Dallas Mavericks: James Harden

How much better can Chandler Parsons be?

August, 8, 2014
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Chandler Parsons and James HardenAP Photo/Pat SullivanA move to Dallas could benefit Chandler Parsons, just as leaving for Houston helped James Harden.
The Dallas Mavericks paid a premium rate for Chandler Parsons’ potential.

It’s a luxury the Mavs had due to Dirk Nowitzki’s hometown discount deal. It was a requirement to prevent the Houston Rockets from exercising their right to match the Mavs’ offer to the restricted free agent.

[+] EnlargeChandler Parsons
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty ImagesChandler Parson's numbers have improved each of the last three seasons, but the Mavs believe he can still reach another level.
But based purely on Parsons’ production so far in his career, he’ll be significantly overpaid while making $46 million over the next three seasons. The Mavs aren’t paying Parsons for his production in Houston, though. They bid big based on the belief that Parsons will blossom in Dallas.

“We think he can take his game to a whole 'nother level,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said recently.

There’s sound reason for such optimism. Parsons, who turns 26 in October, improved his scoring, rebounding and assists total in each of his three seasons in Houston. He averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a complementary piece last season, and the Mavs anticipate that his production will spike as a featured attraction in Dallas.

Call it the James Harden phenomenon. After the Rockets star downplayed the impact of Parsons’ departure, essentially labeling him a role player, Parsons noted that Harden of all people should understand how much room for growth he gained by changing teams. After all, Harden’s numbers soared when he left Oklahoma City for Houston, jumping from 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists as the third option in 2011-12 to 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists as the go-to guy the next season.

Parsons isn’t going to be the clear-cut go-to guy in a starting lineup that includes Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, but he’ll have the ball in his hands and the offense run through him much more often than he did with the Rockets.

“I think he’ll be far better,” Cuban said. “I think he’ll have the opportunity to showcase a lot more of his talent. He’s a good passer, he can drive the ball, he was top two or three in terms of finishing using floaters at the bucket. He doesn’t get to the foul line enough, but that’s something we’re going to work on with him.”

The Mavs consider coaching a major key to Parsons’ potential for improvement. They’re counting on Rick Carlisle, one of the NBA’s elite coaches, to schematically put Parsons in positions to utilize his talent and to help him enhance his skills.

The Mavs think their up-tempo, movement-based offense perfectly fits Parsons. Carlisle plans to work with Parsons on footwork and 1-on-1 concepts to make him a more effective scorer in late-shot-clock situations. And Carlisle will certainly push Parsons, who has bulked up to almost 240 pounds, to be a better defender.

“I think defensively I can get much better,” Parsons said during a recent appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s “The Afternoon Show.” “I think I can guard pretty much one through four. You have the luxury of switching pick-and-rolls with me. I'm 6-9, 6-10; I can really use my length on smaller guys. I’ve just got to be locked in out there for as long as I’m out there. I can really cause havoc on the defensive end.

“Offensively, I just want be able to do it all. I want to continue to be one of the more versatile players in the league and knock down shots and facilitate and play-make and just make the game easier for others. I think the sky's the limit, and I haven't even scratched the surface of how good I can be.”
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey referred to Chandler Parsons’ three-year, $46 million deal as “one of the most untradeable” NBA contracts he’s ever seen.

Consider that a kind of twisted compliment to the Mavericks’ front office that signed the restricted free-agent small forward to the offer sheet the Rockets ultimately declined to match, allowing Parsons to leave for Dallas.

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The contract was designed to be as difficult as possible for Houston to match. That’s why it includes a 15-percent trade kicker and a player option for the third season. Had Parsons returned to Houston, which declined a team option to pay him $965,000 next season to make him available in restricted free agency, the Rockets also could not have traded him without his permission this season due to restricted free agency rules.

Houston would not have been able to bid on a star free agent next summer with center Dwight Howard, shooting guard James Harden and Parsons combining to count more than $53 million against the Rockets’ salary cap. Morey opted to replace Parsons with a less expensive option, signing small forward Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal, and maintain the Rockets’ flexibility in the future.

