I was at a 1998 company Christmas party when host Mark Cuban climbed atop a bar to predict his…
Mavs Donuts: Perception As The Enemy
DONUT 1: When perception becomes The Enemy ...
Perception is a strange beast that sprints perpendicular to reality as often as it strides parallel. Its venom can pollute the eye, the mind and all they encounter. Though often a liar serenaded by habitually lazy thought, perception holds the muscle to overpower the whisper of reason and drown the full breadth of a truth.
Perception is the light where context and complexity may be banished to shadow in favor of shallow conclusions. A belief, an infant faith, it is the voice that demands it be sewn into every opinion, every decision we make.
And, it is unavoidable. We think, we react … we perceive.
DONUT 2: Whoa, who slept with who's wife? ...
By necessity, it is constructed of half-truths … if for no other reason than that it is all life will grant us in far more instances than not. We are creatures of our mind, followers of intricate faiths that bleed to instinct and make up our every move.
We can do no more than chart a course based on the map we know.
We are amassed within the tangled web that is perception. For every action we've taken that bore witness, we are judged. You ran a red light, causing another car to slam on their brakes. Guess what, that car you almost hit thinks you're a bad driver. They have no way of knowing you were rushing a passenger to the hospital. You walk up to someone, tap them on the shoulder and punch them in the face as they turn around; an onlooker likely things you're an asshole or crazy. They have no way of knowing that person slept with your wife the night before.
DONUT 3: Have you seen Joe Johnson "iso?" ...
What do players know? They know what they see on the court. Deron Williams was swayed by the acquisition of Joe Johnson because he's seen him play and respects his abilities. That he carries with him a poison contract that will likely cripple the ability of his team to make improvements down the road isn't of concern … because, have you seen him "iso?"
DONUT 4: The Land of "Forever Tomorrow." ...
And, what of that contract? It shows that his owner is willing to spend, that he's willing to do whatever it takes to win regardless of the impact on his wallet. Again, the impact it will eventually have within the ever-constricting confines of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is irrelevant. The impression has already been made. The problems are in some distant future, sequestered in the land of "Forever Tomorrow."
DONUT 5: They've lost their mojo?! ...
For the Dallas Mavericks, it's reasonable to wonder if perception has become part of the problem … as ironic as that is in this case.
Discard the reality of a plan. Ignore your opinion of that plan. Forget phrases like "financial flexibility" and "cap space." Pull away from the blueprints you've been reading about from the day the lockout ended. In this forum, it's irrelevant.
Be our own Mike Fisher for a moment, who while efforting to unearth every single possible detail from Mavs HQ, culminating this weekend with an exclusive interview with Mark Cuban and then with Donnie Nelson, admits on the DB.com Premium Boards that he's "as exhausted by hoping for "Sammy Superstar'' as any fan is.''
Be our own David Lord for a moment, his mastery of the CBA and its implications about to take a backseat to his questioning of whether "Mark Cuban Has Lost His Mojo?'' (Premium analysis here ... and it's a doozy!)
Look only on the court you find not only the seeds of perception, but also a separate reality judged solely on winning the game, the season at hand … not one, two, three or more years down the road.
If looking at the Mavs, what might you see?
DONUT 6: Cuban at the urinal ...
You see a team still dancing to the songs of a championship … ripped apart. You see Cuban at the urinal and you think it's suddenly negatively symbolic.
You see TY, arguably the best center in the team's history and an ideal complement to your biggest star, Dirk Nowitzki, walk away frustrated … with ownership unwilling to offer the money/years necessary to keep him here.
You see Barea, Caron and Stevenson ushered out the door … having priced themselves out of a job on a team they just helped win a championship.
You see Jet sign what I believe is a reasonable deal (looking solely at the "per-year" costs) with the Boston Celtics … the team that should eventually hang his jersey in the rafters offering nothing more than a tip of the hat and a wave.
You see a hesitancy to spend.
DONUT 7: And suddenly Mark Cuban is ___? ...
Perception does not ask why, it only sees the above.
Suddenly, Mark Cuban is "cheap.'' The owner of a team that's routinely maintained one of the largest three or four payrolls in the league (and no stranger to being the single highest paid roster) is suddenly not willing to spend what it takes to win … or so says the perceptions of some.
"It's better to miss out on the right player than to sign the wrong player," Cuban tells us.
DONUT 8: An empty hand cannot compete with the argument of a fistful of something ...
Only, perception doesn't see the "why," it sees the players above walking away, just as it watches Dallas fail to match what other teams offered Steve Nash. It's almost impossible to show someone the reasoning behind not overpaying a player with anything nearing the influence of seeing that player signed. An empty hand cannot compete with the argument of a fistful of … something … of anything.
DONUT 9: Dallas' "The Week That Wasn't.'' ...
Have you read Donnie Nelson's exclusive Q&A with DallasBasketball.com? It's very meaty and it's very honest, I think. It's a reasoned explanation for much of what happened in Dallas' "The Week That Wasn't.''
And yet ...
The past has slid from the view of perception, the haunts of what's gradually become a mass exodus (Chandler, Barea, Butler, Stevenson, Terry and Kidd) having replaced years of proof that should be enough to ensure us of Cuban's willingness to spend. We need look no further than Deron's own comments for proof of this.
DONUT 10: DeronQuest ...
"I was really close to going to Dallas. Joe (Johnson) got me over the hump," Deron told reporters in Las Vegas for Team USA's first training camp. "It came down to where I had a chance to win … As far as basketball, the direction (the Nets are) going and they're willing to spend money swayed me the other way."
DONUT 11: "Drunk'' with the excitement ...
There's no mention of the reality (or at least the Cuban CBA perception of the reality) that Johnson's deal could eventually cripple the Nets ability to improve enough to overcome other powers in the East – especially if Dwight Howard isn't added to the fold. (Something is supposed to happen to end "Dwightmare'' by, like, yesterday. Stay tuned.) Instead, there's the implication that Dallas isn't headed in the right direction, isn't willing to spend.
This perception isn't players being stupid, not really, just a group of people reacting to what is tangible. It may be, as Skin, Fish and Lord point out, a player getting understandably "drunk'' with the excitement of a signing. But a plan is a ghost. An idea, an ideology, is nothing but words or text or an expression of a hoped-for outcome.
Reality is what stands and breathes in front of you, a truth you can see and touch. Reality is today. Joe Johnson is a reality. Wallace is a reality. Their contracts and any roadblocks they may hide are ideas. They're concerns for another time. For now, D-Will knows he'll be taking the court with two talented players and he knows the owner of the Nets was willing to spend to keep or get them there … because that's what has happened.
They're not "overpaid.'' They're "there.''
The Mavs plans, no matter how well thought-out, no matter how clever or intelligently designed, are merely that: a plan. They're a prospect. They're a potential future. They're words. They're the dream of what could come to be … not what is.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
In an offseason that has seen everything go wrong, perception has turned, becoming a new enemy. Whether it's justified or not, it's hard not to think it may have become a factor. Again, so much so that a serious student of the front-office game like David Lord is driven to examine a possible lack of Mavs' mojo.
It's why we're not letting ourselves get too excited about an amnesty bid on Brand, or an enduing deal with Delonte, or Summer League or the really sunshiny stories the three rookie draftees have to tell. (Though Rick Carlisle announcing of Cunningham "how much he plays in the summer league, if he plays at all, is to be determined'' due to a bad hammy casts a shadow over even that sunshine.)
But, perception's a funny thing … it can change in an instant. A blink of an eye. And in the Mavs' case, of course, driven by a new reality, it simply must.