Mavericks take the dreaded downward turn

This offseason has been anything but perfect for the Mavericks.

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.

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