“The Mavericks are a smart organization,” Morey said on SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston. “They obviously wanted to get him. That structure of that [contract] is literally one of the most untradeable structures that I’ve ever seen. That’s why it came down to a bet of Harden, Howard and Parsons being the final piece, because we would have had no ability to do anything after that. And Harden, Howard, Parsons could have been good enough. I think Parsons is a tremendous player and is going to keep getting better.

“The question is, is it better with that core or is it better with Ariza plus the hundreds of moves that might be able to upgrade us in the other scenario. And there’s really no moving -- that core was going to be the core that we had to have, because if we ever wanted to move off and go after the other stars, if we ever wanted to go after a different core, it wasn’t going to be possible. A small-market team that might want a Chandler, he can opt out and leave, so they wouldn’t want him. A big-market team that’s planning for free agency, maybe for the elite free agents coming up in the future, he can opt in. There’s a trade bonus in there. Even if the cap is going to go up likely, we’re just guessing likely significantly in the future, his trade bonus makes his contract go up in lockstep with that.

“I’ve seen some speculation, OK, that we could just do this and just move on to something else if it didn’t work. The reality is that we couldn’t. This would have been our team. That would have been the team that we had and we had to be on bet on. We had to bet on that team or all the multitude of options we could have generated in the other scenario.”

Morey had publicly vowed to match any offer for Parsons before the Mavs called the Rockets' bluff, a big bet that paid off for Dallas.

Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson doesn't know if there's such a thing as an untradeable contract in the NBA, but he isn't trying to prove Morey wrong in this case.

"First of all, we're not looking to trade Chandler Parsons," Nelson said later Monday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. "Flat out, we want him to be here for a long, long time. In terms of the tradeability, e've had some pretty interesting contracts in the past and were able to get off of them, so I think there's no such thing as an untradeable contract. Clearly that's not the spirit of what we're doing. We're really excited and not looking to move Chandler Parsons at all."
Chandler ParsonsGeorge Bridges/MCT/Getty ImagesDallas' offer sheet to Chandler Parsons further intensifies the rivalry between the Mavs and Rockets.
This Chandler Parsons offer sheet is business for the Dallas Mavericks, but if Mark Cuban is being honest, it’s also personal.

Cuban might never admit this publicly, but he’s surely taking great pleasure in forcing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to scramble.

There is mutual respect between the front offices in Dallas and Houston, two franchises that have been at the forefront of the NBA’s analytics revolution, with tech-geek Cuban and MIT-educated Morey leading the way. There is also a pretty intense rivalry brewing between those front offices and particularly the two men who are accustomed to being the smartest guy in the room.

Remember that text message Morey sent Cuban last summer inquiring about a deal for Dirk Nowitzki? Cuban took it as a taunt after Dwight Howard declined overtures from Dallas and others to head to Houston. Morey later claimed that it was a panicked plea when he momentarily thought the Rockets didn’t win the Dwight sweepstakes. Sure.

What about the leaks this summer that the Rockets would love to pay Nowitzki like a superstar? Dirk’s intention to give the Mavs a massive hometown discount had been on the record for a full year.

Of course, Cuban is far from an innocent victim in all of this. His recruiting pitch to Howard took shots at the Rockets, such as referencing the fact that Houston has won a grand total of one playoff series in the last decade and a half, contrasting that to the championship culture the Mavs have created. You can bet that got back to Morey.

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Who can eventually catch Dirk?

March, 14, 2014
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Dirk Nowitzki AP Photo/Jason DeCrowWill Carmelo Anthony one day catch Dirk Nowitzki on the NBA's all-time scoring list?
Dirk Nowitzki is not nearly done shooting up the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

The big German has already bumped five NBA legends down a spot this season and is on pace to pass Dominique Wilkins and Oscar Robertson before the playoffs begin. It’s fun to try to figure out how high Dirk will climb.

It’s a safe bet that Nowitzki will finish next season in seventh place, passing Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone. Shaquille O’Neal and the No. 6 spot should be well within Nowitzki’s reach in the 2015-16 season, as Dirk has publicly declared he’ll play at least that long.

Will Nowitzki keeping lacing ‘em up long enough to join the 30,000-point club? To crack the top five?

We won’t have to wait too long for those answers. Here’s a question that will require much more patience to get answers: Which active players will eventually pass Nowitzki?

