WILL MARION BE A KEEPER?
Let’s begin by looking at the possibility of Shawn Marion staying with the Dallas Mavericks for the guaranteed $9.32 million remaining on the final year of his contract.
It needs to be noted that in every discussion about the Mavs’ long-term future, they have been speaking of Marion being here on an ongoing basis, along with Dirk and Carter. So there’s that to consider, in analyzing what the Mavs may be planning.
In addition, while some NBA reporters are telling us that the Mavs are trying to move Marion to Cleveland for cap space, Cuban has stated bluntly that they have had no trade discussions involving Marion.
So is Marion about to be traded, or isn’t he?
Cleveland has nowhere near enough cap space to take Marion’s contract right now without sending salary back to Dallas, and we have considered that as supporting evidence that those linking Marion to Cleveland at this time are talking out of turn. So we began by asking a trusted source with intimate knowledge of the Mavs plans: Are we were missing something by focusing on the Cavs lack of cap space to take Marion?
“With their first-round pick, (the Cavs) could create room,” was the cryptic reply.
Okay. Wait, what? Does that mean a deal is on the table after all? If the 19th pick is supposedly coming to Dallas, are we talking about their overall No. 1 being moved for cap space?
We decided to take a closer look at the particulars of Marion’s situation, thinking perhaps we can get some clues by asking from a different direction.
THE ETO ISSUE
Marion’s $9.32M contract for next season is not set in stone yet. Up through June 29 he can exercise an Early Termination Option and forfeit that final year to become a free agent this summer. If he does not wish to opt out, he may formally decline the ETO, or he can simply fail to exercise it by the deadline date.
To this point, he has done nothing. Opting out is still possible.
Since NBA rules don’t allow a player to be traded without a definite future year on his contract, we can be certain that the Mavs have no current commitment to anyone to trade him.
But this is just a technicality, right? There’s clearly a certain lack of logic in the idea of him opting out of that well-paid final year of his contract.
So we next asked someone close to Marion: Given Marion’s age and the unlikelihood of him getting a higher salary per season in free agency, we can eliminate that idea. Right?
Not so fast.
“In this market, getting a multi-year deal matters,” was this source’s reply. And as we pondered that message, we realized that Monta Ellis has just done that very thing, tearing up an $11M year to be a free agent.
So the Mavs think maybe Marion could opt out. And if he does, that would eliminate any need to trade him in a cap-clearing move.
That creates one very real possibility: if they have decided to make some sort of cap-clearing move of Marion, the Mavs may be in a holding pattern, waiting for June 29. If he opts out, no trade is possible. If he doesn’t, then they have choices.
But in either event, until the ETO issue is resolved, and maybe all the way until June 29, even the Mavs don’t know what’s ahead with Marion.
THE “ETO AS A RENEGOTIATION’’ POSSIBILITY
If Marion opts out, does that mean he’s decided to leave?
While Marion could be contemplating an opt out on his own, the Mavs could be right in the middle of this, as he could instead be considering one in consultation with Cuban and the Mavs. While the NBA does not allow a “renegotiation” of an existing contract, the opt-out followed by a free-agent deal a few weeks later with the Mavs is quite legal.
Maybe both the Mavs and Marion want to erase that $9.32M salary in 2013-14. Marion could get a longer deal and more total salary guaranteed, say, three years for $15 million total (though obviously Trix would like to “say’’ more), while the Mavs could get the cap hit lowered for 2013-14. And they could even be planning it together -- NBA-legal as long as there was nothing binding on either party in advance.
But to do so would require an unusual level of trust from Marion towards the Dallas Mavericks. Too much?
Marion would walk away from $9.32 million with nothing but a wink-wink promise that once the early-July free-agency dust cleared, he’d receive a new, longer-term but more-affordable-to-the-team contract worth, say, three years and $15 million or so.
‘Trix’ relationship with Cuban aside, what exactly would be his motivation for doing this? He would have to do so, knowing full well that Dallas might give up on him at any time during those three years – or even back away from the wink-wink if circumstances change drastically.
Would he do so because he wants to do Dallas a favor and open up $3-4 million of cap room so he can have a new teammate (or be replaced by one)? Well, maybe.
But we proceeded with the belief that while many players might opt out, Marion at 35 isn’t a great bet to walk away from 9.32 million guaranteed dollars.
MARION AS CAP-SAVING TRADE FODDER?
So more likely (we think, despite what was hinted) is that Marion on June 29 declines his ETO and takes the money – and then faces a small pre-July window during which he can be dealt: On the day of June 30.
This is where we began, with that preeminent rumor regarding Marion: that Dallas is “close to dumping’’ him to Cleveland, with the two teams also swapping picks. Dallas would give No. 13 to get No. 19 (and maybe a pair of seconds) – also a money-saver.
Remember, Cuban has publicly denied the existence of such talks. So believe as you wish there.
But as we noted earlier, we do know that the Cavs presently do not have the cap room to absorb $9.32 million in salary without “dumping’’ something themselves. Yet, “With their first-round pick, they could create room.” Is that even doable?
We looked. And here’s what we found.
For a June 30 trade in which the Mavs received little-to-no salary in return, Cleveland could send C.J. Miles’ non-guaranteed contract to Dallas and then would need to send out another $4M (Marreese Speights, we believe) to a team that could take him without having to send back guaranteed salary. We see either Orlando (taking him via their Howard trade exception) or New Orleans (taking him and sending Lopez and his barely-guaranteed deal to the Mavs). We found no teams with enough cap room after the draft to take Speights, no other teams with TEs big enough to take him who would want to do so (besides Orlando, only Memphis and Chicago have TEs big enough.) And when we looked through teams who could send non-guaranteed salary, most had too little, or would have had no practical use for a trade like this, with the best alternative being a team that will be hoarding cap space and wouldn’t want Speights’ salary (Houston).
