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Friday, July 2, 2004
Cuban chooses long-term path

ESPN.com news services

DALLAS -- Steve Nash wanted to remain with the Dallas Mavericks so much that he promised the team the chance to counter any offer he received.

So when the Phoenix Suns quickly dangled a deal that ESPN's David Aldridge reports is for six years and $66 million, with half of the final year guaranteed, Mavs owner Mark Cuban was faced with a tough choice.

If he matched it, he'd be risking that Nash would stay healthy and effective through at least his 35th birthday. That's questionable considering his all-out playing style. So Cuban pondered the chance of owing $12-15 million to a backup point guard.

If he didn't match it, Cuban knew the Mavs would face the immediate problem of being without their heart and soul, the on-court leader who powered their rise to among the NBA's elite and a key component to their locker-room harmony.

Cuban didn't like the long-term view. While the short-term picture wasn't much better, he was able to rationalize it.

Dallas still has top draft pick Devin Harris and promising second-year guard Marquis Daniels. A backcourt that raw isn't the ideal way to chase a championship, but the Spurs won a title two years ago with Tony Parker, who was younger and less experienced than Harris. Plus, he'd be saving a lot of money.

So Cuban stuck with his stance of building for the future over what's probably best for the short term.

Nash's departure -- which can't be official until July 14 because of NBA rules -- means the end of Dallas' Big Three, the combination of Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley that carried the Mavs to the Western Conference finals two seasons ago.

Now Cuban, coach Don Nelson and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson must hope the Remaining Two can mesh with the young ballhandlers to keep Dallas competitive in the tough Western Conference.

"You're never fully prepared at the prospect of losing an All-Star player, but at the same time it's not like we're totally caught with our pants around our ankles," Donnie Nelson said Friday. "Marquis is a tall point guard who has playoff experience and, internally, we're certainly very excited about Devin Harris and the kind of player he can be. The only caveat is that they're both young."

The tandem will begin working together as soon as this weekend.

Daniels, a restricted free agent, agreed late Thursday to a six-year deal worth roughly $38 million and will be joining Dallas' summer league squad, probably in time for games against China's national team on Saturday night and Sunday. Harris, who already is on that squad, signed his contract Friday.

"There's no way around the fact there's a big hole here now," Nelson said. "The $10,000 question is, `Do some of your young guys have what it takes to fill it?' The only way to find out is by getting on the court and playing."

The Mavericks certainly aren't done dealing, and their ultimate goal remains landing Shaquille O'Neal. It remains to be seen whether losing Nash hurts their chances, but it can't help.

Besides losing a bargaining chip, Dallas may be less likely to part with Harris. O'Neal also could consider Dallas a less-attractive team without Nash running the offense, especially once the other players needed to acquire O'Neal are also removed from the equation.

Even visions of O'Neal in Mavs colors probably wouldn't have cheered up Nelson on Friday.

He and Nash have been friends since before 1996, when Nelson was a Phoenix assistant who pushed hard for the team to draft Nash. Two years later, Nelson was in Dallas and he was instrumental in getting the Mavericks to trade for him.

"I feel like I've been socked in the stomach," Nelson said, his tone verifying the sentiment. "We've been together through a lot of low times, some soul-searching times, and through some fabulously great times. ... Stevie is deserving of everything he gets. I couldn't be happier for him."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.