The Dallas Mavericks are in the process of trying to build a championship roster around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and it's happening a lot sooner than anticipated. After a season in which Doncic finished fourth in MVP voting and saw the Mavericks test the Clippers in the playoffs, the franchise is on the rise entering the 2020-21 campaign. While the current roster may not look like a team that could challenge the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks for a championship right now, the way Dallas constructed its team this season allows for a big offseason in 2021 to become a legitimate title contender.
The Mavericks made incremental improvements to their roster, while also not committing to significant long-term salaries. First was the draft night trade for Josh Richardson, who in the short term will make Dallas a better team defensively. He also won't hamper the Mavs long term as he has a player option after this season, which he may decline to get more money on the open market. Sure, Dallas gave up the sharpshooting services of Seth Curry, who played incredibly well last season, but the two years and $24.5 million remaining on his contract would've gotten in the way of signing bigger fish next summer.
To replace Curry's shooting, Dallas drafted Tyrell Terry, who shot 40.8 percent from deep on nearly five attempts per game last season for Stanford. Terry doesn't have the professional resume that Curry has, which includes having the second-highest 3-point percentage in league history (44.3 percent), but on a team-controlled contract, the Mavs can mold him into what they want.
Then there was the trade for veteran forward James Johnson -- who is on an expiring contract -- and gives Dallas an enforcer down in the paint. Dallas also re-signed Trey Burke, Willie Cauley-Stein and J.J. Barea to team-friendly contracts, and traded for Wesley Iwundu, the latter of which gives the Mavs more wing depth for just $1.8 million a year. Every move that they made this offseason was with an eye toward the future, while also getting better in the short term.
Going into the 2021 offseason, the Mavericks project to have roughly $34 million in cap space to use, that is if Richardson opts out of his $11.61 million player option. Dallas will also be one of only 10 teams to have at least $20 million in cap space next year, per ESPN's Bobby Marks. That's also not factoring in the final year of Jalen Brunson's contract, which isn't guaranteed. If Dallas plans to keep Brunson, who would make $1.8 million in the 2021-22 season, and if Richardson opts in to his player option, then Dallas would have approximately $20.6 million to work with, which would make its offseason moves considerably different.
However, assuming that Richardson opts out because he could very well make more than $11 million during the 2021-22 season, then the Mavs will be one of the few teams that has significant space to work with to chase after that third star to pair with Doncic and Porzingis. All eyes are obviously on back-to-back league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021 if he decides not to sign a supermax deal with the Milwaukee Bucks by Dec. 21. The Mavericks have been rumored to be one of the teams that could be at the front of the line to secure Giannis' services, but every team in the league would love to have him on their roster, so that's not saying much.
If Giannis ends up not being an option, either because he stays in Milwaukee or signs elsewhere, there are still great alternatives on the table for Dallas. The Mavs have been linked to Pacers All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and has denied trade rumors on numerous occasions during the offseason. There have been rumors floating around that Oladipo wants out of Indiana, but he's denied those, too.
There's also veteran guard Kyle Lowry, who will be a free agent next summer, and would pair nicely in the backcourt alongside Doncic as a secondary ball-handler and tenacious defender. His championship pedigree and leadership would be welcomed in a young Dallas locker room. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gobert will also both be unrestricted free agents that Dallas could target, if the interest is there.
The free agency market would be even more enticing if players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Dinwiddie opt out of their player options ahead of the 2021-22 season, and Dallas would surely be in the mix in terms of cap space and an appealing destination with Doncic as the centerpiece of a sales pitch.
The bottom line is Dallas will have the space to go after any caliber of player it wants in 2021, and will also have a draw in Doncic to entice players in a way that Dirk Nowitzki never really did. Couple that with what many expect to be a season in which the Mavs could challenge for home-court advantage in the West playoffs, and for the first time ever, Dallas has the perfect recipe for a free agency destination.
No one could've seen just how quick the Mavericks would be on the cusp of being a title contender, but Doncic's ascension to becoming a top 10 player in the league has sped up their plans. Getting that third star will solidify the Mavs among the West elite for years to come, and the moves general manager Donnie Nelson and the rest of the front office made this offseason set up a 2021 offseason in which they'll be able to chase anyone they want.