Dallas Mavericks: Chris Paul

Mavs not admitting mistake with trade

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
5:14
PM CT
Raise your hand if your initial reaction to the report of Tyson Chandler’s return to Dallas was the thought that Mark Cuban was admitting a massive mistake.

Think again. You're wrong.

[+] EnlargeTyson Chandler and Mark Cuban
Glenn James/Getty ImagesReacquiring Tyson Chandler doesn't necessarily mean Mark Cuban was wrong to let him go in the first place.
Dealing for Chandler in the final season of the four-year deal he signed with the New York Knicks after the lockout -- and only months after he played a major role in the Mavericks’ championship run -- isn’t proof that Cuban regrets the decision to let the big man go in the first place. It’s a matter of doing what’s best for the Mavs now, when their financial picture looks completely different than it did in December 2011.

"It's apples and oranges," Cuban said via an email reply to ESPNDallas.com. "You couldn't get from there to here."

First and foremost, Dirk Nowitzki is no longer one of the highest-paid players in the NBA. He has committed to re-sign with the Mavericks for a drastically reduced salary, likely in the Tim Duncan-discount territory of $10 million per year, less than half what the big German made the past few seasons. In other words, Nowitzki’s pay cut next season will probably be pretty close to Chandler’s salary.

After studying the new CBA, Cuban’s fear was that the Mavs would become what the Brooklyn Nets are now, an old team with a bloated payroll and no real shot of winning a title and extremely limited avenues of upgrading the roster.

Cuban’s hope was that the Mavs could take advantage of their financial flexibility -- those might as well be curse words in Dallas now -- by signing an in-his-prime superstar to pair with Nowitzki. That didn’t happen, with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard declining Dallas’ recruiting pitches and Chris Paul committing to stay in L.A. without even listening to the Mavs.

In hindsight, would the Mavs have been better off keeping Chandler all along? Only if you think an aging team that made a surprising championship run was going to have a legitimate chance to repeat in a lockout-condensed campaign that was especially tough on old legs.

The potential reward was never realized, but it was big enough to justify the Mavs’ risk.

The Mavs are in better shape now with Chandler back in the mix than they would have been if he never left. With Chandler on board last summer, meaning the Mavs wouldn’t have hoarded cap space with Howard/CP3 hopes in mind, there wouldn’t have been any room for Monta Ellis on the roster.

That means the Mavs’ offense would still lack the dynamic dribble penetrator who blended so well with the big German and took pressure off the now-36-year-old Nowitzki.

Now the Mavs have a potent one-two offensive punch, a defensive backbone (again) and the salary-cap space to make at least one more major addition this summer.

No, Cuban’s grand plan didn’t work out as he hoped. Yes, Chandler is coming back to Dallas to complete the contract the Mavs weren’t willing to give him originally.

That’s proof that the Mavs’ front office is doing what it feels is in the franchise’s best interests now, not that Cuban & Co. are attempting to make up for a mistake from a few years ago.
Monta Ellis and Dwight HowardJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsHow good would the Mavs have been offensively with Dwight Howard but without Monta Ellis?
None of the big fish the Dallas Mavericks failed to catch in free agency advanced to the conference finals.

Would Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard still be playing if they signed with Dallas?

Of course, that’s a hypothetical that’s impossible to answer. Who knows how the Mavs’ roster would look if their recruiting pitch to one of the max-salary stars was successful? But pointless speculation can be pretty fun, so we’ll do our best to guess the Mavs’ odds of being in the NBA’s final four with each of the big fish that got away.

Williams: A falling out of bounds full-court heave.

SportsNation

Which big fish would have given the Mavs the best chance at advancing in the playoffs?

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    33%
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    45%
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    5%
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    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,629)

It’s gotten so bad for Williams in Brooklyn that there’s talk about the Nets trying to trade the five-time All-Star point guard this summer. That’ll be tough to do considering that Williams’ contract is considered toxic with him being owed $63.1 million over the next three seasons.

The Mavs certainly wouldn’t trade Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon for Williams. They’re much better off with their current starting backcourt -- with combined salaries significantly lower than Williams' -- than a former star whose bad ankles have caused him to fall a couple of tiers.

Williams, 29, had his least productive season since he was a rookie, averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 assists while missing 18 games. His shooting percentage plummeted in the playoffs, when he made only 39.5 percent of his field goal attempts.

Maybe the Mavs’ medical staff, considered one of the league’s elite, could have prevented Williams’ ankle problems. But Mark Cuban, who has all but admitted sabotaging the Williams recruiting effort by refusing to meet face to face with the native north Texan, must feel like he dodged a bullet by not making a max investment in Williams.

