Pretend you are Mark Cuban. Maybe you weren't as sold on DeronQuest as your personnel people were.…
The Mavs Through A 'Dark Knight Rises' Prism
Selina Kyle: "Come with me. Save yourself. You don't owe these people any more. You've given them everything."
Batman: "Not everything. Not yet."
Dirk Nowitzki has been the towering figure about these parts for over a decade now, perhaps even a hero to Dallas Mavericks fans. He's given nearly everything to the only franchise he's ever known. Whether it's his body, playing through a myriad of injuries, his money or his dignity – from his silly sense of humor to the silly criticism of those blind to his greatness -- Nowitzki and the Mavericks have become synonymous. His failures were the team's failures and vice versa. Much like Batman at the end of "The Dark Knight," he took the fall for failings that were not his own.
Dirk has given as much and more for this team, and this summer when Deron spurned Dallas and Kidd and Terry left for New York, people began wondering if Dirk would ask for a trade. Why would a great player at the tail end of his prime waste his few remaining years on a team that seemed to be going nowhere? Though Dirk let it be known with a chuckle that he was too old for a rebuilding project, ultimately, he did not ask to be released from his bond to this organization and this city.
In pro sports, Dirk's loyalty has become the exception, not the rule, in the age of LeBrons, Dwights, Boshs and Pauls. This only serves to make Dirk's loyalty and sacrifices all the more meaningful.
Jim Gordon: "We were in this together, and then you were gone. Now this evil... rises. The Batman has to come back."
Bruce Wayne: "What if he doesn't exist any more?"
Jim Gordon: "He must... he must..."
Indeed The Uberman must come back, at least as a transcendant figure. After capturing the championship, Nowitzki took a noticeable step back last season:
PPG 23 21.6
RPG 7 6.8
APG 2.6 2.2
FG% 0.517 0.457
3P% 0.393 0.368
PER 23.4 21.7
Looking at nearly any statistic, advanced or basic, Nowitzki was not his usual self last year. Whether it was a championship hangover, the effects of a long offseason, new teammates, injury or some combination thereof, Dirk was not quite the Dirk we were used to around here. For Dallas to maximize its potential, as is true each and every season around here, Nowitzki must again be at his best.
Bane: "I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope."
Bane's contention is a deep thought. The hype and hope of DeronQuest this summer sure seemed to make that failure sting more when he opted to return to the Nets.
This episode should serve as a lesson. Only under the most extreme of circumstances do superstars leave destination cities AND take less money to switch teams. If the Mavericks, with all the advantages of Deron's hometown, no state income tax, and Dirk's presence couldn't sway Williams, what advantage do they have with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or the rest down the road?
"Despair''? Yes, maybe just a little bit.
Bane: "Do you feel in charge?"
Mark Cuban has made a lot of money by being an early adopter – someone who has seen a void, trend, an idea or a technology coming before anyone else and adapted to future realities before the rest. This talent has earned him a considerable cache of economic reward, i.e. stacks of cash. However, the peril in being an early adopter is that the rest may not see the same thing so soon and still adhere to the old rules of operating. ... so you are the smartest guy in the room, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. (Michael Dugat handles this issue brilliantly here.)
This is the reality right now as the Lakers, Knicks and Nets all improved this offseason by playing by the old economic rules and ignoring the harsh new luxury tax penalties. Meanwhile, at least in the short term, Cuban's squad is left looking up at the big spenders, adhering to "Plan Powder'' and anticipating what's to come.
Selina Kyle: "You think this can last? There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
A minor subplot of TDKR is that of class warfare, with Bane and his ilk representing the 99% and Gotham's elite, the 1%. (Interestingly, Bruce Wayne is (was?) a member of the 1% but fought endlessly for the rest.)
The NBA on the other hand was already a league with a class of "Haves" and "Have-nots." To wit: in the past 32 seasons, only 10 different teams have won NBA championships. The lockout was supposed to address this two-tiered system and bring competitive balance back to the league. So far, it has not. Some are still playing by the old rules, running up mind-boggling luxury tax numbers, Meanwhile, Cuban and Donnie have enacted "Plan Powder'' and some teams are even more empty-handed, witness the rumors of the Kings leaving Sacramento for Virginia Beach.
