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Cuban’s Art of Distraction

Cuban’s Art of Distraction

Mark Cuban is never shy to offer opinions.

Often they involve his thoughts on things such as NBA officiating or whether to ban the Hack-a-player rule. Sometimes he’ll muse about what other teams should do with their lives, such as last year when he suggested that perhaps the Thunder should tank and intentionally miss the playoffs. Last night he offered up his opinion on what does and does not constitute an NBA superstar, delivering an elbow to Russell Westbrook long before Justin Anderson had an opportunity. He may dive into a deep discussion about records of carbon dioxide in Antarctic ice cores if asked.

As long as it’ll distract folks from how his own franchise has functioned, Cuban will talk about anything.

The Dallas Mavericks would seem to have everything an NBA player would want. Dirk Nowitzki is a franchise cornerstone who has been around since the Bill Clinton administration. Cuban is a multi-platform superstar; a passionate, free-spending owner. Potential future Hall of Fame head coach Rick Carlisle has roamed the sidelines since 2008, making him the third-longest tenured coach in the league. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is the fourth largest in the United States. Penny candy costs more than income taxes in the state of Texas.

Cuban has been a high stakes wheeler and dealer since he bought the team in 2000, engineering several blockbuster trades. He brought a much needed jolt of life to a franchise that was 199-507 in the 1990s, which included back-to-back nightmare seasons of 11-71 and 13-69. Cuban entered the league right after the owners and players agreed to implement a luxury tax structure in order to curb excessive spending by deep pocket teams. He treated the tax as a slightly inconvenient cost of doing business. His Mavericks forked over $150 million in luxury tax, paying the tax every year it was in effect from 2002 to 2012. Only the New York Knicks have forked over more in tax penalties.

The Mavericks made two NBA Finals appearances under Cuban’s ownership – a number that seems low considering the amount of money spent over that stretch – and beat Miami to win the title in 2011. But since that stunning defeat of the Heat, the Mavericks have won only 55% of their regular season games. The Mavs have fared no better in the playoffs, exiting in the first round four times and missing the playoffs once.

A new collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011 which implemented harsher luxury tax penalties that, rather than just serve as a financial penalty, also limited a team’s ability to acquire new players. Cuban slammed the brakes on excessive spending. Dallas hasn’t paid the luxury tax at all in the past three seasons. They made a big bet on free agency in the hopes of landing another superstar to compliment Nowitzki. The plan failed as they were passed over by Deron Williams (in 2012), Dwight Howard, and Chris Paul. Last summer they were famously left at the altar by DeAndre Jordan, who initially agreed to sign with the Mavericks before quickly changing his mind and returning to the Clippers.

In the meantime, the Dallas roster has been a carousel. 2011 title contributors Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion eventually rotated out of town. Dallas restocked with temporary band aids such as Delonte West, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert, Monta Ellis, Al-Farouq Aminu, and countless others. High risk/high reward trades for Lamar Odom and Rajon Rondo backfired spectacularly. Dallas’ lone marquee free agent acquisition, Chandler Parsons, developed knee issues after the Mavs had to overpay the restricted free agent in order to secure his services.

The NBA draft has produced almost nothing of note for the Mavs as well. Jared Cunningham. Bernard James. Shane Larkin. Ricky Ledo. The one promising prospect they were able to unearth since 2011, forward Jae Crowder, was sent to the Celtics in the Rondo trade. Anderson, the team’s first round pick in 2015, is the most promising first round selection they’ve acquired since Devin Harris in 2005. Dallas never had to rely heavily on the draft when they were among the Western Conference elite. The lack of success on draft night has atrophied the team’s talent pool.

Yet the 2011 title has somewhat insulated Cuban from much national criticism. The continued punting from year to year has wasted five productive seasons from Nowitzki, who has been nothing but a good soldier. Nowitzki can’t help but look at San Antonio and be envious of how Tim Duncan has been cared for.

 

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