Even with his defending NBA championship team on the verge of first-round elimination, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had no regrets about his post-lockout decision not to retain the core of last season’s team.
“If you want to nail me for something, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a huge (expletive) that I didn’t fight for the new (collective bargaining agreement) harder,” Cuban said before the Mavs attempted to avoid being swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Saturday’s Game 4. “I said it before. I’ll say it again. It put us and other teams in a bad spot, and it was an overnight handshake deal that I should have fought harder. I’m the first to say that.
“That was my mistake, because once that thing passed, our hands were tied in a lot of respects. But within that, we did the best we could. And we’re not out of it yet.”
Speaking on the record for the first time during this series, Cuban maintained that if he re-signed center Tyson Chandler, the most high-profile of the free agents that left the Mavs after the lockout, he wouldn’t have had the financial flexibility to field a competitive roster this season.
Mavs guard Jason Terry, a free-agent-to-be for the first time in his career, was the most vocal critic throughout the season among the remaining members of the title team regarding Cuban’s dismantling of the club.
After the Oklahoma City Thunder completed a four-game sweep of the defending champs Saturday night with a 103-97 victory, Terry said Cuban knows the roster assembled wasn’t good enough to make a serious run at another title.
“Yeah, he knows it, the city knows, we all know it as players,” Terry said. “But with the team we have, the nucleus we have, the core group of guys, we feel like we can beat anybody; that’s just us as competitors. But, again, you have to have the personnel. You have to have the personnel to get it done.”
Terry said losing key players such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, and replacing them with Delonte West, Vince Carter in the twilight of his career and Lamar Odom, whose emotional baggage got the best of him and forced Cuban to kick him off the team, made the Mavs a long shot to contend.
“If you look at our roster to a man, it was a long shot this year. But we still made the playoffs, but we just didn’t have enough.
”— Jason Terry
“Every year I’ve been on the Mavericks team and we’ve had a realistic chance, it’s because of the personnel,” Terry said. “Look at your personnel and what they surround you with, your core nucleus and you can see if you have a realistic shot. For us, it was a long shot. Nobody’s going to downplay that at all. If you look at our roster to a man, it was a long shot this year. But we still made the playoffs, but we just didn’t have enough.”
Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki said after Game 3 the Mavs had taken a step back from last season. After the 103-97 Game 4 season-ender, he made perhaps his most definitive statement on the disappointment of the title not returning.
“Knowing as players, we were for sure disappointed in December in free agency when we didn’t get the same team back,” Nowitzki said. “That’s for sure.”
Prior to Game 4, Cuban bristled at the theory that he didn’t try to field as competitive a roster as possible this season, pointing out the Mavs went back over the luxury-tax line because of the failed Odom trade. He insists his decision-making process was intended to give the Mavs as good a chance to repeat as champions while “not destroying our future.”
“We went through it every which way we could and tried to figure out the best way to be successful,” Cuban said. “Given what happened, I think we put together a damn good team. Like I said, one break, one call, one bounce, we’re having a completely different conversation and you’re thinking how smart we are instead of saying how stupid we are.”
Mavs superstar and reigning NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who signed a four-year contract before last season at a discount rate to help Cuban chase free agents, said only time will tell if Cuban made the right decision not to keep the title team intact.
“We would have loved to keep the troops together as players,” Nowitzki said. “We would have loved to get the guys back and give it a true shot to defend, but Mark and [Mavs president of basketball operations] Donnie [Nelson], they made a business decision to really go for cap space for the first time really since I can remember being a Maverick. We never had cap space, so they made the decision to go for that, and we’ll just have to wait and see what comes out of that.”
Cuban, who was confrontational and critical of the media for not studying and fully understanding the complexities of the new CBA, claimed he hasn’t had any second thoughts after not offering a long-term deal to Chandler, widely recognized as the Mavs’ emotional leader last season. Chandler won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award with theNew York Knicks this season.
“Oh, hell no. No, no, no, nope,” Cuban said when asked if he has second-guessed himself. “Not even a millisecond. Because those that are talking otherwise haven’t read the CBA, like I know you guys haven’t, and are just talking out their ass without any foundation.”
Cuban also insists that, contrary to widespread speculation, he has not formulated a firm plan for how the Mavs will approach this offseason. He said the Mavs will study the market first and take a reactive approach.
That contradicts Nelson’s comments earlier this season about targeting a “big fish” — presumably All-Star point guard Deron Williams — in free agency. Dirk Nowitzki has also mentioned recently that the front office’s December decisions can’t be judged until it’s seen whether the Mavs land a “big fish.”
“I haven’t said anything about what our strategy is going to be,” Cuban said. “We’re going to do the same thing we try to do every year — build the best possible team we can.”
Nowitzki, having completed his 14th season in Dallas and a 12th consecutive playoff appearance, said the franchise’s future is as wide open as it is uncertain.
“We have no idea now. We don’t know what’s going to happen this summer. We don’t know what’s going to happen the summer after that,” Nowitzki said. “But we’ll just have to kind of wait and see who can we get, who’s available and who wants to come here. That’s going to be something we see in the future. We can’t make a judgment on that now.”