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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Mark Cuban Has Transformed Mavericks into Mav-Wrecks

In the summer of 2011, the Dallas Mavericks swept the two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers and then dismantled the much ballyhooed Miami Heat to win the franchise's first title. Few teams had the right combination of size, speed, defensive tenacity and offensive firepower to beat both the Lakers (who featured Kobe Bryant on the wing plus two seven footers inside) and the Heat (who featured three of the top 15 players in the NBA, including LeBron James, the consensus best player). However, instead of keeping the core group together and trying to win a repeat title, Dallas owner Mark Cuban elected to not retain the services of starting center Tyson Chandler, dynamic reserve guard J.J. Barea and defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson. The Mavericks dropped from the third seed in the West in 2011 to the seventh seed in the West in 2012 before being swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. Prior to this season, the Mavericks let starting point guard Jason Kidd and valuable sixth man Jason Terry seek greener pastures in New York and Boston respectively. Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are the only players from the 2011 championship team's nine man playoff rotation who still play for Dallas. The Mavericks are currently tied for 12th-13th in the 15 team Western Conference, six and a half games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Cuban let Chandler, Barea and Stevenson go in order to clear salary cap space to acquire Dwight Howard. Strike one--Howard ended up with the L.A. Lakers. Similarly, Cuban did not keep Kidd and Terry because he hoped to woo Deron Williams to come back to Texas, where Williams grew up. Strike two--Williams elected to stay with the Brooklyn Nets (for whom he has hardly looked like a franchise player). Dallas would have a better record this season if Nowitzki had not missed 27 games due to injury but even with a fully healthy Nowitzki the Mavs do not resemble a legitimate championship contender. Nowitzki recently expressed frustration with the way that Cuban broke up a proven roster purely on the wish/assumption that Dallas could sign a big-time free agent: "I always liked to think you don't want to build your franchise on hope."

All of the players who Cuban let walk are still productive: Chandler and Kidd are starters for a New York team that has the second best record in the Eastern Conference, Terry is a solid sometime starter/sometime reserve for Boston, Barea is a spark plug off of the bench for an improving Minnesota team that is challenging for a playoff spot and Stevenson has started 14 games for a surprisingly good Atlanta team. Dallas is supposedly one of the NBA teams that uses "advanced basketball statistics" to make personnel and lineup decisions but--whatever rationale Cuban used--the choice to break up the Mavericks right after the greatest season in franchise history has backfired; the Mavericks are squandering the final years of Nowitzki's career and do not have a clear plan of succession for the post-Nowitzki era.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:23 PM