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.

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