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Here are four words that might confuse Dallas Mavericks fans: Darren Collison, playoff hero.

Collison, the scapegoat for many of the Mavs’ crunch-time failures during their miserably mediocre 2012-13 season, keyed the Los Angeles Clippers’ comeback from a 22-point deficit in Sunday’s series-evening Game 4 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, making several impact plays with his speed as part of a three-guard late lineup, including a couple of layups that were the Clippers’ last two buckets.

“Game ball goes to Darren Collison,” L.A. star Chris Paul said.

What a moment for Collison, whose one-season stint in Dallas was so disappointing. He arrived with hope that he’d have a chance to prove he could be a long-term solution as the Mavs’ starting point guard and ended up getting demoted for an elderly, off-the-street replacement ... twice.

Collison, who signed a two-year, $3.9 million deal this summer, has been a great addition to the Clippers. His stats (11.4 ppg, 3.7 apg) are actually down a bit from last season, but not nearly as much as the pressure on him.

L.A. didn’t ask Collison to replace a legend, as the Mavs did after scrambling to fill Jason Kidd’s shoes. They signed Collison to complement a perennial All-Star point guard.

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Mavs again can't close vs. Clippers

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
11:55
PM CT
Mavericks/Clippers Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith or without Chris Paul, the Clippers have found a way to bury the Mavs down the stretch.

DALLAS -- Maybe the Mavericks can convince the Los Angeles Clippers to play by college rules next week at Staples Center.

Shorten the game to 40 minutes and the Mavs might even be considered favorites.

Heck, for 43 minutes, the Mavs can more than hold their own against the Clippers, but those last five minutes are absolute misery for Dallas.

"For some reason, we felt like we should have gotten all three of them and got none of them," Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s 109-103 loss to the Clippers, their third defeat in three games against Los Angeles this season. "Very disappointed."

The Clippers closed out this game with a 16-5 run. That matches the way L.A. finished off the Mavs during the Clippers’ previous visit to the American Airlines Center this season. And that looks competitive compared to the finish when these teams met at Staples Center on Jan. 15, when the Clippers erased a 17-point deficit in the final 4 minutes, 49 seconds.

The Mavs’ three losses to the Clippers have come by a combined 15 points. They’ve been outscored by 38 in the final five minutes of those games.

"I think we did a pretty good job until the end," Mavs point guard Jose Calderon said, reaching for the silver lining. "We’ve got one more chance. Hopefully, next week we can beat these guys. We’re close. We’re right there with them. We’ve just got to try to finish a little bit better."

Yeah, just a little bit better. That’s like saying the Mavs were just a little bit interested in recruiting All-Star point guard Chris Paul away from L.A. this summer, a deal they never had a chance to close.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki scored 21 but missed all six of his field goal tries in the crucial fourth quarter.
It’d be frustrating but somewhat understandable if the Mavs could simply tip their caps to Paul, one of the game’s great closers, who lit it up for 31 points and nine assists Thursday night. But Paul wasn’t even available for crunch time in the previous Mavs-Clippers meetings this season, having injured his shoulder earlier in the Jan. 3 game and having sat out the rematch less than two weeks later.

It was Darren Collison, the scapegoat for many of the Mavs’ closing woes last season, running the show for the Clippers during their crunch-time clinics those nights.

It’s not surprising for the Mavs to struggle to get stops late against an elite scoring team such as the Clippers, but the Mavs' high-powered offense has gone impotent down the stretch in each game.

Warning: MFFLs might find the following numbers offensive, so to speak.

Combining the final five minutes of Dallas' three losses to the Clippers, the Mavs made only five of 26 shots from the floor. That’s a shooting percentage of 19.2, which looks like a batting average for a Texas Rangers catcher, not something you’d see from one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses.

Much of that failure falls on the broad shoulders of the big German. Nowitzki has only one more point (three) than turnovers (two) during that 15-minute sample, making only one of 11 shots from the floor.

Nowitzki was tremendous through three quarters and terrible in the fourth in this loss. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but he missed all six of his field goal attempts and even missed a few free throws in the final frame.

"We were trying to find a hot hand at the end," coach Rick Carlisle said, "and it was just a struggle."

Monta Ellis, who has been magnificent in closing time since the All-Star break, couldn’t pick up the slack. He had the Mavs’ only bucket in the final five minutes, but Ellis had an awful shooting night (4-of-19 from the floor). He bricked a potential go-ahead long 2-pointer with 1:03 to go and clanked what would have been a tying 18-footer with 15.9 seconds remaining. The shot selection in those two instances was iffy, to be polite.

