Dallas Mavericks: Houston Rockets
That’s one conclusion reached by owner Mark Cuban as the Mavericks do their annual due diligence of exploring any possible opportunities to upgrade their roster. It confirms what the Mavs have learned over the last couple of years.
“Teams really value picks more than they used to,” said Cuban, who has used picks as sweeteners in trades in the past, such as the Jason Kidd deal. “Teams now value receiving picks a lot more than they used to, so I think teams would rather not do a deal than do a deal without picks.
“Teams have kind of defined their strategy post-CBA where you either went all in and the team you’ve got is the team you’ve got [or] you went all under and you’re going young and you’re mining for draft picks. What I call the three years away from three years away strategy. Then there’s teams like us that are looking to make deals, that are flexible but aren’t willing to give up picks.”
Never mind willing. The Mavs aren’t able to give up any first-round picks before 2020 because of the top-20-protected pick they owe from the dreadful Lamar Odom deal that is now owed to Oklahoma City.
That makes it awfully tough for the Mavs to get any significant conversations started. Cuban says there are ways around it, methods the Mavs could use to be able to peddle picks, but he declined to elaborate. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be simple or easy.
Dirk Nowitzki heads to New Orleans and his teammates scatter to sunny vacation destinations, the Mavs sit in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. That’s a far cry from being six games under .500 at the All-Star break a year ago.
The Mavs can afford to take nothing for granted, but the math is certainly in their favor when it comes to making the playoffs. The Hollinger Playoff Odds, a statistical formula created by Memphis vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger during his days as an ESPN analyst, put the Mavs’ chances at 79.1 percent. (Hollinger’s ninth-place Grizzlies are at 39.1 percent.)
If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Mavs would be matched up with their Interstate 45 rival, the Houston Rockets. That sounds like a lot of fun, pairing two high-scoring teams with the potential for some juicy off-court banter between Mark Cuban and Dwight Howard, last summer’s heartbreaker.
But the playoff pairings could shift on a daily basis, with Houston one of three teams who are 5 ½ games back from the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder and the Mavs leading a pack of three teams within a half-game of each other at the bottom of the playoff bracket. It’s a long shot that the Mavs can climb any higher than sixth in the standings, so let’s look at how they might match up in a playoff series with each of the teams above them.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder have the league’s best record despite perennial All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook missing much of the season due to knee surgeries. Kevin Durant is the clear-cut MVP leader, which is remarkable considering that LeBron James is still in his prime. Oklahoma City has won 12 of 13 meetings with Dallas since the Mavs eliminated the Thunder in the 2011 West finals. Needless to say, the Mavs would much prefer to avoid being the eighth seed.
Season series: Thunder, 1-0
Mavs’ shot: A Samuel Dalembert 80-footer
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs’ winning streak over the Mavs stands at seven games. The average margin of victory during that streak is 16.9 points. Gregg Popovich is probably the only coach in the West who would have an edge over Rick Carlisle. Tony Parker is a matchup nightmare for the Mavs’ guards. Same goes for Tim Duncan inside. And the Spurs have several role players who have come up big against Dallas.
Season series: Spurs, 2-0
Mavs’ shot: A contested Shawn Marion halfcourt heave
How about first to 120 wins each game? James Harden and Monta Ellis can’t guard each other. The Mavs have no answer for Howard. Nor do the Rockets for Nowitzki. The regular-season series is already over and it ended up even – not just in wins, but in points. This could be a really fun series between teams that have enough bad blood (at least in the front offices) to make for a heck of a Lone Star State rivalry.
Season series: Tied, 2-2
Mavs’ shot: A Dirk one-legged fadeaway with Howard in his face
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers pulled off a couple of jaw-dropping comebacks over Dallas with Mavs castoff Darren Collison playing point guard. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence if a healthy Chris Paul is running the show for Lob City and setting up athletic freaks Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Clippers small forward Matt Barnes, who has faced the Mavs in memorable playoff series with the Warriors and Lakers, used to get under Dallas’ skin as much as anybody. That dishonor might go to Griffin now.
