DALLAS -- For years, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has spared no expense to acquire talent. It wasn't always money well spent, but it was money spent in the name of doing whatever it takes to put a winner on the floor.
The lone glaring exception, of course, was Cuban's decision to let Steve Nash walk for big cash in Phoenix. But, back in the summer of 2004, few media voices blamed Cuban, and most even agreed that Nash, who had yet to hit is two-time MVP form, was a health liability moving forward. Nash, of course, has made all those people look foolish, and ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline that the Mavs were interested in bringing Nash back if the Suns were ready to deal.
Money, and more precisely how it's spent, now seems to matter far more to Cuban. The obvious reason is the expiring CBA and the assumption that a hard cap is on the way. For years, the Mavs have ranked at the top of the league with the New York Knicks in payroll and Cuban has coughed up millions more each season in dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.
Looking at the 2011-2012 season (assuming all or at least a partial season is played after a potential lockout), the Mavs have around $57 million locked into eight players. The (soft) salary cap this season is $58 million and the Mavs' payroll hovers around $86 million. If a hard cap is enacted and is set at, say, around $60 million -- and it might not be that high -- taking on additional salary now can be extemely limiting over the next few seasons.
And, in particular, this offseason when the Mavs will pull out all the stops to keep center Tyson Chandler after he becomes the most sought-after big man on the free agent market.
We saw a harder financial stance taken by Cuban last offseason when the Mavs had Al Jefferson targeted in a potential trade with Minnesota, but balked at taking on Jefferson's three-year, $42 million contract without the Timberwolves helping out and taking back some of the Mavs' bad contrats. Charlotte eventually did, taking Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera off Dallas' books in the deal that sent Chandler and his expiring $12.6 million contract. Utah landed Jefferson because it didn't need to dump salaries back on Minnesota.
Money was again a factor at the trade deadline. The Mavs seem to have dug in regarding taking on salary, which is why seemingly difference-maker-type players such as Stephen Jackson, who has two more years at some $19 million left on his contract, never got a serious sniff despite the immediate impact he could have made offensively and defensively at the wing position. And why Tayshaun Prince, with an expiring contract, was much more palatable. Detroit, however, hung on to Prince.
Mavs president Donnie Nelson said after Thursday's 2 p.m. trade deadline passed with the Mavs standing pat, that the organization did not draw a line in the sand regarding taking on salary.
"No. I think that in a couple years there's certainly an argument for having some room," Nelson said. "But, again it's talent first, second, third. So, if there was a talented player that went into that cap space we were willing to look at that."
Instead of adding big money, the Mavs signed Peja Stojakovic on the cheap after the Toronto Raptors bought out his eight-figure salary on the final year of his deal. And the return of Roddy Beaubois the week leading into the All-Star break provides what the Mavs hope will be a super-impact player at the bargain-basement price of $1.2 million.