Cuban says new labor agreement forced Dallas changes

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Here’s the thing, he’s right. Mostly.

Before the Dallas Mavericks were swept out of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cuban went on the defensive talking to the media. He had heard the statements from the media and others saying he and his franchise gave up winning the title the day they didn’t re-sign Tyson Chandler (and J.J. Barea and Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson). I’ll admit I said they would not be the same without Chandler (although this season it was the Mavericks offense, and late game offense in particular, that faltered and not their defense).

Cuban told the Dallas Morning News he had no regrets about the moves because the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement — one with steep luxury tax penalties coming in a few years — has changed the business model. He just had to adapt.

“Hell no,” Cuban said (if he had regrets). “Nope. Not even a millisecond. Because those who are talking otherwise haven’t read the CBA and are just talking out their (expletive) without any foundation. But that’s what you guys do.

“Given what happened, I think we put together a damn good team. If we had one break, one call, one bounce, we’re having a completely different conversation and you’re thinking how smart we are instead of how stupid we are…

“If you want to nail me for something, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a huge (expletive) that I didn’t fight for the new (CBA) harder,” Cuban said. “I said it before, I’ll say it again. It put us and other teams in a bad spot, and it was an overnight handshake deal that I should have fought harder. I’m the first to say that.”

Cuban is right about the CBA — he and the Mavericks were one of the biggest spenders the last decade and he just absorbed the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax (salary over a certain threshold, $70 million this year) as part of doing business. It got him a lot of wins and eventually a ring.

But you can’t do that anymore. Under the new rules by the 2014-15 season if a team paid the tax the previous three years (or three of the previous four years in subsequent years) teams pay a steeper “repeater tax” that is between $2.50 and $4.25 per dollar over the cap — the more you are over the cap the more steep the price.

Dallas lived well above the luxury tax threshold for a decade, but for example if they were $10 million over the tax line in 2015 their tax payment would jump from $10 million to $17.5 million. At the level the Mavericks salary was at last year the tax would have been well in excess of $20 million.

The new CBA punishes the model the Lakers, Mavericks, Knicks and other teams used to build a roster (the Knicks far less successfully, thank you Isiah) where teams lived $10 million or more into the tax regularly. The league and its small market owners think that more parity is needed and good for the league and those big spending teams needed to reigned in. We can have a debate about why I think that is wrong — stars sell in the NBA and the nature of the sport will never allow NFL-style parity or anything close to it — but it is reality.

Cuban has embraced that reality in an aggressive way — Dallas will be well under the cap this summer and can go after Deron Williams to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. They can put more affordable (read: younger) talent around them.

This was not his only option. He might have been able to keep Chandler and others on shorter deals by selling them on making one more run. Cuban went another way. He tried to replace them with Lamar Odom and while that flamed out it was a good gamble. But the bottom line is everyone knew this wasn’t going to be the same team, and if you believe that your team was going to have a hard time repeating what Cuban did is a logical course of action.

Basically, in two years we’ll be saying Cuban was a visionary and made the right moves, or that he gambled and lost and now the Mavericks path back to the top is much longer and steeper.

But he’s right, the new CBA did help force his hand.

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.