Thursday, July 23, 2015

The next wave of college football realignment? The new Big 12?

It is been a while since I have written a piece on realignment, but I think now is the right time to talk about it.  Why?  Because conferences expand when they are motivated and there are not obviously apparent hurdles and pushback.  Now happens to be a good time for several conferences.

I want to start with the Big 12.

The member schools understand that UT has a new President, Greg Fenves, who does not think much of  still fairly new Athletic Director Steve Patterson.  That is opportunity.

Understand that the other 9 schools of the Big 12 get that this is the most unstable of the power 5 conferences and that there are immediate pressing issues to be addressed.

Economic drivers: The nuts and bolts behind expansion soon

Frank the Tank points out in his blog that "group of five" conference championship games are de-facto first round playoff games and as such their value is just going to go up.  He speculates that a Big 12 championship game might be worth $50 Million.  That is a lot of money to ignore.

That combined with the statistical disadvantage of not having an end of season championship game bumping up a champion's strength of schedule the final week when every other school competing for a spot gets a bump hurts the Big 12's chances of securing a playoff spot in the playoff era.  That looks like an annual speed bump for the Big 12 champ playing for a national title.

National championships drive big donations to a program for years.

The Big 12 has scheduled TCU vs. Baylor in the last game of this season to try and get around the end of season bump issue, but you are still hoping injuries or an off season do not derail one of those two teams.  Those concerns do not matter if you have a championship game.

These are appropriate spurs for expansion.

Staying at 10 was a Dodds idea...

UT under AD DeLoss Dodds was the voice most strongly in favor of staying at a seemingly awkward (in today's terms) 10 members with all the limitations that come with that.  Why?  Because Dodds liked the leverage to leave at any time.

Fans tend think about conferences emotionally, not logically.  They like to point at the Grant of Rights deal in the Big 12 conference that says any departing team that leaves would surrender the first and second tier rights to their home games to the conference for the length of the conference TV deal and scream as loud as possible that the conference is secure.

The thing is there are two loopholes there.  First, that isn't a deal that affects all member schools equally.  The GOR doesn't tie UT to the ties the members of the conference to UT (with the possible exception of OU).  

UT can actually leave at anytime because their road games and fan base are worth far, far more to any conference than the member share that conference would need to pay UT out of the conference coffers.  (It is unlikely the same applies to any other school in the conference.)

But UT doesn't want to leave alone.   UT's value at the core is that of a dominant regional giant.  They need other regional schools to play and play off.

If they go, they want to take OU and 2-4 other local schools to have a voting block in their new conference.  The best local foils are in the Big 12.  For a quick departure, that means defanging the GOR.  At 10 members in the Big 12, that is possible.

Blueprint for disassembly.

If push came to shove, three quarters of the conference can vote the conference out of business. It would not be that unfeasible for UT to get 8 of the 10 members to vote the conference out of business, nullifying the Grant of Rights issue.

How, you ask?  If UT were to tell the Pac-12 they would surrender the Longhorn Network and join as an equal member, but their 3 long rumored companions would have to come --- Texas Tech, OU, and Oklahoma State --- plus TCU and maybe Rice to make the academics work for UT and the academic elites of the PAC-12...That is a done deal for a PAC/SW 18. 

The resulting super conference could easily roll with 9 team divisions in football and possibly 6 team divisions in Olympic sports.

Rice is by far the best academic school in the state.  They bring a platform in the contested Houston market for recruiting.  In this kind of setup, the idea of Rice becoming a Stanford with lesser football is not far fetched.  Additionally, it is the kind of school the Stanford and Berkley might insist upon for their support.

TCU may confuse some as a candidate.  TCU grades out fairly similarly to Texas A&M as an undergraduate university which is again important to the PAC.  TCU is excellent in football, good in baseball, and they give a football platform for a UCLA or USC game in DFW every year.

Finally, the PAC-12, and especially Stanford and Cal, have taken a lot of heat from religious groups for passing on BYU and Baylor.  TCU is a school with religious roots who's founders "nourished a vision for an institution of higher education that would be Christian in character, but non-sectarian in spirit and intellectually open-minded."  (This interesting point brought to you by Wikipedia.)

That, my friends, is a religious school the PAC can support.  Adding TCU would give the PAC an innoculation to any heat from religious circles for passing on BYU and Baylor.

That would be 5 of 8 Big 12 teams moving.

Tellingly left out of that is Kansas. 

Why?  So the Big Ten can have some reason to swoop in. 

The Big Ten could add Kansas and Iowa State from the Big 12 for 16 to set up a nice final layup ---grabbing Missouri and UConn for a Big 18.  One division would have pretty much the flavor of the old big 8 with Wisconsin replacing OU as the balancing power,  the other division would have most of the traditional Big 10 powers and PSU. 

Such an expansion would do a lot to prop up Nebraska, which honestly has not been the power school divisional counter balance the Big 10 hoped for so far.

The Big Ten would add three AAU members and one school that might as well be.  It is a much better Big 10 than what exists today in terms of rivalries, the power sports, balance, and the markets.

Each resulting superconference would own roughly a third to 40 percent of the country's TV households.

The SEC has publically stated if a movement to superconferences starts, they will follow suit.  West Virginia would likely be in the SEC's top 3 candidates with Virginia Tech and a North Carolina school.  Losing Missouri would open a spot for them.

There is your eight.  (Although either Baylor or Kansas State would likely sell their vote for vote eight in return for favorable long term scheduling concessions if approached.)

Why would the Big 10 and Pac-12 work together?

Because they always have.  The Pac-12 and Big 10 see each other as partners.  The Big Ten has secured a toehold in the TV markets to the east.  The only way the Pac-12 does not become a junior partner to the Big Ten is by landing the TV markets in Texas. 

