The Dallas Mavericks added Kristaps Porzingis to a core with Luka Doncic and have since been linked to Orlando Magic big Nikola Vucevic.
Vucevic, 28, is considered a top priority for Orlando this offseason after they made the playoffs. The 7-footer is coming off his best professional season and an All-Star campaign. He averaged a career-best 20.8 points to go with 12.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists while adding 1.1 three-pointers on 36.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
According to Josh Robbins, the Mavericks have been focused on the big for quite some time (via The Athletic):
“It should be noted that Mavericks dispatched a high-ranking member of their front office to observe several post-trade deadline Magic games, ostensibly to scout Vucevic.”
Based on their current cap projections, they could be able to bring him into the mix with some careful maneuvering this offseason.
How much usable cap space does the franchise have?
Dallas has $55.4 million in guaranteed money on their roster for next season if Dwight Powell opts into his player option worth $10.2 million. The salary cap projects at $109 million, giving them $47.4 million in usable space.
Expect the Mavericks to wait on putting pen to paper for their massive deal with Porzingis (assuming he does not accept the qualifying offer) because they would sacrifice that cap space available to offer another big-name target. This offseason will be their last chance to utilize cap space because once the Latvian-born big man signs, they’ll be locked into this core.
For them to follow this plan, though, they would have to hold onto Porzingis’ $17 million cap hold. That would reduce their cap space from $47.4 million to $30.7 million.
If they hold onto Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber as well, that will drop to $28.8 million. But this would be a coveted route because both are trusted rotation players within the organization and relatively cheap roster holds.
This is considered the most likely option considering their current draft selection projects at ninth overall, which means that it would be owed to the Atlanta Hawks as part of their trade for Doncic.
While we do not yet know if they have their draft pick, they could also have a cap hold worth between $6.1 million and $8.4 million next year if they land a top-four pick because the selection is top-five protected.
How much money could they offer Nikola Vucevic/free agents?
All of this essentially means they could still feasibly agree to terms with a free agent like Vucevic before offering Porzingis his massive contract. The most Vucevic can earn is a four-year max worth $140.6 million based on his service time with a hit of $32.7 million this offseason.
They could offer Vucevic the full max without Finney-Smith, Kleber and a draft pick or up to $22.6 million with the two players and the No. 4 overall selection on the books. Those variables would change depending on lottery ping pong balls and their interest in those two players mentioned above, but the most realistic figure would be $28.8 million.
After a relatively subpar performance in the playoffs, perhaps the Eastern Conference All-Star would accept a lesser deal to be with the Mavericks – especially after the upside shown by Doncic.
Could the Mavericks generate more cap space if needed?
For what it’s worth, franchise owner Mark Cuban said he plans to offer a contract extension to Powell this offseason. That means the forward would opt out and renegotiate a longer deal with less money upfront, clearing a little bit of space for them to spend for their immediate offseason plans.
It is hard to imagine Powell would spare more than $3 million next season, though the security of a longer deal could be appealing to stay with the team.
For every dollar that the forward sacrifices, more money can be afforded to Vucevic or other free agents. Such an agreement would presumably come before they come to an agreement with Vucevic or another top free agent.
Perhaps the front office gets crafty and packages their potential first-round pick this season to move off the massive money owed to Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee.
Of course, this would only be possible if they land a pick in the top four. Otherwise, their pick is owed to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the deal to originally Doncic. If it does not convey this year, they could always try offering a future first-rounder as well.
Alternatively, they could stretch the money owed to Lee this offseason. His expiring $12.7 million deal can be stretched over $4.2 million per year over the next three seasons. That would create an additional $7.6 million in cap space but would be their last resort if they cannot make a cost-cutting trade.
They would have up to $36.4 million if they stretched Lee, did not keep their first-round pick but held onto the cap holds owed to Porzingis, Finney-Smith and Kleber.
Even before renegotiating a deal with Powell, that would be enough to bring Vucevic or even a guard like D’Angelo Russell or Kemba Walker to Dallas. Walker would cost the same as Vucevic while Russell would be a hit of $27.2 million.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks recently listed the Knicks, Pacers and Mavericks as the only teams with enough cap space to add Russell this offseason. Such a deal would eliminate them from Vucevic but may be more in line with their needs.
What does that mean for Porzingis and the rest of their roster?
Because they acquired his bird rights, Dallas can go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis this offseason. He can subsequently agree to a deal up to $158 million over five seasons, costing the front office $27.2 million next year.
Porzingis, however, reportedly informed the Mavericks that he planned to accept his qualifying offer so he can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. But no All-Star player has ever foregone a max level rookie scale extension to accept a qualifying offer.
Note that he said he would actively help the team in free agency pitches (via ESPN):
“Porzingis said he plans to be active in recruiting free agents to sign with the Mavs,who created the salary cap space to be aggressive shoppers this summer by trading forward Harrison Barnes to the Kings soon after dealing for Porzingis.”
It seems most likely he will sign with Dallas if they offer him a max contract or close to the aforementioned max. The Mavericks are outwardly confident they can keep him within the organization.
He presumably planned to sacrifice money for a year so he can leave the Knicks via unrestricted free agency in 2020, which does not mean that he would do the same for the Mavericks.
They can also go over the cap to re-sign Finney-Smith and Kleber, which means such agreements would also likely happen later in the free agency period.
For these 10 roster slots (including Jalen Brunson and Justin Jackson as well as Finney-Smith and Kleber) with Vucevic on the payroll at $28.8 million and Powell opting in, the Mavericks would have $115.1 million on the books.
They can spend up to $138 million before facing luxury tax penalties, providing a budget of approximately $13 million to finalize the final few roster spots. Those contracts would be signed with minimum deals and their second-round draft pick.
If they can add Vucevic and bring back Porzingis, they should contend well in the Western Conference moving forward.
USA TODAY Sports Media Group’s Yossi Gozlan contributed research to this report.