But the Mavs were desperately searching for a source of offense down the stretch. Sixth man Vince Carter poured in 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but his final attempt was a wild, air-ball fadeaway with a little less than four minutes to go.

"We just haven’t gotten over the hump," Carter said. "It’s tough. It’s very frustrating, but we fought like hell to give ourselves a chance to win at the end. That’s all you can ask for."

Yeah, it’s probably pointless to ask for a college clock.

OT: No easy solutions to Mavs' star search

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
8:00
AM CT
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks’ grand rebuilding plan is still in place.

The Dallas front office remains determined to acquire an in-his-prime superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs’ brass is confident that will happen while the big German is still an elite player.

[+] EnlargeHoward
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesThe Mavs' pursuit of superstars such as Dwight Howard to pair with Dirk Nowitzki has proved fruitless thus far.
It’s a lot easier said than done, as we’re reminded by Dwight Howard’s Wednesday night appearance at the American Airlines Center in a Houston Rockets uniform. The plan started with three firm targets -- Chris Paul, Howard and Deron Williams -- and Dallas struck out over the past two summers.

How can the Mavs pull off such an optimistic plan at this point? Heck if they know. Not right now, at least.

“Superstars win in this league,” said Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, although he’s pleased with the performance of summer consolation prizes such as Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. “That’s not lost on us. ... This summer, I can’t sit here and tell you a hard-and-fast game plan, because we won’t know until we hit the battlefield, so to speak.”

That’s primarily because nobody knows whether this will be a bumper crop of free agency or if there will be slim pickings when it comes to superstars on the market this summer.

The Mavs will be positioned to offer a max contract again this summer, when Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter come off the books, with Nowitzki vowing to re-sign at a significantly reduced salary. The question is whether there will be anybody worth offering a max deal.

Several marquee players have the right to opt out of their contracts, a list that includes LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, among others. If the stars don’t test the market -- or simply decide to re-sign with their current teams, as Nowitzki has vowed to do in Dallas -- then Luol Deng could be the biggest name available among unrestricted free agents.

No disrespect to Deng, a two-time All-Star small forward whose ability to score and defend would make him a good fit in Dallas at a reasonable price, but adding him to the Mavs wouldn’t make Nowitzki the second-best player on the roster.

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Nobody got what they wanted from the Deron Williams sweepstakes in the summer of 2012.

The Dallas Mavericks are still hoping to acquire a bona fide superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki during the big German’s golden years.

Deron Williams
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesChronic ankle problems have limited Deron Williams to 24 games this season, and he's averaging only 13.4 points and 6.8 assists for arguably the most disappointing team in the NBA.
The Brooklyn Nets are stuck paying a superstar price for a player who hasn’t been able to perform at that level since signing a max deal.

Williams’ numbers dipped to 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game last season, when his streak of five consecutive All-Star appearances ended and he dealt with nagging ankle pain. Those chronic ankle problems have limited Williams to 24 games this season, and he’s averaging only 13.4 points and 6.8 assists for arguably the most disappointing team in the NBA.

That’s far from the production Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov planned on getting when Williams signed a five-year, $98.8 million deal to be the face of the franchise as it moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

The Mavs attempted to sign Williams to a max deal despite owner Mark Cuban’s reservations. As Williams noted last fall, maybe he would have signed with his hometown team had Cuban bothered to meet with him face to face instead of filming “Shark Tank” on the opposite coast.

Those comments were in response to Cuban claiming the Mavs were better off without Williams, a remark that came across as sour grapes and spin and looked especially silly when Nowitzki’s .500 beard made him look like a “Duck Dynasty” reject.

More than a year later, a case could be made that the Mavs ended up being better off after having settled for a pair of mid-tier free agents (Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis) to make up their backcourt, given Williams’ injury issues. But the reality remains that the Mavs have no chance of competing for a championship as long as the 35-year-old Nowitzki is by far the best player on the roster.

Williams wasn’t the ideal option in the Mavs’ grand rebuilding plan. When they made their post-lockout move to create financial flexibility, a phrase that prompts eye rolls from Mavs fans, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard were the prime targets with Williams an attractive fallback plan.

But Paul and Howard didn’t opt out of their contracts that summer, making Williams the lone big fish in the market. He ended up being strike one for the Mavs. Dallas didn’t even get a chance to swing at CP3 last summer and whiffed when Howard opted to head to Houston.

