Title Defense? Dallas Is Looking At The Bigger Picture

At least we can tell Mark Cuban gets it. He knows how to throw a party. Over the summer, he staged a weeklong extravaganza that must’ve been the greatest postgame party since Dean Cain ate a few weed brownies and dropped some funk in a Harvard alumni shindig. Then recently, Cuban gave his players the chance to design their own championship rings. When asked by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd for between $150,000 and $200,000, per ring, Cuban didn’t even flinch. He knew it was a violation of rules – there goes David Stern again – and figured the plan wasn’t realistic. But I’m guessing if it was up to him, he’d have put together rings so luxurious, they would’ve made every other one from the past look like wedding rings.

Cuban has always been lavishing with his money. He’s turned Dallas into a first-class smorgasbord of entertainment and accommodation. Players sign there – and often for wild amounts – because they know they’ll be treated like kings by Cuban. This is a man who once refused to give Steve Nash more money, but then turned around and threw $60 million at Erick Dampier. Ever since buying into the Mavs just after New Years in 2000, Cuban has gone overboard time and again to try to win a title. When it finally happened last season, we knew he’d have to pull out the checkbook again. Championships pay, especially for players, and Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson (and Brian Cardinal but he doesn’t count) were all going to be unrestricted free agents either looking for one final payday (Chandler, Butler) or searching for the only long-term deal they would ever get (Barea).

No matter how much it took, surely Cubes would bring them back right? Or at least re-up Barea and Chandler? Instead, he said no thanks and waved good-bye as Chandler left for New York and $56 million, and Barea for Minnesota and $19 million.

How did he explain it? In an email to ESPN Dallas, he wrote:

If this were the old CBA rules, we probably would have kept everyone together. But the rules changed.

If we were able to sign everyone to two-year deals, that would have possibly changed things as well, but that wasn’t in the cards either.

What you are missing is that it’s not about the luxury tax. It’s about the ability to improve our team going forward.

The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past. I realize that everyone is all freaked out about how and where free agents and future free agents are going, but it’s not just about getting one guy.

Cuban explained that in the new CBA, taxpaying teams are going to be in a world of trouble. They’ll have a harder time swinging deals or making adjustments. Gone are the days of throwing money around like Stephen Jackson in a strip club and coming up with something. If Chandler and Barea had re-upped for four-plus years in Dallas, then the Mavs were going to be stuck with this current team for better or worse.

So instead of coming back with the same team in an effort to repeat – you know, pretty much what every other organization would’ve done – Cuban signed Vince Carter to a three-year deal at the mini midlevel exception of $3 million (the last two years are only partially guaranteed). He also traded for Lamar Odom, an old rival, who is set to make $8.9 million this year and has only $2.4 million guaranteed of the $8.2 million on his contract for next season. Delonte West has come aboard as well for one season at the veteran minimum.

But Dallas wasn’t finished, and took this new gameplan to the next level. A few days ago, it was reported they sent Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer to Denver for nothing but a second-round pick (even though they spent a first rounder just to get Fernandez), saving themselves another $5.2 million. Different? Hell yes. Bad decision? Ehhh…

Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson was recently quoted in The Dallas Morning News saying, “”Flexibility is key with the new world order.”

This “new world order” he’s talking about is, as Chris Sheridan writes, the ability to add one of the three free agent monsters next summer (reportedly Chris Paul has agreed to opt-in now that he’s with the Clippers, so I guess that cuts it to two). It’s about staying competitive, but not loading the present at the expense of the future.

As for this season alone, Dallas seems to be backpedaling. For years, they used versatile lineups to put up gaudy regular season numbers and then fall apart in the playoffs. Chris Webber told me this week that they “gave up the goods” when they let Chandler leave and that the big man was the only reason they won the title last year. His defense and rebounding pushed the Mavs from a perennially soft team into one that could hold down the fort.

It seems like they’re back to their old ways. They’ll have a phenomenal bench with Odom, West and Jason Terry. They have rotational players – Shawn Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois – who can play multiple positions. On paper, they might look like a prom queen. But they’re smaller. I think that brings them back to the pack.

But the catch is this: next summer, Dallas will have the opportunity to get around $20 million under the salary cap (if they cut Odom and use the amnesty on Brendan Haywood). That summer’s free agent class has (or could have) names like these:

Ray Allen
Kevin Garnett
Jason Kidd
Roy Hibbert
Eric Gordon
Andrew Bynum
Kevin Love
Chauncey Billups
Russell Westbrook
Dwight Howard
Deron Williams
Steve Nash
Gerald Wallace
Tim Duncan

Many of those guys will never make it to free agency (their teams will gobble them up), but the opportunity is there. Dallas will have flexibility, and will offer the chance to play with Dirk in a big city for an owner who cares in an organization that’s turned into a perennial winner. For someone like Deron Williams – who grew up there – how can you turn that down?

I think Cuban and Dallas’ front office costs themselves another shot at a title this year with their newfound cheap approach. The dog in them (Tyson Chandler’s influence) is what got the bone, and now it’s gone. But it was done with the right intentions, and with a massive 2012 free agent class coming up around the corner, Cuban and his boys could look geniuses in as soon as 12 months.

Is this the right move by Dallas?

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