There are some interesting salary cap rules that could let the Mavericks have their cake and eat it too, opening up maximum possible cap space AND paying Dirk anyway.
Dirk Nowitzki is a throwback in many ways. He does not have an agent. He has never changed teams in Free Agency. He could set the record for most seasons in a career with one team, as his competitors are Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
Many look at the discount Dirk took for his NBA hometown on his last deal, see him opt out for this year’s free agency, and think it’s time for the big man to get paid. These people are correct, and Mark Cuban is going to take care of his franchise icon, but the method for doing so may be beneficial to all involved and would have to stand on our trust.
Dirk Nowitzki’s current cap hold is $12,500,000 (150% of his previous year’s salary), and the Mavericks hold full Bird Rights on him. That means that the team can go above the cap to sign Nowitzki for anything up to his maximum salary, and that until he signs a deal, he is slotted in as automatically taking up $12,500,000. If Dirk is to be paid like he deserves after taking a discount the last two seasons, a 2-year, $25 million deal actually makes a lot of sense and compares to the last two seasons of Kobe Bryant’s career. That said, there’s a way for Dirk to help the team out yet again AND get paid more money without interrupting free agency plans.
Dirk is a long-time veteran of the league and, as such, has a maximum salary of 35% of the salary cap in a given year. It also means that his minimum salary would be $1,551,659, opening up nearly $11 million in extra cap space for the Mavericks to use in their pursuit of Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside, and Chandler Parsons if he were to take the minimum player salary allowed by the CBA.
This is where the value of trust comes into play. Dirk could take the minimum this year, allow the Mavericks to retain his Bird Rights (so they can sign him when over the cap to any amount up to his maximum salary) and their cap space, and then sign up to a maximum deal in the summer of 2017. That maximum salary is 35% of the projected cap, currently sitting at $108 million, and would give Nowitzki a maximum salary of $37,800,000. That means his two-year salary could be anywhere from $3,100,000 all the way up to $39,300,000, including any salary in between those figures.
The catch? It all comes down to trust. The NBA has a specific circumvention provision, which basically means a team cannot make a handshake deal on a future contract in order to circumvent salary cap rules. Dirk’s a smart guy, and Cuban’s a smart guy, and the example shown by Miami over the years would indicate that these deals are incredibly difficult to prove, so it’s not impossible. But it really comes down to trust. One side has to offer a one-year deal at the minimum, and Dirk has to trust that he’ll get it in the second year, without any specific deal promised.
How much trust is there between a franchise icon and the most well-known owner in the league? We’re a short time away from finding out.