Shortly after the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect in December 2011, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made the difficult decision not to keep together the roster that had won the NBA title just a few months earlier. Cuban's concept was sound: locking up secondary players to big contracts would be a major problem under the league's new salary cap rules, and the Mavs would also have the cap space to go after big-name free agents (i.e. the players worth paying) in future offseasons.
That first free-agent period didn't go so well — the Mavs lost out on Deron Williams, their top target, and settled for O.J. Mayo on an affordable two-year deal. However, due to their patience, the Mavericks have another chance to get a top player this summer. According to Cuban, that move would be part of a new two-year plan to return to title contender status. From Tim MacMahon for ESPNDallas.com (via EOB):
After Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, the owner vowed the Mavs would have a "quick rebuild." The pending pitch to free agents this summer -- including Chris Paul and Dwight Howard -- is that the franchise can take a significant step forward next season and then have the salary-cap space available again in 2014 to make more major upgrades.
"We want to be a championship team. We've never said we have to be a championship team this year," Cuban said Saturday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM during his first interview since the Mavs' season ended. "We want to be a better team, a top-seed team. If we get the top free agent, that doesn't leave us a whole lot of flexibility to add a lot of players, but we have a good nucleus around them. We know we'll have a good team, but we won't know if we have a great team.
"If you look at this like a two-year plan, then we think we're on a track to have a great team by the end of next year." [...]
"There's so many different ways and permutations that I don't think we can say if we don't get free agent A, B and C that this summer is a failure. ... There's a lot of different options and we have to explore all of them. I'm not about winning the summer. I'm about trying to do what I think is best for the franchise."
This plan is generally sound, especially now that Dirk Nowitzki has expressed a willingness to take a "significant pay cut" to allow the franchise to add another star to the roster. It also makes sense even if Nowitzki weren't willing to help the team's finances, because he's aging and not quite as dependable as he once was. With this plan, the Mavs could stay relevant and transition into a new era with very few hiccups.
If there's one problem with it, it's that they're relying on a large number of things going right. The Mavs would have to convince two stars to join the team in consecutive seasons despite the fact that the new CBA allows players to get much more money by signing with their new teams, and that first player (presumably Dwight Howard) would have to jump to Dallas with faith that they could add more in the future. That's no certainty, and Cuban is banking on a great deal of luck and good fortune to make this work.
Yet, in a basic way, every championship contender relies on an improbable number of things working out to reach that elite status. Acknowledging the difficulty of getting to that level while simultaneously allowing for the possibility that it could happen at some point in the future is actually a very sensible way of approaching an uncertain future. Cuban is hoping that things will go right but preparing for other scenarios. As with last summer, this plan is not the only scenario at play. It's just the ideal one.