In the lockout-prolonged offseason and very short free-agent period of 2011, the then-champion Dallas Mavericks had a choice. With several key players — Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, especially — up for new contracts, the front office had to decide whether it would keep together its squad for another run or begin a reloading process and attempt to bring new core players into the fold in future free-agent periods.
Though the loss of those players (and by that I really mean Chandler) virtually assured that the Mavs wouldn't challenge for the title in 2012, it was nevertheless a reasonable decision to let them go. With an aging core, Dallas had to consider what they would look like in a few seasons. Plus, with Brooklyn Nets point guard and Dallas native Deron Williams on the market this summer, they had the chance to bring in a real live All-Star. They had a plan, and they believed in it for totally acceptable reasons.
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On Monday afternoon, the Mavericks will reach an important point in this plan when they meet with Williams in Dallas. Except, despite the importance of this meeting, highly visible owner Mark Cuban will not be present. Instead, he'll be filming a reality show. From Marc Stein for ESPN.com (via Ben Golliver):
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that [Dirk] Nowitzki -- who has maintained a friendship with Williams over the past few seasons -- and Mavs owner Mark Cuban have been making their recruiting pitches to Williams by phone since free agency began Sunday at 12:01 a.m.
Yet with Nowitzki traveling abroad this week and Cuban in Los Angeles working on his "Shark Tank" television show, sources say that Dallas will be represented in Monday's sitdown with Williams by president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle and former Mavericks franchise player Michael Finley, who is making the trip in an unofficial ambassadorial role.
In reality, though, Dallas' lead recruiter in the quest to sign Williams is Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd, who has spent the bulk of the week in close proximity to Williams in the Hamptons on a golf vacation.
Before we rush to lambast Cuban for choosing to opine on the business prospects of bacon-cooking alarm clocks instead of wooing a franchise-changing free agent, let's keep in mind that the Mavs' success here will not depend solely on their owner's presence in talks. There are no negotiations to be had with Williams; the Mavs will offer him around $75 million over four seasons (the maximum allowed) and the Nets will offer him approximately $100 million over five seasons (the maximum allowed). Beyond those figures, Williams will decide based on the Mavs' ability to contend, how much he wants to play in Dallas and his comfort with the basketball end of the Mavericks operation. Those are all known quantities for him, and he will balance them against the promise of playing in Brooklyn for more money than any other suitor can offer.
However, when a free agent chooses his team, he doesn't just weigh the items on a list of pros and cons. He also chooses to trust in a franchise's culture. Over the course of four years, many things could change in Dallas: the coach, the supporting cast, the state of the conference, etc. As one of the most hands-on owners in American sports, Cuban directs the Mavericks in unique ways. If a player wants to sign with the team long-term, he will probably want to get to know Cuban's vision for the future and how Williams plays into that. There are other ways to make that point — Cuban is nothing if not capable of communicating over the Internet — but it would surely seem sensible for him to be present for such an important meeting as the Mavericks try to set themselves up for future success.
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Cuban has contractual obligations with "Shark Tank," of course, and his presence on that series and various other programs is part of what makes him a successful businessman and owner. (After all, where would the Mavs be today if Cuban hadn't participated in "Walker, Texas Ranger's" wedding?) But the Mavericks are still his greatest platform, an exceedingly well-run organization that proves that Cuban's style can work. The team's best qualities speak for themselves, no matter if Cuban is present at their meeting with Williams. Still, given how much he cares, it's fairly shocking that Cuban won't be present on a day that could change the course of the franchise for a decade.
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