- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks' dubious distinction of stumbling to the worst start by a defending NBA champion in more than four decades didn't discourage owner Mark Cuban.
"I think we're a better team than last year," Cuban told ESPNDallas.com before the Mavericks finally got their first win of the season Friday night with a 99-86 victory over the Toronto Raptors at the American Airlines Center.
Cuban anticipates that it will take the Mavericks at least 15 to 20 games -- and all the practices during that span -- to jell as the veteran-loaded team plays its way into shape and incorporates several key new players.
The Mavericks, who joined the 1969-70 Boston Celtics as the only teams in NBA history to follow up a championship run with an 0-3 start, made the calculated decision to value financial flexibility next offseason more than keeping the core of their first title team together.
"It's the right move for the franchise," coach Rick Carlisle said.
As a result, the Mavericks lost center Tyson Chandler, small forward Caron Butler, point guard J.J. Barea and shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson in free agency, plus small forward Peja Stojakovic retired. Dallas filled the roster by using a trade exception to acquire forward Lamar Odom and signing shooting guard Vince Carter, guard Delonte West, power forward Brandan Wright and center Sean Williams to cap-friendly, short-term contracts during the shortened training camp.
"I think we've got more talent than last year, by far," Cuban said. "It takes time. It takes time. We still have the same coach, the same core with one or two exceptions, but I think we did all right replacing those guys, so we'll see.
"... We're more diverse. There are more things we can do. That's not to take away from the guys that we lost, but Delonte West brings something different, Lamar and Vince bring something different. We're posting up three, four, five possessions in a row. That's a look we would have loved to have last year. The matchups, if we can get in shape and exploit them, I see a ton of positives."
Cuban anticipated a slow start for the Mavericks coming out of the lockout because they rely on teamwork more than individual talent. He believes the Mavericks will be contenders again because they still have great chemistry, a strong coaching staff and players who are willing to work.
"You can't question A.I. about practice and then wonder why everything is not perfect when you don't have practice, right? Practice?! Practice?!" Cuban said, breaking into an Allen Iverson impersonation. "We need some practice! We're a precision team. I think teams that are super athletic have an early advantage. You design schemes to beat athleticism when you can, but you have to have guys who understand everything and are in shape in order to be able to execute."
Cuban points out that he didn't panic when the Mavericks started 0-4 after their previous trip to the Finals. That team recovered to win a franchise-record 67 games, although they were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of playoffs.
"You know what? They were no worse than when we went on our West Coast road trip at the end of last season," Cuban said, referring to a four-game losing streak late last season that began with a 28-point blowout against the Los Angeles Lakers. "Then people had reason to be nervous, right? It turned out all right. So two games in with no practice, three games in, four games, five games, 10 games. ... I'm not worried."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.