NBA teams aren’t allowed to have any contact with free agents until July 1, but the photos of Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and Chris Paul at Tiger Woods’ “Poker Night” tournament give everyone a pretty strong feeling that the best point guard in the NBA might be heading to play for the Dallas Mavericks next season after the disappointing finish with the Los Angeles Clippers in this year’s playoffs.

Paul averaged 16.9 points and 9.7 assists per game as he led the Clippers to their best ever regular season, winning the Pacific division for the first time with a 56-26 record. It did earn them home court advantage against the Memphis Grizzlies, but after the Clippers won the opening two games, things fell apart, and they lost four in a row, exiting the postseason a round earlier than in the previous year, when there were lower expectations.

CPe Dirk

It seemed the Clippers were primed to finally emerge as contenders and also the best team in Los Angeles for more than just one season with Paul leading them, Blake Griffin playing second fiddle and a deep bench built to support them. However, Griffin got injured along the way, and the defense that was on and off throughout the season fell apart in the playoffs under the physical advantages and smarter basketball that came from the Grizzlies direction.

There are some who think that a chance in coaching might give the Clippers a better chance of retaining Paul. There’s no doubt that financially, signing with the same team is the better idea for Paul. But it seemed his decision always rested on the fact that the Clippers should show signs of progress, or at least that they’re not taking steps backwards, in order to convince Paul to commit his future to the franchise. Also, no one promised that Donald Sterling, not among the biggest spenders in the league, is willing to pay luxury tax and give Paul that max contract.

Paul isn’t the only player leaving the Clippers this off-season: Matt Barnes, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf are hitting free agency as well, and most of them won’t be returning. The Clippers know that without Paul, there chances of once again attracting a big name in free agency or via trade are quite small, and the tiny hope of becoming a consistently successful NBA franchise goes out the window again.

Chris Paul

In Dallas, there’s no such thing as rebuilding mode. Dirk Nowitzki is getting older? So the plan is to re-tool the team as soon as possible to put the failure to make the postseason behind them as soon as possible. The Mavericks have the money to give Paul the contract he wants, especially if Nowitzki takes a pay-cut. Darren Collison was their point guard last season, and the Mavs feel that in that position their greatest need for an upgrade exists.

On paper, there’s nothing preventing this thing from happening. Paul will make the Mavericks a Western contender once again, not to mention having a lottery pick in this draft, that with a little luck can turn into a player that can be an immediate impact on both ends of the floor for the team. The Mavericks are also eyeing Dwight Howard, but rumors are he’s leaning towards the Rockets, while the personal baggage he brings along with him is far greater than what Paul has to offer.