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Monday, January 14, 2013
Mark Cuban might be 'an idiot,' but he's sticking to plan

By Tim MacMahon


DALLAS – The questions about Mark Cuban’s strategy started being questioned before the ink was even dry on Tyson Chandler’s contract with the New York Knicks.

The outrage increased as the defending champion Mavericks, or what was left of them, stumbled through their least successful season in a dozen-year span, concluding with a first-round sweep. The roars are reaching a deafening level now that any realist can see Dallas is in rebuilding mode -- and superstar Dirk Nowitzki’s doubts about the financially flexible, 15-23 Mavs’ future are on record.

“The logic, I thought, was still sound,” Cuban said Saturday night. “I think there’s a lot of people that thought I was an idiot now. There’s a better than even chance that they’re right, but that was the logic.”

That logic, as Cuban explained in great detail in a Dec. 2011 email to ESPNDallas.com, was based on the value of salary cap room under the new, more restrictive collective bargaining agreement. The fear was being locked into an aging roster that had already peaked with extremely limited options of upgrading.

The plan has backfired so far.

The way the dominoes fell last season certainly didn’t help. When the Mavs opted for this plan, they reasonably believed that the 2012 free agency market would feature Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. That isn’t the way it went down.

Paul exercised a contractual option for this season after lobbying his way out of New Orleans, landing in Los Angeles with the Clippers after a deal with the Lakers was vetoed by the commissioner’s office. He’s the centerpiece on a legitimate contender now, so the odds of him being available this summer are closer to none than slim.

Howard went all wishy-washy before shocking the basketball world by opting in for the final year of his deal with the Orlando Magic, a decision he almost immediately regretted. His pouting pushed the Magic to deal him to the Lakers this summer, and as much as this edition of Showtime has disappointed, it’d be surprising to see Howard leave significant money on the table to leave L.A. this summer.

The Mavs swung and missed on Williams this summer, with Cuban infamously skipping the face-to-face recruiting pitch to Dallas’ Plan C to film “Shark Tank” in L.A.

When James Harden got shipped to Houston and signed a max contract, that meant there would probably be no true “big fish” on the market this summer. If the Mavs throw big money at a free agent in July, it’ll likely be second-tier center Al Jefferson or injury-prone big man Andrew Bynum.

That certainly wasn’t the plan.

However, Cuban insisted all along that the point of the Mavs creating significant cap space for the first time during his ownership tenure was solely “in hope of that one super special free agent being there.” He has consistently pointed out that having cap space allows teams much more freedom to make trades under the new rules.

That’s what makes the time before the Feb. 21 trade deadline so important for the Mavs. It might represent their best chance to make a significant roster upgrade before next season.

Too bad the Mavs don’t have any young talent that would be enticing in the trade market. They are armed with a bushel of expiring contracts, which could be particularly attractive to teams attempting to avoid harsh luxury-tax penalties now and in the future. Maybe the Mavs can get a nice prize by being the facilitator in a multi-team deal.

There is a “100 percent chance” the Mavs try to make a trade this season, Cuban declared. For who? Cuban and right-hand man Donnie Nelson have 5½ weeks to figure it out.

If the Mavs keep swinging and missing through this summer, they’ll be stuck in rebuilding mode for the final year of Nowitzki’s contract. And it’s reached the point that even Cuban can’t deny that the R-word fits the current state of the Mavs.

“It’s just a label,” Cuban said. “It doesn’t matter. Strategy is all that matters. Tactics is all that matter. We’ve defined our strategy. We laid it out before we did it. We told everybody what we’d do. Our tactics have been the same since we’ve got here, so there’s nothing to change.”

Nothing but the roster, which requires a major overhaul. Cuban will continue working on it and hope the results are a heck of a lot better than they’ve been the past 13 months.