Whether the totals are 16 teams or 18 teams, the only scenario that make sense for both of the partner schools is if the PAC can add the Texas markets.  That is by far the most likely end goal.  That means UT in the PAC.

Such a move would have the partner conferences wiping out the GOR and the Big 12.

That is probably not possible with 12 or 14 member teams in the Big 12.  UT would at least have to wait a few years before it would make financial sense to pull out a posse for a UT-friendly move.

A eight vote conference implosion would create a lot of angst for Baylor and Kansas State.  Baylor and Kansas State might be considered by the SEC considering how good they have been in football lately...It all depending on how much the SEC feels a need to expand.

One can certainly argue that almost every Big 12 school would end up in a better home, but there is uncertainty there and no university president wants that.

What if the Pac-10 and Big 10 go smaller?  What if OSU gets squeezed out in favor of TCU for example... Its not tough to imagine the SEC having an interest but what kind of fallout would that have in Oklahoma?  What kind of headaches would OU have to deal with? 

The same goes for Kansas.  What if KU gets the gold ring (the Big 10) and KSU gets the plastic one (the MWC)?  How much of a beating does KU take in state?

And what about the Longhorn Network?  That would have to go to make this work.  Is UT ready to leave the legacy of DeLoss Dodds in the past?  Is UT willing to let go of several million dollars in TV money to be an equal member in a stable conference?

The scenario that creates the fewest angry alums is to try to eliminate the possibility of a Big 12 collapse.  How do you do that?  You threaten UT with the loss of the only Big 12 school that is really irreplaceable to UT----OU --- in order to get an expansion vote.

(The UT/OU football game in Dallas fuels a disproportionately large portion of UT's athletic budget.  It is literally the only loss to the Big 12 membership that UT would feel immediately.)

As if on queue...

OU's President David Boren is publically championing the idea of expansion soon.  Now.  Not months ago when TCU and Baylor missed the playoffs.  Now.

And that something needs to be done about the Longhorn Network. It was on the back burner last year, but it is an issue now.

That tells me a lot.

I have been following realignment for 30 years. 

Anyone who has paid attention to the realignment dance realizes that what a principle says in regards to realignment doesn't really matter.  What does matter is what he appears to be angling for and why he is choosing this moment to make his move.

Boren clearly either wants the conference to expand for stability or he wants the roadblock to the PAC (the Longhorn Network) removed.  He is making his move now because for the first time in years UT's leadership's focus is not currently on the future of the conference or the survival of the Longhorn Network.

It is not a ridiculous statement to say that at this moment Boren may be the loudest and most powerful voice in the conference.  That won't last, so make things happen today.

The threat

It would make a ton of sense to me if the idea is to make it sound like OU is toying with leaving for the SEC to make UT concede to Boren and the other schools' wishes. 

The SEC is the only power conference UT flat out won't join.  UT will not follow little brother A&M.


Should OU leave, UT will once again be looking at a long term association with some slightly below BCS standard schools (either in academics -Texas Tech and Houston - or attendance - Baylor, TCU, or Rice).

In that, it is in some ways a reasonable sounding threat.  OU can jump to the SEC and could say play A&M in Dallas every year(!!!!)  The money would be the same for OU.  The thought of that would have most UT alumni throwing up.

OU would likely have to take OSU with them to keep peace in the state.  The way the SEC treats expansion makes that look fairly unlikely on paper.  The SEC has a stated preference for one school from a new state  as a way to expand their footprint.  Oklahoma is a tiny state on top of that.   This appears unlikely ...UNLESS the SEC also took TCU.

Such a move with OU, OSU, and TCU joining A&M and Arkansas would make DFW largely SEC territory.  Oklahoma plus DFW is about 10 Million.  That is worth thinking about for the SEC.

UT football has already lost a ton of recruiting dominance in Houston to the SEC. They cannot afford DFW going down the same Dodds-created black hole.  

Such an event would effectively cut the conference footprint in half and leave UT no choice but to take Texas Tech to the PAC on the PAC's terms.

That kind of move would steadily erode UT's stature over the coming years.

(Now OU and TCU would not consider a future in the cheat-heavy SEC without UT any kind of optimal move, so lets not dwell on this distasteful scenario too much.)

Would UT's new President sacrifice the Longhorn Network for stability with OU?  Maybe.

And there is another possible read.

UT's and OU's Presidents may have already determined that the Big 12 is largely unsalvageable as a high level "group of five" conference.

Boren could be working as UT's front man. This may be showmanship. 

He could be "twisting UT's arm" to get them to dump the lucrative but moderately unsuccessful and embarrassing Longhorn Network (or turn it into the Big 12 network) in a way that saves face with Dodds' loyalists among the alumni.

His actions and the fact that UT has a new President could quickly rehabilitate UT's image in the eyes of the Pac-12.  The Pac-12 would then have a face-saving excuse to again show interest.  That would allow UT to carry OU and certain other schools to the PAC.

With that idea floating out there, the political scene in Texas should really be discussed.

Consider that prior to 2010 or so UT & A&M reportedly used to have an informal deal where they had "veto power" over each other's potential realignment moves.

A&M rightly figured out that their ticket out of those cuffs was to infuriate the largely insufferable Dodds until he let them go with no strings attached.

When the 2010 Pac-10 deal was floating around, UT and A&M were a pair and both would think to bring along Texas Tech to bridge the western schools.  (Also Texas Tech was very good in football back then.)

The implications of that "veto power" deal no longer being in place is that UT doesn't really have to take Texas Tech (or really any Texas school) with them to the PAC-12 if they don't want to. The political conditions that existed in other UT moves and near moves just are not there anymore.

