Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Saturday night published an extensive and detailed analysis/rationalization/defense of the Mavericks' roster decisions and free agency moves since winning the NBA title in 2011.
Often criticized for breaking up their championship team too quickly, the Mavericks have missed out on consecutive marquee free agents in the past two offseasons. First Deron Williams spurned his hometown to say, "Hello, Brooklyn," and then Dwight Howard did not think their animated special was good enough for him.
After a summer in which they've opted to spent over $15 million per year over the next three years to Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, the Mavericks have been widely dismissed as a team whose Plan B looked like an emergency protocol that did nothing to improve their flailing altitude.
What follows are my takes on the more salient points of Cuban's missive. Think of it not as a response to Cuban's comments, which are often noteworthy and poignant, but as kind of a running commentary, or an objective party's footnotes.
Cuban first takes us back to the summer before 2011.
Finally I read that trade discussions between Charlotte and I forget who for Tyson Chandler had broken down. I made the call to the Bobcats in hope of getting Tyson. Everyone else had pretty much given up on Tyson because of his injury history. Our trainer Casey Smith told me that Ty had a great summer with USA Basketball, [and] our support staff thought he could play out the last year on his contract. So we made the trade.
The thought was that Tyson would back up newly resigned Brendan Haywood. Wood had played well for us the year before. But by the time the regular season opened our starting lineup would be JKidd, JET, Caron Butler, Dirk and Tyson.
Cuban's going for the obvious "people have counted us out and thought we were nuts before" angle to start, and while I typically dislike this approach because offseasons such as the last three for Dallas are too dissimilar to compare, he does make a very salient point here. Chandler, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, has actually been written off several times in his career.
People forget Chandler was considerd a bust when he was traded to New Orleans from Chicago, where he was part of the "Baby Bulls," along with Eddy Curry and Metta World Peace. He found a resurgence in New Orleans alongside Chris Paul and his constant lobs. Then he settled into quiet "pretty good but injured" status before a toe condition negated a trade to Oklahoma City. (Think about how that would have worked out. That sound is the league shuddering at the Thunder's might.) He wound up on yet another disaster team in Charlotte before the Mavericks came along and rescued him.
The rest, as they say, is history. But you can't look at players like Calderon and Ellis, or even Samuel Dalembert, and not recognize that often a player's career history isn't fully written until he's landed in the right place.
That said, the 2010 Mavericks had won 55 games and the Mavs already had Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea, Jason Terry and Caron Butler, plus what was thought to be a functional Brendan Haywood. It was a good team that landed a player who surprised us.
The 2013 Mavericks are not in a similar position. But let's move on.
Maybe it was time to break things up and start again was the talk radio chatter. We were too old and we were wasting the last years of Dirk's career. Fortunately, the season started out great. We were chugging along and winning games, breaking winning streaks of good teams and more. Then disaster hit. First Dirk goes down. Then in his first game missed, Caron goes down for the season. Then Roddy goes down for the season. To say we were nervous would be an understatement.
I wish i could share the texts coming from some of our vets who saw the season slipping away. As one guy said, "We are done."
Our response ? We signed Peja. Peja hadn't played much that season and we really didn't know how much he could play. But we didn't have a lot of options. We finished out the season with Dirk coming back and a little bit of momentum, but heading into the playoffs, we were dubbed the One and Done Boys in a song by Ben Rogers on local radio. The Ft Worth Star Telegram said “the Mavs don't have what it takes." We know how the rest of that season plays out.
OK, setting aside the fact that a grown man used an actual smiley face emoticon, Cuban rubbing it in to local media how the team won an unlikely championship seems a little unnecessary. Isn't gloating over the "pundits" over the top two years later? Also, to make it seem like this team came out of nowhere is a bit of a stretch. The Mavericks were lava-hot in November, and watching them, you could tell they were a dark horse title contender. I wound up picking against them in the Lakers series, mostly because come on, the Lakers always win that kind of series. That's one of the top-five worst series predictions I've made, based on what I knew at the time. (The other four were all last season. It was a bad year for me.)
He's switched here from "see the comparisons to 2011?" to "Anything can happen!" Which is true, but again, we're talking very different teams. He is correct that Dallas' playoff run was unexpected and that many thought they were done when Caron Butler went down.
