The old model wasn’t going to work anymore.
Mark Cuban has read the new CBA that the owners and players signed off on after the lockout, and he saw the increasingly punitive taxes and penalties on big spending teams. He looked at his business model of the last decade — which was to win by spending like the ATM machines that are the Lakers and Knicks — and knew things had to change.
Flexibility became the watchword. Starting this season Cuban started to look to the future reshaping the roster with younger free agents — ideally both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams at the time — and made hard choices. Dallas didn’t bring Tyson Chandler back. Or Caron Butler. Or J.J. Barea. Or DeShawn Stevenson.
Combine that with the roll of the dice on Lamar Odom that flamed out, and the Mavericks didn’t have the depth, didn’t have a different guy who could step up every night as the second star. Last season they had depth and matchups that could confound anyone. Last season those guys were key behind Dirk Nowitzki — and the team leader himself showed up this year with a championship hangover not ready to play at his peak. His shooting percentage dropped from 51.7 last season to 45.7 this season and there was nobody there to consistently pick up the slack.
The result was the defending champs getting unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Dallas defense was still solid this season, but their Mavericks offense fell from eighth best in the league (109.7 points per 100 possessions) the year of their championship to 22nd best this season (103.3 points per 100).
It was the price of flexibility.
This coming summer Jason Terry likely is gone. Jason Kidd may come back but not at the price he’s asking. Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood will be moved if Dallas can find takers, although Marion’s defensive value may keep him in the fold. Any player not born in Germany is not safe on this roster going forward.
It is Nowitzki and the chance to chase Deron Williams this summer that is the drive. The original goal was to lure Williams and Dwight Howard, but Howard chose to spend another year with Orlando (even if the Magic decide they need to trade him the Mavericks do not have the assets anymore). Williams is the target, but he does like the idea of Brooklyn and staying with the Nets. Even though that franchise has little shot at Howard or another big name either. Here is what Marc Stein wrote at ESPN.
One source well-acquainted with Williams’ thinking told ESPN.com this weekend that the Mavericks, in their current state, have no better than a “50-50 shot” of getting D-Will’s signature in July …
Even if Dallas does not land Williams, it has landed cap space and the ability to make moves and evolve this team into a future winner. Cuban saw what Jerry Buss did with years the Lakers — make moves too early rather than too late — and saw the new CBA rules and made his move. In a couple years we may look back and see it as brilliant.
But this season it came home to roost on the court in a first round playoff sweep at the hands of the Thunder. It was the price paid for a gamble. Cuban tried for the half-court shot of trying to rebuild on the fly and not take a step back, and that missed like half-court shots usually do.
But the Mavericks got their ultimate goal. They have cap space and flexibility. Now we’ll see what they can do with it.