The Dallas Mavericks tried to make 39-year-old point guard Jason Kidd a deal he couldn’t refuse Wednesday. But it took him one day to do just that.
Kidd’s reported decision to join the New York Knicks might end up being a blessing in disguise, but it probably doesn’t feel that way to Mavs fans reeling from losing out in the Deron Williams sweepstakes. One of my pals in the media — let’s call him Tim Cowlishaw — said Thursday in an otherwise excellent column in The Dallas Morning News that he doesn’t believe allowing Tyson Chandler to walk in free agency constituted blowing up a title team.
But it sure felt that way to me while watching Russell Westbrook and James Harden knife through the lane while the Thunder swept the Mavs in the first round of the playoffs this past season. And surely the man with an Abraham Lincoln tattoo on his neck, DeShawn Stevenson, at least could’ve made the Thunder work for some of those points. Oh, and there’s that young Puerto Rican named J.J. Barea who emerged as a consistent scoring threat during the title run.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know what that team could have accomplished had it been kept intact. Mavs owner Mark Cuban sold his fans a bill of goods about the joys of “financial flexibility” in the aftermath of the NBA’s new collective-bargaining agreement. There’s something almost unseemly about a billionaire owner preaching the values of fiscal restraint — especially one who used to laugh in the face of hefty fines for criticizing NBA officials.
Whenever he chooses to address the Mavs’ failure in free agency, Cuban will try to say that he never told any reporters that his goal was to land Williams. And we’ll all know how disingenuous that is based on the Mavs’ actions in the aftermath of the lockout. The fact that director of basketball operations Donnie Nelson is on the record saying the organization was going after a “big fish” will undermine Cuban’s explanation. That is, if Cuban can tear himself away from the filming of his TV show, “Shark Tank,” in Los Angeles. Even his most ardent defenders were caught off guard by his decision not to be present for the sales pitch to Williams in New York. He basically sent Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle and — wait for it — special consultant Michael Finley to slaughter during their session with Williams.
Because Cuban hasn’t commented on his decision to focus on his TV work at such a crucial time, I can only surmise that he wanted to remain above the fray. He didn’t want to be part of a sales pitch that had little hope of succeeding. But rest assured, the man who obliterated ESPN’s Skip Bayless on live television will have some sort of high-minded excuse ready to roll soon.
Meanwhile, aging Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki is left to wonder what will become of the rest of his career. He’s always wanted to finish his career in Dallas, but he probably envisioned a more competitive team than the Mavs likely will put on the floor next season. Perhaps Nelson will pull a rabbit out of his hat and make a trade we never saw coming, but this is not a team with a lot of valuable assets at the moment.
It’s still laughable to me that so many folks thought the Mavs had such a home-court advantage because of Williams’ local ties. If Williams was so hell-bent on coming home, it seems like he might spend some time here in the offseason. Instead, he’s set up shop in San Diego, which makes total sense when you consider it’s about 25 degrees cooler per day. A lot of athletes have talked about how many distractions come with playing in their hometowns, what with all the ticket requests and folks showing up at the house unannounced.
The best hope for the Mavs was that Williams would jump at the opportunity to play with a superstar such as Nowitzki and an organization that has a much better track record than the Nets. The biggest obstacle was always the Nets’ ability to guarantee Williams an extra season worth roughly $25 million. And by the way, it’s not like the Mavs realized this component of Williams’ recruitment earlier this week. This always has been the case, and that makes Cuban’s cry of “financial flexibility” all the more baffling.
He’s basically used up a lot of his championship goodwill with two curious offseasons. On Thursday, some of Cuban’s apologists banged the drum about how the title team never would have been able to win another one. Well, I for one sure would have enjoyed finding out for myself. Nelson and Carlisle may be on the record saying the Mavs caught “lightning in a bottle” for one playoff run, but then what else are they supposed to say? They couldn’t even afford to go “off the record” with a contrary opinion because it might cause Cuban to go on a witch hunt.
But in the interest of bipartisanship during this election year, could we all agree that Cuban’s plan has failed spectacularly to this point? I sincerely hope something happens soon that will vindicate the Mavs’ steadfast belief in “financial flexibility.”
When you can’t even land an aging player such as Kidd, however, there’s little if any cause for optimism. If only Finley could whip himself into playing shape in the next couple of months.