The All-Star power forward was rumored to be interested in joining the Spurs, but what’s he’s really after is a return to Texas and Dallas might be his preferred destination. If this is in fact true, it could completely change the way the Mavericks go about their offseason and could result in the assembling of one of the most unique teams in the league.
Dallas can carve out cap room for a max contract and still have some space left to add another player, but first they would have to renounce the rights to Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Monta Ellis, assuming he opts out, to clear their cap holds off their books. If they do that, they could have around $28 million in cap room. A max contract for a veteran of 7-9 years like Aldridge starts at $20.1 million, which means they would have around $8 million left to re-sign Al-Farouq Aminu — a surprising key piece this year — and replace the players that are leaving.
Assuming Aminu signs for around $4 million a year, the Mavericks would only have $4 million to sign a starting shooting guard and the room exception, worth $2.8 million. Fortunately for them, with so much offense already on the roster, what they’d need are defensive specialists, which means they could likely sign someone like Alan Anderson or even Garrett Temple for cheap and add a third big man like Kosta Koufos or Ed Davis before filling out the roster for the minimum.
The depth chart would look like this:
SG: Defensive-minded free agent
SF: Chandler Parsons – Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: LaMarcus Aldridge – Defensive-minded free agent
That’s a shallow team but Aminu can play inside, so that would give Rick Carlisle some lineup versatility. The Mavericks would have to nail all of their secondary free-agent signings – including minimum players to bring some depth – and that still wouldn’t look like a championship roster.
Aldridge would also have to be willing to play center full time and take on the opponent’s best inside offensive player, something he’s not been keen on doing throughout his career. Keeping Chandler and signing Aldridge isn’t an option and even if it were, Nowitzki would likely not agree to come off the bench.
For any other scenario to work, a player would have to leave money on the table. Ellis would have to opt in on a contract that pays him less than he could get in free agency, Aldridge would have to agree to sign for less than the maximum or Aminu would have to take less than he can make in the open market. It’s unlikely any of that happens.
So why would Dallas even entertain the possibility of signing Aldridge if it means giving up a defensive anchor and its best scorer of the past few years for a chance to play Aldridge out of position and not become an instant contender? Two reasons: 1 – the chance to have a historically great offense and 2 – securing Nowitzki’s replacement.
With Aldridge in tow, the Mavericks would suddenly have the pieces to go five out, not unlike the Hawks do. Aldridge has started extending his range beyond the arc, taking over 100 three-pointers for the first time in his career and hitting a decent 35 percent of them. He’s also a killer mid-range shooter, just like Nowitzki. Helping off either isn’t an option, which could allow even a mediocre point guard like Harris and a solid but unspectacular creator like Parsons ample room to drive to the bucket. An offensive mastermind like Carlisle could set the league on fire with those elements.
Unlike the Hawks, the Mavericks would have two players who they can throw the ball to in close games in Aldridge and Nowitzki. If a team doesn’t have two great interior defenders, they’re doomed because Dallas would have enough shooting surrounding them to prevent constant double teams. Both guys were among the best volume post scorers in the league, per Synergy Sports, and in this scenario would have all the room in the world to operate without facing help defense.
Even though Aldridge is a better rim protector than he gets credit for, defensively and on the boards that team would get killed, unless Aminu and a good defensive center get all the minutes in which Aldridge and Nowitzki rest. That would water down but not kill Dallas’ potential offensive dominance. As long as one of the two power forwards is on the court along with a couple of shooters, the Mavericks would be very hard to stop. They might not have enough depth or roster balance to win it all, but would be fun to watch and would likely make the playoffs in the West.
As mentioned, the signing would also set the Mavericks up with a cornerstone for the future. Aldridge is 29 years of age for a few more days and has been durable during his NBA career. After next season Nowitzki will be 37 and will become a free agent. He could either retire or be ready for a smaller role. The cap is expected to explode then as the league’s new TV deal kicks in, and the Mavericks could have room for a couple of max contracts while having a star already in place.
Aldridge’s fit in Dallas isn’t ideal if he’s signed in free agency this season. He won’t turn the Mavericks into contenders and would force them to renounce players that have a history with the franchise. Yet the offensive potential of the Aldridge-Nowitzki duo flanked by shooters and the certainty that securing Dirk’s heir would bring to the front office right as the league as a whole ventures into uncharted territories as the cap takes one massive leap is worth the move.
Rumors like this one are abound in June and rarely become reality in July, but Aldridge to the Mavericks would be a fascinating development.