A look at the select few who have a legitimate chance, with Nowitzki’s point totals at the end of the season when he was their age:

LeBron James
Career points: 22,692
Age: 29
Dirk points at that age: 16,990
He’s 29 years old and already 28th on the all-time scoring list. How ridiculous is that? King James has scored more than 2,000 points in all but two of his 11 NBA seasons -- his rookie campaign as a 19-year-old and the lockout-shortened season. It doesn’t seem like the four-time MVP is slowing down anytime soon. There's little doubt that James will pass Nowitzki. The question is whether he’ll catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Carmelo Anthony
Career points: 19,616
Age: 29
Dirk points at that age: 16,990
How gracefully will Melo age? Will he sacrifice shots for a chance to play for a championship contender? Considering his 3,000-point pad before hitting 30, he’ll probably end up passing Nowitzki regardless of the answer to those questions. And Anthony’s development as a 3-point threat (career-best .418 from long range this season) provides another reason to believe that he’ll put up big numbers well into his thirties.

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Value of picks painful lesson for Mavs

February, 19, 2014
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DALLAS -- Draft picks have never been more precious commodities in the trade market.

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.

(Read full post)

I’m skipping all the questions about the trade deadline this week.

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.

Mavericks Defense
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Mavs' last meeting with Portland didn't go well, but would the Blazers be the best playoff matchup for Dallas?
The Mavs split the season series with the Rockets, but it’s certainly worth noting that Houston didn’t have James Harden in one of their losses.

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)

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Harris has been a big boost, but he’s been the third best player on the bench during this winning streak. 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.

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DALLAS -- Usually one of the league's premier bricklayers on free throws, Dwight Howard boasted that he "looked like Reggie Miller from the line" after knocking down 9 of 11 Wednesday night.

Nevertheless, an angry, sarcastic Rick Carlisle claimed he was happy he employed the Hack-a-Dwight strategy late in his Dallas Mavericks' shootout setback against the Houston Rockets.

[+] EnlargeCarlisle
AP Photo/LM OteroMavs coach Rick Carlisle was in a bit of a sarcastic mood after watching his team play porous defense in a close loss to the Rockets.
"I don't know how many times they blew by us, but I'm glad we started fouling Howard, because I was starting to get the chills over there from all the blow-bys," Carlisle said after the Mavs' too-little, too-late rally fell short in a 117-115 loss at the American Airlines Center. "It saved our guys the embarrassment of getting blown by two or three times in a row."

If Dallas' players have any sort of defensive pride, those comments from Carlisle will sting.

Carlisle, who also mentioned he didn't think the Mavs played hard until they faced a double-digit deficit in the final few minutes, wasn't the only one who questioned the team's will to defend. Dirk Nowitzki also broached the subject without prompting after his 38-point, 17-rebound performance went to waste.

The Rockets had seven scorers in double figures, shot 55.4 percent from the field and had 56 points in the paint. Just imagine how bad it would have been had Rockets star James Harden suited up instead of sitting out because of a sore thumb.

This was ridiculous even by the sinking defensive standards of a Dallas squad that allows the most points per possession of any NBA team with a winning record this season.

"The defense was horrible all night," Nowitzki said. "I mean, every time down somebody was in the paint laying the ball up. On transition, on drives, pick-and-roll plays. If you give up 117 at the house, you're gonna lose."

Is the issue effort? Execution? Ability?

All of the above.

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Locker Room Buzz: Mavs scramble for W

November, 21, 2013
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DALLAS – For three quarters against the Houston Rockets, it didn’t seem like the Dallas Mavericks could spell “STOP” if you spotted them the S.

Coach Rick Carlisle referred to it as a “defensive pillow fight.” Then, suddenly, the Mavs started throwing some real defensive haymakers.

The Mavs’ offensive numbers, especially from Monta Ellis (37 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (35), were awesome. But Dallas didn’t look like it had a chance to beat the Rockets until the Mavs buckled down defensively.

Once the smoke cleared, the scoreboard read Mavs 123, Rockets 120.

How the heck did the Mavs hold the Rockets to 19 points in the fourth quarter, less than half of Houston’s total from the first quarter? How did a Houston team that shot 64.9 percent in the first 36 minutes go 5-of-19 from the floor in the final frame?

