THE 'TREADMILL OF MEDIOCRITY'
FISH: At different times this offseason, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has spoken of a "two-year plan'' while also whispering to DB.com of having examined a "Double-PipeDream'' while at the same time going all in on Dwight (and Calderon) -- a Plan A that would've made Dallas instant contenders.
Which was it? And which is it now?
D-LORD: Cuban did a variety of radio interviews there before the draft -- and exclusive interviews with DB.com as well -- and said a variety of things. I never know if he does that on purpose to throw people off the scent, or if he's just speaking vaguely enough to let the listener interpret ... and then we all interpret what we wish.
But to me, a "quick rebuild" for the Mavs was the real goal. Avoiding the "Treadmill of Mediocrity'' is something he's always boldly said his franchise would avoid at almost any cost; he was never going to allow his team to muddle along as a borderline playoff team.
That was the goal with Dwight. And they failed to secure Dwight. So they haven't achieved the goal.
And here we sit, on the edge of just that, for a third straight year. And in fact, the last peep Mark made before the free-agent window opened was something about the team hoping to get a lower-tier playoff seed next season.
Is that managing public expectations? Or are the Mavs truly conceding that there's just no way to get good enough?
FISH: The Mavs have fallen and they can't get up? And aren't even trying? I don't agree that they're not trying.
D-LORD: Maybe I'm being harsh, because we know Cuban and Company are too competitive to literally "not try.'' But I've long said that I would have kept Chandler, even if he might have been overpaid by the Knicks. Would keeping him have meant "trying''? And if he was overpaid, couldn't Dallas have done what Houston and Golden State did in their Dwight chase and just position a guy like that for a cap-space move?
The issue isn't TY the player, but the philosophy adopted by Dallas in the post-2011-CBA world: the Mavs stopped trying to improve. Instead, under the new CBA, they've been trying to get by, waiting patiently for the single big stroke.
You can't repeat if you don't improve. You can't improve if you don't gather assets. Dallas stopped doing whatever it could to try to improve each season. That's not something "written into the CBA.'' That was the Mavs' interpretation of it. Other teams interpreted it differently.
And in the West, a bunch of other teams' interpretations have put them ahead of Dallas.
BUILDING TWO WAYS
FISH: They need to rebuild their philosophy and meanwhile, they need to build a basketball team.
What I was told of Plan B is that they wanted to spend their $18M or so in available cap room on long contracts for several mid-talent players to create a low-rung playoff team. ... while still being in the Summer of 2014 running for another superstar. Dirk comes off the books, then back on the books, and you are good again.
Some have argued the plan has been exposed in a few ways. ... that holes have been shot in it by what's transpired. I'm prepared to argue that Monta's dollars fit and that Calderon's dollars fit, and that therefore the Mavs are true to what they told me about that $18-mil Plan B ...
D-LORD: But maybe it began with holes in it and maybe, ultimately, the holes remain. How was that available money going to add up? Get a couple of $9M stars this summer, then Dirk gets $10 million or so next summer, then ... what? How much cap room is left? Two stars' worth? No. One star's worth? Maybe. And who is that star? Who is coming here?
Another hole is that the two $9M second-level stars didn't really happen. Calderon is a valuable player. But nobody considers him a second-tier star. Monta maybe is, so yes, that price can be right. And can be an asset in future deals going forward. I suppose we're getting into the semantics of what a "star'' is.
But the trade-ability of a guy is what interests me, too. As an example: Didn't the Kings want to sign Monta this summer? And don't the Mavs have their eye on Cousins? The next time Dallas calls Sacramento, won't the Mavs at least have something worthy to discuss now?
FISH: Meanwhile, pardon my cynicism because I don't think this has anything to do with "Dallas is a bad city,'' but we now have a sample size of three years of top-notch FAs not coming here. Therefore, spending a year in anticipation of LeBron coming to Dallas is not time well-spent.
