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Thursday, February 18, 2010
Updated: February 19, 12:40 PM ET
Dominoes started falling in offseason

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Did the Orlando Magic pull the wool over Mark Cuban's eyes this summer? That was a common perception after their little free-agent poker game.

The theory was that the Dallas Mavericks were willing to let forward Brandon Bass sign with the Magic only because they figured that would guarantee Orlando wouldn't match the midlevel exception offer to restricted free-agent center Marcin Gortat.

The Magic ended up with both players -- at a price of more than $50 million for the duration of their contracts -- and the Mavs were left scrambling to find a suitable midlevel target.

Brandon Bass
Brandon Bass bolted the Mavericks for a free-agent deal with Orlando, where his playing time has dwindled.

"The two aren't related at all," said Cuban, whose Mavs play Friday night in Orlando. "Not even a little bit."

Here's reality: The Magic's offer to Bass (four years, $18 million) was too long and too much in the Mavs' estimation for a player who wouldn't see more than 20 minutes per game for them. The Mavs were all but certain the Magic wouldn't pay Gortat midlevel money to back up perennial All-Star Dwight Howard, but folks in Dallas are fine with the way things worked out.

The Mavs moved on by using the bulk of their midlevel exception to sign Drew Gooden, who filled Bass' former role before being shipped to Washington in the recent seven-player deal. Essentially, the Mavs parted with Gooden to get Brendan Haywood, addressing the need for a big man of the future, a need they had attempted to fill with Gortat.

Bass and Gortat, on the other hand, don't feel so great about the way the dominoes fell. They both are bit players for Orlando, averaging about 13 minutes apiece, with Bass not even getting off the bench in many games.

Gortat made it clear before Orlando matched the offer sheet that he didn't want to be there. Bass has recently expressed his frustration.

"Do I want to stay here? If they feel like I can help them, sooner than later, I'd love to stay here," Bass told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this month. "If something changes ... If they say I can't help the team and they don't want me here -- then maybe I have to do what's best for myself."

Bass is still in Orlando after the trade deadline passed. Magic general manager Otis Smith told the team Web site that Bass is "still a big part of what we're doing" and could come in handy against bigger teams in the playoffs.

If the Magic wanted to move Bass, it probably would have been difficult given his contract.

Gooden's one-year, $4.5 million deal gave the Mavs great financial flexibility. They weren't thrilled to part with him, but they believed a true center such as Haywood was worth the price, especially with Erick Dampier in the final guaranteed season of his contract. The Mavs and Haywood, whose contract expires at the end of the season, have expressed mutual interest in working out a long-term deal this summer.

"What we were looking for was depth at the center position," president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said of the Mavs' pursuit of Gortat and deal for Haywood. "We're big Damp fans and hopefully he'll retire as a Maverick, but you never know. We wanted a seasoned veteran and a younger guy you can eventually pass the baton to."

The Mavs eventually got what they wanted. Orlando might have outsmarted itself.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.