First, we must note that this is only the league's guess. We figure it is probably fairly close, but the actual cap number won't be determined until the revenues for the year are totaled and audited, and the league's numbers can be a bit unreliable until finalized in July.
Second, let's provide some numerical context. Last season's cap was $58.044 million, so this guess says a slight increase is coming. But it is less of an increase than the league had been predicting. In the summer of 2012, they offered a projection of a $60 million cap; in November
David Stern asserted that the league was set for $5 billion in annual revenue and 20% revenue growth. None of that seems to be happening.
What does all this mean for the Mavs?
CAP NUMBERS FOR THE MAVS
The Mavs currently have $37,215,449 guaranteed to 5 players (Nowitzki, Marion, Carter, Cunningham, Crowder).
They also have potential cap commitments that could add over $60 million more to that total in July. Those extras include non-guaranteed deals with Akognon and B James, a #13 draft pick, cap holds to retain the rights of free agents, and annual cap exceptions. But any or all of that extra can be removed at their discretion.
In free agency, the Mavs big goal will be to persuade Chris Paul and/or Dwight Howard to join them, and they will need to have cap room to sign such players. We assume they will need to be able to offer the max salary (about $18.7M and $20.5M respectively) for their services.
To simply sign Paul, the Mavs could do so by getting rid of the extras (and doing nothing more) with a cap of $59,315,139 or higher. For Howard, the cap would have to be $61,159,887.
So if the cap is only around $58.5 million, they would need more cap room if they obtained an agreement from one (or both).
1 The cap numbers for getting Paul
It should first be mentioned that if the Mavs are able to persuade Chris Paul to sign, the preferred method will probably be via sign-and-trade. If such a deal could be worked with the Clippers, in lieu of signing him outright, the cap wouldn't matter.
For an outright signing, as mentioned earlier, the easy cap number for the Mavs to sign Paul would be $59,315,139, which is only about 1.4% more than the NBA's recent guess.
If the cap is lower than $59,315,139, they would need to trade Marion, Carter, or Cunningham in the process, presumably for a draft pick. (One alternative might be to send that player to the Clippers, rather than to a different team, in a sort of simplified sign-and-trade). If the cap is as high as $58,596,919, moving Cunningham would do the trick - a lower cap than that would require that Carter or Marion are dealt instead.
2 The cap numbers for getting Howard
Just like with Paul, if the Mavs are able to persuade Dwight Howard to sign, the preferred method may be via sign-and-trade. If such a deal could be worked with the Lakers, in lieu of signing him outright, the cap wouldn't matter.
With Howard the magic cap number would be $61,159,887 to sign him outright, without doing anything other than get rid of all their extra cap charges. But given the NBA's $58.5M cap guess, a cap that high is quite unlikely.
Assuming a cap around $58.5 million, the Mavs would most likely clear the room by moving Carter, either to another team for a pick or to the Lakers in a simplified sign-and-trade. That one move would allow Howard to be signed with a cap of $58,470,067 or higher. The higher the cap, then it's possible the Mavs might be able to keep other extra assets while giving up Carter.
3 The cap numbers required for adding both
outlined in detail here, a cap of $58,703,344 would allow the Mavs an avenue for the longshot of adding both Howard and Paul by signing one and signing-and-trading for the other (sign Howard and sign-and-trade for Paul). In the process, the Mavs would also have to trade Carter and Cunningham to someone else for a pick, presumably not a problem task.
A higher cap than $58,703,344 would have the potential to allow them to keep additional assets as well.
But a cap of $58.5M would be significant in regards to getting both, as any cap lower than $58,703,344 would eliminate every possible way to get both, other than one: sign-and-trade for both.
For the Mavs, this $58.5M likelihood answers some "why's" for us, explaining some changes we've seen in the way they are approaching things.
We saw the Mavs - a team that has always prized centers – set their priority as Paul over Howard, as DallasBasketball.com first reported. But now we know they had heard there was a cap looming around $58.5M, and it all makes even more sense, as Paul's $2M-lower-max would be much easier to fit alongside the incumbent cast.
We also had been puzzled when, early on, we know for a fact the Mavs had crunched the numbers in looking at signing both Paul and Howard (Double-PipeDream as it always was), then moving away from such planning with the public stance that it's just not workable. That felt like a give-up attitude when we evaluated the possibilities using the NBA's prior cap estimates of $60M or more. But news of a looming $58.5M cap explains their shift in approach: at $58.5M, both could be obtained ONLY with being able to sign-and-trade for both, which is indeed virtually impossible.
That lower cap also helps explain why they would have been so active in exploring ways they might trade their pick, and otherwise clear cap room. At an upcoming cap of $60M or perhaps even more, it made no sense, since that cap would have provided room to ink Paul without dealing with any other team; but at $58.5M, player moves become mandatory to have enough cap room. (The options and what goes into trading 13? Detailed here.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
After all is said and done, this news of a potentially smaller increase in the cap will alter their approach a bit, but will not really get in the way of the Dallas Mavericks' pursuit of Paul or Howard. At most, it adds a bit of extra work if the Mavs are successful. But the biggest hurdle to getting those players stays the same as always: the ability of the Mavs to persuade them to sign here. Get that done, and the rest is only details.