Season series: Clippers, 2-0
Mavs’ shot: An off-the-dribble 30-footer by Monta Ellis
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The first-round matchup with the Blazers ended up being the Mavs’ toughest challenge en route to the 2011 Finals. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are the only players left from that Portland roster. Nowitzki and Marion are the only championship pieces left on the Dallas roster. The Mavs would have a puncher’s chance in this series because the Blazers aren’t any better than Dallas defensively. In fact, Portland is the only team that would make the playoffs at this point that ranks lower than the Mavs in defensive rating.
Season series: Tied, 1-1
Mavs’ shot: A Vince Carter 3-pointer
I simply don’t see the Mavs pulling off a deal of any significance. Maybe they surprise me, but all I could offer at this point is speculation, and I’ve already done plenty of that.
Plus, the Mavs have won five in a row for the first time in two years. Let’s talk about a team that’s given some reason for optimism.
Of the top 4 seeds in the West (OKC, SA, POR, and LAC) which playoff matchup would be the best for the Mavs? -- Michael (Aubrey)
We can include the Rockets in this mix, too, and from a media standpoint, that would be the most interesting series. You know Mark Cuban would have some interesting things to say about Dwight Howard and he might just be able to get in the mentally fragile big man’s head.
We know the Mavs want no part of the Thunder or Spurs, two teams that have dominated Dallas since the lockout.
If I had to pick a team based on the Mavs’ chances to advance, I’d go with the Portland Trail Blazers. Yes, I’m well aware that the Blazers blew out the Mavs during their last stop in Dallas, but the Mavs won at the buzzer in Portland. Really, it’s about styles. Portland is also a poor defensive team. I’d give the Mavs at least a puncher’s chance to win a series that would be a bunch of wild West shootouts.
What do you think of the Mavs' chances to climb to the fifth or sixth seed in the Western Conference? -- TSC_HookEm on Twitter
Maybe sixth. And that’s much more optimistic than I was a week ago. That has as much to do with the Golden State Warriors’ struggles as it does the Mavs taking advantage of a soft stretch of schedule. I thought the Warriors would be fighting for home-court advantage in the first round, but for whatever reasons, they haven’t been nearly as good offensively as I anticipated.
That gives the Mavs and Suns a shot at the sixth seed. I can’t see them catching the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers, especially after the Clippers kept the ship sailing while Chris Paul was sidelined.
Has Devin Harris been as big of a boost as it seems or is this winning streak more about Dirk's dominance and consistent play from Samuel Dalembert? -- Parker (Dallas)
Vince Carter and Brandan Wright have been outstanding. In fact, they have the best plus-minuses on the team over the last five games. Harris helps them by giving the bench a proven, versatile guard.
Nowitzki’s dominance makes life easier for everybody offensively, but he’s been playing at an All-Star level all season, save for the occasional off night. When Dalembert plays with the kind of energy and intensity he has recently, the Mavs are a different team, as anyone in that locker room will tell you.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that none of the teams the Mavs have beaten during this streak would be in the playoffs if the season ended now, and only Memphis has a winning record. But the Mavs aren’t just squeaking by bad teams. They’re dominating inferior competition.
Owner Mark Cuban informed Nowitzki of Morey’s presumably sarcastic text message at the time, which was hours after Dwight Howard decided to sign with Houston over the Mavs and other suitors. Nowitzki, who has a no-trade clause and has made it clear that he intends to play his entire career for the Mavs, hadn’t really given the subject a lot of thought until he was asked about it Friday night following Cuban’s pregame revelation to the media.
“I wasn’t really worried about it much, to be honest,” Nowitzki said after the Mavs improved to 9-4—a game ahead of Houston in the West standings – with a 103-93 win over the Utah Jazz. “I guess it stays longer in Cuban’s mind. To me, it was kind of in and out.
“We were frustrated at the time, but I think then we did some great moves, signing Jose [Calderon] first and then [Monta] and the rest of the gang. So I didn’t even think twice about it and then kind of moved along my way. I guess Cubes doesn’t forget that easy.”
Dalembert’s dandy: Center Samuel Dalembert scored a season-high 18 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked two shots and made all eight of his shots from the floor.
“I just saw that,” Dalembert said when asked about his perfect shooting percentage. “I was surprised, too.”