It's really not about Dallas. It's about the way deals are allowed to be structured. The present owner wins so often that there is a very short list in the last 10 years of first-team All-NBA talent moving in free agency. Nash, Shaq, Dwight. That's about it. I think the Mavs get credit for their ability to cultivate deals with the second-tier guys. And Dirk has talked about a "Nuggets model'' made up of a nice-fitting group of second-tier guys. But ... when was the last time Denver won anything?
D-LORD: And if the Mavs think they are going to beat those odds? The chosen path means the Mavs will probably field a team for the balance of Dirk's career that surrounds him with mid-talent players and a hope for the best.
FISH: I will say this: I've got to do what's best for the franchise overall, not just what's best for Dirk. He's one of the best things to ever happen to sports in this town -- heck, to sports in this country -- but someday, he'll be a statue. And if the franchise isn't healthy and winning, nobody will come to the AAC to see the team ... or the statue.
HOW TO GET A STAR
D-LORD: So, does the above mean gathering more than one star is an idle dream? Not at all.
Because the Mavs already have Dirk, they have the advantage of being part way there. Under this new CBA, star players are out there to be had, moving from one team to another like never before. But instead of moving via cap space, they are moving in trade.
FISH: And this is The Great Miscalculation by the Mavs. "Cap Space'' isn't King. There are, it's been revealed, lots of "kings.'' And as I point out here, there are lots of factors in FA shopping that put "Chaos Theory'' into play, too.
The Mavs spent two years laying the "Plan Powder'' groundwork for the Dwight deal (or the Anybody Deal) and were beaten to the finish line by the Lakers and the Warriors and the Rockets. LA was in position because it traded for him. Golden State was in position because of two measly days of cap movement. Houston got there after a year of GAINING assets in Lin, Asik and Harden.
Three different approaches. All more successful that "Plan Powder.'' Now, when the trade deadline rolls around, maybe Dallas gets itself a fix. Dalembert is a Band-Aid at center. Might be time to have the assets to at that time pursue Asik ($8.375M) or Gortat ($7.727M)... and you are a step in the right direction.
D-LORD: It's time to notice -- for us to notice and for the Mavs to notice -- that for the most part, the teams that end up with stars largely acquired them by trade. Chris Paul. Deron Williams, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony ... the Mavs need to adjust their course accordingly.
FISH: Agreed. Starting with the recognition that the ultimate asset is … assets. Players. Attractive talent that can draw a star like Howard or be swapped for a star like Howard. ... Not just "room'' -- but the ability to flip a switch to create "room'' when needed.
If the Warriors and Rockets can flip assets (as in "players'') at the last minute to create room, why did Dallas need to spend two years creating room? What if Chandler and Barea were on the Mavs roster as of Friday, July 5; couldn't Dallas have dumped their $15M + $5M salaries to = Dwight's $20M? (I know that's oversimplifying the math, but you get the idea.)
D-LORD: If players are "assets,'' that means the best players are the best assets. Are we ready to think of Dirk in that manner?
THE ONE PRIORITY
D-LORD: Fish, you said it above: The team needs to be placed above the player. Dirk -- who has always conducted himself that way -- will understand.
Maybe the fastest approach to rebuilding is to prioritize the rebuild over all else. That means wins don't matter, players don't matter, and even Dirk has to take a backseat to the quest to get another superstar on this team, one way or another.
Cap room and free agency are the least likely ways to get a star. Draft high or trade well. Until that happens, the Mavs get to credit for really trying to get it done.
FISH: The Mavs have a habit of trying to "discover home runs'' in the draft. And then they have a habit of clinging to their "home-run'' wish no matter what. (Roddy B comes to mind.)
D-LORD: That's got to change. This might be a good time to mention my belief that Dallas' entire draft philosophy should change -- complete with the possible dismissal of the guilty parties. But even if the Mavs dispute that idea (and I'm sure they do, even with the hiring of new GM Rosas), the"Superstar-or-bust" mentality has been killing the team when picking later in the draft. Be willing to take singles and doubles (which can become decent NBA players, which can become trade assets), rather than swinging for the fences when picking outside the top 10.
The draft is about creating assets, even if you can't get the pick to draft the star. Assets can be traded, and trades can bring stars. During the year, accumulate picks (even if protected) so you have picks to trade; you never want to have to trade yours except on draft day.