We were told that the forthcoming harsh luxury tax penalties that will go into effect in the 2013-14 season are so punitive that even Cuban is afraid of them. However, he seems to be among the few NBA owners planning for these eventualities. Perhaps there is a "storm coming," and the ability of teams to maneuver over the cap will be as crippling as Cuban anticipates. The league as a whole would be much better served with more parity.
But at this moment, it certainly looks like almost everybody in the NBA is trying to play in New York, LA or Miami ... creating a top-heavy imbalance.
Scarecrow: "Which will it be, Death or Exile?"
After Bane takes control of Gotham City, a "court" is erected to punish those who previously held power in Gotham. Overseen by the Scarecrow, those on trial are already judged as guilty and given the false options of "death or exile." However, it's not really a choice since both will lead to death.
Similarly, though not nearly as maliciously, last offseason, Chandler was offered a massive one-year deal (total value: $20 mil) or the chance to explore free agency. Cuban presented two options, but there was really only one choice for an athlete who has a narrow window of time to make money. Financial security, in the form of a long-term contract, is a rare thing in the NBA, and it seems it will soon become moreso. So no matter who you blame for the way things went down, it still sometimes feels like the championship squad of 2011 was given the false choice between death or exile.
Daggat: "I paid you a small fortune."
Bane: "And this gives you power over me?"
Recently, Cuban has publically bemoaned Jason Kidd's decision to accept an identical deal from the New York Knicks instead of returning to Dallas. Citing concepts like "loyalty," and "family," Cuban words unveil a sense of betrayal -- but they really shouldn't.
Yes, Cuban has paid a considerable sum for the pleasure of having Kidd captain his basketball team, both in terms of dollars paid and assets used to acquire Kidd. However, as mentioned above, loyalty is no longer the norm in professional sports. (If it ever was.) So for all the money he's been paid and all the achievements he's amassed here, in the end, Kidd did what was best for him.
That's not to vilify him. He did what many of us would have and chose the rational conclusion to the options he was presented. The organization does what is best for itself. Players do what is best for them. It's the reason most players go where they will be paid the most. It is also the reason Kidd's jersey will or won't be raised to the rafters one day. It will happen, or not, based on what's best for the franchise.
Bane: "You fight like a younger man, with nothing held back, admirable but mistaken."
Not often in the NBA do promising youngsters find themselves switching teams. In the case of Collison, Dallas is his third stop in only his fourth NBA season. Similarly, Mayo, after being billed as a star, became something of an afterthought in Memphis. Now, both are looking for a shot at redemption after not fulfilling their potential with their former employers. (Privately, the Mavs believe Mayo is transforming from a player who "acts like a star'' to one who "wants to learn to be one.'')
Neither having played with a player like Nowitzki or a coach like Carlisle, they will have to learn to temper their youthful hubris. Neither will be asked to be a superstar here, but instead will need to find a way to fit into an offense suddenly brimming with options.
Bane: "It doesn't matter who we are, what matters is our plan."
Collison, Mayo, Brand, Kaman, Dahntay, Bernard, Jared and Crowder are hardly names the casual NBA fan will get excited about, especially when compared to Deron and Dwight. However, unsexy as the names may be, they offer something that has not been seen around these parts since June of 2011: hope.
For example, last season's roster was essentially the remnants of the championship squad and fill-ins -- that and The Odious Odom. Though Cuban said the 2011 roster was arguably better than the 2010 squad, few believed him. Indeed, last season's squad won exactly 16 fewer playoff games than the team before them.
This season, the Mavericks have made incremental improvements all over the roster, as I am in the process of detailing piece by piece. (Check the DB.com Archives for the Premium comparisons.) They may not win the championship, but they stand to be a more interesting, more watchable and, in all likelihood, better all around than a year ago, thanks to all the "no-name" newcomers.
Alfred: "I had this fantasy, that I would look across the tables and I'd see you there, with a wife and maybe a couple of kids. You wouldn't say anything to me, nor me to you. But we'd both know that you'd made it, that you were happy."
Cuban and Dirk and company have "made it.'' They've got money, happiness, families and a title. But just as Gotham will always need protection, the Mavs are obliged to continue the pursuit of "making it'' again. And so they shall.