Dirk Nowitzki is getting to know this drill pretty well: depleted Dallas roster, big names in free agency, no idea how the starting lineup will look in four months.
Here the Mavericks go again, trying to sign a cornerstone but now with time running short to build a championship contender around a 37-year-old star who's getting ready for his 18th season. Free agency opens at 11 p.m. Central time Tuesday.
"One little move, you sign one of the big guys, can change everything," the 7-foot German said. "Then all of a sudden people want to come here and play for a lot less money than they usually would. It should be an exciting time. But it's also always a strange time if you only have a few guys under contract and basically your future is a little unknown."
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It's been that way for Nowitzki since owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over bringing back key pieces of the franchise's only championship team in 2011. Each time, Dallas whiffed on the biggest names on the market.
The top targets for the Mavericks this time have Texas ties: Four-time All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is from the Dallas area, and shot-blocking center DeAndre Jordan grew up in Houston.
The local draw didn't work with Deron Williams three years ago, but the difference this year could be Chandler Parsons.
He signed with Dallas when Houston declined to match an offer last summer and declared after yet another first-round playoff exit this spring that he was shifting into recruiting mode while rehabbing a knee injury that sidelined him for all but one game in a postseason loss to the Rockets.
Parsons, the highest-paid player on the Dallas roster at the moment at $15.3 million for the coming season, has spent time with Jordan in Houston and Los Angeles in recent days.
"It's going to be a busy time again for this franchise," Nowitzki said.
Things to consider with the Mavericks needing multiple parts even if they land a big name in Aldridge or Jordan:
NO MORE MONTA: The biggest void is the loss of guard Monta Ellis, the first leading scorer for Dallas not named Nowitzki since 2000. He averaged 18.9 points in the second of two solid seasons for the Mavericks. He rebuilt his reputation enough to believe he could do better than the $8.7 million he was due to make in the final year of the deal, and should see a significant raise elsewhere after opting out of his contract.
WHAT'S THE POINT: The failed trade for Rajon Rondo has the Mavs looking for a starting point guard again. Dallas is unlikely to spend big money, but will look for someone to start in front of Devin Harris, with hopes of bringing back J.J. Barea as well. Raymond Felton opted in on his contract, so he's on the roster but wasn't much of an option for coach Rick Carlisle even after Rondo was banished two games into the Houston playoff series.
TYSON REWIND: If the Mavericks lure Jordan away from the Los Angeles Clippers, they're likely to say goodbye to title-winning center Tyson Chandler again. That's what happened right after Dallas won the championship. The locker room leader returned in a trade with the New York Knicks last summer, and could re-sign if Jordan goes elsewhere. He has said he understands why the Mavericks would chase Jordan first.
AMINU FACTOR: The Mavericks spent all season developing Al-Farouq Aminu's 3-point shooting to go with the defensive and rebounding energy he already had. They'd like to bring him back after he opted out of the final season of his two-year contract. There will be interest, so it could get more expensive than Dallas is willing to offer.
THE NEWCOMER: First-round draft pick Justin Anderson of Virginia, who went 21st overall, has a good chance to make the rotation as a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender. His opportunities will depend largely on what happens in the coming weeks.