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DALLAS -- Mark Cuban's goal is to make the Dallas Mavericks a championship team again within a two-year window.
After Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, the owner vowed the Mavs would have a "quick rebuild." The pending pitch to free agents this summer -- including Chris Paul and Dwight Howard -- is that the franchise can take a significant step forward next season and then have the salary-cap space available again in 2014 to make more major upgrades.
"We want to be a championship team. We've never said we have to be a championship team this year," Cuban said Saturday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM during his first interview since the Mavs' season ended. "We want to be a better team, a top-seed team. If we get the top free agent, that doesn't leave us a whole lot of flexibility to add a lot of players, but we have a good nucleus around them. We know we'll have a good team, but we won't know if we have a great team.
"If you look at this like a two-year plan, then we think we're on a track to have a great team by the end of next year."
The Mavs are trying to return to the heights they experienced with their championship in 2011. Cuban opted against offering long-term deals to Tyson Chandler and other key pieces of that team because he feared having an aging, declining squad with extremely limited options to improve under the new, more restrictive collective bargaining agreement.
It's a path Cuban said he would choose again "in a heartbeat" despite the Mavs' struggles the past two seasons. The pressure is on Cuban and president of basketball Donnie Nelson this summer to take advantage of the financial flexibility created by their controversial decisions.
The Mavs attempted to sign point guard Deron Williams last season, although Cuban opted to film episodes of "Shark Tank" instead of participating in the face-to-face recruiting process, and later said he thought the franchise was better off without Williams. Cuban and longtime face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki, who has declared his intention to re-sign next summer at a significantly reduced salary to ensure that the team will have ample cap space again, have both committed to spearhead the Mavs' recruiting efforts this summer.
"It's not like last year. We're going to go after [the major free agents]," Cuban said. "But it's not like we're not having all the intense conversations to figure out all of our alternatives.
"There's so many different ways and permutations that I don't think we can say if we don't get free agent A, B and C that this summer is a failure. ... There's a lot of different options and we have to explore all of them. I'm not about winning the summer. I'm about trying to do what I think is best for the franchise."
NBA tampering rules prevent Cuban from discussing specific free agents, but it's no secret that Plan A and B are Howard and Paul, not necessarily in that order.
Cuban acknowledged that certain teams losing in the first round of the playoffs "opened up at least a few doors for us to at least have conversations, where if some of those teams were still playing, I don't think those doors would have been open."
Paul's Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated in six games by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, while Howard's Los Angeles Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
"We haven't closed any doors, and as far as we know, there haven't been any doors that have been closed to us," Cuban said. "We're just going to run them all out there and see what happens."
The Mavs need to do some more tinkering with the roster to be positioned to offer Paul or Howard a maximum contract, but Cuban classified the financial aspect of preparing for free agency as "actually not that much work."
One possibility to create cap room, Cuban acknowledged, would be for veteran forward Shawn Marion to exercise the early termination option for the last season of his contract and agree to return to Dallas on a long-term deal at a lower salary. Cuban said the Mavs also could end up trading the 13th overall pick or drafting a player "to stash overseas somewhere" to prevent the $1.66 million hold from counting against the team's salary cap.
The Mavs would still have to convince Paul or Howard to leave their respective Los Angeles teams -- who can offer a fifth year and 7.5 percent annual raises, as opposed to a four-year deal with 4.5 percent annual raises -- and pick the Mavs over other suitors such as the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks.
"The way I work in all my businesses, if you prepare and you put yourself in a position to win, you're not going to win them all but you're going to get some," Cuban said. "I can make an argument why we should absolutely go after the big fish and I can make an argument on why we shouldn't. There are a lot of really, really good players that, in combination, that I think can make us a top-3 or 4-seed in the West."
That would be a significant step in Cuban's two-year plan to rebuild a championship contender.