“Really what won us the game in the fourth quarter was our scrambling mentality on defense,” Nowitzki said. “We trapped James [Harden] off the pick-and-roll, we trapped Dwight [Howard] on the block and just had to scramble out of there. That actually gave us some life, some momentum, some energy, and then we carried it through to the win.”

The Mavs had no answers for Howard (33 points, 12-16 FG), Harden (23 points, 6-14 FG, eight assists) or Chandler Parsons (21 points, 7-10 FG, 11 assists) for most of the game. That changed when coach Rick Carlisle went to a zone defense with the Mavs trailing by 14 points to start the fourth quarter.

The Mavs held Houston, which was playing the second game of a back-to-back, to three points for a span that lasted more than five minutes. That allowed Dallas to put itself in position to pull off the comeback.

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Good shooting guards go off vs. Mavs

November, 8, 2013
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O.J. Mayo must be really looking forward to the Dallas Mavericks' visit to Milwaukee on Saturday night.

Never mind the motivation Mayo might have to prove his worth to the Mavs, who didn't make much of an attempt to re-sign him after his single-season stop in Dallas. Any shooting guard who is a scorer should be giddy to see the Mavs on the schedule.

[+] EnlargeKevin Martin
AP Photo/Jim MoneKevin Martin of the Timberwolves tallied 32 points Friday against the Mavs in another big game for opposing shooting guards.
Just look at the production of the two legitimate scorers at that position to face the Mavs so far this season.

Minnesota's Kevin Martin lit the Mavs up for 32 points on 10-of-19 shooting Friday night, and that wasn't even the most impressive performance by a shooting guard against the Mavs this month. Houston's James Harden scorched the Mavs for 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting last week.

Not coincidentally, the Mavs lost both games.

OK, it's a stretch to put Mayo in this class of shooting guard, but you get the point. Offense-minded shooting guards get a lot of points against these Mavs.

This can't be considered surprising. The Mavs knew that defending good shooting guards would be a challenge with Monta Ellis joining Jose Calderon in Dallas' starting backcourt.

At 6 feet 3, 185 pounds, Ellis simply doesn't have the size to consistently challenge the attempts of shooting guards such as Harden (6-5, 220) and Martin (6-7, 197). It's also hard for Ellis to keep big, physical guards such as Harden from getting into the lane.

Calderon doesn't help matters. He's not any bigger than Ellis and a lot less quick.

It certainly would have been nice to have Vince Carter, an underrated wing defender, take a turn or two on Martin. However, Carter was serving a one-game suspension for his mixed martial arts move upside Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams' head in Wednesday night's loss.

The hope is that Devin Harris can help the Mavs contain the league's better guards, but there still isn't a firm timetable for Harris to begin practicing after recovering from offseason toe surgery, much less playing in games. Plus, he's no taller and only a few pounds heavier than Ellis.

It would be ideal if Shawn Marion, Dallas' defensive version of a Swiss Army knife, could spend a lot of time on the league's best shooting guards. That kind of matchup, however, also is complicated by the Dallas guards' lack of size against the opposition's small forwards.

Against the Rockets, coach Rick Carlisle opted not to take Marion off of Chandler Parsons, a small forward who had hurt the Mavs in the past. Against the Timberwolves, Marion spent most of the second half banging with power forward Kevin Love, who also scored 32 points on the Mavs.

When Dallas plays the Miami Heat next week, do you want Marion defending LeBron James or Dwyane Wade?

The Mavs can mix in some zone, but Carlisle will tell you that's an alternative best used in limited doses.

The Mavs' solutions to this problem, if there are any, will be about executing a team scheme to stop the league's best backcourt scorers. Count on Carlisle stressing the importance of disposition in the matter, too.

But it's a good bet that the big games by Harden and Martin are the beginning of a trend.

It was a foul night for Dirk and the Mavs

November, 1, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Bad got worse when Dirk Nowitzki didn’t get out of James Harden’s way.

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.

[+] EnlargeJames Harden, Dirk Nowitski
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki's sixth foul came with 6:11 remaining on contact with James Harden that he tried to avoid.
On both occasions, the crafty Harden made sure to draw contact from Nowitzki before laying the ball in with his left hand.

