The most sought-after player available in this summer's NBA free agency sweepstakes was Deron Williams, a 28-year-old three-time All-Star point guard who was set to hit the open market in search of both a max-level contract and the opportunity to compete for an NBA championship. As the horse race neared its conclusion, the two teams in the lead for Williams' affections were widely considered to be his prior employer, the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets, who could offer him the most money, and his hometown team, the Dallas Mavericks, who could offer him the chance to pair with former MVP and champion Dirk Nowitzki (who wanted to play with D-Will badly).
As we know, the Nets crossed the finish line first, inking Williams to a five-year, $98.8 million contract to serve as the foundation of the new franchise being built to occupy Barclays Center. But the Mavericks did have a shot with Williams, and in fact met with him in person ... albeit without their chief negotiator at the table, as owner Mark Cuban missed the meeting due to a scheduling conflict: taping an episode of his reality show, "Shark Tank," in Los Angeles.
As our own Eric Freeman wrote at the time of Cuban's decision to miss the Williams meeting, while the Mavs' owner certainly had other means of communicating the Mavs' vision for the future to Williams — as we know, Cubes is down for Internet and mobile communicatin' (Cuban later said that the two did text one another) and as we learned, Deron's way down with tablet culture — "it would surely seem sensible for [Cuban] to be present for such an important meeting as the Mavericks try to set themselves up for future success." More to the point: What if his absence in any way influenced Williams away from Dallas?
As it turns out, according to Nets beat man Howard Beck at the New York Times, that's pretty much exactly what happened:
Asked if Cuban's absence affected his decision, Williams said flatly, "Of course."
Williams added: "A lot of the questions that me and my agent had for them really didn't get answered that day — you know, pertaining to the future. And I think if he was there, he would have been able to answer those questions a little bit better. Maybe would have helped me."
The Mavericks' main representatives that day were the team president Donnie Nelson and Coach Rick Carlisle. Williams, 28, said he was most concerned about what Dallas would do once the 34-year-old Nowitzki retired. Those were questions that only Cuban could fully answer, he said.
Williams said the message he received from Nelson and Carlisle was, instead, "Just trust their track record."
"I can honor that, because they do have a good track record. But it's not enough for me to switch organizations, especially when Billy was updating me daily," Williams said, referring to Nets General Manager Billy King.
As Capital's Howard Medgal noted, that constant contact was King's crowning achievement in the Williams negotiation. I mean, being able to say "we can offer you $25 million more than they can" and actually mean it is pretty important, too, but making sure the primary object of your affections knows that he is, in fact, the primary object of your affections seems like a pretty sound strat.
Cuban, of course, said after the fact that he thinks the Mavericks as presently constituted are "in better position now than we would've been if we'd gotten him," owing to the fact that not tendering another max deal afforded Dallas the flexibility to plug multiple holes in the offseason with the likes of Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones. In the radio interview in which he made that comment, though, as Tim Bontemps of the New York Post wrote, Cuban did acknowledge that his presence might have made a difference:
"Maybe [it would have helped to be there], you know, because I always think I can close a sale," Cuban said. "But, in hindsight, I don't know if I would have been happy."
In the end, the Mavs are likely a deeper, more versatile and more flexible team than they would have been had Cuban "closed the sale." But if Dallas again finds itself floundering without another legitimate scorer and playmaker to take the pressure off Nowitzki in big games late in the season, as was the case when the Mavs fell in the first round of last year's postseason to a more potent and more multifaceted Oklahoma City Thunder team — knocking another year of Nowitzki's stellar career and facing the future without an in-his-prime top-flight point man in the fold — it'll be easy to wonder if Mavs fans, or even Cuban himself, will be happy with the outcome.
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