It marked the most field goal attempts for Dalembert in a game without a miss in his career. He twice was 7-of-7 from the floor during his Philadelphia tenure.
Ouch: Dalembert was wincing and holding his side when he left the floor in the final minute of the game. He took an inadvertent elbow to the ribs from Utah center Enes Kanter.
Dalembert iced his ribs, which were already tender from an elbow a few games ago, for several minutes after the game. He said he’ll wear a padded vest for Saturday night’s game in Denver.
“I tried to go out there like Robocop,” Dalembert joked. “I’m going to wear a pad next game. I learned my lesson.”
But banging with Dwight Howard won’t even be the most difficult aspect of Samuel Dalembert’s job when the Mavs meet the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
“The post-up game is not really something you see. I don’t see them throw the ball on the post for him to go one-on-one. It’s just wall down in the middle of the paint and throw the ball high to him. That’s pretty hard to stop, especially when you have a small on the back end trying to grab you and defend you. It’s pretty easy. You just foul him and send him to the free throw line.”
The payoff of playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale, one of the best back-to-the-basket players in NBA history, hasn’t happened yet for Howard.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Howard is averaging only 5.5 points per game on post-up plays this season, slightly less than he averaged last season in Los Angeles and a steep drop from the double digits he averaged on post-ups in Orlando. He’s also averaging only 0.59 points per post-up play, the fourth-worst rate among the 39 players with at least 30 post-up opportunities this season.
Howard’s presence isn’t the primary reason the Rockets rank second in the league in scoring offense with 108.8 points per game. In fact, Howard ranks third among the Rockets in scoring, behind James Harden and Jeremy Lin and just ahead of Chandler Parsons. The Mavs’ defensive game plan begins with trying to limit the damage by Harden and Lin with dribble penetration.
“That’s a tough thing when you have that,” said Dalembert, who will also have his hands full keeping the league's leading rebounder off the offensive glass. “As we work on the defensive scheme, I’m just going to have to limit the penetration from Harden and at the same time run back fast enough to get to Dwight. It’s going to be a long night for me.”
The result will rarely be in the Mavericks’ favor when Rockets superstar Harden gets out in transition with the big German as the last line of defense. It was the worst-case scenario twice in the second half of Dallas’ 113-105 loss to Houston on Friday night.
Nowitzki picked up his fifth and sixth fouls on and-1 layups by Harden. No. 5 came with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter, part of Harden’s personal 7-0 run that began moments after the Mavs trimmed the deficit to six points. No. 6 occurred with 6:11 remaining in the game and essentially ended the Mavs’ slim comeback hopes.
"I guess I've just got to get out of the way," Nowitzki said. "He’s so great at creating contact, so I've just got to run to the locker room and let him lay it in."
That method would have been almost as effective as Dallas' defense in the first quarter, when the Rockets scored 38 points. Heck, the Mavs' best defense of the night came when they intentionally sent Dwight Howard to the line and he missed six consecutive free throws in the third quarter.
But back to the hacks the Mavs didn't want to happen.
"He was trying to just go straight up or even get out of the way," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of Nowitzki. "Harden just came into him and he got the call. I haven’t looked at the replay, but it may be one of those ones that’s debatable. But once the whistle blows, they don’t normally change."
Those calls certainly didn’t cost the Mavs a game in which they trailed by as many as 22 points. They just killed any chance of pulling off a miraculous comeback, the kind that would have required Nowitzki to get red-hot to have any hope of happening.
This wasn’t one of Nowitzki’s better nights, foul trouble or not. He led the Mavs with 22 points, but he was only 6-of-15 from the floor and never found the rhythm with Monta Ellis (20 points, 7-of-19 shooting) that the duo had in Dallas’ season-opening win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Still how many times have we seen Nowitzki catch fire after struggling for a few quarters?
"In six minutes, everything’s possible, so I would have loved to stick around a couple more minutes and try to push," Nowitzki said. "That sixth foul is tough. That fifth one, I probably shouldn’t have reached in. Hey, it is what it is. I can’t even remember the last time I fouled out, but it happened.
"Honestly, we didn’t deserve to win tonight."
