As the eyes of many NBA fans shift towards the postseason, some front office executives are thinking about how they can improve the fates of their franchises that are not currently vying for postseason play. The pre-draft process is filled with tons of scouting, evaluation periods, internal discussion and workouts for some of the hopeful rookies that want a spot in the NBA.
Taking the drafting needs and picks into consideration, financial considerations can paint the biggest picture to what decisions will be made beyond the draft. Trading some players, utilizing cap space for taking on others, and preparing for free agency all are highly informed by the team's salary situations – after all, the NBA is a business.
Both Dallas and Memphis are coming off highly disappointing campaigns and have some veterans on their roster that are difficult to move. Both should be active in finding and listening to all scenarios that could allow them to take some C4 to their roster and blow things up.
2017-18 Record: 24-58
2018 Draft Picks: 3rd*, 34th
Restricted Free Agents: PG Yogi Ferrell, F Doug McDermott, C Salah Mejri, G Aaron Harrison
Unrestricted Free Agents: G Seth Curry, C Nerlens Noel
Other Players of Note: F/C Dirk Nowitzki ($5m team option - will be picked up), F Dorian Finney-Smith (non-guaranteed contract), G Kyle Collinsworth (non-guaranteed contract), F Maxi Kleber (non-guaranteed contract)
Committed Salary: $69,193,267
Cap Space: $31.8 million
Just a year ago there was great optimism for how I thought the Mavericks franchise trajectory would be. With a franchise-caliber point guard in Dennis Smith, finally finding a talented big man in Nerlens Noel and the versatile play of Harrison Barnes in the middle, the Mavericks finally found a good young core to ease into life after Dirk retired.
Noel has burned his bridges and worn out his welcome in Dallas after being so far apart on contract talks and a general sense of unprofessionalism. Smith has a lot left to learn, and the tandem of Barnes and Wesley Matthews on the wings has aged rather quickly. The Mavs have some cap space, but also a key free agent in Seth Curry and a top-five pick in this year's draft. Optimism might be more than one year away, but Dallas isn't in a terrible situation relative to other non-playoff teams.
Order of Operations
1. Get some size or Luka Doncic in the draft
Smith is the point guard of the future, and Michael Porter Jr. is a scoring wing that kind of scares me to be honest. Dallas will have a top-six pick in the draft and should take either Doncic or one of the five elite big men in the draft - DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter Jr., Mohammed Bamba or Jaren Jackson Jr.
The reason Doncic may not be worth passing up is that he fits so well with what Rick Carlisle likes and how he tries to play - multiple ball handlers, constant spacing around Dennis Smith and smart, gritty players. But the Mavs do have a gaping hole in the middle of their defense and have for some time. Finding foundational players at the 1 and the 5 in back-to-back drafts would be fantastic for their long-term core.
2. Utilize their cap space... before the draft or on draft night
The Mavs finished the season with roughly $7 million between their finances and the salary cap. Dallas acted this season as an over-the-cap team based on their cap holds, but have three minor trade exceptions that will expire by mid-July. And they should use them during this NBA fiscal year.
There will be a bunch of teams trying to unload some smaller contracts to the Mavericks. What's the downside of eating the $91k of Aaron Harrison, or $290k of Kyle Collinsworth, to then absorb a salary via trade and waive it? By doing so and eating the dead cap space, Dallas can likely add another high-value second-round pick in the draft. Regardless of their cap mechanics, the Mavs will project to have $30 million in space once July gets there, so there isn't a ton of downside to absorbing one bad contract and keeping it on their roster.
3. Snatch up Seth Curry early
Many around the Mavericks organization still believe in Curry, and you can count me chief among them. He's a versatile combo guard with great outside shooting skills, and after a season of injury he's likely to be on a fair discount. As an unrestricted free agent, Dallas may not have the ability to set the number for Curry's initial contract, but he is a good bet to be on their roster next season since they have the cap space to outbid other teams.
4. Be prudent but efficient in free agency
Much like other teams with cap space this summer, the Mavericks don't have a clear path to the postseason right away but might have the money required to snag a good RFA or veteran to their team. Owner Mark Cuban is notorious for being aggressive in the summers and not necessarily getting what he wants, but the Mavs likely will be able to snag away one player on top
5. Identify the other free agents they want to return
After throwing their hat into the ring for some of the bigger names on the market, the Mavericks should consider getting an order together for which other players should return from last year's roster. Leading candidates include Yogi Ferrell, a backup point guard that scores in bursts, and Doug McDermott, a stretch wing/ forward that may not have scratched the surface of his NBA potential yet.
Dirk may put himself in this category as well if he implores the Mavericks to decline his team option and needs more time to decide if he's going to retire. If this happens, Dirk's cap hold would be roughly $9.5 million and the Mavs wouldn't dare eat into it to sign another player, as their loyalty to him is too strong. However, there is the possibility Dirk wants to play for the Vet Minimum anyway (he's incredibly unselfish like that), which means they could renounce that Cap Hold and retain him anyway.