(Now as a Texan and a fan of Texas having good colleges, I would love to see the state insist UT leverage a PAC-12 affiliation into improved public universities for Texas kids, but that is a liberal high concept; this state is proudly conservative politically.  While there is political lip service to transforming public schools like Tech, Houston, North Texas and others into tier 1 public schools, no one is going to use the obvious lever of UT's conference affiliation to dramatically speed up that goal.  There is simply the potential of too much political cost.)

UT isn't as hugely reliant on the PUF fund as they were 30 years ago. There are not politicians in key places that will be able to damage UT.  Plus A&M fans considers a move west a folly and would likely figuratively help UT pack it's bags if UT made that choice.

UT might take a single school with it for PR purposes, but it might not be Tech at this point.

If UT does want to take a single Texas school west, TCU has better football, better academics, a better market, and offer UT and OU a better recruiting areas than Tech does and they are far less caustic of an addition than Baylor.  That would be a very popular choice in DFW --- the nation's #5 media market, the largest media market in Texas, and a "winners town".

If the Big 12 is strong enough --- if the Big 12 is still considered say "ACC level" in football when UT and OU leave --- the duo could take Kansas and maybe TCU or OSU (or maybe all of them and Rice) and still potentially leave a second tier Gang of Five conference with Baylor and Kansas State dominating in football.

The PAC and Big Ten could then throw support behind the Big 12 as still the fifth conference in the Group of five.  If the two dominant superconferences say the Big 12 stays, it happens.

Now the Big 12 would still be gutted of major influence in Texas and that would have to be corrected for TV payouts, but Tech and Baylor have statewide followings and good support in DFW.  That is a solid core to rebuild around.

The conference could back fill with big enrollment Texas schools like UTEP and UTSA that pull strong crowds (and would have some good media value).   UNM, Colorado State, Tulane, and (at that point pipe dream) BYU might make sense in media terms.  Tulsa, SMU, UNT, and Texas State might be other candidates to consider to fill footprint holes.

It would not look pretty, but if the conference strung together large Texas media markets and large enrollment schools, it could piece back together a media argument for strong statewide support and TV viewership and the resulting solid media payouts.

This scenario could solve a lot of problems with potential problem schools Kansas State and Baylor (and TCU or OSU).

So who gets in?

Frank the Tank did a metric workup of most of the top 6-8 candidates --- I think BYU, Memphis, Houston, Rice, USF, UCF, UCONN, and Cincinnati were on the list --- and reached the conclusion that BYU and Cinci were the smart money picks.

The only problem with this is rule one in expansion is that the team that gets in is the team that satisfies the most voting principles when the expansion takes place.

It is all about timing.

If expansion were to take place in the next 8 months, I firmly believe that UT would be essentially a partner in the process --- bordering on an observer in the process --- not the key vote as they have been for the last several years.

Conferences generally try to appease (or is it silence?) an unhappy regional outlier.  This is in part because their members do feel some fraternity with their peers, but also because if a member schools have to make a long trip, they may as well get a double-header in for their Olympic sports by adding a travel partner.

I think this expansion, if it happens soon, will yield a travel partner for West Virginia.  Right now the smart money is on Cinci, but I think it is a closer race than you'd think and in fact I wouldn't be surprised to see the southern schools have a last minute change of heart and push for a more convenient flight --- Memphis.

The football strength of the school added would not seem to be a huge concern with UT, OU, Baylor, and TCU already in the conference.  I don't know if say an 8-3 Cinnci team vs. a 5-7 Memphis team means more to the Big 12 at this point.  If I am reading that right, that would really hurt Cinci's chances. Basketball may be more of a concern and Memphis is better there. 

Recruiting would be a big factor.  Both candidate schools are in good recruiting areas, but I think the rank and file of the Big 12 would have far more success pulling players out of the edge of the SEC footprint than out of a very culturally dissimilar Ohio.

Additionally, Memphis is very close to the Mississippi/Louisiana region that produces an abnormally high number of big, strong, athletic defensive tackles.  That is a big factor in competing at a championship level and has played a big role in the SEC's extended period of dominance.

(Also OU President Boren has been a champion of Tulane as a candidate in the past.  It sounds like he may realize the support isn't there for Tulane this time.  Memphis offers a recruiting toehold in the same region as a main selling point, while being a viable travel partner for West Virginia.)

Plus adding Cinci would push better Ohio recruits to West Virginia and Cinci, disproportunately improving both northeastern schools vs. their Big 12 competition...I am suspecting that when push comes to shove that will not be a goal of the Big 12 schools in expansion.

Cinci is not the only leading candidate who may be in some trouble.   No one seems to be talking about BYU.  That means something.

When you look at fan support and what they bring to a conference, BYU is a top 30 school at the FBS ranks in terms of athletic financial value.  It is by far the best candidate school available, but I think BYU's candidacy has problems today.

I think BYU is perceived as aloof and perhaps even somewhat ambivalent of potential admission to the Big 12.  I do not think they are campaigning enough to express a deep desire to join.

I think they are considered a bit of a headache with too many exceptions needed (the Big 12 already has that with UT!) as well as being too far away.  The Big 12 already has one member in BFE, they do not seem all that interested in another in the other direction.

I think BYU secretly desperately wants in, but my feeling reading the talk is that they probably have not made it clear enough to Big 12 leadership that BYU will do whatever it takes to make things work for the Big 12.  The boat may be sailing on the Cougars.   

(One wonders if Colorado State had built a larger stadium if BYU would have more chatter right now.)

There is a lot of talk about Houston and that makes a lot of sense...given the sources and the players.   OU is probably feeling the SEC recruiting incursion in East Texas. Comments about UH out of UT over the last 3 years have suggested UT's leaders have become moderately tolerant of Houston recently.