Cuban then moves and discusses the internal debate that existed over whether to break up the team after the 2011 title, and how ultimately the decision was Cuban's. He says he thought there was not going to be a season in 2011-12, and then discusses some of the fallout from the lockout:
As one of the owners on the committee negotiating the CBA I honestly felt that there was a 90pct chance there would not be a season. Sitting in those meetings it was as if both sides lived in two alternate universes that never intersected. As it turns out I was wrong. 3am one morning after being told that there was no real chance of a settlement, there was a settlement. We would soon find out that our 66 game season would start Christmas Day 2011 Not only did we have a 66 game schedule that included such fan favorites as 3 games in 3 nights , but we had a shortened training camp as well. Whatever routines our players had to get ready for the season were going to be thrown out the window. Add in that the new CBA that resolved the lockout was far different than our previous CBA and our Mavs staff had quite a bit to think about.
All my thoughts on the new CBA have been well chronicled elsewhere, so i won't revisit them here. But what we have not discussed publicly was our concern of bringing back an older team in a shortened season. We basically saw the 2011-12 season as a throw away no matter who we signed. With out the time to prepare and get their bodies ready, throwing a team with with an older starting lineup right into the fire was going to be tough. Young guys can walk into an NBA game any day of the year. Get to your mid 30s, not so much. So to bring the gang back , we would basically be losing a year. When you look at keeping together an older team and the first year after your championship is a lost year, it's hard to justify keeping an older team together. But we were the champs. That meant a lot.
There's a function of the routine issue that probably bears mentioning here. Maybe it really was the disruption of natural timelines. But so many players came into that season in-shape, learning from the mistakes of the union in 1999. Some were in the best shape of their careers, a phrase thrown about annually during training camps, but was actually true in this instance.
The Mavericks, however, were a bit of a mess. And to be honest, you can't blame them. You win a title in mid-June, you party for two straight months, then instead of being forced to buckle down with the new season coming up, you're allowed to keep partying while you hear news that the lockout drags on and on. You're coming off the highlight of your career without question, the validation of over a decade of work. Would you be in the top shape of your life? Or would you be in Vegas or New York or LA playing skee ball with your championship rings on while you're sipping drinks with umbrellas in them?
So yeah, the aging players had "their training schedules disrupted." They also had clearly been jamming all summer and into the fall.
It also meant that if we kept everyone together we would have to make do with our existing roster. We would have little room to add new players. In particular we would not be in position to add someone who could come in and be a cornerstone for our future. IMHO we would be stuck with an aging team and not be in a position to make a big impact on our roster.
So we made the decision to stick with the folks we had under contract for the lockout season. We made a trade that we would thought would help, but obviously turned into a disaster. The good news was that it was a compressed season and we thought it would go by quickly and after the season we would have cap room to go after players we thought would be impact players and also fit our culture.
Cuban hits on something really important here. And at some point, you have to look at winning and losing within the framework of business. Let's say you could have gone to Mark Cuban that summer and told him you were from the future. If he kept the team together, they would definitely win the title in 2012, but would also definitely not make the playoffs for the next five years. Then say you told him that if he broke the team up, he would definitely not win the title in 2012, but would have a very good chance to make the playoffs every year for the next five years, and potentially, if they get hot again, the title. Wouldn't Cuban have to take the latter option, based on the possibility plus the financial benefits?
The point is that Cuban has shown he'll sacrifice profitability in pursuit of a title. He's also not a moron and a smart businessman always looks long-term.
Cuban then turns his attention to the question of culture.
Culture is very important to the Mavs. Your best player has to be a fit for what you want the culture of the team to be. He has to be someone who leads by example. Someone who sets the tone in the locker room and on the court. It isn't about who talks the most or the loudest. It is about the demeanor and attitude he brings. It is amazing how when the culture is strong, the chemistry is strong. When the Mavs have brought in players that didn't fit or buy in to our culture it created on the court and off the court problems. Its possible to handle one guy who may not fit it. It's going to have a negative impact on your won and loss record if you have more than one.
Our culture is one of the reasons I won't trade Dirk.
When you turn your team upside down and try to figure out what the culture of the team is, you take the greatest risk a team can take. Dirk sets the tone for our team. He works as hard, if not harder than anyone. He helps our younger players understand what he expects and what they need to do to excel. On the court he is selfless. He would rather not have to score a point if we would win the game any way. He would rather pass the ball and let anyone else score than be forced to take the shot. Until its the time of the game where we need a point. Then he is ready to step up as often as we need it. But he knows, that his impact on a game is far more important than any averages or what appears in the box score. That mindset. That selflessness. His work ethic is something I want to be in place long after he has retired. But to do that we have to transition with him, not in a void.
It is when Cuban says things like this, that you're forced to simply say "He gets it." The Lakers don't have much of a culture besides "winning." That's a function of their payroll, their fortune, their access to talent on and off the court in building teams. But so many NBA teams squander their lives away by pursuing only basketball concepts rather than by building that culture. Certains teams have. The San Antonio Spurs, for example. The Miami Heat under Pat Riley are another. Say what you want about the way he brought the Big 3 together in Miami, but Riley sold LeBron James on taking his talents to South Beach by preaching a winning culture, and by sticking with it. You don't hear word of James' cronies running the joint like they did in Cleveland. And that's for a reason.
