cap room and not enough talent to go around.

ITEM 4 – What can the Mavs do if the cap is less than $67,097,168 and both want to come to Dallas?

In that case, the Mavs have two options: (1) split whatever cap room is available between Howard and Paul, or (2) work with one or more of the LA teams to do an acquisition by sign-and-trade, sending talent back rather than doing a simple signing.

After clearing out the roster, a "split what you have left" option would offer an amount that varies based on where the cap lands. At various cap levels, here's what would be available:

*58.044 Million – (2012-13 cap) - $15,210,409 each

*60 Million – (NBA forecast made in 2012) - $16,188,409 each

*62 Million – $17,188,409 each

*64 Million – $18,188,409 each

In case you're curious, the max salary for Howard at those cap levels would be $20,513,178, and for Paul $18,668,430.

But our feedback from Mavs headquarters is telling us they are already examining the feasibility and possible parameters for sign-and-trade possibilities.

ITEM 5 – Why would either LA team agree to a sign-and-trade?

The incentive for those teams would be to keep from losing talent and getting nothing in return. Such a loss-for-nothing would be especially crushing for the Lakers; after losing Howard, their salary would still be so high that they would be paying substantial tax, with only a Taxpayer MLE and minimum salary offers to work with in trying to better the roster. Getting back veterans who can fit into their lineup like Marion and Carter, young talent like Crowder and others, and all of whom would come with only one-year commitments, would prove helpful to their efforts to improve.
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In fact, a source with knowledge of the Mavs' thinking has indicated to us that the Mavs have already looked at what it would take to do a sign-and-trade for Howard. Just in case, of course.

In addition, consider this: As long as the cap rises even moderately (we'll define "moderately" below), the Mavs would only have to offer a sign-and-trade to one LA team, not both, to make a dual signing workable. In that situation, competition works in favor of the Mavs: Who wants to be the one to get something of value in return, and who wants to be stuck with nothing?

Note also that the LA teams lack leverage here. While the Mavs almost certainly won't be able to land both players without at least one sign-and-trade, they can certainly sign one. So a refusal to cooperate provides no guarantee to either LA team that their player isn't going to be the one signed, if the Mavs have to settle for only one – or that the other team isn't doing the sign-and-trade that opens the door to both.

ITEM 6 - If both players insisted on max salaries only, and both LA teams were amenable to a sign-and-trade, how would that work?

Doing a sign-and-trade for both Howard and Paul would provide the most cap flexibility of all for the Mavs, because that could be done no matter how low the cap is set. In that scenario, the Mavs would trade to the Lakers every player (other than Dirk) they have under contract, and use Dallas free agents to send $13.7 million in players to the Clippers in sign-and-trades. There would be assets left over.

But there is one snag in that ultra-flexible plan (item 7).**

ITEM 7 – In considering sign-and-trades, would there be any obstacles for the Mavs in making such deals?**

There is one hangup in doing a sign-and-trade with the Lakers: the Mavs currently don't have enough existing contracts to do such a deal and ink Howard to his max of $20,513,178.**

(Please see postscript for an update on this issue.)

Beginning July 1, as a virtually-certain over-the-apron taxpayer (player payroll over "tax line plus $4 million"), the Lakers (as the Mavs recently reminded us) will only be able to take players in trade who are already under contract; they cannot accept a player being sign-and-traded. Acquiring Howard at his max salary would require $15,513,178 or more in 2013-14 outgoing salary (using the 150% rule, with its plus-$5M limit), but the total salary in Mavs' non-Dirk contracts for 2013-14 is only $15,282,940 (Marion, Carter, Cunningham, Crowder, James).

Three solutions exist.

The first solution would be for the Mavs to sign-and-trade for Howard at a starting salary of no more than $20,282,940.

The second is not something I see as likely or desirable, but it is possible. The Mavs have a team option for Josh Akognon** at $788,872, which must be exercised by June 30. If they exercised that option, he would then be a player already under salary and could be added to the sign-and-trade to the Lakers, making enough total salary to sign-and-trade for Howard on a max contract.

The third solution would be for the Mavs to make the trade a three-way, with added salary to help match Howard's salary coming from a sign-and-trade of a Mavs' free agent to another team.

With the Clippers and Paul, there are no such limitations.

ITEM 8 – So what is the lowest salary cap at which the Mavs could sign-and-trade for Howard and sign Paul outright to the max? And how would that work?