I think everyone who looks at the size of UH's enrollment and their new on-campus stadium realizes the Cougars are finally in a position to be a stable football program long term even in a top conference --- even with the strength sapping presence of the NFL Texans next door.

More importantly, adding Houston would really do a lot to control the East Texas talent bleed into the SEC by putting the Big 12 powers in front of Houston high school recruits every year.

Should UT and OU eventually bolt, Houston should be a nice middle of the pack Big 12 program for the next decade or two.

This is not the expansion I would advocate even with these goals, but it makes some sense on some levels.

UT leaders would likely have little interest in a long term affiliation with any of these three schools.

It isn't likely to do much to ensure UT and OU don't eventually leave, but this kind of expansion would give the conference a title game, create a public sense of stability, pay for the cost of admitting both schools, and likely help keep the conference going at a moderately high level should the Big Two go at some point.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This year's TCU vs. Baylor game may very well determine the future membership of the Big 12.

It looks like TCU and Baylor will again be the class of this league this year, toying with going undefeated.  If that is the case, only a TCU victory will land a Big 12 team in the playoffs.

OU and UT look a year away from contention.  That means that a Big 12 team will have to earn it's way in rather than be given the benefit of the doubt.

Ohio State and an SEC team are probably shoe-ins for 2 berths.  The PAC-12 has improved by leaps and bounds and will take the third berth.   That again leaves the Big 12 champion competing with the ACC champ (likely FSU again) or the SEC or Pac-12 runner up.

That is a tough battle for a conference champ without an end of season championship game strength of schedule bump.  This situation is a horrendous recurring disadvantage for the Big 12 every year.

If TCU wins that game, starting the season highly ranked and the perception that TCU belonged in the field last season and was screwed will see them in.

If Baylor wins that game, the memories of Baylor's last two bowl game debacles will keep them out and the Big 12 will expand before the next season starts.

UT and OU are looking at 2016 and will not be screwed out by no championship game.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Is Donnie Nelson the problem in Dallas?

I had an interesting talk with a guy who thinks Donnie Nelson is the problem with Mavs.  I think Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle are far more deserving candidates.  I hope to make the case here.

His belief is based on the fact that Dallas has almost no young talent and has almost nothing to show from the drafts in the Nelson era. The assumption is Nelson doesn't know talent/can't draft.
(He also thinks if Donnie Nelson were fired no one would hire him to be their GM ---a statement that almost demands its own post, but for now I will dismiss it as "overstated" with this explanation.   Any GM who has won a title in the last decade in addition to overseeing several years of 50 win teams is going to get job offers.  That Nelson is easy to get along with and has quietly done his job with a sometimes meddling owner only improves his reputation in the league. )

Let's just deal with the idea that Donnie Nelson cannot scout.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Donnie Nelson found Dirk and it is on record that he talked Don Nelson into acquiring Steve Nash from Pheonix.  (Donnie Nelson was an assistant coach in Pheonix in Nash's rookie year.) That is 3 years of league MVPs and - by far - the best players Dallas has ever had.

But the job is a "what have you done for me lately?" position.  I get that. Let's look strictly at the draft since he took over as GM.

Two factors should be weighed to some degree in evaluating his record.  I leave it up to you how heavily you weigh them.

The Kidd trade

Mark Cuban gutted the team of almost all of it's young talent when he reopened trade talks with New Jersey (after GM Donnie Nelson walked away) in order to reacquire a Cuban man-crush, the washed up Jason Kidd. 

Now everyone has an opinion on that trade/ the merits of re-acquiring Kidd.  As I watched a very slow and lethargic Kidd passively run the Mavs for the next few years I could not help to think back to the comments made by NJ President Rod Thorne the day the trade was made.

“It just wasn’t going to work,” Thorn said of the recent relationship between Kidd and the Nets. “I know Jason probably as well as anybody and, over the course of time, it became very evident that his heart wasn’t in it. With him and with the type of player he is, if his heart isn’t in it, then he’s not the same player.
“It became evident to me that his heart wasn’t in it anymore.”  "

Some people look at it emotionally.  Many of those who were heartbroken when their favorite young dynamic player was traded, consider the trade a cosmic correction as Kidd did play a role in Dallas's lone title.

Others (in my opinion) correctly point out that the trade gutted a mavs team that was at contention level.   As Tom Ziller brilliantly wrote:

"...But had Dallas not made the trade, they very well could have made the 2008 Finals and 2009 Finals and 2010 Finals. Had the Mavericks not brilliantly flipped Erick Dampier's unguaranteed contract for Tyson Chandler, Dallas might not be on pace to earn a trip to the 2011 Finals. Had Harris not been injured in 2009, perhaps the Nets wouldn't have threatened all NBA futility marks.

The facts of today don't change the fact that in 2008, the Mavericks traded a young, brilliant point guard for an aging, brilliant point guard ... and paid two picks and $11 million for the opportunity.....To say the Mavericks won the Kidd-Harris trade isn't revisiting history, it's revising history. The Mavericks are winners today, and that's all that matter. That success is a factor in how the trade should be judged. But, in the full consideration of everything that went in and came out of the trade, the Mavericks didn't win the deal. They just made the most of the aftermath."

The trade robbed them of depth that matched up well vs. the rival Spurs and of almost all youth on the roster.  It also took two valueable first round picks away that has lead to the current dearth of young talent on this roster. 

Finally it downgraded their roster.  If the Wizard trade hadn't come along to restock the depth, it is highly doubtful the Mavs would have won that title.  (Consider how important DeShawn Stevenson alone was to that title run.)

Plan Powder

Following the title run in 2011, Cuban realized that when Dirk retired, there could be no face of the Mavericks for several years.  To protect his investment's value, "plan powder" was born. ("Powder" referring to the phrase "keeping your powder dry"--- a phrase used over an over by Dallas for 4 years as the team kept cap flexibility every year to try to sign a free agent star.)

