- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cuban, who has never been shy about publicly disagreeing with Stern during his 11-year tenure as the Dallas Mavericks' owner, said allowing the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets to trade their superstar hours after the league's new labor agreement was ratified would have been hypocritical.
"The message is we went through this lockout for a reason," Cuban said Friday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Ben and Skin Show. "Again, I'm not speaking for Stern. He's not telling me his thought process. I'm just telling you my perspective, having gone through all this. There's a reason that we went through this lockout, and one of the reasons is to give small-market teams the ability to keep their stars and the ability to compete."
Stern cited "basketball reasons" for denying the proposed trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets and given the Hornets three accomplished, starter-caliber players in Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom as well as point guard Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick that Houston had acquired from the New York Knicks.
However, Cuban's rationale for blocking the trade is all about business.
"We just had a lockout, and one of the goals of the lockout was to say that small-market teams now have a chance to keep their players, and the rules were designed to give them that opportunity," Cuban said. "So to all of a sudden have a league-owned team trade their best player, particularly after having gone out and sold a ton of tickets in that market, that's not the kind of signal you want to send.
"Then, part two of that is all the rules of what you can and can't do under the new CBA weren't finalized until yesterday, so how do you really make a strategic decision until you know all the rules?"
Cuban has been trying for years to trade for Paul, the four-time All-Star point guard who dominated the Mavericks during the first round of the 2008 playoffs. However, he said he would have understood the league's decision to deny the trade even if the Mavericks would have agreed to a deal to get Paul.
"I mean, obviously, I wouldn't have been happy, but I would have understood because it was a conversation a lot of owners had long before the Laker deal was consummated," Cuban said. "It was like, 'Look, sure, I'd love him. Give him to me in a heartbeat.' But the whole idea of the lockout was to prevent stuff like that.
"Players will always have the right to choose what they want to do as a free agent, but the players agreed to rules that said, 'You know what? Let's give the home team, the incumbent team an extra advantage.' And that's how the rules were designed. I think they're going to work."
Nevertheless, Cuban admitted voting against the collective bargaining agreement. He hoped for a system that would allow the Mavericks to keep their championship team largely intact while maintaining some flexibility to make roster upgrades, as they'd done in the past.
Instead, the Mavs will lose Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, Caron Butler and probably DeShawn Stevenson after those players declined short-term contract offers from the team. As a result, the Mavs will be under the salary cap next summer for the first time in years, putting them in position to pursue a free-agent superstar such as Paul, Dwight Howard or Deron Williams.
But Cuban said that isn't the Mavs' sole goal as they prepare to remodel their roster around All-NBA fixture and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
"That's a nice-to-have, not gotta-have," Cuban said of signing a superstar. "We've got to go out there and start filling in pieces. In reality, it's almost a reset, so I can go back to trading like I traded before, because I can't do it if we're over the tax. If I can get under the cap, then I can start doing those trades again and it doesn't just have to be a free agent. It can be a trade."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.
4hMatt Walks, ESPN.com