Mavericks take the dreaded downward turn

Well, it certainly wasn’t
the best time to take a vacation.  But, in a city this crazy about its
sports, there might not be a great time to do so.  You just schedule
your family time and grit your teeth when
big sports news breaks.  It always does.

But, this year, it was not just big sports news.  it was the biggest. 
It seems to affect the future of the Dallas Mavericks moving forward for
years to come. 

It was the news that the Mavericks big plan – the one in which they made
all of their decisions last offseason to essentially break up the NBA
Champions – failed.  There is no other way to sugarcoat or rationalize
it.  The plans they had simply failed.  Deron
Williams did what I thought he would do all along – take more money and
an extra year, and stay put in his new home in Brooklyn. 

Williams claims it was a difficult decision and that he was leaning
towards Dallas until the final hours, but in the end, he did the
predictable thing in sports – he took the most money and made the easy
decision to stay where he was.  And there are the Mavericks,
holding their financial flexibility and cap space looking at each other
with eyes wide open.

In the meantime, the old guard continues to leave town.  Jason Kidd and
Jason Terry, two of the most important pieces of that dream 2011 season,
have left the city for eastern destinations.  Terry joins Boston and
says that the Mavericks didn’t even contact
him about figuring something out.  Kidd looked like he was to stay for
an amazing 3-year term, but opted for New York.

The book is officially closed on the dream.  There will be no reloading
on the fly.  There will be no Plan C.  Yes, the Mavericks will field a
team, but at this point, it appears that the team will be one that will
surely finish with a losing season and most
likely find themselves smack in the middle of the 2013 draft lottery – a
most unlikely place to be for this franchise.

So, what happened?

As I have been away, I have been able to read all sorts of theories on
Mark Cuban and his lost gamble.  It is so ironic to see Mark in this
position for those of us who have talked to him continuously over the
years for a number of reasons.  He has said a number
of times that if you sit at a bargaining table and you cannot tell who
the sucker is, then it is you.  I never thought he was that guy, but
now, given that he surrendered Tyson Chandler for the CHANCE at Deron Williams,
I am starting to wonder.  My backup explanation that I had used for 7
months was that surely Cuban only takes that gamble if he knows
something the rest of us don’t know.  Perhaps Williams gave him a verbal
assurance somewhere along the way that when Williams
and Dwight Howard unify for their super team, it will be in Dallas.  And
perhaps, Cuban took that to the bank.  Either way, as the Mavericks now
see their names popping up with players like a waived Elton Brand, the
weather has turned awfully fast.

In March, I wrote a column about the
parallels
of the reinvention of the rock band U2 and the Mavericks
plan. If you haven’t read it, or don’ t remember it, I
encourage you to look it over and see what many of us saw coming.  The
Mavericks did what U2 did as they moved between where they were
and where they want to go; Bono said, “in between, you have nothing. You
have to risk it all.”  The Mavericks did risk it all, but it appears
all they have to show for it is another year in no-man’s-land.  They
risked it all, and for the time being, all it
appears they are going to get for it will be photoshopped Mavs jerseys
with the name “Cap Space” on the back.

I said it then, I said it all year, and let me say it again.  They
screwed up on the Chandler decision.  They had the defensive player of
the year in their hands at 29 years old.  He was going to play 4 seasons
under his New York contract that would expire
before his 33rd birthday.  He was finally a proper complimentary center
to Dirk and they let him go.  They took the 2 birds in the bush over the
bird in their hand and now understand the wisdom of that cliche.  They
will never admit they got it wrong, but I
continue to suggest that if Deron Williams saw Dirk and Tyson waiting
for him, maybe, just maybe, the Mavericks go all in and Deron wishes to
join them in a sign and trade.

But, that didn’t happen.  Instead, Tyson plays with Kidd, just a few
miles from where Deron plays with what we assume will be Dwight Howard
before the next season begins. 

I admire that Mark Cuban hasn’t made things worse by grasping at straws
in a Hail Mary desperation counter to this bad news.  He appears to be
dug in under the premise that you don’t keep doubling down your bet when
you lose.  Take it like a man, lick your
wounds, and live to fight another day. 

There is a major issue with that strategy, though, that has inspired the
panic all along amongst anyone who loves and follows this team.  It is
the truth that the prime of Dirk Nowitzki continues to expire.  We don’t
know how long he will be a dominant star
in this league, but with each passing year, the odds get worse that he
has much left.  This may be the principle reason Deron Williams stayed
away.  If he was going to form an alliance with another star, why would
he do it with a guy who may only be a difference
maker for another year or two?  Surely, joining Howard would be a 5-year
arrangement and the odds would increase. 

But, now, the truth is, it won’t largely matter if Dirk is in his prime
anymore.  If he is surrounded by rookies, spare parts, and guys willing
to take one year deals, he will never be in situations where a
superstar’s prime is tested.  In fact, we wonder if
Dirk would do a very un-Dirk like thing in the coming weeks or months
and ask to be moved on so he can still find a competition level that is
championship level.  Who would blame a guy who has given everything to
this franchise, including taking less money
in his last deal to facilitate the plan to add players to this mix.  If
the Mavericks were to fully rebuild, they could get plenty for Nowitzki,
and although public reaction would not allow them to bring up the idea,
it would sure seem that might be the proper
strategy if this summer turns out to be as big a disaster as it seems at
the moment.

Which brings us back to Cuban.  So many people have weighed in on
whether or not he has changed.  What happened to the maniac owner who
would stop at nothing to win titles?  If ever there was an
out-of-control spender who the other owners would fear, it was
Cubes, himself.  Who is this alter-ego who points at the CBA and
stresses sound spending practices?  And why are the Nets, Lakers,
Knicks, and others reading the same document and not caring about the
bills because they are chasing titles?

So, is he selling the team?  Has he lost his edge?  Is he trying to get
money back that he foolishly threw away in the last decade?  Is he
morphing into Tom Hicks?  These theories have all been run up the
flagpole in the last few days by various voices.

I don’t think so.  I think, that maybe, Cubes got a little overconfident
and cocky about what he was capable of.  Maybe the Championship gave
him beer muscles and he thought he could try a Jedi mind trick on
Williams to take less money to come home.  That,
of course, was after he sent Chandler packing and thought he could make
Lamar Odom work.  He truly thought he was the smartest guy in the room,
and that did not pass inspection. 

In the end, I think Cuban is the same Cuban we saw with steam coming out
of his ears in April as his team was being swept out of the playoffs.  I
think now that he is taking on true criticism from his own fan base for
one of the rare times of his tenure, his
resolve and obsession will grow.  He will figure out a way to get back
to the top.  He is not wired to count profits.  He plays to win.

But, in the meantime – which could be years, Nowitzki’s chance expired. 
As has everyone on that 2011 team.  The gamble did not pay off, and now
we will never know if that same group would have been able to valiantly
defend their title.  Unlike most champions,
they were never allowed to defend what they had won. 

And, that, is a real shame.

But, the milk has been spilled.  You cannot un-spill it.  And crying
will not take you far, either.  You simply go get a mop and clean up the
mess.  And make no mistake, it appears the next little while is going
to be a real mess around here.

Plenty of good seats will be available.