Maybe the Mavs are better off without Williams, but they’ll be stuck on the mediocrity treadmill as long as the in-his-prime superstar void exists on their roster. Brooklyn is in worse shape with its bloated payroll, but that doesn’t do anything to help the Mavs' title hopes.
DALLAS – Los Angeles Clippers backup point guard Darren Collison arrived at the American Airlines Center with a point to prove Friday night.

Collison left the arena as the Clippers’ starting point guard, at least for the next three to five weeks, coach Doc Rivers’ estimated timetable for perennial All-Star Chris Paul's recovery from a separated right shoulder.

[+] EnlargeJae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, Darren Collison
AP Photo/Sharon Ellman"There's always that one game that gets you ready, that you work hard for in the offseason," Clippers point guard Darren Collison said after his impressive effort Friday in Dallas against his old squad. "This is one of them."
Collison wanted to show the Dallas Mavericks that they made a mistake giving up on him as their starting point guard last season. He hoped to make them regret, at least for one night, not attempting to re-sign him over the summer.

“I didn’t want to leave tonight without making a statement,” said Collison, who scored a season-high 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting and dished out four assists in 35 minutes to help the Clippers pull out a 119-112 win over the Mavs despite losing their leader Paul midway through the third quarter. “You play 82 games in a season; you can’t say you’re motivated for all 82 games, you know what I mean? You’re motivated because you want to win, but there’s always that one game that gets you ready, that you work hard for in the offseason.

“This is one of them.”

The 23-12 Clippers need this version of Collison on a consistent basis to keep rolling without Paul.

This isn’t the first time Collison has had to fill the figuratively large shoes of the NBA’s best little man. As a rookie, Collison started 37 games for the New Orleans Hornets while Paul was out due to a knee injury. Collison averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists in those starts, including a 35-point performance against Dallas in February 2010 that still stands as his career-high scoring total.

The Mavs hoped Collison would resemble the player who flashed brilliance as a rookie when they acquired him from the Indiana Pacers in the wake of Jason Kidd’s departure in the summer of 2012. However, the hope that Collison could be a rebuilding block didn’t last long in Dallas.

In fairness to Collison, he had the difficult task of trying to run a team that primarily consisted of one-year rental players forming a supporting cast for a hobbled Dirk Nowitzki, who missed the 27 games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Collison still took a large share of the blame for the 41-41 Mavs missing the playoffs after 12 consecutive postseason appearances. Dallas was 21-26 in games Collison started.

The 6-foot, 175-pound Collison put up decent numbers (12.0 points, 5.1 assists) during his lone season in Dallas, but his defensive flaws and crunch-time struggles caused him to fall out of favor with the Mavs. He twice lost his starting job to late-30s veterans the Mavs signed off the street, first for the couple of weeks that Derek Fisher stayed in Dallas and later to journeyman Mike James.

That didn’t help Collison’s cause in free agency. The Mavs made no effort to re-sign him, and Collison couldn’t find any suitors that saw him as a starter. He ended up setting for a two-year, $3.9 million deal and reserve role with the Clippers.

“I’m just glad I fell into a situation like the Clippers that’s given me the opportunity,” Collison said. “Now I have a chance to play for a contending team that’s going to give me a chance to play for something more special.”

The Clippers need Collison to be a solid starter over the next month or so to give them a legitimate chance to have home-court advantage for a round or two in the Western Conference playoffs. The intensity and aggressiveness Collison displayed during this trip to Dallas can’t be a one-game thing.

“The way D.C. was playing, it didn’t matter which one of those guys was out there tonight,” Mavs big man Brandan Wright said, referring to Collison and Paul.

The Clippers can’t reasonably expect Collison to produce like a point guard who has played in the past six All-Star Games. They have to hope, however, that Collison fares much better during this stint as a starter in L.A. than he did in Dallas.

Mavs light it up, Monta Ellis in attack mode

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
12:18
AM CT
DALLAS -- Maybe the Dallas Mavericks did actually sign a co-star for Dirk Nowitzki this summer.

No, they didn’t hook the “big fish” as advertised, the hope the Mavs’ brain trust sold when they made the CBA-influenced decision to strip down the 2011 championship roster instead of pay big money to keep a veteran cast together. Dallas didn’t even get a sit down with Chris Paul and got nothing but the proverbial participation ribbon for their efforts in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave the Mavericks found the right-hand man for Dirk Nowitzki's twilight years in Monta Ellis?
They settled for a marriage of convenience with Monta Ellis, a model of inefficiency with the Milwaukee Bucks the previous year and a half. He slipped through the cracks of free agency and signed a three-year, $25 million deal with Dallas.

If the early returns are any indication, Ellis’ contract could end up being the bargain of the summer.

