Rumor: Mavericks pre-draft courtship of Frank Ntilikina was ‘ruse’

AP Photo/Brandon Wade
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A photo of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and president Donnie Nelson with Frank Ntilikina made the rounds – aided by the Mavericks themselves – before the draft:

Word leaked Ntilikina’s coach in France would coach Dallas summer-league team:

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Yet it was all something of a ruse. That whole time Dallas was growing infatuated with Smith

If it were a ruse, it worked. The Knicks drafted Ntilikina No. 8, and Dennis Smith Jr. fell to the Mavericks at No. 9.

Vincent Collet never coached the Mavericks’ summer-league team. They hired Smith’s college coach at North Carolina State, Mark Gottfried, as a scout, though.

Either guard could have the better career, but both before the draft and currently, I’d take Smith over Ntilikina. (LeBron James agrees.)

So, did Dallas pull a fast one?

Cuban, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“Not a stunt at all,” Cuban wrote Friday. “We like Frank quite a bit. If Dennis had been selected there was a very good chance we would have taken Frank.”

Take Cuban’s denial for what it’s worth – something, but not everything.

Maybe he’s telling the truth. Ntilikina would have been a reasonable pick at No. 9 (just as he was a reasonable pick at No. 8). If the Mavericks tricked the Knicks, Cuban might take a victory lap.

But maybe Cuban doesn’t want to offend Ntilikina or his agent by acknowledging they’d been used. Or maybe Cuban doesn’t want to reveal tricks that would make future Dallas subterfuge less effective.

Cuban and the Mavericks could have just been playing their Ntilikina interest straight all along. But if they were misdirecting, there’s at least some incentive to keep it up.