It's free agency time in the NBA. I'm not a fan of the draft/open trade months, because unless it's 1998 and we're getting Dirk Nowitzki for Tractor Traylor, this time has never been too kind to Mavs fans. We don't have a lot (or any) salary cap room. Plus, despite Mark Cuban's "deep pockets," Mavs fans know he hasn't always been good at throwing money at the right players. In 2004, Cuban became frugal, and we lost Steve Nash in free agency. Then Nash decided to become league MVP two years in a row. Cuban overpaid for Shawn Bradley, Michael Finley (our franchise player for many years, but was probably no better than a healthy Caron Butler), and possibly Brendan Haywood. Now, if the reports are true, we're losing both Caron Butler and Tyson Chandler. Caron will be a Clipper. Tyson will be a Knick. The Caron deal is done. The Chandler situation isn't official, but it looks like a lock. Before Mavs fans start complaining about the sky falling and a doomed 2011-2012 season, let's look at everything with some perspective.

Caron Butler is going to the Clippers for 3 years and $24 million. God bless him, but that's a lot. The Mavericks can't match that. True, Butler was one of our top scorers, but we were able to win the finals without him and one could argue there are others on our bench to replace him. Personally, I hope this means more playing time for Corey Brewer--one of my favorite new Mavs.

Losing Tyson Chandler is a harder pill to swallow. I'm really going to miss watching him in a Mavs jersey. Keeping him was our main priority during the offseason, and Cuban blew this one. However, on the bright side, a lot of fans forget that Brendon Haywood's numbers are nearly comparable to Tyson Chandler's. Remember, last season, Coach Carlisle wasn't entirely certain who should be the starting center. So we still have a starting-caliber center in Haywood. Haywood isn't as exciting to watch as Chandler. Haywood lacks the intangibles that Chandler brought to the team, i.e. his energy and leadership in the Mavericks locker room. Keep in mind, last year was one of Chandler's few healthy years. He's been injury prone throughout his career. While Chandler may seem attractive coming off a championship year, it's possible he's still a risky purchase.

(Side note: Having only spent one year as a Maverick, can Tyson Chandler still be considered the best center in franchise history? In my opinion, you have to put in a few years to earn that title. James Donaldson might still be #1.)

To console us over the possible loss of Tyson Chandler, let's think of him not like a greedy free agent looking to cash in on his success with an elite team, but more like Mary Poppins. He arrived on the doorstep of our broken Mavs family, offered a bit of magic, helped lead us to our first championship, and then raised his umbrella to sail to other families in need... like the Knicks.

With Butler and Chandler leaving, I'm curious to see if we make any major deals this season. I don't know why Cuban would want to clear cap room after our 2010-2011 season. We're not in a rebuilding year. And new CBA luxury tax penalties don't kick in yet. If nothing else, it's time for Corey Brewer and Brendan Haywood to show us what they can deliver.

UPDATE #1: Nowitzki wondering who will help Mavs defend championship

UPDATE #2: Thanks to my favorite Mavericks blog The Two Man Game, I found this quote from Mark Cuban (in this post by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas), which explains his reasoning:

"The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past. I realize that everyone is all freaked out about how and where free agents and future free agents are going, but it’s not just about getting one guy.

We are not saving cap room in hope of that one super special free agent being there. It’s about being in the position to improve every year and possibly add some significant, younger players next year and in future years.

What I don’t think people understand is that once a team hits the tax level the ability to improve our team is reduced dramatically. In addition, your ability to make trades is reduced. So basically, if we made the move to keep everyone together with five-year deals, the team we have today is going to be the team we have for the next five years. If we were a young team it would be one thing. But we are not a young team.

In the past, it was different. If we had a problem, I could fix any mistake by having Donnie find a trade and just taking on more money. That is how we got Jet, the Matrix, JKidd, Tyson. It was always about taking on more money. That trick doesn’t work any more for teams over the tax. So we have to change our approach. By getting back under the cap, we have a ton of flexibility not only for free agent signings but also trades. If we can get the right guy(s) via free agency, great. if we do it via trade, great. We have that much more flexibility to make moves."

UPDATE #3: And we lost Corey Brewer to Denver for a second-round draft pick (click here). I should just stop trying to analyze and wait for the season to begin.