Missing out on Howard led to good summer for Mavs

LAS VEGAS — Mark Cuban isn’t sweating whiffing on Dwight Howard. Not even in the desert.
The NBA’s most involved and quoted owner has always been the eternal optimist when it comes to the personnel dealings of the Dallas Mavericks. What else would you expect? So Cuban and his front office went to work when the Mavs finished tied for last in the Howard Sweepstakes.
“You guys like to make a big deal about it,” he said from NBA Summer League. “We were disappointed we didn’t get Dwight, but we pretty much got everyone else we wanted to get and then some. I mean much more.
“We never thought we’d be able to get Monta Ellis. It turned into a good summer. Now the key is to get everyone playing together, get everyone healthy and keep them healthy.”
Cuban sounded a similar call last summer when the Mavericks failed to bring Deron Williams home to Dallas. The consolation prizes were a series of one-year contracts, led by O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
That didn’t work out so well. The Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000, the year Cuban bought the team, and just two years removed from the franchise’s lone championship. Those one-year guys mentioned above are gone now, having dispersed to other locales around the league.
That was the plan as the Mavericks set their sights on Howard and Chris Paul. There was never a shot with Paul. Howard chose Texas, but spurned Dallas for Houston.
Not to worry, Cuban countered. The money that would have been needed to sign Howard – $88 million over four years – would have led to more roster losses. Instead, the Mavericks went on a shopping spree.
The backcourt has been completely overhauled. Jose Calderon is on board as the new starting point guard. Longtime Mavs’ killer Ellis ideally gives Dirk Nowitzki a high-scoring sidekick. Former Dallas point guard Devin Harris and Wayne Ellington add depth.
A pair of rookie playmakers – first-round pick Shane Larkin and Israeli-born Gal Mekel – should vie for meaningful minutes in Rick Carlisle’s system. (Larkin is out three months after breaking his ankle in the last practice before Summer League. Harris needs foot surgery, but Cuban acknowledged a contract is being worked out that will allow Harris to rehab with Dallas’ medical staff.)
The Mavericks believe they’ve solved their center dilemma with Samuel Dalembert. After flirting with Howard and kicking the tires on Andrew Bynum, an agreement was reached with the 32-year-old Dalembert. Dallas had interest in Greg Oden, but league sources say that’s waned after taking a closer medical look at former No. 1 pick.
Even with the new blood, Cuban has preserved cap space for another free-agent splurge next summer as Dallas attempts to maximize Nowitzki’s golden years. In the meantime, young and cheap are filling the gaps. For a franchise that hasn’t drafted well in quite some time, the Mavs are hoping to find steady contributors in the likes of Larkin, Mekel, rookie Ricky Ledo, Jae Crowder and Bernard James.  
“We want to get guys that are young, that we lock in and develop,” Cuban said. “That’s a big part of what we do. We’ll do our best to take them and make them as good as we can make them.”
Just like making the best of this summer.