With Ellis driving relentlessly and Dirk riding shotgun, the Mavs are off to a fantastic start after the first week of the season. Ellis’ dominant performance paced a 123-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, sending the Mavs on the road with a 3-1 record.

Ellis arrived in Dallas with the highest career scoring average (19.5 points per game) of any active player without an All-Star appearance. If he keeps this up, that might change at midseason, as will his reputation as a gunner who isn’t the kind of player who can be a key piece on a winning team.

All Ellis has done during his first week in Dallas is average 25 points -- tied for seventh in the league -- while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and dishing out five assists per night despite playing solely shooting guard. He blew by the Lakers’ lead-footed backcourt on a regular basis Tuesday, lighting up L.A. for 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting with nine assists -- a night so rare it hit a trio of certain statistical landmarks (points, assists, field-goal percentage) not reached in an NBA game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"He was in the guts of our defense all night," said Lakers point guard Steve Nash, one of Nowitzki’s favorite former sidekicks. "He was getting easy buckets and creating easy buckets for his teammates all night."

Perhaps Ellis is proving that the complementary pieces, not him, were the problem on his recent teams. After all, he did average 20.2 points and shoot 53.1 percent from the floor for a 48-win team as a 22-year-old, but those 2007-08 Golden State Warriors were the last plus-.500 team to employ Ellis. His efficiency plummeted in the six seasons since as he relied more and more on long jumpers.

The Mavs have convinced Ellis to use his inconsistent jumper as an off-speed pitch again. Playing in a pick-and-roll-intensive system that plays to Ellis' strengths and surrounds him with shooters, the Mavs are putting Ellis in position to be in attack mode.

"If anything, it made me the player I used to be," Ellis said. "Continue to attack. Don’t settle for the jump shot. At times I do, but coach keeps stressing attack, attack, attack. We’ve been doing that, and it worked for us tonight."

Seven of Ellis’ 11 buckets against the Lakers came on drives. When the defense collapsed, he kicked it out to a shooter for an open look or dumped it to a big man for an easy bucket.

Ellis’ ability to do damage off the dribble adds an element to the Mavs’ offense that’s been missing in recent seasons, arguably since Nash’s departure from Dallas a decade ago. Jason Terry served as a capable sidekick for Nowitzki during the Mavs’ best years, when the franchise made two Finals trips and won the 2011 title; but "Jet" was a jump-shooting assassin.

"He’s just a different kind of weapon," coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis. "His catch-and-go ability, his speed in transition, his ability to change direction and attack the rim is unique in this league."

Carlisle put Ellis in an elite class of active players when it comes to those characteristics, naming Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook off the top of his head. There is no doubt that Ellis, as Dirk declared at the opening of training camp, is the most explosive teammate of Nowitzki’s career.

"He’s so fast to the rim that if the defense makes one little mistake in the pick-and-roll coverage, one fast dribble and he’s right up there at the rim," said Nowitzki, one of seven Mavs to score in double figures against the L.A. "It’s been impressive.

"Obviously, there are some players that are so fast getting to the rim that if they make their [jump] shot, they’re tough to guard. That’s the case with him.

"If that thing is going, he’s tough to stop."

So far, Ellis has been a phenomenal fit for a Dallas team that, frankly, didn’t have much interest in him at the beginning of free agency. Mavs owner Mark Cuban admitted recently that it "did take some warming up" from the analytics-savvy franchise once Ellis’ asking price dropped from eight figures per year into a more Mavs-friendly price range. And it took Devin Harris’ deal being voided due to a flunked physical for the Mavs to offer Ellis as much money as they did.

But the Dallas decision-makers talked themselves into believing Ellis would benefit greatly from playing for a creative coach and alongside a pass-first point guard (fellow free-agent addition Jose Calderon) and a historically elite power forward who would be the focal point for opposing defenses.

It’s hard to argue with the early returns. With Ellis putting up huge numbers and Nowitzki complementing him with 20.3 points per game, the Mavs rank second in the league in scoring (114.3), behind only the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It really starts with Dirk because defenses play him so differently and he spaces so well," Ellis said. "It’s hard for them to even stunt or try to do anything on the back side. We’ve got so many shooters on this team that can get it going any given night and make it tough on defenses."

That makes it easy for Ellis to get in the guts of the defense -- and that gives the Mavs hope they’ve found a suitable sidekick for Nowitzki’s golden years.

