Since taking over as Dallas Mavericks owner 12 years ago, Mark Cuban has proven quite adept at keeping a brave face regarding the product that he puts on the floor, even if things aren't going exactly as hoped. Just as long as those stupid refs didn't blow another call because, geez, everyone's out to get the Mavs.
Even before the defending champs dismissed the New York Knicks on Tuesday, Cuban went on record about his team's plan heading into the trade deadline, before delving into a cheerful comment about just where the sixth-ranked Mavericks stand heading into the regular season's final six weeks. From Eddie Sefko at the Dallas Morning News:
"We're not calling anybody,'' Cuban said before Tuesday's game against New York. "I told Donnie (Nelson) to take calls, but we're not making any calls. There you have it.'
"Considering all the injuries, considering no practice time, considering the compression of the schedule, I'm thrilled."
Pointing out that you're "thrilled" by a team that is about to round its record to 23-17 in defense of an NBA title seems a little disingenuous, but even if Cuban is attempting to deflect some criticism from his squad's up-and-down season, the owner isn't wrong for feeling this way.
The squad made a point to leave itself some cap and/or payroll flexibility heading into the 2012 offseason by declining to match New York's hefty offer for Tyson Chandler, and though Dallas' record has suffered, its defense has actually improved (from eighth in defensive efficiency to fourth) in the could-be 2012 Defensive Player of the Year's absence.
The offense has fallen off, mightily, to 20th (down from eighth), but this is to be expected when Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom report to camp out of their typical shape, with age continuing to drag on the shot-making abilities of Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd. A trade, it would seem, would be a needed tonic.
This brings us to Mark's original point, one that does need to be continually bashed into our heads as we try to take in this messed-up, lockout-addled season.
There are no guarantees in a lockout year. Making the right move, an obvious move, or a knockout move? It might not matter, even once the playoffs come around and things start to run at a more orthodox pace. The Mavericks were assured of not getting a chance at a typical title defense as soon as the NBA announced it would try to cram 66 games in a spot where 50 of them used to go. That's not excuse-making, either, because 29 other teams were handed the same sense of uncertainty. To say nothing of the fans that have been pulled along for this ride.
Even if the Mavs fail to make a big splash this summer with their impending cap space, things will be more settled by that time, with a clearer picture of what to expect from both teammates and opponents alike. And with the Mavericks looking to keep all these expiring contracts on board in anticipation of that free-agent run, it makes sense that the Mavs wouldn't want to add another nickel to that guaranteed 2012-13 payroll just to make an uncertain 2011-12 look a little better on paper.
Which brings us back to Cuban's rosy take. It's all about making it to the last week in April this season, with a playoff berth in hand. This isn't to say that each NBA team in 2012 is looking to the 1999 lockout-era New York Knicks as a template, but the Mavericks are in the same place as they were entering last season's postseason. They're going to rely on guile, depth, smarts, matchups and Rick Carlisle's considerable talent with a clipboard to win one, two, three or possibly four playoff series. One at a time, using the sort of focus earned with all those games under their respective belts.
Because they're old. And they wear belts. And anyone counting them out now, even with the dodgy start, Odom's continued issues with finishing both inside and out, and Chandler's absence, is making a mistake. Dallas fans needn't be "thrilled" with their Mavericks, but they shouldn't be worried, either.
Just follow the lead of the owner. Unless he's running onto the court to protest a call.