DALLAS — Maybe this math won’t matter, but it’s hard to consider it an encouraging sign that the Dallas Mavericks got less than half as much face time with Carmelo Anthony as the Houston Rockets and about a quarter as much as the Chicago Bulls.
But the Mavs knew all along that it was a long shot for them to talk Anthony into taking a less-than-max deal to come to Dallas.
Realizing their dark horse status in the Melo derby, the Dallas decision-makers have put a lot of thought into their Plan B options. They’ll be prepared to pounce if they don’t pull off the upset of signing Anthony.
The problem is it could be pretty slim pickings on that tier of small forwards in free agency.
Houston’s Chandler Parsons and Utah’s Gordon Hayward are fine young small forwards who would fit especially well offensively with their perimeter strokes and ability to create for themselves and teammates. Too bad they are restricted free agents whose teams have made it clear they intend to exercise their right to match any offers.
Maybe the Mavs call the bluff of the Rockets or Jazz, but that would mean they either pay more than the value point they placed on one of the players, or are left still looking after the three-day waiting period.
That leaves Luol Deng, a defensive stopper and 16-point-per-game career scorer who would arrive in Dallas without a reliable 3-point shot and with significant durability issues. He also doesn’t want to take much of a pay cut from the $14.7 million salary he made last season, while the Mavs view his value in the high seven figures annually.
In this market, it’s a good bet Deng would get his eight-digit salary. There are simply too many teams with salary-cap space that are searching for a starting small forward, with the Bulls (if they don’t get Anthony), Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers among his other suitors.
The question the Dallas front office might have to ask itself: Would the Mavs be better off giving Deng a $12 million-per-year deal or attempting to build a roster with great depth?
Say they do the Deng deal. At that point, they probably have to choose between Devin Harris or Vince Carter with the $5 million or so of cap space they’d have left at that point, and attempt to fill a glaring need for bench scoring or point guard with their cap-room exception ($2.7 million per year for no more than two seasons).
If they go for depth, they could probably re-sign Shawn Marion as the starter, bring back Harris and Carter, have room for a high-upside project like Al-Farouq Aminu and still have the cap-room exception (D.J. Augustin?). With a roster like that, they could rely on coach Rick Carlisle to work his sideline wizardry, mixing and matching to get the most out of a rotation that would be 10 or 11 players deep.
In the depth scenario, the Mavs would also have several lower-priced pieces that could be assets in the trade market, while Deng would likely be difficult to move with a large, long-term deal.
The Mavs have put a lot of effort into Plan B options, but Plan C might be a better path.