"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.
As far as Mark Cuban is concerned, the Dallas Mavericks’ silence about their meeting with Dwight Howard is simply smart business.

The Mavs’ silence isn’t just by design in this instance. It’s team policy.

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ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.

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“This is always our approach,” Cuban said Thursday in an email to ESPNDallas.com. “We never talk about what we do. We don't test the waters in the media. We don't troll on twitter.

“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.


We’ve known for weeks that the Mavericks’ sales pitch to Dwight Howard would be headlined by their four horsemen.

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ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.

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Who were those other two guys with Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki? And what could they have contributed to the pitch?

The other two members of the Mavs’ party were head athletic trainer Casey Smith and director of basketball analytics Roland Beech.

As far as their contributions go, we don’t know for certain because the Mavs have been mum about their meeting with Howard, as opposed to the Rockets and Lakers, who made official statements and leaked all kinds of details about their pitches. We can offer some informed speculation, though.

The Mavs consider Smith the league’s premier athletic trainer and see him as a recruiting asset, especially for veteran big men who have had injury issues. They can use his impact on Tyson Chandler’s career as evidence.

When Chandler arrived in Dallas, he was an overpaid, oft-injured center who missed a total of 68 games with ankle and foot problems the previous two seasons and flunked a physical to kill a trade that would have sent him to Oklahoma City. When Chandler left Dallas, he was an NBA champion with a four-year, $56 million contract.

Howard obviously doesn’t need any help getting paid, but he is a season and a half removed from back surgery and fought through shoulder injuries for most of 2012-13. It’d be a wise move to have Smith map out a potential treatment plan to not only keep Howard healthy for the next four years but extend his career as long as possible.

Plus, Howard and Smith, who is extremely popular with players he’s worked with, probably have a good relationship from their days together on Team USA. (The fact that Smith has that job indicates that the Mavs aren’t the only ones who consider him to be elite in his profession.) It can only help to have a friendly, familiar face in the room with Howard.

Beech could have been a counterpunch to the Rockets and MIT-educated general manager Daryl Morey’s claim to being ahead of the analytical curve. Of course, Cuban was at the forefront of the NBA’s statistical revolution long before Morey even had a job in the league.

Beech’s role could have been as simple as offering statistical support throughout the course of the meeting, including when the Mavs presented various scenarios for how they could build a contender around Howard.

But I’d be willing to bet that Beech’s numbers included some stats that hammered home the Mavs’ contention that Dirk Nowitzki was much better suited to complement Howard’s offensive skills than ball-dominating shooting guards Kobe Bryant and James Harden.

Smith and Beech certainly aren’t nearly as well known as, say, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. But the two relatively anonymous Mavs staffers very well could have given Howard more to think about than the two Houston legends who were part of the Rockets’ pitch in L.A.
ESPNDallas.com will compare the Mavericks, Lakers and Rockets in five facets -- other than money -- that could play a role in Dwight Howard's free agency decision in a one-per-day series: owners/front office, coaches, co-stars, supporting casts and franchise tradition. We focused on Chris Paul last week.

The Lakers and Mavericks are in similar situations when it comes to their supporting casts: They have to sell hope.

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Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the officiating in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers' chances at beating Miami, the conspiracy theories surrounding the NBA and Mark Cuban's new two-year plan.

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They can both make a pitch about being competitive next season with a veteran core surrounding Dwight Howard, although that didn’t work in Los Angeles last season and the Mavs would need to do some relatively significant salary-cap tinkering to keep both Shawn Marion and Vince Carter while creating room to give Howard a max contract.

What about the future?

Like the Mavs, a lot of money comes off the Lakers’ books next summer. Steve Nash, whose physical breakdown finally happened almost a decade after leaving Dallas, is the lone Laker under contract for the 2014-15 season. The Mavs only have option years for last season’s rookies on their 2014-15 ledger.

You can make a strong case that L.A. would be a more attractive destination for free agents than Dallas, but there’s one major wild card. Would Kobe Bryant, the league’s highest-paid player, be willing to take the major pay cut to give the Lakers the flexibility required to make significant additions to a Dwight/Kobe core? Dirk Nowitzki’s willingness to slash his salary will be part of the Mavs’ pitch.

