The Dallas Mavericks have to be amongst the most intriguing teams entering free agency this summer, primarily due to the amount of pressure that exists to create a championship-contending team around superstar Luka Doncic. A report surfaced earlier this season when Dallas was at one of its many low points that suggested that Doncic could ask for a trade as early as the summer of 2024, which means this offseason is incredibly important for the Mavericks to nail. Already they've made some impressive moves, trading a few spots down in the 2023 NBA Draft to get off Davis Bertans albatross contract and still get the guy they wanted in Duke center Dereck Lively II. They then absorbed Richaun Holmes into the traded-player exception created by the Bertans trade and got the No. 24 pick from the Sacramento Kings to select Olivier-Maxence Prosper. A pretty tidy and savvy night from Dallas' front office.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg, and Dallas is going to need to pull off some more moves if it wants to keep Doncic happy and contend for the playoffs, and perhaps a championship next season. The biggest storyline with this team heading into free agency is of course the status of Kyrie Irving, who the team traded for in February. He's an unrestricted free agent in search of a long-term, lucrative deal. All signs point to him staying in Dallas, but at what cost? And what if he actually leaves? Aside from Irving though, the Mavericks have other needs that need to be answered before next season gets going.
Ahead of the start of free agency on June 30 at 6 p.m. ET, here are three main storylines facing the Mavericks.
1. The Kyrie Irving of it all
We've heard time and time again that there isn't a market for Irving outside of Dallas, and yet Turner Sports' Chris Haynes is reporting that Irving intends to meet with the Phoenix Suns and potentially the Houston Rockets in addition to the Mavericks when free agency starts on Thursday. Haynes says that the Mavs are still the favorites to re-sign the All-Star guard, but things could change once those meetings take place. Marc Stein also reported Thursday morning that Irving returning to Dallas is the "prevailing expectation" but the size of the contract and number of years attached is difficult to pinpoint right now.
So let's just imagine Irving does re-sign in Dallas. The number of years and how much money is spent is going to matter a great deal for the Mavericks' future. But beyond the financial ramifications of that, Dallas has to hope Irving pans out alongside Doncic. In the small sample size that we saw last season of those two playing together, 16 games to be exact, the Mavericks went 5-11. When those two were on the floor, Dallas had the best offensive rating in the league 121.7, but it didn't amount to much given their lackluster defense. If Dallas ultimately ends up being the winner in the Irving sweepstakes then it has to hope it works out, otherwise, Doncic could be calling up Mark Cuban next summer asking for a trade.
On the flip side of that, let's say Irving wants to go somewhere else. With the reports that he's meeting with other teams, maybe he wants to play with Kevin Durant -- again -- in Phoenix, or perhaps the Lakers will want a meeting and pair him with his old buddy LeBron James. In both instances, the Mavericks could try for a sign-and-trade. It's already been reported that Dallas almost traded for Deandre Ayton on draft night, so perhaps that could come to fruition in a different scenario. It would net the Mavericks a young center in Ayton who could use a change in scenery, and while the former No. 1 overall pick comes with his own issues, his timeline aligns with Doncic more than Irving's does.
There's also the possibility that Irving goes to a team with max cap space to sign him, like the Rockets, and wouldn't need Dallas' help in facilitating that deal. That would be the worst-case scenario for the Mavericks because they would have to deal with the fact that they gave up far too much for two and a half months of the Kyrie Irving Experiment.
All three of these paths come with their pros and cons for Dallas, and whatever the team or Irving decides to do will have a significant impact on how the rest of their free agency plans unfold.
2. Scouring the market for trades
As I stated earlier, the Mavericks tried to pull off a trade that would've gotten them Ayton in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr., Richaun Holmes and JaVale McGee. However, the Suns didn't want McGee involved in the trade so the deal fell apart. Stein reported that talks could pick up again, but if that's all it would've taken to get the athletic center, there are probably other teams around the league now considering the idea of taking him on.
Outside of Ayton, the Mavericks have also registered interest in Celtics forward Grant Williams, who The Athletic's Tim Cato said Dallas contacted Boston about for a potential sign-and-trade. Williams would be a perfect fit in Dallas as a versatile defender and someone who can knock down 3s at a consistent rate. It's unclear where Williams ranks on the list of Boston's priorities this offseason after pulling off a blockbuster deal that landed them Kristaps Porzingis, but he's a restricted free agent so the Celtics can match any offer sheet he gets. However, if Boston doesn't want to match a large deal, Dallas could potentially use its non-taxpayer mid-level exception to sign him.
Trying to find trades to improve the roster is obviously going to be easier for Dallas given its minimal cap space if Irving re-signs. The fact that they've been in on so many rumored trades is an encouraging sign because it shows that they have some assets that interest other teams. If they're able to re-sign Irving as well as add a quality defender, shooter, or center in a trade then it'll be a major win for a team that has a lot of holes to fill before next season.
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3. Improving on the margins
One of the many issues Dallas had last season, and has struggled with for many seasons, is winning at the little things, whether that's trade deadline deals or contract structuring. A perfect example of that is McGee's deal last summer. The Mavericks signed him to a three-year, $17.2 million deal, with a player option in the third deal. Even before he quickly fell out of the rotation this season, anyone could've told you that was a bad deal. Going back even further, the structuring of Jalen Brunson's rookie deal was the first of several missteps in Dallas losing him. Instead of making the fourth year on his deal a team option, as many teams do when a player is drafted, the Mavericks just gave him a four-year deal outright, which resulted in him walking to the Knicks last summer. So yes, while Dallas needs a major infusion of talent, it also needs to improve on the little things. We've already seen a couple of smart moves by this new regime on draft night, but this is the same front office that signed McGee to that deal.
This is a significant offseason for Dallas, so it's important that Nico Harrison and the rest of the Mavericks brass get as close to perfect as possible, because if this team isn't in the playoffs and seriously contending next season, then everyone will be checking to see if Doncic is questioning his future in Dallas.