Rather than protecting the nucleus of that title team, he made the conscious decision to allow players to leave to free up cap space.  Cuban had seen several major stars (Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett top the list) pass on signing in Dallas over the years, but hoped to beat the odds and convincing a superstar to sign with Dallas.  He hoped to use the idea of pairing with an old superstar in Dirk as a lure.  (Again, a position that was counter to what we have seen as NBA free agent stars tend to look for young stars to play with.) 

Cuban decided not to give Tyson Chandler the deal he wanted and the Mav's title game caliber nucleus was again shattered.  Cuban and the Mavs would trade for Lamar Odom, but Odom would never escape Coach Rick Carlisle's doghouse.  The emotionally soft Odom crumbled in Dallas under Carlisle's "my way or the highway" rules (some might call them mindgames).

Since then a lot of free agency and draft decisions have had cap implications.  Sometimes Dallas has wanted to shed cap space or add cheap rookies to fill spots.  It has varied from year to year, but those decisions have played major roles in Dallas's draft yield.

Anyone seeking to honestly evaluate the draft work of a GM should consider those points.

With no further ado, the picks.

My belief is that if you are a GM that knows talent,  a top 10 pick should yield a solid to good starter, an 11 to 20 pick should be a contributor, a 21 to 40 or 45 pick should be a 50/50 prospect ---either a contributor or not --- and from 46 on to the end of the draft you shouldn't expect a thing.

Here are Dallas's picks in the time Donnie Nelson has run the show.

Year Rd Pick  Name Nationality  College/HS/Club
2006 2 50 Vassilis Spanoulis  Greece Maroussi BC (Greece)
- This was a crazy good pick, but I have no idea if Nelson made the pick and sold it to Houston for 300K and Luis Flores (2/55 --- Just a dude.) or if this was prearranged and Houston picked him.  Spanoulis clashed with coaches in the NBA but would go on to be a 6 time all-Euro League player and a one-time Euroleague MVP.  If you can play at that level, you could contribute in the NBA, but are likely making more in Europe. That is a great value at 50, but I cannot say if Nelson gets credit for that.

2006 1 28 Maurice Ager  US Michigan State University - Looked like a decent gamble late first round guard.  Good defense and athleticism. Never really found a spot to blossom on any of his NBA teams.  I'd say an appropriate, decent gamble at this spot, but ultimately a bust pick.

2006 2 58 J. R. Pinnock  US Panama George Washington University - End of 2nd round players usually don't make it, this guy did have a cup of tea with the Lakers but didn't make it in the NBA. You could say, "it didn't work out" or even it was a blown pick.  Just keep in mind, it was pick 58.

2007 2 34 Nick Fazekas  US University of Nevada, Reno - To me this is the range where you either gamble on athletes, work ethic, or skill making in hoping a flawed player makes it.   Fazekas had the skills (shooting, rebounding) to play in the NBA, but he proved to be too bad of a defender.  To me, that may be a failed pick, but it wasn't a bad one at that spot.

2007 2 50 Renaldas Seibutis  Lithuania Olympiacos B.C. (Greece) --- End of 2nd round players usually don't make it,  this guy had had 2 chances in summer league, but in the spotlight he sucked.  Blown pick.

2007 2 60 Milovan Raković  Serbia Mega Basket (Serbia) --- End of 2nd round players usually don't make it, but Dallas traded him ---with cash! --- to the Miami Heat.  I don't really get it.  Probably some cap management thing.

2008 1    Traded by Cuban in Kidd re-acquistion

2008 2 51 Shan Foster  US Vanderbilt University - End of 2nd round players usually don't make it, but who, after seeing this guy in college, didn't think he had a great shot of far exceeding his draft position.  Great gamble at this spot, but didn't make it.

2009 1 24 Byron Mullens  US United Kingdom Ohio State University - Drafted for OKC. Cannot be evaluated as a Donnie Nelson pick.  Traded for 1/25 Roddy Beaubois and a future 2nd round pick.  Beaubois was drafted to play PG and defense with his top notch athleticism, but exploded in the playoffs a few years later as a freakish scorer.  Rather than covert him into an undersized two guard replacing Jet Terry, Rick Carlisle (and the rest of the Mavs braintrust) continued to try to hammer him into becoming a point guard.  Eventually bad coaching/development destroyed his game and he was out of the league.  But for a moment there he was one of the most valuable trade assets in the league --- pursued by every team out there --- That was a good pick.

2009 2 56 Ahmad Nivins  US Saint Joseph's University -  Kid has been a Euroleague stash his whole career.  Former POY in A-10 as a senior.  End of 2nd round players usually don't make it anyway.  traded to NY as part of the Tyson Chandler departure in 2011.

2010 1    Traded by Cuban in Kidd re-acquistion.

2010 2 50 Solomon Alabi  Nigeria Florida State University - Dallas sold this pick to Toronto.  Likely they picked for them. Probably not a Nelson pick. End of 2nd round players usually don't make it anyway.

  <Cuban's plan powder impacts drafting>

2011 1 26 Jordan Hamilton  US University of Texas at Austin - Both 1/26 and 2/57 were dealt to Portland prior to the draft for Rudy Fernandez (and the rights to Petteri Koponen, a former first rounder 1/30 2007 and Euro-stash 6-5 PG).  Fernandez was acquired to reinforce the troubling shooting guard spot on the championship team. At the time, Dallas still hoped that Tyson Chandler might come back on a homey hookup deal to allow a future run at Deron Williams or Chandler's potential replacement, Dwight Howard.  When that unlikely pipedream did not occur,  the merits of this move were lost.  Fernandez would never play for the Mavs.  He was traded with Corey Brewer to the Nuggets for a second round pick in the aftermath of the Lamar Odom trade.  Fernandez would injure his back and quit the NBA after that, returning to Euroball.