The Rockets have the advantage of already having a potential long-term supporting cast in place. They might have to slice into that cast a bit to make room for Howard, but they have young building blocks such as Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley under contract at bargain rates for at least two more seasons.

Parsons, the second-round steal who averaged 15.5 points in his second season, could be a phenomenal complementary piece for Howard and James Harden for years to come. The multi-skilled 6-foot-9 small forward’s perimeter shooting makes him a perfect fit for the Rockets’ system and accentuates the offensive strengths of the potential Houston co-stars.

A commitment from Houston ownership to keep Parsons when his contract expires after the 2014-15 season could go a long way.

EDGE: Rockets
ESPNDallas.com will compare the Mavericks, Lakers and Rockets in five facets -- other than money -- that could play a role in Dwight Howard's free agency decision in a one-per-day series: owners/front office, coaches, co-stars, supporting casts and franchise tradition. We focused on Chris Paul last week.

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Mark Cuban joins ESPN Dallas GameDay to discuss the Mavericks' plans, the free-agent market and what possibilities there are for Dallas.

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Dwight Howard can choose between surefire Hall of Famers who are in their golden years or pair with a young player who has that type of potential.

Does he want to deal with Kobe Bryant’s ego and demanding personality again? Does Kobe’s torn Achilles tendon factor into the decision? Does Howard believe Dirk Nowitzki still has a few elite years left in his legs? Does he consider James Harden a long-term fit as his co-star?

We’re talking about the most infamously indecisive man in the NBA here, so the answers to those questions could change a dozen or so times before free agency opens July 1. Let’s see if we can help Howard by laying out the pros and cons of each potential co-star.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant and Dwight Howard
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertYear 1 of the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard experiment didn't exactly go smoothly.
Bryant: As heartwarming as Howard’s post-surgery visit to Kobe’s home might have been, this relationship was rocky at best throughout the season. That’s kind of the way Kobe rolls with premier centers.

As was the case with Shaquille O'Neal, part of the issue is the polar-opposite personalities. Bryant has earned a reputation as one of the most ruthless competitors in sports. Howard often acts like a big, goofy kid.

There’s also the alpha male thing. Bryant won his power struggle with Shaq, and he wasn’t about to subjugate his ego upon Howard’s arrival in Los Angeles. Make no mistake: As long as Kobe is wearing purple and gold, the Lakers will be his team.

And then there’s the on-court chemistry, or lack thereof. Bryant will dominate the ball, plain and simple. The offense isn’t going to run through Howard, especially not with Mike D’Antoni on the bench. Whether Howard wants to admit it or not, that negatively affects his energy, reducing the easy buckets he ought to get in the flow of the game and making him a less effective defender.

Kobe’s comeback from the torn Achilles suffered late in the season is a huge wild card. Can Bryant, who turns 35 this summer, ever get back to being a dominant player? Will the injury force him to change his style?

Another thing nobody knows at this point: How much longer will Bryant play?

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki might be the best fit for Dwight Howard in terms personality and style of play.
Nowitzki: Like Bryant, Nowitzki’s contract expires next summer, but he’s committed to playing at least two or three more seasons for the Mavs. The fact that Dirk’s deal only has a year left makes him a more attractive potential teammate, because he’s promised to take a major pay cut to make room for more talent.

As far as personality and style of play, Howard couldn’t ask for a better fit as a co-star than Nowitzki.

Dirk is more than willing to pass the baton of being the Mavs’ centerpiece to another future Hall of Famer. He’d love to be the second-best player on his team for the first time since the developmental stage of his career. Yet Dirk could still serve as the unofficial locker room spokesman, easing the burden on Howard’s sensitive shoulders.

As long as Nowitzki’s legs are able, the Mavs will always look for opportunities to get him open midrange looks and create mismatches for him. But Nowitzki would be ecstatic to spend much of his time serving as a floor-spacing stretch 4 if the Mavs are able to acquire a low-post weapon. Think of how effective Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson were in that role during their days playing with Howard in Orlando. How do you think the sweetest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history would fare with a bunch of open 3s?

The concern with Nowitzki, of course, is his age. He’s about to turn 35 and his numbers dipped the last two seasons, in large part due to knee problems.

