By Mike Fisher
Shawn Marion. Will he stay or will he go? (credit: Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Shawn Marion. Will he stay or will he go? (credit: Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Rumors are everywhere insisting the Dallas Mavericks are “close to dumping’’ Shawn Marion and the No. 13 pick for cap room as part of their pursuit of Chris Paul and/or Dwight Howard. But sources tell me that Dallas is remaining flexible in its use of Marion as 1) a possible Mavs keeper, 2) cap-saving bait if needed or 3) a sign-and-trade weapon that may mean a three-way deal.

Marion could be staying with the Mavericks for the guaranteed $9.32 million remaining on the final year of his contract if other Mavs opportunities aren’t realized. And there is no reason to dump him prematurely before having a feel for what is on the July 1 free-agency horizon.

An imminent dumping of Marion to the Cavs (with an exchange of picks 13 and 19)? Cleveland has nowhere near enough cap space to take Marion’s contract right now without sending salary back to Dallas – and Dallas doesn’t want salary back. The Mavs could piece together a June 30 trade that looks something like this: Cleveland sends C.J. Miles’ non-guaranteed contract to Dallas and then sends out another $4 million (Marreese Speights) to a team that could take him without having to send back guaranteed salary.

But that’s not “imminent’’ because Marion hasn’t yet agreed with the Mavs to pass on his Early

Termination Option – a way for him to become a free agent while also forfeiting his $9.32 mil guarantee.

Might Marion do so? A source close to him suggests to me that it’s a consideration (in exchange for a smaller annual salary but three years of security).

Up through June 29, Marion can exercise the ETO and forfeit that final year to become a free agent this summer. If he does not wish to opt out, he may formally decline the ETO, or he can simply fail to exercise it by the deadline date.

Marion could opt out. And if he does, that would eliminate any need to trade him in a cap-clearing move. As this is yet undecided, again, there is no “imminent’’ trade.

A strong possibility: Marion on June 29 declines his ETO and takes the money – and then faces a small pre-July window during which he can be dealt: On the day of June 30.

If he’s dealt then (to Cleveland or wherever) Dallas obtains cap room. But again, Dallas would be premature in clearing room it might not need – and also in losing Marion when he might be needed as a weapon in a sign-and-trade for Paul or Howard.

Could Dallas and Cleveland draft for each other and then come back to each other and make the swap of chosen players, along with Marion, on July 10 or so when the Cavs will have cap room and when Dallas might have a commitment from a free agent? That, in theory, is possible. But it wouldn’t be binding, and would therefore come with inherent risks in waiting.

One problem with trading Marion, or with him exercising his ETO, is the loss of his contract as a sign-and-trade asset. Without his contract, the Mavs would have more cap room, but would only have $6.9 million total in existing non-Dirk contracts. If they land a big fish and want to do a sign-and-trade for him, that lack of enough existing matching salary complicates things.

So is there a way to have Shawn Marion positioned as a weapon ready to fire in multiple directions?


*For example, say the Mavs are somehow able to persuade Dwight Howard to come to Dallas and the acquisition comes in the form of a sign-and-trade. In that case, they’ll need to send out about $15.5 mil in salary to make the match. By including Marion going to Cleveland as part of that sign-and-trade, he would count for $9.3 mil of that $15.5mil, and Dallas would only need to send another $6.2 million to the Lakers – or somewhere else. (If all the remaining required $6.2M salary went to the Lakers, it would require the kitchen-sink package of Carter, Cunningham, Crowder, James and Akognon all going to LA.)

But if the Lakers said no? Then the Mavs still come out ahead. Marion can still be traded to Cleveland (or wherever), leaving the Mavs plenty of cap room to sign Howard outright rather than trade for him.

*If it’s Chris Paul who is successfully courted, Dallas would have to send out about $13.6 million in total. Marion to a third team could represent $9.32 mil of that, with Dallas only needing another $4.2 mil (a sign-and-trade away of OJ Mayo? Vince plus Cunningham?) to the Clippers or elsewhere to complete the swap.

*And even if the Mavs missed on both Howard and Paul, Marion’s contract could be used for any sign-and-trade, if needed, as well as in any trade for a player already under contract, and alone could match up to almost $14 million in incoming salary.

As a pure salary dump, arranging a deal to get rid of Marion’s contract makes no sense. But as a pre-arranged part of a sign-and-trade, should the Mavs land a big fish and want to do one, or as an asset for another trade, that adds up.

My question to a Mavs source: Am I on to something in examining a three-way Marion for cap space/sign-and-trade usage? And could Marion somehow be kept if nothing desirable materializes in free agency?”

“All options are open,’’ is the affirmative response.

In summary: Shawn Marion might opt out in concert with a new deal with the Mavs. Or the Mavs might be expecting him to have a desire to be a free agent and land a new longer deal. Or the talks being rumored may be part of free agent sign-and-trade contingency plans, rather than a salary dump.

The biggest point is this: There are ways to value Shawn Marion as a player who might stay and as bait for what might replace him. The Mavs, rather than just “dumping’’ him for a “maybe,’’ are exploring ways to better handle his future – including a three-way trade.

“All options are open’’ — a three-way trade among them.

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