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This is the part of our job that we hate, criticizing someone for speaking freely and accurately, but probably needlessly. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wields a strong hand when it comes to scouting and appraising his team’s personnel moves, and on Tuesday he made these remarks concerning a potential drafting of Baylor center Brittney Griner, women’s college basketball’s all-time leading shot-blocker:
"If she is the best on the board, I will take her," Cuban said before the Mavs' Tuesday night game against the Los Angeles Lakers. "I've thought about it. I've thought about it already. Would I do it? Right now, I'd lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it's not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it."
"She'd still have to make the team," Cuban said. "I'm not going to carry her just to carry her. I don't think, anyways. But I certainly wouldn't be opposed to giving her the opportunity."
Cuban acknowledged that Griner playing in the NBA's Las Vegas summer league would have tremendous marketing potential.
"It would, wouldn't it? See how she could do?" Cuban said. "That'd sell out a few games."
There’s one problem with this. The Phoenix Mercury have won the rights to the first pick in this month’s WNBA draft, and are certain to select Griner tops overall.
There’s also one problem with my last paragraph. There are actually many, many problems with all of this.
To start, we’re put in the unfortunate position of breaking down Griner’s skills in comparison to the lower rung second round picks she’d be competing against in the NBA’s Summer League in July of this year. Griner’s overall touch, skill, and basketball IQ have grown considerably in her four years at Baylor, and she’s clearly a player for the ages. She’s averaged over 23 points per game in each of the last three seasons, a remarkable achievement considering the slow pace, shorter play clock of the college game, and the significant defensive attention sent her way. Those 736 career blocks, most ever for a male or female college basketball player, were mostly collected because of her superior timing.
At her core, though, she relies on devastating athleticism and a long wingspan to deter opponents defensively and act as an interior centerpiece offensively. Famously, she dunked the ball 18 times in her college career, including 11 times as a senior. This is a once-in-a-generation athlete.
Compare her to current Mavericks “center” Brendan Wright, though, who is undersized at his position (skinny and 6-foot-9) and unique by NBA standards. He too relies on length and hops to compete at the NBA level, and yet it took him years in the wilderness — just four starts in four years between 2009 and 2013 — to work his way up to being an unorthodox center on a 10th-place team.
There have been other recent defense-first types to make an impact at (maybe) 6-foot-9. Ben Wallace was a defensive mastermind, but hardly someone who could get much more than his wrist above the rim even dating back to his time in Washington. Still, centers like Griner (even playing down a spot at power forward) just don’t tend to make the cut at “6-foot-8 and can sometimes dunk.”
If you’re feeling uneasy about this guy breaking down the relative NBA merits of a 22-year-old woman who never asked for such reification, you should. It’s awful that we’re even here.
Of course, we won’t ever get there. The WNBA will have Griner’s rights as a professional on April 15, and the NBA’s draft won’t even take place until June 27, with Cuban unable to even sign his rookies until a week later when the NBA lifts its moratorium on personnel signings and movement. Cuban, with significant cap room this summer, probably wouldn’t decide to get into a bidding war with a WNBA team’s rookie scale contract just to shoot for a soap opera. But he’s exactly the sort of person that would float it out there in April and with his team nearing NBA irrelevancy in the 2012-13 season, just to draw eyes. Remember, this is the same guy who thinks that getting in Twitter fights with Donald Trump is a sound use of his time.
It’s all very pointless. The Mavericks are now a just-about lock to miss the playoffs in 2013 after being swept from the first round of the postseason in 2012, and Cuban is rightfully taking the heat for a swift downward spiral from Dallas' championship year in 2011. And instead of talking about the summer of 2012 as another offseason gone wrong (which could lead to the summer of 2013, with the best free agents unlikely to leave their teams, and yet another offseason gone wrong), or the Mavericks missing the playoffs for the first time with Cuban as owner for an entire season, this “story” is what will dot the sports sections. You’re right to ignore it, but I’m not doing my job if I don’t tear it to bits.
Cuban wasn’t wrong in any of his breakdowns. Picks selected in the 50s rarely make the NBA. If Brittney Griner were the best player available (which, nothing against her, she won’t be), he would take her. She would sell tickets at the Summer League.
Why go there, though? At least a professional scumbag like Trump welcomes these bleatings. It’s true that Griner handled Cuban’s words with cheerful aplomb on Twitter on Tuesday night, but that’s to her credit and not Cuban’s. And it is worth mentioning that Cuban is a little slow on his roll when he talks about his team having a draft pick in the “late 50s.” Your team’s not that good anymore, Mark. Dallas is currently slated to draft 43rd in the second round. And, if they decide to use their option to swap picks with the Lakers, they’ll draft 44th.
All of these are wasted words because none of this will happen, and frankly none of this should happen. Brittney Griner has the potential to be a franchise-leading, league-dominating superstar in the WNBA. That’s the sort of pressure and expectation we should be placing on her, because these are expectations she’s fit to handle. To probably exceed.
She’s not a gimmick to be gawked at and over-scrutinized by the collection of NBA executives and bored NBA freaks who watch the Summer League every year. No, at that point in her summer schedule she’s supposed to be here, doing damage for the Phoenix Mercury and leading a turnaround for a proud franchise that has been in the WNBA Finals four times, while winning the championship in 2007 and 2009.
This is her sport, and soon to be her profession. Why talking heads and now NBA owners continually and pointlessly have to judge Brittney Griner in the reflection of her middling male counterparts shows that we still have so, so far to come. I sincerely hope that this is the last time any of us have to write a column like this.
It’s not marketing genius, sports fans. It’s a lack of imagination.
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