Opening Tip: Dirk encouraged by direction

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
9:00
AM CT
DALLAS -- The disappointment over failing to land a big fish has passed for Dirk Nowitzki. He's cautiously encouraged about the direction of the Mavericks franchise at this point.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki wanted the Mavs to land a big fish in free agency but he's encouraged by the backup plan so far.
Nowitzki, who publicly questioned owner Mark Cuban's long-term plan in January and said it could be judged as "a mistake or not" after the summer, desperately wanted Chris Paul or Dwight Howard to come to Dallas. That didn't happen, with Paul not even listening to recruiting pitches before re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers and Howard opting to go to the Houston Rockets.

However, Nowitzki was pleased with the Mavs' contingency plan, which consisted of signing a crop of free agents headlined by guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.

"It was tough," Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com about missing out on a proven superstar after Cuban essentially opted to sacrifice wins for salary-cap space. "First, it was Chris Paul. We didn't get him and then obviously went for Dwight. We went all-out. We all flew out there. Cuban put a suit on, so that already showed us how bad we wanted him.

"But hey, it is what it is. We didn't get him. I was frustrated there for a while, not knowing what we were going to do. Are we going to sign nine one-year deals again? But obviously Mark decided to go a different route. The first signing I think was Calderon, who I always liked as a point guard. I think Monta was probably a surprise to everybody. I didn't see that coming. I always thought he wanted a little more money somewhere else. He did. I was fired up to play with him, even though I didn't know how he was going to fit in here, but I was excited about the possibility of playing with him.

"I think as a franchise, we've moved on. We didn't go for the whole cap space deal again, like we did last year, so I was obviously pleased to see that."

The Mavs definitely aren't done with their roster remodeling, but Nowitzki believes the new backcourt can be part of the foundation for the future. Calderon signed a four-year, $29 million deal. Ellis signed for $25 million over three years, although the last season in his contract is a player option.

Nowitzki noted that the Mavs could be active before the trade deadline, especially if the first half of the season doesn't go as well as hoped.

The Mavs are set up to have ample cap space again next summer, when the contracts of Nowitzki ($22.7 million), Shawn Marion ($9.3 million) and Vince Carter ($3.2 million) all expire. Nowitzki has committed to re-sign a two- or three-year deal at a significantly reduced salary to be determined.

"I don't see us as being stuck," Cuban said. "I see us as a team that can and will get better. We're good and we can get a lot better."

Added Nowitzki: "We're still not done building. ... Our goal obviously since 2011 hasn't changed. We're not happy making the playoffs. We want to compete for the championship."

That would have been easier to do with Howard on his side, but as far as Nowitzki is concerned, hope is still alive.


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?

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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.

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Hindsight proved otherwise, but I'll stick to my guns that Cuban's decision to create financial flexibility at the expense of keeping the aging 2011 championship roster intact was worth the risk due to the potential reward. The Mavs needed to make mid-30s Dirk Nowitzki their second-best player to have a realistic chance at another championship run, given all the gray hairs of Dirk's supporting cast.

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.
Could this summer get any worse for the Mavericks? Well, Dirk Nowitzki could start having second thoughts about his intention to stay in Dallas for a drastically reduced salary when his deal expires after the 2013-14 season.

Actually, sad as it is to say, that might be in the franchise’s best interest long term.

PODCAST
Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.

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Owner Mark Cuban’s biggest fear has been for the Mavs to get stuck on the mediocrity treadmill. That drove his decision to strip down the 2011 title team, ensuring that the aging Mavs wouldn’t decay into an expensive team incapable of contending or making necessary upgrades.

Instead, the decline in Dallas was steep. The Mavs have a grand total of zero playoff wins in the past two seasons and zero big-fish free agents hooked in the past two offseasons.

Cuban, as stubborn as he is smart, is trying to pull off the most difficult task in pro sports: rebuilding without hitting rock bottom. To pull that off, the Mavs' front office must be willing to gamble -- and have a bet or two pay off big.

Yet the Mavs refused to take a risk on Andrew Bynum, the one potential home run left on the market this summer after Dwight Howard headed to Houston.

Here they are, stuck in the middle again.

PODCAST
Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.

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This isn’t a case of another name-brand free agent turning down the Mavs. The Mavs didn’t make an offer to Bynum because they were scared away by the bad knees that kept him sidelined all of last season. All Dallas had to do to get the 7-footer, who was an All-Star in 2012, was trump Cleveland’s offer that included only $6 million in guaranteed money. The Mavs weren’t willing to take that chance.

That’s an awfully conservative approach for a franchise that rolled the dice so boldly after the lockout.

There’s a good chance the Mavs are right about Bynum’s knees and he’ll spend big chunks of this season sporting wild hairstyles while watching from the bench. But this would have been the time for a boom-or-bust swing for the fences.