It’d been nearly four years since Nowitzki fouled out. It last happened in a Nov. 4, 2009, loss to New Orleans.
However, as Nowitzki noted, his foul trouble ranked down the list of the Mavs’ problems. If you’re dreadful defensively and shoot 38 percent from the floor, your chances of beating a Western Conference contender are slim, whether or not your superstar gets to stick around for the whole game.
Dreadful dozen minutes: Coach Rick Carlisle kept harping on the Mavs’ ugly defensive performance in Friday's first quarter. The Rockets roared to a 16-point lead by scoring 38 points in the first 12 minutes. Houston was 14-of-26 from the floor and had 11 second-chance points in the quarter.
"The truth is, it’s a 48-minute game, and [in] the first 12, we got demolished," Carlisle said. "That can’t happen. Not against this competition."
Added Dirk Nowitzki: "Brutal start to the game. Didn’t really get any stops."
Cold Calderon: Point guard Jose Calderon is off to a horrendous shooting start with Dallas. He’s 1-of-15 from the floor during the Mavs’ 1-1 start, including 0-of-8 against Houston. Carlisle believes Calderon, who led the league in 3-point percentage last season, is still working to get in game shape after a hamstring strain sidelined him for the first half of preseason.
"I’ve also got to do a better job of helping him get better shots," Carlisle said. "I’ll take a lot of responsibility for that."
Crowder goes off in garbage time: Second-year reserve forward Jae Crowder matched his career high with 15 points, all of which came in the final 5 minutes, 15 seconds, when he hit a flurry of five 3-pointers after Carlisle essentially waved the white flag by pulling all of the Mavs’ starters.
"I just didn’t want to lay down," Crowder said. "I felt, since we have to play these guys again, to just put a little fear in their head and their heart and make them think about how the game ended."
The Dallas Mavericks fell 113-105 to the Houston Rockets on Friday night at the Toyota Center.
How it happened: The only way the Mavericks could consistently stop the Rockets was to send Dwight Howard to the free throw line, and that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the Dallas starters' offensive struggles.
Houston built a 22-point lead in the first half, withstood a Dallas run in the third quarter and rolled to a convincing win over its Interstate 45 rival.
After allowing 61 points in the first half, the Mavs interrupted the Rockets’ rhythm with some zone defense, then halted it by playing Hack-a-Howard midway through the third quarter. Howard (13 points, 16 rebounds) missed six straight free throws at one point, but the Mavs simply never found an answer for his co-star. James Harden torched them for 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Dallas trimmed the deficit to six points with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. At that point, Harden put the Rockets on his back, scoring seven points over the next two minutes to allow Houston to stretch its lead back to double figures.
The Mavs’ two-man game featuring Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis wasn’t nearly as efficient as it was during the season-opening win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Nowitzki scored 22 points, but he was only 6-of-15 from the floor before fouling out with 6:11 remaining, essentially sealing the Mavs’ fate. Ellis scored 20 points, but he needed 19 shots to do it, knocking down only seven.
The Mavs shot 38 percent from the floor, including an 0-of-8 outing for point guard Jose Calderon. A late flurry of five 3-pointers by Jae Crowder made the score seem respectable, but the starters on both sides were sitting and watching by then.
What it means: This certainly didn’t do anything to change the perception that the Mavs shouldn’t be considered legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. They’ll head home with a 1-1 record entering Saturday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 2-0 Rockets opened with a pair of convincing victories at home before traveling to Utah.
Play of the game: Harden attacked in transition, making sure to draw contact from Nowitzki before going up for an and-1 layup with 6:11 remaining. That stretched the Rockets’ lead to 13 and caused Nowitzki to sit down the rest of the night. Nowitzki’s last two fouls both came on Harden layups in transition.
Stat of the night: Ellis was 2-of-12 on jumpers from 18 feet and farther and 5-of-7 on shots in the paint.
Cuban's public shots at opposing players are never accidental. Cuban, who takes pride in being a master manipulator of the media, always has incentive when he makes inflammatory statements about superstars.
