More or less the day after the Dallas Mavericks became the 2010-2011 NBA Champions, Mark Cuban, presumably with Donnie Nelson's approval, told us that he was letting most of that team go in favor of creating a team that was even better, but with a longer shelf life.
Cuban's strategy was based largely on the idea that the new CBA meant a difference in how teams behave. The evidence he is 100% wrong about that is currently much easier to find than counter-examples.
The Joe Johnson trade, which many people in Dallas and elsewhere assumed was actually a bonus for the Mavericks, was what kept Deron Williams in Brooklyn. There wasn't just confidence, in some places in Dallas, that Deron would clearly see how foolish the Nets were being in destroying their flexibility for a non-championship winning upgrade, there was outright gloating.
Not only did Deron not see that, it didn't actually destroy their flexibility. Regardless of whether the rumored deal for Dwight Howard between Orlando and Brooklyn will actually happen, the point is the Nets have FIFTY MILLION dollars in contracts to three players and are still financially capable of adding Howard.
And after losing Williams to the Nets, Cuban then lost Steve Nash to the LA Lakers. Okay, fine, we don't need to be spending a lot of cash on a 38-year old player, regardless if he'd be worth 15 more wins next year. But Cuban's strategy, again, is only half about not handing out stupid contracts. The other half is about how not handing out stupid contracts will mean a financial advantage on the market.
To reiterate, he lost out on Nash, his Plan B, to a team that had 79 million dollars in salary BEFORE adding Nash. So, if anyone says to you "the Mavericks will now be able to get players that other teams won't," and you say, "oh yeah? Like Steve Nash, who was gotten by a team that was already 20 million over cap?"-- if they have a rejoinder to that, please pass it my way.
And then he lost out on Jason Kidd, who signed the exact same deal with the New York Knicks as Cuban offered him. The Knicks, magically, did what everyone in Dallas said couldn't be done -- flanked Tyson Chandler with two guys making max money and then added Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and re-upped Steve Novak. They are now almost certain to match Houston's four-year $28 million offer to Jeremy Lin. Before all that happened? The Knicks cap was already at 60 million.
Obviously, the Mavericks are better off, in some ways, without Kidd. Obviously, Marcus Camby and Steve Novak are both directions this franchise doesn't need to go with all the holes it has. Not the point. So far, Dallas has lost all of its FA targets to teams whose cap figures range from some to massively over the cap.
And somehow, despite prognostications, it hasn't seemed to stop a single one of them from getting their targets, while the Mavericks, with all their cap space, have not been able to get any.
If the Dwight Howard trade goes through 9 of the 12 members of the US Olympic Team will play in New York, LA, or Miami. If it's not Dwight, Deron, LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Carmelo or Amar'e, and if it isn't (and it probably won't be) Bynum and Paul next year, who exactly is it going to be? And when?
Each year the Mavericks allow Dirk to get older before making a move, the more steps they are from contending, not less. What's Cuban's plan, for his cap flexibility, that will win a championship when Dirk's 36? What is it when Dirk's retired? Can his precious cap space keep pace with Dallas' needs as Dirk declines?
We won't count Cuban down and out, and there's still plenty of time to put together a mid-level Western Conference team even this year. But there's more or less no evidence that they can be had by CBA friendly teams more so than non-CBA friendly teams. And there's more or less no evidence that disregarding the CBA hurts any team's pursuit of free agents in any significant way.
If the CBA allows the Brooklyn Nets to sign Gerald Wallace to a 10 million dollar contract, trade for Joe Johnson's 20 million dollar contract, sign Deron Williams to a 20 million dollar contract and then trade for Dwight Howard's 20 million dollar contract? There is no CBA. If the Lakers can add Steve Nash's contract, than nothing has changed. And if Cuban's strategy is still based on the fact that it there is, and it has, he had better start re-thinking it soon.
The irony, of course, is that the Mavericks' championship team was dismantled to better compete with the Miami's of the world. Yet the Heat, in their two year existence, have lost only one playoff series -- to a Mavericks team that no longer exists. That team was deemed not good enough, and before you agree with that, remember that Mavericks team with Caron Butler was chewing teams up and spitting them out.
Whatever would have happened with that team, this one is now much farther from competing with anyone than that team was and there is no foreseeable way out.
The Mavericks are not out of it. But if they are counting on this strategy, I hope they'll think about it, really hard, just one more time.