The potential reward if Bynum worked out: a foundation piece. The risk if he didn’t: money down the drain and a ticket to a loaded lottery.

It’s not as if the Mavs were going to be on the hook long term if Bynum was a bust. After all, he went to Cleveland for a two-year deal that has a team option on the second season. And the Mavs, with $35 million of expiring contracts on the roster, are guaranteed to have salary leeway next summer anyway.

But the Mavs decided not to make a bold move after missing out on Howard. They played it safe. They’ll plug in Samuel Dalembert or someone of that unimpressive ilk at center and try to make a blockbuster trade despite lacking attractive assets.

The reality is that the Mavs will have to scrap to have a shot at one of the last couple of playoff seeds in the loaded West next season. Dallas seems destined to finish around .500 again with a draft pick that isn’t high enough to get one of the can’t-miss prospects and isn’t low enough to unload to Oklahoma City, which owns a Mavs pick that is top-20 protected through 2017.

(On a related note, Cuban’s two biggest mistakes since stripping down the title team: 1. Pulling off what seemed like a steal for Lamar Odom, giving away only that protected pick, which has since bounced from L.A. to Houston to OKC, helping the Rockets land James Harden to make them an appealing team to Howard; 2. Not going all-in on recruiting Deron Williams, skipping the face-to-face meetings while filming "Shark Tank," when Cuban really preferred to make a run for Chris Paul or Howard this summer.)

The Mavs’ biggest splash so far this offseason has been signing a soon-to-be 32-year-old point guard who has never won a playoff series. Cuban has acknowledged that it’d take a two-year process to put the Mavs in position to contend again, but the strides this summer haven’t been nearly big enough to provide any optimism that the plan will come to fruition.

Cuban’s biggest fear is coming true. The Mavs might not have a bloated payroll, as the Boston Celtics did before realizing their run was over, but they’re still a noncontender that can’t find a way to get better, handcuffed by a lack of assets and a sudden aversion to risk-taking.

Dirk, as loyal a solider as you’ll see in this NBA generation, can’t put a so-so supporting cast on his back and make the Mavs a legitimate threat in his mid-30s. Hard as he might sprint, the Mavs aren’t moving forward, at least not enough to matter.

They can’t compete with the Spurs and Thunder and Rockets and Clippers and Warriors and Grizzlies. Given that reality, with Dirk, they’ll probably be too good for their own good.

The Mavs are stuck on the mediocrity treadmill. Does Dirk really want to stick around for that?
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.

Plan B: Andrew Bynum and a veteran PG?

July, 5, 2013
7/05/13
5:23
PM CT
Mark Cuban says it’s on to Plan B for the Mavericks.

Really, it’s Plan D, but let’s not get too picky about alphabetical matters at this point. The Mavs whiffed on Deron Williams last summer, never got to sit down with Chris Paul and couldn’t convince Dwight Howard to headline Dallas’ two-year plan.

All the big fish have picked other ponds. So … now what?

Here’s my suggestion: Take one more home run swing. Bet on Andrew Bynum.

The Mavs better hedge that bet, of course. They’d have to insist on language in the contract that includes a team out if Bynum’s knees keep him off the court, as they did all last season in Philadelphia. The easiest way to do that is agreeing to an Exhibit 3 protection, which allows a team to waive a player if he’s unable to play because of specified prior injuries, which is how Minnesota got out of Brandon Roy’s contract this summer. There could also be guarantees based on minutes or games played.

If Bynum and agent David Lee agree to that, go ahead and throw big money at him. He’s the one potential dominant force still available in free agency.

Hold your breath and hope that the 25-year-old 7-footer can return to 2011-12 form, that he can get back to being a big man who puts up 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Hope that athletic trainer Casey Smith can help Bynum get his career back on track, just as he did when Tyson Chandler arrived in Dallas as damaged goods a few years ago.

The Mavs should be able to sign Bynum and get a proven veteran point guard. They’ve been in touch with the agents for Jose Calderon, Mo Williams, Jarrett Jack and Monta Ellis.

Add one of those point guards and a relatively healthy Bynum, and the Mavs ought to be back in the playoffs in 2013-14 with a bunch of money to spend again next summer.

And if Bynum is a bust? Well, the Mavs will be right back in the lottery, but maybe they’ll have better luck in a loaded draft next year.

There are no easy answers for the Mavs. All those guys decided they’d prefer to play somewhere other than Dallas.

Dirk: Mavs' summer not Dwight or bust

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
12:43
PM CT


FRISCO, Texas -- Realistically, there is one superstar available in the free-agency market, but Dirk Nowitzki says this isn’t a Dwight Howard-or-bust summer for the Mavericks.

