Mark Cuban talks in some detail about Mavericks’ decisions, past and present

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Mark Cuban can be as guarded as anyone in interviews — he sets the company line, but the NBA can be a place where details are few and far between from the mouths of cautious exeutives.

Flying in the face of that, Cuban took to his personal blog Saturday with a 3,300 word missive, talking about the Mavericks decision making past and present. He’s letting fans in on his thinking, and that’s a good thing — a certain level of communication and honesty helps build fan loyalty (just don’t undercut your trading/negotiating positions).

You should go read the entire thing, this is just the top of the iceberg, but here are some highlights.

Let’s go back to the lockout season — the Mavericks were defending NBA champions thanks to a veteran squad that came together at the right time, but Cuban decided not to get the band back together for another run. He talked about that decision.

But what we have not discussed publicly was our concern of bringing back an older team in a shortened season. We basically saw the 2011-12 season as a throw away no matter who we signed. With out the time to prepare and get their bodies ready, throwing a team with an older starting lineup right into the fire was going to be tough. Young guys can walk into an NBA game any day of the year. Get to your mid 30s, not so much. So to bring the gang back, we would basically be losing a year. When you look at keeping together an older team and the first year after your championship is a lost year, it’s hard to justify keeping an older team together. But we were the champs. That meant a lot…

So we made the decision to stick with the folks we had under contract for the lockout season. We made a trade that we would thought would help, but obviously turned into a disaster. The good news was that it was a compressed season and we thought it would go by quickly and after the season we would have cap room to go after players we thought would be impact players and also fit our culture.

The trade being referenced was for Lamar Odom. Disaster is an accurate word. Odom completely fell apart and with it the Mavericks reboot never got going in any way.

Cuban next goes on to reiterate he will not trade Dirk Nowitzki — not now, not ever. He says that Nowitzki is at the cure of the culture he wants the Mavericks to have – hard working, selfless, professional. These are things Cuban has said before, but he was direct about it.

He also addressed going after Dwight Howard this year (putting up the video he displayed to entice him).

Let me address here the inevitable question of Dwight vs Mavs culture. We saw it as somewhat of a risk, but felt like because Dwight by all appearances and checking we did, is a good guy and with our support systems we believed we could make it work. If not, he was obviously a very trade-able asset. But, as everyone knows, we didn’t sign him. He went to the Rockets. I do have to say the meeting with Dwight was very interesting. He is a smart guy. Much smarter than people give him credit for…

Would i do it the same way again ? In a heartbeat. Why ? Because in the NBA, like in the non-sports business world you have to take chances in order to be rewarded. You have to be smart and you have to be more than a little lucky.

Then Cuban goes on to why he doesn’t believe in tanking, and why the Mavericks are not going to blow the roster up and go “woeful for Wiggins” — something a number of NBA teams are doing. They call it the Oklahoma City method, where you are bad for a few years in a row and keep drafting talent, even if that method involves a lot of luck to go with drafting skill.

What I do know, at least what I think i have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do . Not easier. Harder. It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.

I see quite a few teams taking what appears to be the same approach to building a team. I can understand why they are taking this approach. In the current CBA the value of a player chosen in the draft can be considerable because of the defined contract terms. And if you put together some great young players, it is very enticing to want to keep those players together for a long period.

But I also know that even if you have the worst record in the NBA, you may not get the top pick and even if you do, there is a material chance you pick the wrong player, or it just happens to be a draft when there are not any IDENTIFIABLE superstar potential players at the top of the draft. In other words, while it may be popular i think the quantity of teams taking the same approach makes it more difficult to build a team in this manner.

Cuban is right about the risks and difficulty of this approach — like an executive said to me in Las Vegas at Summer League, it was much easier for the Thunder to use this approach when they were the only one.

Going forward, Cuban is positive about the Mavericks this year, which is his norm. But with a healthy Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon plus some solid role players they could well be a playoff team in the West (not top five, but in the mix). Then you head into next summer with Nowitzki taking a pay cut (as he said he would), Shawn Marion off the books and they can go after another big money player.

Players speak well of the Dallas organization now (a radical change from when Cuban took over the franchise) and eventually he is going to land one of these stars he is chasing. I may not be as high on his team as he is, there is no doubt he built a culture that will sustain winning, and that is an impressive feat.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.