That was true during his long-running verbal sparring matches with Shaquille O'Neal. It was true when Cuban casually mentioned last year that the Los Angeles Lakers ought to consider using the amnesty clause to dump Kobe Bryant. And it was true when he opined that Dwight Howard made an immature mistake by deciding to sign with the Houston Rockets instead of the Dallas Mavericks this summer.
How many millions of dollars' worth of free marketing have Cuban's Mavs received over the years due to the media firestorms he's started with his digs? Heck, he's given Friday night's Mavs-Rockets game some big-time national buzz and stole some attention from Jerry Jones' circus locally.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Cuban's headline-grabbing jabs are good for the Mavs.
The memory of Kobe's "Amnesty THAT" performance -- a 38-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist, one-tweet masterpiece in the aftermath of Cuban's helpful suggestion -- is still fresh in the minds of Mavs fans. (Conspiracy theory: Cuban's primary reason for opening up the "amnesty Kobe" can of worms was to plant seeds of doubt about the Lakers' long-term future in a certain free-agent center's mind.)
It's probably not coincidental that Shaq averaged more points against the Mavs (26.4 per game) than any other team during his career, although Dallas' difficulty finding a decent center surely had something to do with that.
Why would it be any different with Dwight? Well, Howard doesn't exactly have a reputation for extraordinary mental toughness.
Marketing might not have been Cuban's sole motivation in this instance. Maybe he thought he could get into Howard's head, cluttered and confused as it might be.
Or maybe I'm giving Cuban too much credit. Maybe he's just mad that his sales pitch didn't sway Howard. If that's the case, the grapes would really be sour if Howard responds as well as Cuban's most notable previous superstar sparring partners.
Some quick thoughts after scanning the Mavericks’ schedule for the 2013-14 season ...
SAVE THE DATE
A look at some of the Mavs’ marquee home games:
vs. Atlanta Hawks, Oct. 30: It's not necessarily a marquee opponent, but it's the season opener and the first time to see Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis wear a Mavs uniform in a game that matters.
vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Nov. 5: This game obviously loses some luster if Kobe Bryant can’t complete a remarkable comeback from a torn Achilles tendon to be ready for the first week of the season. The Lakers come back to Dallas on Dec. 7.
vs. Houston Rockets, Nov. 20: Does deciding to go to Houston make Dwight Howard a villain in Dallas? Maybe the Mavs’ creative team can come up with another video for the Rockets’ Superman. The Rockets return to Dallas on Jan. 29.
vs. San Antonio Spurs, Dec. 26: Perhaps Pop will give the Mavs a late Christmas present and leave a star or two in San Antonio. The Mavs might be fighting for a playoff berth when the Spurs make their second trip to Dallas on April 10.
vs. Los Angeles Clippers, Jan. 3: It might be painful for Mavs fans to watch Chris Paul after all the hoping and praying that he’d sign with Dallas went for naught. But Lob City, which returns to Dallas on March 27, is still a must-watch.
vs. Miami Heat, Feb. 18: Think it bothers LeBron James to see that 2011 championship banner hanging from the American Airlines Center rafters? The Mavs are still the only team to beat the Heat in a playoff series since King James took his talents to South Beach.
vs. Brooklyn Nets, March 23: Don’t expect a jersey retirement ceremony for new Nets coach Jason Kidd.
vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, March 25: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. only make one short trip to Dallas this season, unless the Mavs and Thunder match up in the playoffs for the third time in four years.
The NBA didn’t do Dallas any favors in April, when the Mavs could be scratching and clawing for one of the West’s final playoff bids. Five of the Mavs’ final seven games are on the road, including a four-game-in-six-night stretch that starts against the two L.A. teams. Projected West contenders Golden State and San Antonio are among the three teams scheduled to visit the AAC in April.
The second half of January should be good for the Mavs. They play half of those eight games on the road, but that includes trips to Phoenix, Cleveland and Toronto, none of which are the rear end of back-to-backs. Houston is the only potential contender to come to the AAC in that stretch, when the Mavs will also face Portland, Detroit and Sacramento at home.
This spin won't serve Mark Cuban well.
His claim that the Dallas Mavericks are "in a better spot" than they would have been if they had signed Dwight Howard isn't what fans want to hear. Especially not after they heard essentially the same thing last summer after the Mavs missed out on Deron Williams.
