By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Dallas Mavericks are waiting on a superstar. They’re not holding their breath. Still, they must sit tight.
When Dirk Nowitzki agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with Dallas on Thursday it likely signaled the end of the club’s very brief courtship of Carmelo Anthony. Dallas was also among a select few teams to speak with the agent of LeBron James, and no they wait to see if they’ll be summoned to speak with the King himself, perhaps next week.
Still, it’s difficult to see James selecting the Mavs over a return to the Heat or teaming with James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, or even with newly minted max point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, which possesses the added pull of James’ heartstrings.
The willingness of Anthony and James this week, and Howard a year ago, to visit with the Mavs seems more a hat tip to highly visible and player-friendly owner Mark Cuban than bona fide interest in giving it a go alongside Dirk Nowitzki in his twilight years.
Even so, the fact James’ agent granted face-to-face meetings means you’re in the running, even if you’re a long shot. Cuban certainly believes that where there’s an ear, there’s a way. So you wait, holding off on chasing other big-ticket free agents until James and Anthony make their decisions. Only then can the dominoes begin to fall.
Some might believe a more prudent step for Dallas is to strike now at coveted targets, such as Luol Deng (Cleveland) or Trevor Ariza (Washington) or restricted free agent Chandler Parsons (Houston).
Agreeing to terms with any of those players would financially eliminate Dallas from the superstar sweepstakes, and until James or Anthony officially tells Dallas no, the front office must operate as if yes remains a possibility. Houston, Chicago, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers all must do the same.
Anyways, it’s a virtual guarantee that none of those players, unless offered an unimaginatively lucrative contract, will agree to a deal anywhere until James and Anthony — and possibly even wild card Chris Bosh — set the landscape.
So they wait.
On Saturday, Dallas did move forward with its own free-agent point guard Devin Harris. ESPN.com reported the two sides were closing in on a three-year deal for approximately $9 million. If those terms are accurate, it would be an identical deal to the one Harris signed last summer with Dallas before discovering he needed toe surgery and then agreed to a one-year contract at a reduced rate. This deal would be a bargain for the Mavs considering some the terms reached by guards in the first few days of free agency.
Harris is a key returnee for Dallas, which sent starting point guard Jose Calderon, along with three other players and two second-round draft picks, to New York in exchange for center Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, who Cuban had to take back in order to get Chandler. Unless the Mavs can move Felton, he is expected to compete for the starting job with Harris.
Three-point specialist and free agent Mo Williams (Portland) is also tied to Dallas. The Mavs want to re-sign Vince Carter, who has suitors, including contending teams, and Shawn Marion, while Dallas would like him back is looking to upgrade the position in its starting lineup.
If the Mavs don’t land LeBron or Melo, it will be an intriguing race to sign the likes of Deng and Chandler (and his future is totally hinged to the Rockets acquiring James, Anthony or Bosh). Deng has interest from Atlanta and was reportedly meeting with Miami on Saturday.
This is the third consecutive summer that Cuban has entered free agency with the cap space to sign a max (or near-max) free agent. With Nowitzi, Monta Ellis and Chandler back, they truly are one superstar away from once again becoming contenders in the brutally competitive Western Conference.
Yet without one, matching last season’s 49 wins, good for the last playoff spot, stands to be a difficult task.
So they wait.