The setup is so straightforward and obvious that this is barely worth an eyebrow-raise. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, speaking directly to a crew up hopeful Mavs season ticket owners, dismissed the Los Angeles Lakers' offseason moves while attempting to remind his 41-game faithful that nothing out West gets decided in July and August. He's not wrong in theory, which gives him enough room to escape total scorn, but still comes off a little spurned in the face of an offseason that didn't go exactly as Cuban would have hoped.
(Even though he'll tell you everything's in place; mainly because as team owner that's what he has to tell you.)
First, his take on the Laker pickups of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, as reported by The Sporting News:
"The Lakers have done this before," Cuban said. "Remember Gary Payton, Karl Malone and Kobe and Shaq were all together, and it didn't work.
"It takes great chemistry, like coach (Rick Carlisle) alluded to, it takes guys wanting to be there — I don't know if all their guys want to be there — it's going to be interesting.
"Look, (the Lakers are) going to be a great team, but I remember when we made our run," Cuban said. "We weren't supposed to win any series. The Lakers were defending champs when we swept them, and they had everybody back. A lot of teams do a great job winning the summer, but I never get so antsy about what happens over the summer."
"The CBA now isn't just about money," Cuban said. "Now it is about flexibility as well. And, for instance, going to the Lakers, this time next year, they wouldn't be able to do a deal for Steve Nash. ... The Nets and some other teams who have just said, 'we're going to spend whatever it takes,' that is their team for a long time. Somebody gets hurt, something happens or it doesn't work, they've got big problems."
This is the perfect quick hit, almost politician-like, that you give an audience hoping to hear the exact right thing:
Yeah, 2004. Forgot about that. Those Pistons really took it to them; and the Lakers failed even with Kobe in his prime and Phil Jackson around. And we were giant killers in 2011, with nobody giving us a chance.
Super smart move, as always, by Cuban.
We're not season ticket holders, though. And while the tenets of Cuban's argument ("chemistry," history) are on point, one has to go a little bit deeper in any comparison before sloughing off the Lakers and yelling "2004" to a room full of fans in blue.
That year's team was rolling along at 20-5 when Karl Malone sprained his knee two months into the season. Even with Shaq and Kobe feuding, O'Neal out of shape, and Gary Payton out of sorts with the offense (and, in something that does remind of Steve Nash, a sieve defensively), the Lakers were dominating the league and on pace to win 66 games. Malone re-injured the knee during the playoffs during a grueling Western Conference run (the Timberwolves, Kings and Mavericks were all legitimate title contenders that season), and a healthy Pistons squad took advantage in the Finals.
Had Karl been healthy in June? Had Stanislav Medvedenko not had to play 72 important minutes during the Finals? Things may have been different. The Pistons (and, probably, the similarly depleted Timberwolves working without All-Star Sam Cassell) were fantastic that year, a true champion without caveat, but that Laker team was closer than we remember.
The parallels, because Cuban is smart, are all there.
Kobe and Dwight Howard haven't had the breeziest of relationships thus far. Steve Nash can't guard anyone, and like Payton he'll be working in an offense that tends to take the ball out of the point guard's hands for long stretches. Pau Gasol is just about our favorite anything ever that's ever been, but he's also just beginning the downside of his career. And like that 2004 team, any tweaked knee or unfortunate accident could leave a thin bench having to contribute way too much.
This is Cuban, though. He can talk up Chris Kaman's ability to spread the floor and look forward to having bundles of cash to throw at James Harden next summer, but he's also the guy that just lost Deron Williams to Brooklyn, and Dwight Howard to his own strange sense of what's right and wrong. The Mavs' offseason was shot to hell once Howard opted-in for the last year of his contract with Orlando, but even with Dirk Nowitzki in place and some confetti from 2011 still lodged in between the seat cushions the Mavs were probably going to be spurned by the pair. And Nash. And, though he's no All-Star anymore, even Jason Kidd.
And that kicker about Dwight Howard? "I don't know if all their guys want to be there"? That's classic spurnin' to its core. "Ah, let Susanne go out with Glen. Whatever. She doesn't know WHAT she wants."
On the flip side of that? "This is Cuban, though."
Just as it was in 2010-11, the Mavs have a loaded roster with plenty of versatile parts that will be guided under someone in Rick Carlisle who is usually the smartest guy in the room. I'm ready to pen the Lakers in for at least 60 wins sight unseen, even with Dwight Howard's back woes and the over-30 contributions of Kobe-Steve-Pau. But even with that expectation basketball still comes down to a series of matchups and execution in May and June. This is a long way of saying that I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if, just as it was in 2011 (when, as Cuban referenced, a lot of us had the Mavs going out in the first or second round), the Maverick chemistry that wasn't anywhere to be found in 2012 comes roaring back in 2013. Even taking down a Laker team along the way.
He's catty, but he's also calculating. Cuban may have been speaking to a room full of people that wanted to hear how great things are going to be, and he may have been a little duplicitous along the way. That's his job, though, because this is his product.
The real pressure will be on the Lakers to perform, and Carlisle to work wonders again.
"It's going to be interesting," Cuban told his patrons. We can't deny him that observation.