If that's the case, what was the point of stripping down the 2011 title team?
|Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
What went wrong? The circumstances changed after Tyson Chandler & Co. turned down one-year offers to stay in Dallas and got paid good money to go elsewhere. And give the competition credit for making their situations more attractive.
The Mavs hoped Chris Paul would be looking to escape New Orleans last summer. Instead, he got traded to the Los Angeles Clippers soon after Cuban made his difficult, CBA-influenced decisions. The Mavs prayed Paul would consider them this summer, but the Clippers pried open Donald Sterling's wallet to replace Vinny Del Negro with Doc Rivers, prompting CP3 to inform potential suitors that they need not even bother with a recruiting pitch.
The Mavs hoped Howard would be looking to escape Orlando last summer. Instead, he pulled an all-time waffle and made a last-minute decision to not opt out of the last season of his contract with the Magic. He regretted that enough to force a trade, landing with the Los Angeles Lakers for a "nightmare" season. That would have played right into the Mavs' hands had the Houston Rockets not done such a phenomenal job accumulating and deploying assets over the last couple of years, leading Howard to head down I-45 to team up with James Harden.
The Mavs hoped Williams would be looking to escape the Nets last summer, although he was always Plan C. The Nets made the bold, expensive move of trading for Joe Johnson, convincing Williams that he had a better chance of competing in Brooklyn than Dallas. Cuban, who had reservations about Williams all along, helped the Nets' cause by not joining the Mavs' contingent for face-to-face meetings with the All-Star point guard.
The truth of the matter is that Paul, Howard and Williams all made the right basketball decision. They all picked teams that are in a better position to contend than Dallas would have been if one of those superstars had signed with the Mavs.
In a roundabout way, Cuban acknowledges that with his annual statement that the Mavs are better off for having failed to hook the big fish. Of course, that's also acknowledging a fatal flaw with the original big-picture plan.
It's a stretch of the truth, to say the least, to claim that the Mavs benefited from those big fish picking other ponds. This is a superstar-driven league, and Dallas desperately needs to find a way to add another to give Dirk a chance to compete for a second championship in his golden years.
The Mavs certainly weren't better off without Williams last season, when a gimpy Dirk and a bunch of one-and-done temporary teammates limped to a .500 finish, snapping a 12-year playoff streak. With Williams on board, the Mavs could have easily added Samuel Dalembert as a stopgap, rim-protecting center this summer by using their midlevel exception.
Would that make the Mavs a championship-caliber team? Doubtful. But having Williams here would make the Mavs more competitive now and more attractive to free agents next summer, when the Mavs would have still had ample cap space.
This has been a better summer for the Mavs, for sure. They added a pair of potential foundation pieces for the future in guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, plus Dalembert.
But just imagine the reaction if Cuban called Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and offered Calderon, Ellis and Dalembert for Howard. Or made the same calls to L.A. or Brooklyn to try to pry away Paul or Williams.
It'd be hilarious laughter and a quick hang-up.
You can make the case that the Mavs have recovered well after missing out on all the big fish, but nobody in their rational mind would believe that the Mavs are better off in the short or long term for not having successfully recruited a superstar.
Not even Cuban, no matter what he says.
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.
"Got word we are out of the DH sweepstakes. We gave it a shot and it didn't work out . It was truly an experience. At some point I will post our video and presentation we made."
Cuban also said he had no knowledge of the free agent center's decision on a team.
"I have no idea what team he is going to," Cuban wrote in the e-mail. "They wouldn't tell me."
"So it's on to Plan B."
The Mavs’ silence isn’t just by design in this instance. It’s team policy.
|ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.
“The approach I learned from Donnie [Nelson] is that more teams will talk to you and be more open with you when they know they won't read about it. Same with players.
“The two things I hate the most are leaks to the media and the wave.”
Officials, players and others from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers have commented publicly about their meetings with the free-agent All-Star center.
The moment that the free agency period officially began a minute after midnight Eastern Monday, Houston general manager Daryl Morey created a "#dwighttohouston" Twitter hashtag and requested that Rockets fans send messages to Howard’s account. After the Rockets’ meeting with Howard ended hours later, Morey tweeted about Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler telling Howard how he could form the “next gr8 big/wing combo” with James Harden. Many details of those closed-door sessions with Howard and his representatives have been leaked to the media.
