December 09, 2011
Friday morning, we bookmarked Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban's response to ESPN Dallas scribe Tim MacMahon's questions surrounding Dallas' hands-off approach to the current NBA offseason in anticipation of writing about it. A few hours later, we're wondering if it might be prudent just to keep this email in our bookmarks, to reflect on during the 2012 offseason and beyond. Because Cuban, through all his bluster and subjective takes on all things NBA'ish, might be a bit prescient in his approach.
The Mavericks made nary a peep as starting center Tyson Chandler loped off to New York. They didn't bat an eye as Caron Butler signed for a chunk of change in Los Angeles. The team attempted to gauge as to the availability of Chris Paul, but backed off. And though the Mavericks are the defending champs, it is a little odd to observe the team stand pat, or worse, as everyone else lines up to take a shot at their ring.
To hear Cuban tell it, he appears to be learning on the fly, as we all are in this post-lockout turn. Here's a snippet of the email he sent MacMahon on Thursday night:
In the past, it was different. If we had a problem, I could fix any mistake by having Donnie find a trade and just taking on more money. That is how we got [Jason Terry], [Shawn Marion], [Jason Kidd], Tyson. It was always about taking on more money. That trick doesn't work any more for teams over the tax. So we have to change our approach. By getting back under the cap, we have a ton of flexibility not only for free agent signings but also trades. If we can get the right guy(s) via free agency, great. if we do it via trade, great. We have that much more flexibility to make moves.
Again, I know this is tough for all of us after winning a championship. But we still believe as much as last year we are in a position to compete for a championship.
This has been Cuban's approach from the start. Even after taking over the Mavericks in 2000, his team was well over the cap despite its middling win/loss record, and Cuban responded by signing Christian Laettner and Howard Eisley to ill-conceived deals. More than a decade's worth of 50-win seasons resulted, culminating in the triumphant 2011 turn, but the Mavs never cleared out that cap save for a day-long respite in 2004. They always added to the ledger, from a Raef LaFrentz to a Jason Terry to a Brendan Haywood. You can't argue with the winning, but the approach might be a bit outmoded at this point.
And Cuban's correct about our guesswork in terms of his approach to the 2012 offseason. This isn't about signing an over the top max player like Deron Williams next summer, to give us the obvious storyline as he takes over for Jason Kidd. It's about flexibility, which is a rare thing in the NBA. Usually NBA teams are going for broke, or purposely broke -- going all in on a series of players or completely clearing the cap during the offseason to grab whatever free agents are available. Cuban is explaining (or explaining away) the reason why he might not attempt a shot at That Big One Guy next summer. And his reluctance to even compete for Chandler and/or Caron Butler's hand in this offseason.
Of course, this won't come easily. Dirk Nowitzki alone will make about a third of Dallas' salary cap room next summer, leaving the Mavs with just five players (Shawn Marion, Haywood, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois and Corey Brewer) under contract besides him, and around $15 million in cap space. Yes, this will make the Mavs an enviable trading partner, especially with New York using up all its 2012 cap space on Tyson Chandler, but leverage and options and (most of all) chance will play a huge part in how this all fleshes out.
For a defending champion, this might be a little intoxicating. Sort of a "how much does your life weigh?"-moment for Cuban. If I'm honest, I prefer his approach -- even if we're completely wrong in anticipation of it.
Bookmark the link to this reaction, though. Let's see how it turns out. The champs are still having fun.