Too often teams overlook what building a program does for you. It's true that often that goal is compromised by the lack of a superstar like Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki. But we've seen teams with good culture rise from the ashes much faster than those without who squander their years in mediocrity.
A quick story. The week I bought the Mavs I was asked by Nellie if I wanted to bag the season in order to get the best draft pick that we could. My response was “No. At some point this franchise has to learn how to win and develop a culture of winning. You don't create that culture by tanking the season. I don't know how many games we can win, but we are going to try to win every one of them.” Thank goodness we didn't tank the season It wasn't a very good draft. And that turn around for the rest of the season helped define who we were and are to this day.
The lesson, of course: have two of your young draft picks magically turn into Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash after years where they looked completely lost. Success! You know what happens if you stick with a terrible team and don't tank in most cases? You become Milwaukee or Atanta the past four years. Good luck with that.
Still, what he says here does go hand in hand with building a culture. A player is much more likely to sign with a team that never tanks than one where he may wind up suffering through an 18-win season. It just puts their mind at ease.
So flash forward to the end of the lock out season. We had hoped that Dwight Howard would be available. But he wasn't . First he opted in on his contract to the surprise of many. Then, Dwight got traded to the Lakers who put together what everyone considered to be a sure lock to do damage in the playoffs. When there was no Dwight sweepstakes, we really didn't have any options that we felt were the right fit for us. We had multiple meetings with players. Some public. Some not. THere was disagreement among our staff about which players would or would not be a fit for the Mavs. As it turned out, we didn't make any transitional signings. We made the decision to sign one year deals , hope we can make them work and hope that we had a team that could compete for the playoffs and be better than we were before.
"I'm sorry, Deron who? Williams? I don't recall anyone by that name!"
I'll maintain that the team the Mavericks put together on paper last year should have been good. They were good, until Dirk Nowitzki got back from injury. That's not to put this on Dirk, that's just how it worked out. But over time, Rick Carlisle (who I respect an infinite amount and have a strong belief is a top-three coach in this league) destroyed the confidence of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo to the point they essentially crawled into their own holes and died, while Carlisle brought in Mike James to kick dirt over the holes.
The problem wasn't talent last season, it was how the team came together, and then ultimately split apart for whatever reason.
As it turned out we didn't have Jkidd , (he changed his mind and went to the Knicks) or for a big chunk of the season a healthy Dirk, and for a stretch no Shawn Marion either. No reason to re-hash last year. It sucked from every angle and was no fun for anyone.
He's right. It did.
So we went for a max free agent this summer. We had hoped that Chris Paul may be available He wasn't. So Dwight Howard was our first target once again.
Let me address here the inevitable question of Dwight vs Mavs culture. We saw it as somewhat of a risk, but felt like because Dwight by all appearances and checking we did, is a good guy and with our support systems we believed we could make it work. if not, he was obviously a very trade-able asset. But, as everyone knows, we didn't sign him. He went to the Rockets. I do have to say the meeting with Dwight was very interesting. He is a smart guy. Much smarter than people give him credit for. He is also a very, very good listener. Unlike most people, he spent far more time listening than talking. And he had the best response to an opening question that I have ever heard from a player, or anyone for that matter. When we asked him what his goal was, his response was very specific ” I want to be Epic” . Which was a perfect lead in to the video we created for him
Would i do it the same way again ? In a heartbeat. Why ? Because in the NBA, like in the non-sports business world you have to take chances in order to be rewarded. You have to be smart and you have to be more than a little lucky.
You can just imagine Dwight Howard's arm motions when he says "Epic" can't you? I'm also a fan of how Cuban says that if it didn't work out, Howard was "a very tradeable asset." Yeah, because Orlando and LA really had things go great when he didn't work out for them.
But Cuban's on point that you swing for the fences. At least the great owners do. Cuban took a shot at the big dog. But in this free agency period, he didn't have the luxury of a Plan B. There was no Tyson Chandler to be found. Or was there? We'll get back to that.
First, he breaks down why the Mavericks refuse to tank:
What I do know, at least what I think i have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do . Not easier. Harder. It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.
I see quite a few teams taking what appears to be the same approach to building a team. I can understand why they are taking this approach. In the current CBA the value of a player chosen in the draft can be considerable because of the defined contract terms. And if you put together some great young players, it is very enticing to want to keep those players together for a long period.
