O.J. Mayo Signing Keeps Mavericks in Strong Salary Cap Position for FutureLast summer, it seemed feasible for a time that Dwight Howard and Chris Paul could end up on the same team. If the Magic had been interested in Lakers center Andrew Bynum and David Stern had not vetoed the three-team trade that would have sent Pau Gasol to Houston, there was at least an outside possibility that Howard and Paul could have been teaming up with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

With Bynum coming off a career season, Howard apparently insisting he will not sign a contract extension with the Lakers and Paul now employed by the Clippers, Howard and Paul joining forces at the Staples Center now seems unlikely. But do not count out Howard and Paul ever becoming teammates quite yet.

The new-look Mavericks continued their busy offseason this week by agreeing to a reported two-year deal with O.J. Mayo, the reserve guard formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies. Mayo fills an immediate need for a perimeter bench scorer to replace Jason Terry, who signed with the Celtics, but he also fits into Dallas’ emerging longer-term plan to have considerable cap space again next summer to attract one or two big-name free agents.

The Mavericks were in a similar position this offseason. Expiring contracts, unguaranteed money for Vince Carter and the amnesty card to play for Brendan Haywood made the Mavs realistic contenders, financially speaking, for Howard and point guard Deron Williams. Then Howard opted in for the 2012-13 season with the Magic (among other head-scratching things) and Williams re-signed with the Nets, so the Mavs changed course and filled their roster with one-year stopgaps.

Elton Brand, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones were all acquired with only one year left on their contracts, and Chris Kaman was inked to a reported one-year deal. Even promising young point guard Rodrigue Beaubois could be let loose after the season if Dallas declines to submit a qualifying offer or to match any contract Beaubois receives as a restricted free agent.

After missing out on Howard and Williams this year, the Mavericks could head into the 2013-14 season with Nowitzki’s $22.7 million as the only guaranteed money on the payroll. (The second year of Mayo’s contract is a player option, ESPN’s Jeff Caplan reports.) Dallas would be positioned perfectly to take another run at Howard plus an All-Star point guard, only this time it would be Paul instead of Williams.

Free agency would not be the only option, either. Those all-important expiring contracts would be valuable trade chips, arming the Mavericks with the pieces necessary to execute trades or sign-and-trades that would allow them to give Howard or Paul more years and more money. Bynum, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Josh Smith, Monta Ellis and several other young stars could also be available if things fall apart again for the Mavericks on the Howard front.

Mayo is a nice enough player with qualities in his own right, and at only 24 years old he could be a part of the Mavericks’ rebuilding process if he ends up sticking around. Even if he does not, though, this move keeps the Mavericks in an enviable position for the future.

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