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Friday, July 5, 2013
Is Mark Cuban's grand plan officially a failure?

By Tim MacMahon

This isn’t the day to defend the Dallas Mavericks’ logic regarding their post-lockout decision to allow the 2011 title team to scatter throughout the league.

Mavs fans don’t want to hear about risk-reward ratio or financial flexibility. Not right now. Probably not ever.

Folks who pay for tickets don’t want to be reminded that, at the time Mark Cuban opted to offer only one-year deals to Tyson Chandler and free-agent other championship pieces, the Mavs had reason to believe that Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard would all be on the market last summer and looking to move.

Fans don’t care how much the circumstances changed with Paul getting traded from the franchise formerly known as the Hornets to the Clippers, Howard opting to return to Orlando before forcing his way to L.A. and the Nets making splashy moves to convince Williams how much better life would be in Brooklyn.

The NBA is a bottom-line business. The bottom line is that Cuban’s grand plan, as smart as the risk may have been, can fairly be judged as a failure now that all the big fish are gone.

Not that Cuban, fresh off losing a recruiting battle to the I-45 rival Rockets, is willing to concede that point.

“We haven't played a game yet,” Cuban replied to ESPNDallas.com via email. “Look back at the big deal that won last summer and ask how it’s working for everyone now.”

Yep, that’s an indirect shot at the Los Angeles Lakers, who won the summer of 2012 by pulling off a four-way blockbuster deal that brought Howard to Hollywood to follow in the footsteps of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.

Never mind winning multiple championships. Howard didn’t even win a single playoff game while wearing purple and gold.

The deal didn’t exactly work out well for the Denver Nuggets or Philadelphia 76ers, either. Andre Iguodala was one-and-done in Denver before going to the Golden State Warriors in free agency. Bynum’s destination is to be determined -- and Dallas is a possibility -- but he definitely isn’t returning to Philly after being a $17 million spectator last season. The Orlando Magic stand as the big winner in that deal -- yet had the NBA’s worst record (20-62).

Oh, and it’s hard to laugh too heartily at the Lakers for their Dwightmare hours after he turned you down to head to Houston.

This is without question the most heartbreaking July day in Dallas basketball history. This is worse than D-Will’s decision, simply because a healthy Howard is on a different tier of superstardom. And it’s a lot worse than The Decision, because the Mavs weren’t even one of the handful of teams to get a sit-down meeting with LeBron James.

Yeah, there was a lot of pre-free agency discussion around these parts about convincing King James to join Dirk and using Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract in a sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland. But that hope never got past the point of pure speculation.

Plus, the Mavs ended up with a pretty darn good consolation prize, although nobody knew at the time that the injury-prone big man who arrived in Dallas as a Charlotte salary dump would be the final piece to a championship puzzle.

It now pains Mavs fans that the big man didn’t stay more than one season, that Chandler never got a chance to defend a championship in Dallas.

We'll spare you the talk about how the new CBA and an aging roster forced Cuban’s hands. You don’t want to hear it.

You don’t want to hear about how hard it was going to be for the Mavs to keep contending with that core. You don’t care that Jason Kidd is now Williams’ head coach in Brooklyn or that Jason Terry was dealt to the Nets as a salary-dump throw-in with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

But Boston pulled that trigger on that blockbuster deal because the Celtics had become what Cuban feared the Mavs would be: an old team with a bloated payroll and no real chance to contend or opportunity to upgrade the roster.

Cuban has vowed to never let the Mavs get stuck in NBA purgatory, a place he calls the “mediocrity treadmill.”

Well, how else to describe the Mavs’ place in the basketball world at the moment? The painful past two years have confirmed that Dirk Nowitzki is no longer capable of being the lone star on a contender. Their last playoff win was Game 6 in Miami more than two years ago. They’re coming off a 41-41 season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years.

The Mavs have a lot of money to spend but no great options to give it to. They have a lot of potential trade targets but no great assets to give up.

The Mavs, and Cuban in particular, have a PR mess. The only way to clean it up is with basketball success.

It’s going to take a brilliant plan for that to happen. And a bunch of breaks. Even a great plan isn’t guaranteed to work, as the Mavs know all too well.