Yep, we did find two theoretical candidates. So it’s possible, if the Cavs will pay the price. But is the price mentioned by our source one they could do, but won’t because it’s too high? Hmmm.
Of course, there’s one other possibility with the Cavs. But it is certainly not a trade that could be considered imminent. Could this be the origin of the buzz?
Could Dallas and Cleveland draft for each other and then come back to each other and make the swap of chosen players, along with Marion, on July 10 or so when the Cavs will have cap room? That, in theory, is possible. But it wouldn’t be binding, and would therefore come with inherent risks in waiting.
MARION AS A SIGN-AND-TRADE ASSET?
We think there might be another issue.
One problem with trading Marion, or with him exercising his ETO, is the loss of his contract as a sign-and-trade asset. Without his contract, the Mavs would have more cap room, but would only have $6.9M total in existing non-Dirk contracts. If they land a big fish and want to do a sign-and-trade for him, that lack of enough existing matching salary complicates things.
That wouldn’t make sign-and-trades impossible, but it would make them way more difficult. With only $6.9M on the books, to match a salary bigger than $10.4M, the Mavs would have to send out one or more sign-and-trades of their own, which would require the cooperation of the player to accept the team chosen by the Mavs and the salary that fits the deal and the teams.
Not impossible, but more complex.
Making things even more difficult is that the Lakers and other teams over the tax apron can’t accept a sign-and-traded player. If the Mavs landed Dwight Howard and wanted to work out a sign-and-trade, with Marion they would have just enough existing salary to do the deal. Without him, a sign-and-trade for Howard would involve creating at least $8.6M in outgoing sign-and-trades to send to a different team with nothing coming back, which could be too difficult to accomplish.
USING MARION AS A MULTI-PURPOSE ASSET
So is there a way to have Shawn Marion positioned as a weapon ready to fire in multiple directions?
The idea of a premature “dump” of Marion, without knowing if they will need to do so, seems rash. What if the Mavs don’t successfully court a free agent who is more valuable than he is? Is there anything else that might be involved here?
As we consulted with our sources, we stumbled into the Mavs’ thinking.
Envision a draft-night trade made with a team (like Cleveland) that has Marion connected to it. The handshake deal would be created with the understanding that it will be executed post-July 1, and will have some variability to it.
Using the Cleveland rumor, the basic trade would have Dallas swapping picked players and including Marion going to the trade partner. This would happen if the Mavs will have acquired a free agent straight-up, without the use of a sign-and-trade.
But if they get to July and the Mavs need Marion’s contract for a salary match in a sign-and-trade? Then the Cavs will still get Marion etc, but it all gets rolled into a bigger trade.
(Our breakdown of how Dallas' signing options sit in terms of Howard and/or Paul and others is here.)
For example, say the Mavs are somehow able to persuade Dwight Howard to come to Dallas and the acquisition comes in the form of a sign-and-trade. In that case, they’ll need to send out about $15.5 mil in salary to make the match. By including Marion going to Cleveland as part of that sign-and-trade, he would count for $9.3 mil of that $15.5mil, and Dallas would only need to send another $6.2 million to the Lakers – or somewhere else. (If all the remaining required $6.2M salary went to the Lakers, it would require the kitchen-sink package of Carter, Cunningham, Crowder, James and Akognon all going to LA.)
But if the Lakers said no? Then the Mavs still come out ahead. Marion can still be traded to Cleveland (or wherever), leaving the Mavs plenty of cap room to sign Howard outright rather than trade for him.
For the sake of the argument: If it was Chris Paul successfully courted, Dallas would have to send out about $13.6 million in total. Marion to a 3rd team could represent $9.32 mil of that, with Dallas only needing another $4.2 mil (a sign-and-trade away of OJ Mayo? Vince plus Cunningham?) to the Clippers or elsewhere to complete the swap.
There's an updated problem there, however. And it might be an updated problem with Dwight-to-Dallas, too. The Clips have sealed a deal for coach Doc Rivers that would seem to cement Paul's return to LA. That might also make the Clips attractive to Dwight.
Awful Sunday night news for the Mavs. The above link breaks down what's-next thoughts.
Even if the Mavs do miss on both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, Marion’s contract could be used for any sign-and-trade, if needed, as well as in any trade for a player already under contract, and alone could match up to almost $14M in incoming salary.
As a pure salary dump, arranging a deal to get rid of Marion’s contract makes no sense. But as a pre-arranged part of a sign-and-trade, should the Mavs land a big fish and want to do one, or as an asset for another trade, that adds up.
Or, what if the Mavs have been discussing contingencies in case they need to do a sign-and-trade for a big fish, looking for that spot to send Marion in that case, and nothing more? What if one of the deal was contingent on needing a sign-and-trade, with one option the ability to keep Marion?
So we asked: “Are we on to something in examining a three-way Marion for cap space/sign-and-trade usage? And could Marion somehow be kept if nothing desirable materializes in free agency?”
“All options are open,’’ one Mavs source admitted to our query.
THE BOTTOM LINE
What have we learned? Shawn Marion might opt out in concert with a new deal with the Mavs. Or the Mavs might be expecting him to have a desire to be a free agent and land a new longer deal. Or the talks being rumored may be part of free agent sign-and-trade contingency plans, rather than a salary dump.
The biggest point is this: There are ways to value Shawn Marion as a player who might stay and as bait for what might replace him. The Mavs, rather than just “dumping’’ him for a “maybe,’’ are exploring ways to better handle his future – including a three-way trade.
“All options are open’’ – a three-way trade among them.