In what is expected to be a massive trading frenzy in the NBA, the Mavericks and Knicks struck first with a deal sending Tyson Chandler back to Dallas.
In the six-player trade agreed to in principle Wednesday, the biggest news wasn't the former defensive player of the year returning to the city where he won a championship in 2011. It was the Mavericks gaining entry to this summer's coveted free-agent sweepstakes.
Chandler and Raymond Felton go to Dallas, which sends Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert, Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin to the Knicks, along with the 34th and 51st picks in Thursday's draft.
The Mavs add about $3 million to their salary obligations for 2014-15, but here's the catch: With Chandler back in the fold and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki re-signing on a multi-year deal that could substantially reduce his $24 million obligation for next season, the Mavs are on their way to having an attractive roster and a max slot for a free agent.
The trade left the Mavs with $33.5 million in cap room, about $24 million of which is eaten up by the cap hold for Nowitzki, who is a free agent. A multi-year deal that brings Nowitzki back at about $10 million less than that would open up a slot to offer LeBron James, Chris Bosh, or ... wait for it ... Carmelo Anthony a four-year deal starting at $20 million.
ESPN The Magazine reported that Anthony plans to visit the Bulls, Rockets and, you guessed it, the Mavericks when the free-agent negotiating period opens on July 1.
The initial reaction from a Western Conference executive was that Anthony is more of an "East Coast-West Coast guy" and may not be enthralled with the possibility of playing in Dallas. Indeed, the Lakers already are planning their free-agent pitches to both James and Anthony. But with Nowitzki, a rejuvenated Monta Ellis and a former teammate in Chandler -- not to mention owner Mark Cuban and a championship in the not-so-distant past -- there is the potential for a compelling pitch to be made to Anthony.
Of course, the Mavs also intend to make a pitch to James at the start of free agency, a league source said. James' teammate, Bosh, is a Dallas native.
The Knicks acquired Chandler in December 2011, after the lockout and six months after the Mavs beat Miami's newly formed Big Three in the NBA Finals. Four years later, the Big Three -- James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- are all free agents. So is Anthony, with whom the Knicks paired Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire to form their own Big Three.
The Knicks got two playoff berths out of that group, including a 54-win season and second-round appearance in 2012-13. But the key move that paved the way for New York to acquire Chandler -- amnestying Chauncey Billups -- now haunts them as they no longer have the one-time provision to use on Stoudemire and his failing knees.
The Knicks shaved about $3 million off their salary obligations for next season, but added about $5 million in 2015-16. The summer of 2015 is when the new regime led by team president Phil Jackson planned to spend on a max free agent to pair with Anthony, if the All-Star decides to stay in New York.