The Houston Chronicle quoted anonymous Rockets representatives and reported intricate details of the team’s presentation, such as video visits from former Houston centers Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo and pushing the marketing potential of playing for a franchise with great popularity in China.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak released a statement after L.A.’s meeting with Howard, while point guard Steve Nash talked to reporters on his way out of the building. ESPNLosAngeles.com and other media outlets, citing sources, have reported specific details about Howard’s conversations with Nash and Kobe Bryant during the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Mavs’ only comment thus far about their meeting -– on or off-the-record -- was the usually outspoken Cuban mumbling, “It was fun,” when encountered by ESPN’s Shelley Smith and camera crew on the way out of Tuesday’s meeting with Howard. Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki, part of the Mavs’ six-man recruiting contingent, joked that he wasn’t in the meeting when asked for comment.
Cuban had been upfront about the Mavs’ plan to pitch prospective free agents, particularly Howard, on a two-year plan to rebuild a championship contender. It’s been widely known that the Mavs would sell the franchise’s championship pedigree and the ability to add more talent next summer, when Nowitzki’s contract expires and he intends to re-sign for a drastically reduced salary.
The details of the Mavs’ pitch to Howard, however, have successfully been kept a secret. That could be appealing to a superstar whose dirty laundry was aired publicly during the latter stages of his tenure with the Orlando Magic, most memorably when then-coach Stan Van Gundy told the media after a shootaround that Howard went to the front office in an attempt to get him fired. The ensuing group interview of Howard, who was unaware of Van Gundy’s revelation moments earlier, was off-the-charts awkward.
Cuban, Nowitzki, president of basketball operations Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle headlined the Mavs’ recruiting contingent. They were joined by Dallas athletic trainer Casey Smith, who has a relationship with Howard from their time together with Team USA, and director of analytics Roland Beech.
The only reason Smith and Beech are known to have participated in the meeting is because they were filmed by the ESPN camera crew leaving with the rest of the Mavs’ representatives. If Cuban had his way, their presence wouldn’t even be public knowledge.
A conspiracy theory: The Rockets emerged as a rumored frontrunner to throw folks off the scent that Dwight Howard has been ticketed for Dallas all along.
Those are whispers that ESPN Los Angeles’ Ramona Shelburne has heard on the West coast.
|ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.
Start with the Shawn Marion situation. If this was a done deal, wouldn’t Fegan have convinced his client on the Mavs’ roster to cooperate and make things much easier for everyone?
The best-case scenario for the Mavs would have been Marion exercising the early termination option in his contract and then returning to Dallas on a three-year deal with a salary reduced enough to squeeze Howard’s max deal under the cap. Technically, the Mavs couldn’t have negotiated Marion’s new contract before he opted out, but we’re talking wink-wink, nudge-nudge deals here.
How can the Mavs create enough cap space to sign Howard now? Dumping Marion’s salary in a trade is the most likely scenario. If this was all a pre-arranged deal, would Fegan put another veteran client in danger of being shipped to an undesirable team? (Yes, Marion would pocket an extra $1.4 million with his trade kicker, but if this was all just a money grab for Fegan, he’d be determined to get Howard to stay in L.A. instead of bolting to Dallas.)
It’s true that Cuban and Fegan have a strong business relationship, even a friendship, and have worked together to get several deals done. Hey, maybe Fegan really does feel like he owes Cuban for that Erick Dampier contract!
But, if Marion gets dealt this summer, add that to the list of business decisions made by Cuban that disappointed Fegan clients.
*The Mavs shipped Fegan client Drew Gooden to Washington in the deal that got rid of Josh Howard and brought Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas.
*Jason Terry fired Fegan in part because of frustration stemming from the Mavs’ lack of interest in making a long-term commitment to him during his last year in Dallas.
*The Mavs waived Delonte West, a Fegan client at the time, after twice suspending him for conduct detrimental to the team last fall.
It helps for an owner and agent to have a good relationship, but it guarantees nothing for either side.
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Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
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Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.