In the immediate aftermath of their 2011 championship, the Dallas Mavericks took a gamble. With many key players — especially Tyson Chandler — set to become free agents, Mark Cuban and his front office decided to let most of them go. It was a calculated risk based on the hope that the Mavs could successfully woo a free agent superstar, hoped to be either Dwight Howard or Dallas native Deron Williams.
It did not work out, and the Mavericks are now an aging team 5.5 games back of a playoff spot with little hope of improving without a major move. Star Dirk Nowitzki, who's played in only seven games and is still recovering from knee surgery, isn't feeling so great about the team's future. From Tim MacMahon for ESPNDallas.com:
"It's going to be tough now," Nowitzki said after the Mavs' home overtime loss to the Western Conference cellar-dwelling New Orleans Hornets. "I always liked to think you don't want to build your franchise on hope.
"We hoped for Deron last year. We hoped for Dwight. Why would he leave the Lakers? To me, it makes no sense. He's in a great situation. Why would CP3 leave? [The Los Angeles Clippers are] the best team in the league probably right now. They're probably the deepest team. So are you going to hope that we get something?
"Maybe Cuban has something up his sleeve. Maybe you have to take a chance on a bad contract to get him in here and make something happen. I mean, I don't know. That's something we'll have to see this summer. We're going to play out this season. I'm going to get better and better, hopefully from game to game, so I can actually close out some of these games. And then we'll see what happens."
Nowitzki reiterated those exact comments after Monday's shootaround in Utah and clairified any confusion about any discussions of him being traded.
"I never said I was going to be traded," Nowitzki told reporters Monday. "I said what I said numerous times: We have two options. We tried to sign (Deron Williams), but we didn't sign him, so we have two options: We either trade everybody and start over or we bring in a bunch of one-year deals -- which we did -- and try to be a player this summer."
Cuban responded to MacMahon over email:
"Dirk gets upset when we are in a tough period," Cuban replied in an email to ESPNDallas.com. "If you only knew the things he has said to me during recent seasons about our team. I'm glad I didn't listen :)
"That's Dirk. He uses being mad for personal motivation. No one on this team should be happy with the way we are playing right now. I know I'm not. But we aren't going to change our approach. We will be opportunistic and try to get this season turned around."
Dirk is 34 years old, an age when most great players only have one or two terrific years left — if that — so it makes sense that he would want to do anything possible to improve the team immediately. He had a championship team and then had to contend with a solid playoff team that very quickly turned into an also-ran. There's still hope, but even facing the possibility of leading a lottery team has to be distasteful.
But Cuban is right, and not just because this is how Dirk acts sometimes. When the Mavericks opted for on-the-fly rebuilding two summers ago, they did so for several reasons. One was simply that the new terms of the collective bargaining agreement made stockpiling veterans a dicey proposition. The greater hope, though, was that they could set themselves up for long-term championship contention by adding a younger superstar. When that didn't work, the alternative was to attempt to be a decent playoff team, bide time, and do their best to reload. This outcome was always a potential result of this particular process.
In a way, it also would have been part of retaining the veterans they chose not to re-sign, although it might have occurred a few years later instead. The championship Mavericks were very dependent on Dirk for scoring, and his aging process was going to happen with or without better teammates. Tyson Chandler and others would have helped, but they would not have changed the essential facts of the Mavs' construction.
The challenge was always to bring in another superstar to help ease the transition away from Dirk's prime. Cuban opted to meet the problem head on instead of waiting too long for the end. The plan didn't work, but the process has always been sound.
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