On Saturday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder finished off their sweep of the Dallas Mavericks, ending one of the least impressive title defenses in NBA history. Without defensive linchpin Tyson Chandler and important perimeter contributors such as J.J. Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson, the Mavs struggled to repeat last year's success.
Yet, at the same time, it was always part of their plan for the season. As our Dan Devine described on the night of their departure from the playoffs, owner Mark Cuban made the decision to set the franchise up for free-agent opportunities this summer. In a way, their title defense was held back before it even started, though with good reason. To open up possibilities for the future, they had to hurt themselves in the short term.
"I've heard some of the talking headless (media), and all I can tell you is, within the collective bargaining agreement we did everything possible to put the best possible team on the court," he said. "Period. End of story. If someone wants to read it (the CBA) and tell me otherwise, go ahead. But it's like I said, I think we've got a good team. One bounce, one break and we're talking about we had one bad game like we had in Portland last year and we're still up 2-1."
So he has not had any second thoughts about not offering Tyson Chandler a multi-year contract in December, or taking the same approach with departing free agents J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler.
"Hell no," Cuban said. "Nope. Not even a millisecond. Because those who are talking otherwise haven't read the CBA and are just talking out their (expletive) without any foundation. But that's what you guys do.
"That was my mistake, because once that thing passed, our hands were tied in a lot of respects. But within that, we did the best we could. And we're not out of it yet." [...]
Cuban pointed out that the Mavericks were under the luxury tax threashold [sic] before they agreed to acquire Lamar Odom from the Lakers. He said all of the roster decisions were based on trying to defend the title with the best team possible while keeping salary cap flexibility moving forward.
That last sentence is notable, because it's exactly what the "talking headless" (great pun, Cubes!) have been saying about this year's Mavs. No one denies that the Mavs wanted to stay competitive this season, and the fact that they came close to beating the Thunder three times in their sweep shows that they weren't just a first-round patsy for a title contender. There was talent in Dallas, and no matter what moves they make over the summer they'll still have a solid team next season.
However, there's a difference between going all out for a championship and staying competitive while reloading for the future, and there's little doubt that the Mavs opted for the latter. It was a calculated gamble, and also fairly sensible given the problems inherent in extending aging players for lots of seasons at salaries that reach close to eight figures per season.
And that's fine! But for Cuban to act as if the media has mischaracterized that strategy as giving up is to change the conversation to make the Mavs out to be victims of an unfair CBA rather than an organization that made a business decision given the situation at hand. They knew what they were doing this season and tried to do the best with the hand they were dealt. If a few things had gone differently — like, say, Lamar Odom playing like himself instead of being such a disaster that he wasn't even given a playoff share — they might have been one of the best teams in the West yet again.
The Mavs won their title last season, and no one can take that away from them. What they did this season was a legitimate response to the challenge of staying near the top of the league for the long term rather than petering out after reaching ultimate glory. Instead, Cuban has divested himself of responsibility, made his franchise out to be victims of an unfair league, and given his fans a bunch of propaganda when he could have told them a more mature truth. There's no shame in what Dallas did, especially if it ends up landing Deron Williams this July. So why does its owner insist on acting like everyone's out to get him?
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