"Obviously, he made a mistake in judgment," Cuban said Thursday, a little more than 24 hours before the Mavericks play Howard's Rockets in Houston. "Do I blame him? No, that's what young kids do. They make mistakes in judgment."
The Mavs and Rockets were two of the five teams that made pitches to Howard and his agents in Los Angeles this summer. Cuban thinks Howard, 27, had already made up his mind to sign with the Rockets and team up with 24-year-old rising superstar shooting guard James Harden.
Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki is 35, but Cuban considers it foolish to make a decision in free agency based primarily on the age of potential co-stars.
"You choose teams. You don't choose players," Cuban said. "If he made a choice off of an individual player, yeah, he made a mistake. You choose teams. You choose organizations. You choose coaches. And it's just not relative to Houston. That's just the way I look at it, because if he's that good, then the right organization …
"Put aside Dwight. Any young superstar looking to make a move, if you're that good, then the right organization gets all the right pieces around you. So it's not about you'd rather play with this guy. If you're that good and you have [salary-cap] flexibility, the right organization will put the right pieces around you and get you there."
The Dallas front office's track record of success was a significant part of the Mavs' pitch to Howard. Dallas had a streak of 11 50-win seasons, which included two trips to the NBA Finals and a championship in 2011, snapped in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign after Cuban opted to let Tyson Chandler and others leave in free agency because he wanted the salary-cap space to chase a superstar in free agency. The Mavs' streak of 12 playoff seasons ended last season, as Nowitzki dealt with injuries while being surrounded by a supporting cast consisting primarily of one-year rental players.
The Rockets, who pulled off a stunning blockbuster trade to land Harden before last season, have won one playoff series in the past 17 seasons.
Nowitzki, however, doesn't blame Howard for deciding that Houston was the best destination for him.
"Houston obviously is an up-and-coming team," Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com. "[Chandler] Parsons to me is a phenomenal player, an up-and-coming player, and Harden is one of the best in the league at getting to the basket and scoring. They're going to be a handful."
Cuban said he thought the Mavs were a long shot going into their meeting with Howard and his representatives because of his feeling that Howard was leaning heavily to Houston. However, Cuban left the meeting believing that the Mavs had a legitimate chance, as did Nowitzki.
"I actually thought it went great, but the problem with those meetings is they don't really let on how it went or what they liked," Nowitzki said. "They went out of the room, came back in, had a couple of more questions for us. We answered those. I thought Cuban was fantastic in his presentation, even presented some of the marketing stuff we could have done here. So I thought we were really prepared.
"I thought it went well. But if you ask the other four teams -- or Houston got him, but the other three that didn't get him -- they'd probably say the same. It's a little misleading in those meetings. But we gave it our best shot. It didn't work out our way, and we moved on as a franchise."
The Mavs moved on by signing several free agents, a crop headlined by guards Jose Calderon (four years, $29 million) and Monta Ellis (three years, $25 million). The Mavs, who acknowledged that they were trying to sell Howard on a two-year rebuilding plan, would not have been able to afford either player if they had signed Howard to a max contract unless they made other major roster moves.
Pleased with Plan B -- and it's actually Plan D considering the Mavs' hopes to land Deron Williams or Chris Paul when the original decision was made to strip down the title roster -- Cuban insists he'll have no wonders about what could have been while watching Howard play against the Mavs.
"None. Not even a little bit, because I think we came out pretty good," Cuban said. "If we were stuck, then maybe. But like I say about every other team, I hope they suck.
"I say that every year. It's nothing personal. I still like Dwight as a person. But I still want the Rockets, like every other team, to have a horrible season. It's nothing personal. I just want them to suck."