2011 2 57 Tanguy Ngombo[f]  Republic of the Congo Qatar Al Rayyan Basketball Team (Qatar) - This was not a Nelson pick. End of 2nd round players usually don't make it anyway.

2012 1 17 Tyler Zeller  US University of North Carolina - Zeller was not the Mavs pick, he was Boston's. Draft day trade.  Tasked with finding guys for the NBA's oldest roster who can fill roster depth cheaply in support of plan powder, Zeller was traded for 3 picks that Donnie Nelson turned into an under-aged prospect Jared Cunningham, an older rookie in senior Bernard James, and a senior Jae Crowder.  If developing Cunningham was a firm goal, that would be a very solid return.

2012 2 55 Darius Johnson-Odom  US Marquette University - End of 2nd round players usually don't make it. Immediate trade to Lakers.  Looks like an asset dump.  Likely the Mavs picked him for Lakers and this is not a Nelson pick anyway.

2013 1 13 Kelly Olynyk  Canada Gonzaga University - This was the highest pick the Mavs have had on draft day in ages as they win 50 games a year.  As covered previously, Nelson wanted to draft Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player who has been credited as being the second best player in this draft.  Chad Ford says Cuban squashed that.  Cuban likely instructed Nelson to trade down for cap relief and the thought may have been that trading down to 16 might accomplish both goals.  If the kid was still there at 16, Nelson would take him there.  Dallas picked up two future second round picks in the deal. Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo at 1(15).  Dallas would then trade down again (likely to ensure hitting the cap space goal) dumping the slow developing Cunningham and the pick in order to take the most NBA ready point they saw left in Larkin to fill a need.  Larkin is nothing special, but has been a contributor at the NBA level.

2013 2 44 Mike Muscala  US Bucknell University - pick traded in cap dump/young talent liquidation with Cunningham and 1(16) in support of plan powder.

2014 1 21 traded to LA Lakers to acquire Lamar Odom

2014 2 34 traded to NY Knicks to reacquire Tyson Chandler

2014 2 51 traded to NY Knicks to reacquire Tyson Chandler

2015 1 21 Justin Anderson  US University of Virginia - Possible day 1 starter picked at 21. Looks like a contributor.

2015 2 52 Satnam Singh Bhamara  India IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)  - slow and huge developmental pick I like a lot.  Good rebounder, great 3 point shooter with size.  Scheduled to play with Legends for the forseeable future as they work on his footwork.

Draw your own conclusions.

These are mine.

Dallas has 11 picks in after 45.  I write those off as unimportant longshots, but Spanoulis is a nice home run (if you credit Nelson).  I think Singh and Foster were great swings for the fences.  To me that is at least average work.

Dallas has had 7 picks from 21-44.  Fazekis, Beaubois, Cunningham, Ager, Anderson, Larkin, and Muscala. Beaubois was a homerun who's career injuries and mind numbing stupidity killed.  Larkin was a reach to fill a need cheaply, but got a fair bit of PT last year. Muscala was a trade casualty. Ager and Cunningham can be called flops, but no one was questioning where they were picked.  Anderson looks like a good pick. Again, to me, that is at least average work.

Dallas has had 2 picks in the 11-17 range.  They gave up one (17) for 3 players who could fill roster holes immediately to satisfy team needs.  They gave up the other (13) to get a cheaper player instead of drafting a guy considered the second best player in the draft who Nelson desperately wanted to pick.  And passing on the 13th pick was documented to be the owner's call.

Dallas has had no top 10 picks under Nelson.

I invite you to compare the results vs. other teams' GMs.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mark Cuban puts the final nail in Dirk' career?

I am not a fan of Mark Cuban as the owner of the Mavs.  I am ambivalent about Mark Cuban on TV's shark tank and I really like Mark Cuban, the cool Billionaire who sometimes gets on the radio and gives free financial advise to people.

But Cuban the Mavs owner?  As a Dirk fan, I dream of the day Cuban sells the team, something that most Mavs fans don't get.

Why?  Because Cuban has mistakenly screwed over the team Dirk plays for repeatedly over the years.  I think he may have cost Dirk 2-3 titles.  I am sickened that now when people look back on Dirk, they will say, "Well, he was good, but he was no Tim Duncan..."

(To that I say, take your Dirk-Hate and rot in Hell Duncan fans. Dirk was better.  Put Dirk on a team with closers ----guys who can hit big shots like "Big Shot Bob" Robert Horry, future hall of famers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili,  an emerging star who can control LeBron in Kawhi Leonard, and  a real coach like Gregg Poppavich --- and Dirk would definitely have won more titles than Duncan did...and at least one back to back.  Put Duncan in Dallas on those Mav teams with only one other clutch shooter, really one other scorer who didn't wilt in the clutch ---first a repressed Nash, then a very spotty Jet --- and Duncan would have been hard pressed to ever make it out of the first round.)

As a Dirk fan I am sick to my stomach.  Dirk entered the league as a perimeter shooter with no hint of an offensive game in the paint. After years of Dallas not landing the complimentary low post player he needed, Dirk just became that guy too.  He became a guy Charles Barkley said was unstoppable in the paint --- the best in the league --- the year Dirk won the title.  Dirk shot one three pointer a game in that playoff run.  All the rest of his damage was from the top of the key working into the low post.

No player had ever followed that developmental path before and no player is likely to ever do it again.

That is Dirk.  He is freaking amazing.

And Cuban really stopped anyone from ever seeing much more than glimpses of it.

Don't believe me?  Let's take a look at the tape...