PODCAST
Dirk Nowitzki and ESPN's Chris Broussard join Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the possibility of Dwight Howard joining the Mavericks and how Dallas should approach the situation.

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“Like last year with Deron Williams, our free agency can’t depend on just one name this year,” Nowitzki said before taking batting practice to prepare for his Heroes celebrity baseball game, which will be played Saturday at Dr Pepper Ballpark. “We’re not going to sign eight, nine one-year deals again. We tried that; it didn’t really work last year.

“So there’s plenty of other options out there, I think. You can plug holes with really, really good players -- maybe not superstars but really, really good players -- and still be a playoff team. If that’s the route we have to take if Dwight says no, I’m sure Mark (Cuban) and Donnie (Nelson) will find the right mix of guys.”

PODCAST
Tim MacMahon joins Galloway and Company to discuss the NBA draft and where the Mavericks stand on getting Dwight Howard.

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When the Mavs’ front office decided that creating salary cap space was more important than keeping their 2011 title team together, they anticipated that three superstars would be available in the 2012 summer free-agency market: Williams, Howard and Chris Paul.

Howard and Paul didn’t opt out of their contracts, ending up moving to the two Los Angeles teams and delaying their entrance into free agency for a year. The Mavs swung and missed at Williams -- a half-hearted attempt by Cuban, who didn’t take part in the face-to-face recruiting pitch.

The Mavs’ hopes to convince Paul to leave L.A. for Dallas this summer essentially died with the Clippers’ hiring of coach Doc Rivers.

PODCAST
Former Maverick Jason Terry joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss being traded to Brooklyn, Dirk Nowitzki and having his jersey in the rafters at the American Airlines Center one day.

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“With them getting Doc, that’s pretty much a wrap,” Nowitzki said. “I think everybody knows that. So there’s already one free agent gone that’s a game-changer and Dwight’s obviously another and next.

“How do I feel? I don’t know. There were reports yesterday that we were in the lead, but I don’t buy into all that. You have to wait until he makes a final decision, and then I’ll get excited or be down.”

However, if Howard doesn’t come to Dallas, Dirk is determined not to be down for long. He mentions names like Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings, Utah center Al Jefferson and Denver swingman Andre Iguodala as examples of players who can help the Mavs return to the playoffs.

Putting together a playoff-caliber roster is apparently the face of the franchise’s standard for a successful summer.

Sources: Cavaliers interested in Marion

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
10:43
AM CT
There is undeniably trade interest in Shawn Marion as sources close to the process say that the Cleveland Cavaliers, for starters, indeed covet the Dallas Mavericks forward in a draft-day deal.

PODCAST
Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett live from Miami to look back at the best NBA Finals we've seen in a long time and discuss the latest on the Mavericks' dream to land Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

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Yet sources insisted to ESPNDallas.com that the Mavericks -- as of Monday -- are not looking to move Marion. And if that changes this week in connection with Thursday's draft, Dallas must go directly to Marion and ask him to opt into the final season of contract, which does give the 35-year-old some measure of input into his fate.

"Not a single discussion," owner Mark Cuban told ESPNDallas.com last week.

Marion must decide by Friday -- one day after the draft -- if he wants to opt in for next season at $9.32 million or become a free agent July 1. Marion and the Mavs would have to send a letter to the league before July 1 if a decision is made in conjunction with a trade-week trade.

To this point, though, sources say Dallas has not discussed any potential trades with Marion despite various media reports in recent days about the Mavericks shedding Marion's contract.

The reality is that the Mavericks' only incentive to trade Marion this week is if they're certain they need extra salary-cap space immediately because they know they've got a legit shot at signing Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers. And Dallas is unlikely to get a real handle on its Dwight chances until after July 1, when it's believed Mark Cuban and Co. will be on the short list of teams granted a face-to-face audience with Howard to make a recruiting pitch.

Chris Paul is the Mavs' other dream target, but the Clippers' hiring of Doc Rivers has essentially clinched that Paul will re-sign with L.A. on a five-year max deal at the first opportunity.

One more note on Marion: If Dallas does decide to move the versatile forward, he has a 15-percent trade kicker in his contract worth $1,397,519. That amount would have to be paid by the team that acquires Marion because his currenct contract was signed before the NBA's new labor agreement went into effect in December 2011. The team that trades the player is responsible for paying the trade kicker in the new collective bargaining agreement if the contract was signed from December 2011 forward.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
20.9 4.5 1.7 34.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.9
AssistsR. Rondo 9.3
StealsR. Rondo 2.0
BlocksT. Chandler 1.4