DALLAS - As the start of training camp is still weeks away, the Dallas Mavericks remain tied to some players in a few rumors (or fact-based speculation).
Goran Dragic remains a member of the Toronto Raptors.
The Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen is still a restricted free agent.
There are a few obstacles that could get in the way of the Mavericks' pursuit of either player. However, is there a way to come away with both Dragic and Markkanen?
We think we've got one - one trade. Two "gets.''
The simplest of outcomes would be for Dragic to simply reach an agreement with the Raptors for a contract buyout. Additionally, Markkanen agreeing to a contract within the $10.9 million trade exception would be ideal, too.
Neither of those outcomes appear to be in the cards at the moment or else both players would likely already be Mavericks. But ...
"Deadlines make deals,'' as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has famously said. For two disgruntled players, the start of training camps around the league late next month could offer motivation to reach a resolution.
Could Markkanen become more willing to take a salary that fits within the Mavericks' trade exception? If that ends up being the case, a host of possibilities would open up for Dallas to operate.
Again, acquiring Dragic is easy if the Raptors simply agree to a buyout at a later date. However, there's also reasoning as to why the Mavericks could benefit from acquiring him via trade.
What if the Mavericks instead pursued a three-team trade that would land both Goran Dragic and Lauri Markkanen? Here's what would be needed...
Constructing Sign & Trade For Markkanen
The Bulls do not want to take back much in salary in a potential sign-and-trade centered around Markkenen. It seems the only exception would be if a player the team genuinely desired were to be included.
We think Chicago has a favorable view of Maxi Kleber as a potential trade target in a Markkanen swap with the Mavericks.
If Markkanen were to only accept a deal well-above the rate of the $10.9 million trade exception, Kleber's inclusion in a potential deal would become essential. However, it would put a real damper on the Mavericks' ability to get a deal done when considering the parameters.
Markkanen's feelings on potential compensation on his next contract are unknown, but remember, he has to commit to this deal for at least the next three seasons. There is also the case to be made that his value tanks after spending a year with a team that knows he doesn't want to stay and practically does not need him anymore.
It's difficult to envision Markkanen wanting to sign close to the near $9 million qualifying offer he can take from the Bulls in order to reach unrestricted free agency next offseason. There is a case to be made to do so, though. Receiving passes from Doncic could set him up for a favorable outcome on his following contract.
Regardless, the Bulls still need to be enticed in a potential trade scenario in order to give up Markkanen. Chicago has been rumored as seeking a first-round pick in any deal that lands Markkanen elsewhere.
The Bulls have substantial leverage as Markkanen is only going to find himself getting traded with the team's cooperation. Chicago can choose to just run the clock out and strong-arm him into taking the $9 million qualifying offer, or they lower the asking price in talks.
The assumption here is that both Markkanen and the Bulls work toward reaching a move-on resolution as training camp nears.
There is room for a center on the Bulls' roster given how Tony Bradley is currently the only backup to Nikola Vucevic. If Moses Brown were desired by Chicago, the Mavericks have to wait until Oct. 1 until Brown can packaged with other players. He is signed to a minimum contract through 2023-24.
Since the Bulls need to be enticed, a trade that includes Brown and draft compensation would provide Chicago with minimal incoming salary while also creating a trade exception of their own.
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This scenario falls apart if Markkanen is unwilling to sign a contract that fits within the $10.9 million trade exception. Otherwise, separate transactions would be required in order to make the additional complications work.
Constructing Trade For Goran Dragic
The circumstances are simpler to acquire Goran Dragic in a trade. Still, it would require maneuvering for the Mavericks to get a deal done with the Raptors.
A crucial element in a potential trade for Dragic is Dwight Powell, for salary matching purposes. Dragic is set to earn $19.4 million during the 2021-22 season barring any sort of contract buyout. Meanwhile, Powell slots in at just under $11.1 million for both next season and 2022-23.
As a member of Team Canada, Powell has provided plenty of value and could be appealing to the Raptors organization. Unless the team wants to keep their financial flexibility to a maximum, then taking on an extra $11.1 million for the 2022-23 season wouldn't make sense.
There is a case to be made that Powell's skillset is not one needed by the Raptors. Toronto acquired Precious Achiuwa in part of the sign-and-trade that moved Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat, and already has Khem Birch and Chris Boucher.
The Raptors can always use wing players with athleticism to fit the defensive scheme that head coach Nick Nurse deploys. Josh Green would likely be the most appealing option and could be included in order to entice Toronto into taking on Powell's contract.
Giving up a recently drafted first-round pick in Green may appear to be a steep price in order to land Dragic, a 35-year-old point guard with recent injury struggles. But that's more of a testament to the bloated contract of Powell.
Why Not Make It A Three-Team Swap?
A common denominator shared between Markkanen and Dragic: their desire to play elsewhere. Another layer: both players have legitimate reason to want to play for the Mavericks.
Dragic's public comments stating he has 'higher aspirations' than to play for the Raptors was controversial. He ended up issuing a formal apology to the team's fans and while that shouldn't be a situation that keeps Dragic from ever playing in Toronto, it's just more reason to work a trade.
A buyout appears unlikely to occur for Dragic, given the lack of a track record from the Raptors organization to facilitate such arrangements.
So let's make our trade.
In this situation, Toronto receives Powell, Green and a second-round pick in order to move Dragic.
Keep in mind, the Mavericks will be depleted in financial flexibility once Luka Doncic's supermax comes into effect next offseason. Dallas would be quite limited in what they could offer Dragic then in free agency, but would maximize their offerings by acquiring him now via trade to hold his Bird Rights.
The rationale behind the Bulls wanting to limit incoming salary is that Chicago has just over $7.1 million remaining in luxury tax space. Taking on a salary like Maxi Kleber, who is set to earn $8.7 million in 2021-22, would put them over that limit.
On the other hand, Markkanen signing the qualifying offer is another outcome perhaps the Bulls would like to avoid in order to not have to cross that threshold. As previously noted, he would earn $9 million in the event he were to sign the qualifying offer.
By taking on Moses Brown in this trade scenario, the Bulls would stay away from the luxury tax line while bolstering depth at the center position. Chicago still has the Bi-Annual Exception ($3.7 million) at their disposal to use on another player and still avoid the luxury tax.
If the Mavericks had to oblige the Bulls' demands of including a first-round pick in the potential deal, including a protected future pick could be an option. Using second-round draft capital would be ideal, though.
The Mavericks would hold onto Kleber in this general situation and that's an optimal outcome. There are concerns with Markkanen's defensive limitations and having Kleber to play alongside Kristaps Porzingis helps to provide a relief option.
But the bottom line is about moving pieces in order for the Luka Doncic-led Mavs to get at least incrementally better. One big deal can net two good players. Markkanen and Dragic - flaws and all - would make Dallas better.