(Now a lot of this may seem like 20/20 hindsight, but I promise you I groaned over every one of these transactions when they occurred.)

In 2001, Mark Cuban encouraged Michael Finley to opt out and then told Mike Fisher about resigning Finley, “If Michael wants to stay, I’ll give him anything he wants.’’

A few of us were ready to see Finley move on as he was a poor end of game closer and Dirk and Nash ---much better finishers --- were constantly coached to defer to Finley.  Not Cuban. 

As Fisher wrote at the time..." Cuban has done a masterful job in assuring Finley that this is “Finley’s team.’’ It is Finley who is allowed a voice in roster moves, Finley who was consulted on the acquisition of buddy Juwan Howard, Finley who is moved to point guard to provide him more scoring chances, Finley who is credited with having helped “architect’’ this team, Finley who Cuban insists he wouldn’t even trade straight-up for MVP finalist Chris Webber."

Having the soft rebounding Juwan Howard at the 4 hitting short jumpers while Dirk tried to defend small forwards just slowed Dirk's development.

Cuban would resign Finley to a 7 year, $102 Million dollar contract.   Because of the stress that contract put on the roster, Cuban would make the decision to let Dirk's best friend, then two-time NBA all-star Steve Nash, walk away in free agency in 2004.  With no one to defer to in Phoenix, Nash would go on to be a two-time league MVP.

Finley would quickly regress into a player worth about $5-8 Million a year.  Just a low end starter. He was waived a year later, just 4 years into the deal under the league's bad contract "Allan Houston Rule".

Consider the Michael Redd whiff in 2002. Michael Redd was in Milwaukee sitting behind Ray Allen. Redd was starting to emerge.  He looked like possibly a future all-star.  He became a free agent at a time when every owner was worried about the luxury tax.

Milwaukee was just under the cap.  Dallas had a veteran's exception that would allow them to pay Redd about $5 Million a year.  All Dallas had to do was give him the full exception and Milwaukee the perception was Milwaukee would let Redd go to avoid the cap.

Cuban, an owner who once assured Dallas fans that we wouldn't lose out on players for financial reasons with an infamous quote, "Read my lips, 'money is no object' ", offered Redd half of the exception.  Worse still, rather than offering a 1 year deal where Redd would be a free agent again next year or some kind of player option, Cuban tried to take advantage of Redd in the tough market and offered him 4 years at a total of $12 Million.  Rightly seeing that averages out to a very cap friendly, underpaid player at $3 Million per season for 4 years, the Bucks matched.

Rather than pairing Redd's mid range shooting with Finley's drives and Dirk and Nash's perimeter scoring on a sickly balanced offense, Redd would become an all-star in Milwaukee.

Why did Cuban only offer half of the exception?  It was reported earlier in free agency that Cuban had already told his GM Don Nelson that if Nelson wanted to re-sign Shawn Bradley,  Cuban would not pay for another free agent.  He didn't want to deal with having to pay Redd another $2.5 Million and the same to the luxury tax fund.  $5 Million more was too much to get Dirk help in 2002.

In 2004, Dallas GM Don Nelson and his son Donnie worked some magic and brought in Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, and Eric Dampier.   Those additions would join Dirk and Josh Howard in forming the basis of the first Mavs team to reach the championship series.

In 2006, with Dirk finally on a team that matched the talent of the Spurs, Dirk took the ball right at Tim Duncan with the series on the line and eliminated the Spurs in an amazing game 7.  The Mavs defeated the Suns in the next round and had a 2-0 series lead on longtime Mav killer Shaquille O'Neal's Miami Heat team.

Then Dwayne Wade got an embarrassing bounty of foul calls and the Heat won the series 4-2.   I mention this because Cuban had made it a hobby to call out NBA referees leading up to this point.  He was actually fined for a total of $250,000 for criticizing the refs in that series alone.  While anyone who watches the series can see the bias in the officiating and it makes sense that that probably originates with Cuban's mouth, the Mavs had several opportunities to win some of those games.

Did Cuban cost the Mavs the 2006 title?  It's very debatable.  It is one of the weaker points here.  I think if the Mavs had a more traditional, quiet owner who hadn't tormented the refs for years, most Mavs fans would say the Mavs chances of winning that series would have been better.  That is not exactly the same thing.

To his credit, Cuban reigned in his criticisms to more owner appropriate channels after this.

In 2007, the Mavs were upset by Don Nelson's Golden State Warriors.   Avery Johnson had looked like the second coming coaching the Mavs to the league's best record, but he clearly blinked vs. Golden State, shuffling his lineup to match up to the Warriors' roster, rather than pounding the Warriors in the middle.  He would never recover as an NBA head coach. 

In 2008,  with Dirk missing part of the season and the team misfiring,  Johnson would loudly moan about the need for a smarter QB at the PG spot than the athletic, but limited Devin Harris.  (Harris was a fairly mediocre and soft  starting point guard for the most part, but he was exceptional at keeping Mav killer Tony Parker under control in matchups with San Antonio.)

GM Donnie Nelson approached New Jersey about acquiring former Maverick point Jason Kidd.   Nelson worked on a deal for days.  He recognized that Kidd was starting to show a sharp athletic decline.  He made New Jersey a fair offer, but if memory serves did not want to part with Desagana Diop.  Diop, for all his limitations as a player, had been a very difficult matchup for Tim Duncan and the Spurs.  New Jersey tried to call his bluff.  Nelson walked away.

The young team that was generally considered one of the league's top 5 when healthy remained in tact.

The problem was Cuban for whatever reason had to have Kidd.  One could look at his Finley moment and think perhaps the fan in him overruled his sense.  He gave the Nets what they asked for.  The resulting Mavs team was stripped of 2 future first round picks and much of it's youth and depth.  Additionally it now lacked its former ability to defensively  limit Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. 

