Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban doesn’t initially mention Dwight Howard by name in his latest explanation as to why the Mavs have gone pear-shaped, but he doesn’t have to. Howard was courted by the Mavericks and several other teams that wanted to give each and every bit of their cap space to the All-Star center, and when Howard chose the Houston Rockets, teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Mavs and Golden State Warriors were all forced into their respective Plan Bs.
Still, none of the teams listed are being forced to pull off silliness like this, from Bryan Gutierrez and Tim MacMahon at ESPN Dallas:
"I think we've put ourselves in a spot where we're in a better spot than we were at if we got just the one max-out deal," Cuban told ESPNDallas.com during the Mavs' summer league game Wednesday night. "I think it'd be better shorter and longer term. I don't want to make that sound the wrong way. I think we'll be better this year because we added five good players or more."
Come on, Mark.
There’s value to breaking up that cap space to use on several darn good players, instead of going all-in on one All-Star and scrambling to fill a roster with minimum salaries and exceptions on top of that. In most cases, it’s preferable, because there just aren’t that many franchise-tilting stars out there worth working up a top-heavy roster for.
Howard is one of those stars, though. And Dallas’ Plan B doesn’t look all that appealing on paper.
The team used that space to sign former Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons point guard Jose Calderon, a fine addition, but one the Mavericks have committed to for four years. Four years for a guy who plays on one side of the court and turns 32 in September. It’s true that we’re not privy to negotiations, but it appeared as if the Mavericks were bidding against themselves on this one — something that Calderon more or less confirmed following the announcement of the transaction. From David Aldridge at NBA.com:
"The truth is that I don't know if there was exactly that many options there," he told local reporters last week. "Sometimes the offers come and go two hours later. It's kind of a weird thing."
Things got much weirder when the Mavs then used a goodly chunk of the cap space that remained to sign Monta Ellis.
For years, the Mavericks have employed their own personalized analytics unit to help weed out inefficient prospects, but even a casual box score observer could look at Ellis’ typical lines and deduce that this wasn’t a guy you wanted to throw three years and $25 million at. Could Ellis’ shooting numbers change while playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki, or with a pure point man like Calderon feeding him the ball? Sure, but you’re banking on a major attitude adjustment some nine years into Ellis’ career along the way, and those sorts of things are rare for these relatively old dogs.
From there, the Mavericks agreed to terms with Samuel Dalembert, who was lost in the shuffle with the Milwaukee Bucks last year for reasons that may or may not have been his fault, and the team appears to be well on its way toward bringing back former Mavs guard Devin Harris for a small deal once he undergoes toe surgery. Lanky forward Brendan Wright was also retained, but that was a move that would have been NBA-legal even with Howard on the roster.
"Obviously we didn't get Dwight," Cuban said. "We took a chance, and it didn't happen. I think we put together a really good team. It sticks within the culture we've tried to define. We've dealt with some of the weaknesses we had from last year. Hopefully if we stay healthy, good things will happen."
“Last year” was the first time in Cuban’s history as a season-long owner (he was only the team’s owner for half of the 1999-00 season) that the Mavericks missed the playoffs. And, this time last year, we didn’t really have a problem with how 2012-13 was shaping up. Cuban missed out on Howard (who opted into his contract) and Deron Williams (who re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets) and recovered by acquiring a litany of pretty good players on one-year contracts to round out his team’s depth. With Rick Carlisle matching the pieces together, while retaining cap space for this summer, it seemed like the perfect holdover scenario.
Nowitzki’s knee injury changed all that. He missed the first seven weeks of the season, and by the time he rounded into shape a few weeks after that, the Mavericks were just about out of the playoff race. The team finished the season with a 16-9 run, but it just wasn’t happening.
With a healthy Nowitzki in place, and a clear upgrade in terms of passing and execution with Calderon replacing Darren Collison, the Mavs should contend for a playoff spot. And if Dirk decides to take a massive pay cut next summer, the Mavericks could contend for a big-name free-agent signing because Ellis and Calderon’s deals aren’t too dear.
On top of that, Cuban has to sell tickets and intrigue for 2013-14; he can’t sell yet another “wait until next summer!”-scenario. We get that. And again, in most cases with this depth vs. superstar argument, Mark isn’t wrong.
Still, he doesn’t have to answer every question, y’know? Sometimes it’s good just to watch a Summer League game, and not start talking every time a camera or reporter shows up.
And he can’t try the 2012-era line of reasoning this time around. Spreading the wealth after missing out on Williams? That wasn’t the worst Plan B.
Spreading it after missing out on Howard, though? He’s different. This is not a “better spot.”
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