It depends on which solution (item 7) was chosen**, but in general the answer lands just under a $60 million cap (which is a moderate cap raise from the current $58.044M). In solution 1, the cap required would be $59,613,831 or more. In 2 or 3, it could be done with a cap as low as $59,912,523.

The process would be to work out the deals in advance. Then clear out the extraneous cap holds. In the first alternative, that leaves Dirk – $22,721,381; Marion et al (the 5-player package for the Lakers sign-and-trade) - $15,282,940; six cap holds for empty roster slots – $2,941,080; and $18,668,430 in cap room. Sign Paul using the cap room. Trade the 5-player package for Howard. (In alternatives 2 or 3, you would substitute Akognon as either an already-signed or sign-and-trade-elsewhere player instead of an empty cap slot.) Regardless, you end up with 3 perennial all-stars, 10 empty roster slots, and there's one Room MLE and all the minimum salary exceptions you need to fill the rest of the roster.
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Note: These are bare-bones solutions. If the cap is higher than the minimum levels we have noted, there can be flexibility in fashioning sign-and-trades and in players that can be retained.

ITEM 9 – How about signing Howard and a sign-and-trade for Paul – how high would the cap have to be for that to be possible? And how would it work?

The process would be very similar to item 8, and here there are possibilities with a cap as low as $58,703,344 (not far above the 2012-13 cap of $58,044,000). In the "lowest cap" case, the Mavs would clear all but Dirk - $22,721,381; Marion, Crowder, James, rights holds on Wright and Akognon** – total $12,527,705; six cap holds for empty roster slots – $2,941,080; and $20,513,178 in cap room. Sign Howard using the cap room. Trade the non-Dirk players for Paul, with Wright getting sign-and-traded starting at $4,010,036 or more and Akognon at the minimum.

Note: In all the sign-and-trades, the CBA rule is that the required amount of salary (or more) gets sent away by Dallas in the trade. But if necessary, in that trade some of it can be sent to other teams rather than to LA.

ITEM 10 – The bare-bones sign-and-trades noted require a cap at the $58.7-$59.9M level (or higher), but how much higher would the cap have to be to keep more players doing these scenarios?

If they aren't needed for a trade, the following players or rights would be able to be kept with the listed extra amount of cap (the amounts listed are individual, not cumulative):

*Crowder – additional $298,692 in cap

*B James – additional $298,692 in cap

*Akognon** – additional $298,692 in cap

*Early Bird rights on Wright – additional $394,113 in cap

*Rights to #13 draft pick - additional $1,165,120 in cap (Note: In all our calculations we have ignored this player, under the assumption the Mavs would be able to get rid of him if need be. That approach is solely because this player eats up more cap space than other options.)

*Carter - additional $2,689,820 in cap

*Non-Bird rights on Mayo - additional $4,333,820 in cap

*Bird rights on Beaubois - additional $5,078,153 in cap

*Bird rights on Collison - additional $5,308,180 in cap

THE BOTTOM LINE – Howard and Paul, rather than Howard or Paul? The rules and the numbers say it is doable. We've provided multiple road maps. The rest is up to Donnie, Mark, Rick, Dwight, and Chris in The Quest for D12 and CP3.

and at the very end of Item 6 (the words there are "Item 7"), and after the word "chosen" in the first sentence of the an (Note re Item 7: the bold question and the underlined answer should have been separated by a line. Please fix that before adding this other edit, if you will.)


** Postscript: After this article was published, we received clarification of the exact details on the late-season Josh Akognon contract from friend and NBA salary wizard Mark Deeks of shamsports.com. His close examination revealed that rather than there being a "team option" for 2013-14 as we had otherwise been told by others, there is already a contract in place for 2013-14 that is non-guaranteed. This is even more advantageous to the Mavs than a team option.

Since Akognon is already a player under contract, he would be eligible to be included in a trade with the Lakers, meaning the Mavs now have enough salary already in place to trade for Howard on a max contract; the obstacle in Item 7 does NOT exist; and none of the "solutions" in Item 8 would be necessary after all. In addition, should the Mavs make a trade using Akognon to either LA team, his salary can be waived at no cost to the receiving team (a mini-DUST chip, so to speak) if he is not wanted. (That is also true of B. James and his non-guaranteed contract, until 7/15.) Since Akognon's contract is not guaranteed and can be cleared at any time at no cap cost, our calculations in the article of the minimum cap to do this or that remain exactly the same ... DL 5/8/13

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