To make matters worse, Kidd lost a good 3 steps in his move back to Dallas.  He was among the slowest point guards in the league, a fact only slightly mitigated by the fact he could still guard 2 guards fairly well.   It didn't matter.  Dallas was torched by an athletic New Orleans squad in the first round of the playoffs.  Kidd looked like a bottom third point guard.

This brought to light a very disturbing point. This team that was built to beat the Spurs was now vulnerable to all kinds of teams.

Taken in it's best possible light, Cuban overpaid to get his coach the savy point guard Avery Johnson wanted.  The trouble is Cuban would fire Johnson after the season, so that cannot have been the reason for the trade.

With an older team with real athletic limitations and gaps on the roster, trading those two first round picks looked especially troublesome as Donnie Nelson to that point had proven to have a fairly good eye for finding mid to late first round  perimeter talent.

This deal looked horrible.  It looked destined to destroy any hope of Dirk making it back to the title game in his career.

In 2009, they were eliminated by Denver.

Only Donnie Nelson's ability to find good trades saved the Mavs.  The Mavs traded for what looked like a washed up Shawn Marion and then correctly identifying Washington as a team desperate for a salary dump in 2009-10 saved the Mavs from eroding to nothing.  The Marion trade and the trade for Brendan Haywood, Deshawn Stevenson, and Caron Butler would restock their talent base and turn the arrow on the Mavs and help them back into the second tier of contenders.

As helpful as the trade was, the Spurs eliminated the Mavs in 2010.

In the 2010 offseason, GM Nelson made another great trade and acquired Tyson Chandler.   Chandler would prove to be the defensive Ying to Dirk's offensive Yang.

Following the title run, Mark Cuban decided to make the unheard of decision to implode a title team.  It really boiled down to some simple math. Cuban was willing to let Tyson Chandler go in order to have cap space that he might use to recruit a young star to replace Dirk as the face of his franchise.

It seemed like putting Cuban's investment in front of Dirk's chance to win multiple titles.

As a fan, I was livid. We finally have a center who really compliments Dirk and we let him go to chase Deron Williams?  A punk point guard who wasn't that good and got a hall of fame coach fired?

It was insane.  It was as if Cuban had no recollection of all the futile efforts he had made over the years to try to sign Karl Malone,  Kevin Garnett, et al.

The front line of Dirk, Chandler, and Marion was as good as there was in basketball.  Stevenson slotted perfectly as a stopper at the 2. Butler was coming back from injury. Kidd was a marginal starter, but all the team needed was an athletic point who could do alright against Parker to split time with Kidd.

Cuban gambled against their age.  Time has proven that Dirk and Chandler had at least 4 good years left in them as starters and Marion had 3.

It was a bad gamble.  Every year the cream of the NBA passed.  Donnie Nelson went garage saleing for cheap players on short deals and did what he could,  but Rick Carlisle runs off half of the players Nelson brought in.

The team has been a marginal playoff team with little hopes of winning a title since.

And it gets worse.   Chad Ford likes to tell this story.  In the 2013 draft, newspapers had been reporting that the Mavericks were looking to pick PG Michael Carter-Williams in the first round if he fell to them.  Donnie Nelson had his eye on SF Giannis Antetokounmpo.  Instead of picking him, Cuban instructed Nelson to move the pick -- in all likeness for a little additional cap savings for the coming free agency effort.

Dallas traded down to 16 and missed him.

We ended up picking Shane Larkin, a run of the mill backup point guard instead of landing a guy Ford calls the second best player in the draft.

Heck, I would have been happy with Olynyk.

Finally last year Nelson reacquired Tyson Chandler and made a late trade for Rajon Rondo.  It seems pretty clear Nelson wanted Rondo and Carlisle never did.  That the team acquired Rondo suggests Cuban was the tie-breaker in the Mavs brain trust. 

The resulting team had the talent level to match up against any of the title teams, but Carlisle successfully wore down Rondo and Rondo quit on the team.  I definitely saw the first part coming...Probably the only person who didn't see the potential for Rondo to get run out by Carlisle was the only person who could potentially reign in Dallas's "ELITE" 1 title coach --- Mark Cuban.

With Rondo off the table, the idea of gambling the remaining roster on a play for either of the two Texans, DeAndre Jordan or LaMarcus Aldridge, seemed reasonable to Cuban. 

After the season Rondo was kind of bizarrely quoted as saying he would resign in Dallas if they would get rid of Carlisle.

I think I'd have strongly preferred if Cuban got rid of  Carlisle, the cog in the talent acquisition and retention process and brought the old guys back for another run, rather than embracing a tear down on a talent gamble.

While I don't fault Cuban in any way, shape, or form for "blowing" the signing effort of DeAndre Jordan,  (I actually give him a great deal of credit for targeting the right guy and almost pulling it off)  the effort and it's failure does amount to starting over in building up to having the talent to become a contending level team.   Even with a GM as good as Nelson and a motivated owner once more willing to spend aggressively, that is likely a 3-4 year process. It is unlikely Dirk will be around to see it completed.

I am so disappointed for Dirk.  After his career here and sacrificing money a few years ago to give the braintrust more cap space to put talent around him, it is just horribly sad.

I wish the NBA would make a one time exception and let the Mavs just pay Dirk the whole team cap this year.

I don't hate Cuban as a person at all, but as a Dirk fan from before day 1 with the Mavs, I wonder if where his title count would be if we had got Redd, kept Nash, had never reacquired Kidd, kept the 2011 team together, drafted Antetokounmpo, etc.

I think we very much would have been a peer to San Antonio over the last 15 years.

To me, almost every bad decision was largely Cuban's.

But I do not hate Mark Cuban.

I just don't like that guy who owns the Mavericks.