The 2020 NBA season is coming to a close. After making the Playoffs for the first time in four years, the Dallas Mavericks have a bright future with Luka Doncic, who might be closer to winning MVP than we think. What moves can they make this off-season to propel themselves into contention?
First up, Free Agency. There are some players who the Mavericks should definitely target. I’ve listed five here as Plan A options.
But before we can talk about signing anyone, we have to know how much money the Mavericks have at their disposal.
How Much Cap Space Do the Mavericks Have in 2020?
Tim Hardaway Jr. has a Player Option on his contract. If he opts out, he becomes a free agent and the Mavericks will have about $20 million in cap space. They’ll also have the mid-level exception (about $9 million) and the bi-annual exception (about $4 million). If Hardaway opts in, they’ll only have the exceptions.
By the way, cap space is a very complex subject. There’s a lot that goes into exactly how much money the Mavericks will have. We’ll operate under the assumption that Hardaway will opt out, and that cap holds, dead cap, and the salary cap itself will give them roughly $20 million to work with, plus their two exceptions.
So, what should they do with that $20 million and/or exceptions?
5 Free Agents the Mavericks Should Target in 2020
1. DeMar DeRozan
It’s clear that the Mavericks need another playmaker next to Luka Doncic. Tim Hardaway Jr. filled that role this year, but there’s room for improvement. It’s certainly not impossible to upgrade from a guy who averaged 17 points and a couple of assists and rebounds. And the Mavericks’ second star, Kristaps Porzingis, is injury prone and not a good playmaker anyway. DeMar DeRozan can be that guy. His playmaking ability surpasses that of Hardaway’s, and it would help take some of the load off of Luka. The result would be a more balanced Dallas offense. Teams won’t be able to hone in on Luka like they do now.
I get the knock on DeMar about his 3-point shooting. He doesn’t shoot any. Modern NBA offenses stretch out defenses with long-range shots. However, the Mavericks have other floor spacers like Kristaps Porzingis (35 3P%), Seth Curry (45 3P%), Dorian Finney-Smith (38 3P%), and even Luka Doncic. DeRozan is so efficient as a mid-range scorer that his 2-pointers aren’t the bad shots the analytics say to avoid.
2. Joe Harris
Joe Harris is known for being a long-range sniper. It’s true, he’s a deadly 3-point shooter (he made 47.4% of his 3-point attempts in 2019), but his skillset goes beyond that. Harris has the ability to make plays with the ball by curling around screens and driving to the basket. His size helps him finish through contact, and he uses his body effectively in those situations.
You could say he’s a poor man’s Klay Thompson. Klay Thompson is obviously better at what he does, but their games are similar – long-range shots, pull-up jumpers off screens and around picks, and drives to the basket when there’s space.
The numbers show that he’s not a bad defender either. In fact, in 2020 he had a better Defensive Rating and Defensive Box Plus/Minus than Tim Hardaway Jr. Obviously, Hardaway isn’t a stone wall on the perimeter, but the point is that you’re not losing any skill there. If anything, you’re gaining a little.
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3. Jae Crowder
I hated it when the Mavericks included Jae Crowder in the trade for Rajon Rondo, and I hate it even more now. Crowder is a reliable role-player. He never takes a play off, brings defense and toughness every night, and is good for 10-15 points a game. His defense and toughness could take this team to another level, similar to the way Tyson Chandler’s tough-mindedness helped the Mavericks in 2011.
If Dorian Finney-Smith’s sudden jump in 3-point shooting continues (he shot 37.6% on 3-pointers in 2020 after shooting 31% in 2019), then he would be considered the better long-range option. But Jae is a much better defender, a more versatile scorer, and brings a tangible amount of swagger that Dorian Finney-Smith doesn’t. And he’s not a terrible 3-point shooter. He made 34.3% of his 3’s in 2020, including a 44.5 3PT% with Miami.
Crowder wouldn’t be the Mavericks’ prized free agent they use their $20 million in cap space on. They can bring him in for a deal worth $9-11 million a year, meaning this option is on the table whether Tim Hardway Jr. opts-in or not.
4. Montrezl Harrell
Replace Maxi Kleber with Montrezl Harrell and this team is instantly better. Maxi and Montrezl averaged about the same minutes per game in 2020. In 28 minutes per game, Montrezl averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. In 25 minutes per game, Maxi averaged 9.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. It’s not rocket science.
Offensively, they are slightly different players. Maxi can hit outside shots, whereas Montrezl lives closer to the basket. But Montrezl brings plenty of scoring and hustle on defense to make up for the difference. And we know Motrezl’s numbers aren’t empty stats because he did this on a 49-win team that was the title favorite. His size will always be a concern (he’s a 6’7 Center), but the Mavericks have size elsewhere with Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and even Boban Marjonovic. The Clippers didn’t have that luxury this year.
5. Tim Hardaway Jr.
I’ve listed a few players that would be an upgrade over Tim Hardaway Jr, but simply bringing Hardaway back wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. He had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2020. As a starter, he shot 45% overall and made almost 42% of his 3-pointers. His scoring average (17 points per game as a starter) isn’t outstanding, and he doesn’t add much else to the box score outside of that, but he’s a decent player nonetheless.
And remember, the Mavericks will still have their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, even if Hardaway opts in. They can use those to add guys like Jae Crowder, Joe Harris, or Davis Bertans. They could even swing for Montrezl Harrell.
The asterisk here is that the price would have to be right. His current contract has him at over $18 million a year. I don’t think a 4-year deal that runs north of $72 million would be a wise decision for a player who is one-sided in his skillset. But if he’s willing to take a deal in the mid- to high 60s, I would consider keeping him.
So the Mavericks have options in free agency. There are several players they could go after to improve their roster. Even if they prefer to wait until 2021 when superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard will be free agents, the exceptions they have this year still give them some money to bring in assets. And they need assets. Luka might be on his way to breaking several records, but he can’t win a Championship all by himself. The Mavericks are not done building this team.