2017-18 Record: 22-60
2018 Draft Picks: 2nd*, 32nd
Restricted Free Agents: none
Unrestricted Free Agents: G Tyreke Evans, PG Mario Chalmers
Other Players of Note: Three non-guaranteed contracts: G Andrew Harrison, G Wayne Selden, F Omari Johnson. Selden's deal becomes guaranteed on July 10
Committed Salary: $105,761,660
Luxury Tax: $16.7 million
Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol all earned more than $1 million per win in Memphis this past season. Now the three of them, who combined to play in 121 games during the 2017-18 campaign, will make an astounding $78.7 million next year. Parsons has proven ineffective since coming to Memphis, and Gasol and Conley both aged rather quickly. Faced with what could be a franchise-defining rebuild process, will the front office and management be able to pull the trigger on a deal to ship one of their prized franchise pieces away and star fresh?
While dealing with the realization that Chandler Parsons won't ever be the marquee player the team realized, it looks like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are their two chances to squeeze some value out of players before they're completely out of their prime. If the franchise and them come to an agreement on a path of action, this could be a very active summer for an organization that is already projected to be over the salary cap next season.
Order of Operations
1. Decide if they'll trade their centerpieces, who that will be, and move fast
We can debate until we're blue in the face what the best thing for the Grizzlies to do is, but frankly NBA owners are a group that don't always face the clear realities of their franchise's basketball situations. That could be the case in Memphis, where owner Robert Pera doesn't want to give up on making the playoffs with local kid Marc Gasol and a perennially underrated point guard in Mike Conley.
If he does decide to trade one of them, that decision should be made heading into the draft. The 2018 first-round has opportunities to trade into it and add picks that turn into quality players. Sure, Memphis will have to eat into their cap space with some other players or dead weight just to make it work fiscally, but adding young players now could truncate a painful rebuild.
The reason for being so quick to pull the trigger on this decision is three-fold. First, Marc Gasol's contract adds a $3.2 million trade kicker to it if he's traded after July 11th, making it all the more difficult to find a salary-matching partner. Second, a deal early in July gives Memphis a clearer picture of what to target in free agency. Third, a deal before free agency starts to shift the frontcourt landscape presents the front office a clearer picture of their trade partners.
2. Draft best player available
The top of the 2018 NBA Draft is littered with franchise-altering big men. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson... there are many that could be high-caliber posts for a long time to come. The Grizzlies, if they don't want to trade Gasol right away, could be tempted into taking a player like Michael Porter, Luka Doncic or Trae Young just to avoid the difficulty of tipping their hand with Gasol.
After winning 22 games and with a future 1st round pick (heavily protected the next two years) owed to Boston, the Grizz are not in a position to avoid taking the best players and reformatting their team around them. This is their chance to add a high-caliber player and they have to take it, no matter what it means for their veterans. Those same veterans have proven injury-prone and haven't gotten it done in a "what have you done for me lately" league. Eyes towards the future are a must.
3. Re-sign Tyreke Evans
It was a strange decision for the Grizzlies to not deal Evans at the trade deadline last year. Whether their asking price was too high or perception of Tyreke too great, they've put themselves into a box now. The Grizzlies MUST keep Evans to make sure that move wasn't in vain, and that includes throwing what is likely the full Mid-Level Exception of $8.8 million at him.
If they couldn't find a way to get Evans, it would make the decision to balk on a trade in February all for nothing. By keeping him, even at a steeper price, they now allow themselves to cash in on Evans on the trade market at some point, which is the type of policy they should be adopting regarding their veteran players.
4. Shed Salary when possible
This may be the most difficult task for the Grizzlies to undertake. They have three big contracts – one of which nobody wants, and the other two are so large that they'll have to eat salary just to unload them. After that, it's JaMychal Green making $8.8 million on an expiring contract next year, and Green was arguably one of their most important and productive players last year. There's the little-desired contract of Ben McLemore ($5.5m next year), and then a bunch of rookie contracts.
How exactly do these Grizz find effective ways to shed salary immediately? That comes with being shrewd with the deals they do make involving Conley or Gasol. It means perhaps trading Green to a team that covets his Bird Rights (he'll be 29 as a free agent next summer, it's not like he's this super young player for the Grizzlies to cling to for the future). It means exploring any option mid-season to trade guys like McLemore, potentially Tyreke Evans and anyone else they grab with the Mid-Level, to cash out after giving them legitimate playing time and be creative with ways to shed salary during the season.
5. Evaluate the youngsters
Use the summer to evaluate their young players, of which they have many that have been underwhelming or middling thus far. There are also going to be opportunities, through their G-League team and on the secondary market this summer, to add youngsters at minimums. By letting go of Selden, Harrison and Omari Johnson, the Grizzlies could have three more spots to add players this upcoming summer and fall.
Good news for the Grizzlies is that these players should see the floor and at least one of them will find an opportunity to separate themselves. But, and this is a huge question mark, if they draft a center in the draft, will guys like Deyonta Davis and Ivan Rabb get a legitimate chance to play their best styles? That's where evaluation gets so difficult, and why the Grizzlies have zero players on their roster that aren't up for grabs in a trade.
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Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).