How much greatness is left in the big German? The Mavs will point to 37-year-old Tim Duncan as proof that, with good medical care and modern technology, the all-time greats can bounce back from nuisance knee problems and be dominant forces.

[+] EnlargeJames Harden
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJames Harden reportedly has already been making recruiting pitches to Dwight Howard over the phone.
Harden: At the tender age of 23, Harden made the leap to elite last season, seizing the opportunity that came with his “The Man” responsibilities after being traded to the Rockets.

With Bryant recovering from a serious injury, Harden should indisputably be considered the game’s premier shooting guard at this point, having averaged 25.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds for a playoff team. And he’s still a few years away from his prime.

Harden has also proven he can sacrifice his ego (but not money) to co-exist with superstars. He thrived as the Thunder’s sixth man before Oklahoma City’s front office made a financial-based decision to deal him just before last season began.

There’s no doubt that Harden would welcome Howard to Houston. In fact, Harden has reportedly been making recruiting pitches to Howard over the phone for weeks now.

What’s not to like about Harden for Howard?

Well, the Mavs might mention that Harden’s pound-the-dribble-and-shoot-a-lot playing style is awfully similar to Bryant. They had the top two usage rates and most field goals attempted among shooting guards who played at least 50 games last season. Could that perhaps plant seeds of doubt in Howard’s fickle mind about pairing with "The Beard"?

EDGE: Rockets

How can Houston afford Dwight Howard?

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
4:34
PM CT
It’s been widely reported that the Houston Rockets are a team that intrigues Dwight Howard. The Rockets might even rank ahead of the Bird-rights-owning Los Angeles Lakers as the Mavericks’ primary competitors for the perennial All-Star big man.

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Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the latest Mavericks news, Dirk Nowitzki and much more.

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Here’s one problem for Houston: The Rockets would have to do some significant payroll slashing to be positioned to offer Howard a max contract.

Howard’s max salary next season would be $20,513,178. The salary cap is expected to be set between $58.5 million and $60 million. The Rockets have $48,571,158 worth of contracts on the books, assuming they decline Francisco Garcia’s $6.4 million team option.

It doesn’t take an MBA from MIT -- which Rockets general manager Daryl Morey happens to have -- to figure out that the math doesn’t add up for Houston and Howard.

Morey made sure the Rockets had some built-in wiggle room with seven nonguaranteed deals on the roster, although that list includes six-figure bargains Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith that are inexpensive, integral parts of James Harden’s supporting cast. Houston might have to sacrifice one of their major additions from last summer to make room for Howard.

That could mean trading point guard Jeremy Lin or center Omer Asik to a team with cap space for no immediate return. That is a nice way to say dumping an $8,374,646 million salary, the amount both Lin and Asik are due in the second season of their identical three-year, $25.12 million contracts.

Such a salary dump would put the Rockets close to being able to afford Howard, but they’d still have some work to do.

They could waive sixth man Carlos Delfino ($3 million) and/or reserve point guard Aaron Brooks ($2.5 million), both of whom have June 30 deadlines before their salaries become guaranteed, meaning a decision would have to be made before the Rockets are allowed to meet with Howard. The nonguaranteed salaries of young projects Tim Ohlbrecht ($788,872) and James Anderson ($916,099) could also create the necessary space depending on where the cap falls, although the Rockets would pick up a cap hold of $490,180 in the process if they cut both because their roster would dip under 12 players. A salary-dump deal that would send 2012 No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson ($3.53 million) to his third team is another alternative.

A much less attractive option than finding an under-the-cap trade partner to take on the contract of Lin or Asik: Waiving one of them and using the stretch provision.

In that case, the Rockets would still have to pay the $16.75 million remaining on the contract, but they would be allowed to spread the cap hit over five years (twice the length remaining on the contract plus one year). So Houston would create a little more than $5 million in cap space with such a move – and then have to get rid of nonguaranteed salary and/or make salary-dump deals to ship off young talent (Robinson, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas).

The Mavs would also have to do some maneuvering to give Howard a max contract, but not nearly as much as the Rockets.

The Rockets can free up enough money for Howard, but it would require slicing into the supporting cast of a playoff team -- and perhaps paying a $16.75 million tax in addition to his max deal.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Marion 6.5
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9