Mavericks mailbag: The challenge of evaluating the front office and other summer scenarios

Mavericks mailbag: The challenge of evaluating the front office and other summer scenarios

Today, we’re answering leftover mailbag questions asked earlier this month. They mostly focus on the July free-agency window and the players who could be signed or traded for once the major transactional period of this offseason begins.

Questions have been lightly edited and condensed for readability.

Brad B. asks, “How hot of a seat does Nico Harrison have?”

Brad asked this question while referencing the last set of mailbag questions, in which I detailed how and why the team still has support for Jason Kidd. Last season’s Mavericks were not better than the sum of their parts, which is the quintessential expectation of good coaching. But I did want to point out that there’s more to coaching than on-court results alone, even if that is, of course, the most important one.

Likewise, I believe that Harrison has the franchise’s full support going forward. He was hired to be a complementary figure along with Kidd, and he was asked to restructure the Mavericks’ front office to be more akin to a corporation like Nike, where he worked before Dallas sought him out. Donnie Nelson’s front office was more haphazard than the corporate professionalism Harrison has brought. He’s certainly performed that job.

Front offices can only be judged across years, not single offseasons or trade deadlines. Kyrie Irving’s upcoming free agency is an obvious example of a key decision that is both the cause and effect of many decisions before and after it. The judgment is complicated even further because so many of the decisions made by Harrison’s front office are ones created by the aftermath of Nelson’s team-building decisions, such as the Kristaps Porziņģis trade to the Wizards or Jalen Brunson’s departure as an unrestricted free agent. Kidd also has some level of influence in the Mavericks’ roster decisions, such as the team’s signing of JaVale McGee last summer. That’s not to say Harrison was overruled or merely acted upon Kidd’s wish — after all, Harrison said shortly after the 2021-22 season that the team’s offseason priority was rebounding and shot blocking. He does share responsibility for the failure of that signing. But the exact delineations of influence within the front office is hard to know.

You could argue even the Christian Wood trade primarily involved factors beyond Harrison’s control. Nelson had signed Trey Burke to an inexplicable three-year deal, Kidd had previously coached Sterling Brown with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Mark Cuban was responsible for Boban Marjanović coming to Dallas. Even knowing how Wood’s season in Dallas played out, the front office cleared those salaries — avoiding the much more complicated salary sheet that would have occurred if they had been waived outright — and still acquired Jaden Hardy, who the team would have drafted if they had retained its first-round pick. Depending on how Hardy develops, this trade might end up being Harrison’s most successful transaction thus far.

Harrison and Kidd are complementary figures for this franchise who share complementary levels of support going forward. That support is not unconditional, which explains the team’s rumored interest in Dennis Lindsey as a front-office consultant and Frank Vogel as a front-of-bench assistant. But my belief is that those two potential hires would be meant to assist the team’s two leading decision makers, not express a lack of confidence in them going forward.

Chad S. asks, “Do you think the front office has disabused itself of the idea they can simply find role players as undrafted free agents, etc., and will commit to building out a roster with dynamic role players who will need to be paid what they’re worth?”

Yes, probably, but it might not matter. Dallas is paying starter-level money to two players (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dāvis Bertāns) but didn’t receive starter-level production from either. The team is roughly $22 million over the projected salary cap if you include Irving’s roster hold and, at least for now, the $5.2 million needed for the rookie-scale contract of a No. 10 selection. We know Dallas will look to move on from players like Hardaway and Bertāns, but if the team re-signs Irving, it’s hard to imagine them operating with any meaningful amount of cap space in the near future.

Those starter-level salaries often don’t come through free agency, not directly. Teams re-sign their draft picks to second contracts, or they trade for players who have upcoming paydays that their current franchise is uninterested in making. That’s how the Denver Nuggets acquired Aaron Gordon, for example. They brought him in at the 2021 trade deadline for a decent rotation player (Gary Harris), an unproven rookie (R.J. Hampton) and a first-rounder. Denver proceeded to sign Gordon to an extension that offseason, which is the entire reason the Orlando Magic were willing to move on from him for such a low price the previous spring.

If Dallas can’t re-sign Irving, they once again have a talent problem. If it does, the team only has the slightly-more-desirable problem of having a limited number of team-building paths. It’s not just that the team only has two available first-round picks and no expendable young prospects. (Hardy and Josh Green certainly aren’t untouchable, but they’re hardly expendable because of the significant roles they’re projected to have next season.) It’s that, with Luka Dončić making $40 million and Irving possibly earning up to $47 million, Dallas doesn’t have as much cap space to even pounce on distressed talent employed by franchises who don’t want to pay them.

We know the Mavericks have new decision makers, but it takes time for any front office to change course. Nelson’s front office didn’t prioritize acquiring high-end, below-the-max role players. The available team-building paths left in the wake of those decisions might make it difficult for Dallas to do the same.

Tyler E. asks, “I’m working on the assumption that most fans feel Maxi Kleber is somewhat untouchable in roster movement, given your recent fan poll. However, I’d argue that given his age and injury/durability concerns that the Mavs should look to move on pretty soon. Is a Kleber move on the table this offseason?”

Kleber signed an extension prior to last season that will pay him $11 million each of the next three seasons. He’s as available as anyone else on the roster not named Dončić.

But Kleber probably won’t be traded this summer, not after the disappointing season he had sandwiched around midseason surgery. Other teams might like Kleber as a player, but his league-wide valuation has been understandably reduced by those injury- and age-related factors. Basically, Kleber would be much more valuable to the Mavericks if he does return to playing like his best self next season than if he was traded. He’s also a player who has benefited from playing with Dončić, something the league increasingly realizes about Dallas’ role players after seeing Dorian Finney-Smith’s production decline in Brooklyn.

Corey P. asks, “If Luka decided he wanted to leave, can you speculate on what a trade package would look like for him?”

Like I joked about a potential Victor Wembanyama trade in this mailbag’s last edition, perhaps a couple guaranteed championships?

I’ve expressed this theory before, but it seems likelier to me that the Mavericks would let Dončić walk in free agency than trade him. For one, Dončić is stubborn. I’m not positive he would request a trade or have certain intentions to leave prior to his potential free agency in 2026, even if he might choose to depart once he actually gets there. Cuban is stubborn, too. If Dončić doesn’t specifically request to be traded, it’s easy to imagine Cuban still believing his team could re-sign him.

If he were to be traded — let’s say in the summer of 2025 when he’s 26 years old — it would probably be the largest, most lucrative trade package in league history. But that possibility, even as a hypothetical, is still far away.

Chris R. asks, “No. 10 pick + JaVale McGee + Tim Hardaway Jr. for Deandre Ayton? Who says no?”

I’ll say no. I just can’t justify trading for a center who doesn’t stretch the floor or provide significant defensive value while making $102 million over the next three years, even one who might have untapped potential and might not have bought in last season.

Stanton H. asks, “What would a Kyrie-to-the-Lakers sign-and-trade look like?”

Unless the Lakers somehow make Austin Reaves available in a return sign-and-trade or decide they’re willing to trade Anthony Davis — and they won’t — there’s really no reason for the Mavericks to assist Los Angeles if Irving chooses to sign there. Especially not if D’Angelo Russell is the consolation prize.

It requires tact, but the Mavericks should simply tell Irving upfront what contract they would like for him to re-sign, and while he certainly has the right to leave, they don’t plan to assist any other team in acquiring him. They have the most appealing offer.

Whether or not it’s wise to gamble this team’s future on Irving is another question entirely. But in trading for him, it seems clear this team’s path forward is re-signing him.

(Photo of Jason Kidd and Nico Harrison: SOPA Images / Getty Images)


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