But I also know that even if you have the worst record in the NBA, you may not get the top pick and even if you do, there is a material chance you pick the wrong player , or it just happens to be a draft when there are not any IDENTIFIABLE superstar potential players at the top of the draft.
In other words , while it may be popular i think the quantity of teams taking the same approach makes it more difficult to build a team in this manner.
I'm a big fan of the Great Tank War of 2012. This next draft class is going to be loaded to an absurd degree, by all accounts from anyone with knowledge of it. Problem: All 30 NBA teams know this. By the time th trade deadline rolls around, first-round picks are going to be treated as untouchable, making the Pelicans trade at the 2013 draft that much more unbelievable. Half the teams in the league are going to wind up tanking. If you don't have a shot at the sixth seed, you're going to at least be tempted to drop anchor, puncture your hull, and take on water.
So Cuban's saying "Why am I going to fight along with at least five other teams to be truly, horrifically bad, only for a narrow chance I land one of the true impact players for a franchise?" Even if, as I contend, there are multiple players that fit that description in this draft, the number of players who can go out and win Dirk Nowitzki a title in their rookie season with the rest of the roster a tankjob disaster is effectively zero.
Tanking's going to be for a lot of people next year, so it's not for the Mavs this year. Hard to argue with that logic.
If we had gotten a single, max out free agent that cost us 19 or 20mm dollars, we would have had a good team. Possibly a great team if we were able to add the right minimum contract players around our core plus our new max out free agent. But we probably would not have had a championship contending team. It would be next year when we had cap room again and we would add what would hopefully be the finishing pieces either through free agency or through trade.
If we didn't get our max out player, we had planned to accelerate what we would have done next year to this year. Which we obviously did.
We went out and signed what I think (I know I'm always positive about our players, but this time I'm REALLY POSITIVE , are a great group of players. We got players that we think fit our culture. That have a skill set that will allow us to be successful , that complement each other, fit well with Rick's system and can be a good team.
He left his parenthetical clause open at the end, which in a lot of ways is a metaphor for the Mavericks.
Also, they could have gone out and gotten Paul Millsap (two-years, $19 million) or any number of better-value free agents. The Mavericks seemed to target guys destined to be overvalued by the market, and therefore undervalued by the pundits. Basically, if this team winds up being good, Mark Cuban's smugness is going to become a toxic cloud like in South Park that strangles people in every city he visits.
We also feel like we have some players that will be far better on our team than they were on previous teams. I like our ability to work with what i call “fallen angels”. Players who are traded or left unsigned because everyone in the league thinks that they can only be the player they saw in another organization. We have taken players like Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Brandon Wright, Tyson Chandler and you can even say Vince Carter among others that were perceived as having this problem or that problem and had them contribute in new ways that were beyond what the “experts” expected.
We pay less attention to what they did in their last system than what we believe they will do in our system with our group of players. We are not always successful as last year pointed out, but we have a good track record.
Let it be known that this is the first time anyone has ever called Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert "angels."
It's true that guys evolve into different players all the time. We tend to get stuck into ideas that identities in this league are concrete, when in reality they are very fluid. It's just the viscosity on some of the Mavericks' free agent signings is particlarly dense. If Jose Calderon starts defending? Big happenings. If Monta Ellis learns to work in an offense? Magnificent.
But it's also hard not have doubts. The Mavericks didn't make one questionable signing. They were the Riddler of free agency. Question marks all over the walls.
If we stay healthy, I think we can have a good team. How good ? I don't make predictions. I do believe that by having a core of players that we can grow and develop with, and cap room in the upcoming season and what we feel is the ability to develop and improve the performance of our players, we are in a good position for this year and for the future. We have been hurt by not having a core of players in place that free agents see as teammates they want to play with. THat shouldn't be the case next year.
If you were wondering, the answer to the question "How good?" is "Good enough for you to buy tickets to." That's what he's going for there.
Kudos to Cuban for his detailed response, and for giving Mavs fans this look at the team's blueprint over the past several years. It's a fascinating look at the inner workings and mindset of a team, and he makes several relevant points.
Essentially, the Mavericks are attempting to buck tradition and groupthink. They are decidedly anti-populist. The rest of the league is betting on black (tanking) or odds (their own specific free agents and superstars). The Mavericks are going against that model and betting on a series of numbers they strongly feel will pop up on this spin cycle.
In the end, someone will wind up laughing at the results. Us, for Cuban's hyper-optimism and misguided attempts to put bandaids on bulletholes, or Cuban as his underdog team he purchased 13 years ago makes believers out of everyone once again. Either way, right or wrong, path, they have strog leadership taking them forward.