FISH: The draft is also about Andrew Wiggins. Or, at least this next draft is. I despise what "Team Tank'' thinking can do to a franchise; losing on purpose seems ... I dunno, morally wrong?
And then I look at the Indianapolis Colts. "Bad'' a football generation ago got them Manning. "Bad'' again gets them Luck in this generation. And so for two consecutive football generations, they've only been "bad'' in two total years.
D-LORD: 2014 is the once-a-decade draft with multiple future stars available. I'm with you on the ethics of it all, Fish. But franchises just as proud as this one are going to do it.
I'm willing to say it: Tank, tank, tank – with no remorse – to get a top-three lottery seed or better in 2014 and get that superstar the old-fashioned way.
Now, the signing of Calderon and Monta means an accumulation of assets, a good thing. It also means Dallas has no intention of trying to be bad this year.
But it's not too late to do it.
FISH: Boy, Cuban will need thick skin. Heck, we all will. It will be a painful season. (Not like Mavs fans haven't endured that before). And it comes with no guarantees. What if the Ping-Pong balls don't bounce right? What if they bounce right but Wiggins doesn't become a star? What if he does but you still never win big?
D-LORD: And what of wasting a season of Dirk's career? I wouldn't blame him for not agreeing, but I say ... "Whatever it takes." Lose with him if he's on the roster, or lose without him if he's not, but you have to lose 60-65 games some way or another. If he wants to play to win (and we'd expect no less), trade him for assets and let him help someone else win. Then in 2014, he can return as a free agent.
FISH: OK, but let's make sure to mention that risk, too. Dirk goes and plays for a year with Team X on a rental. The plan is so obviously calling for him to return to Dallas that he keeps his mansion here, etc. But then Team X turns out to be great! And Jessica sure likes City X! And little baby Malaika, she seems to like it there, too!
Pre-planning a divorce-then-re-marriage seems risky.
D-LORD: Gotcha. But do you want more title contention or not? How is it helping Dirk to be a one-city icon if he never wins here again?
D-LORD: Dumping games? Maybe necessary. Dumping assets? NOT necessary.
Wouldn't it be nice to start lining yourself up for LaMarcus Aldridge, the DFW native who wants out of Portland? No, not for when he's a free agent -- for when he's on the trade market! That way you get him and KEEP him!
But to get that asset, you have to have your own. Dallas hung onto Roddy B too long. Refused to move Vince at last February's trade deadline. Isn't pulling the trigger on Marion stuff.
And yet was prepared to "dump'' Marion for nothing this summer.
There are ways to sell assets at the deadline for better assets. There is a way to have cap room to offer at the trade deadline, too.
An expiring-but-talented player like Marion or Carter should be treated like an asset. Let the market come to you, because someone needs him. Or just keep him until the market changes. But don't waste a pick to move him; you should be getting a pick to let him go.
FISH: Examples: It's rumored the Mavs were considering giving a pick to get rid of Marion and that's backwards. We know for a fact they did so to rid themselves of Cunningham. That's putting the engine in reverse. ... There's got to be a better use of picks than as "bribes'' to get people to trade with me.
D-LORD: There should be a new tag attached to a players' file. He shouldn't just have "height'' and "weight'' and "wing span.'' He should be measured by "Assetability.''
What if you accumulated assets that can be traded, and tried to avoid players that are liabilities. Chris Kaman comes to mind; he was here, played poorly on a deal that was celebrated because it was only one year ... and now he's gone, with nothing to show for it.
Add to the player evaluation: If he isn't an asset-to-be, he has no value here.
Carter, Marion, and yes, even Dirk, can bring you value back in exchange. If you don't cash them in, their value will vanish, and they will make you win too many games. You can always re-sign them in a year.
FISH: Tough pill to swallow: The Mavs trying to get better -- but not by winning games.
D-LORD: I would take this concept so far that I would set up my roster with a mix of two-year and three-year contracts so as to have cap room and expirings each year. I'd use cap room and annual exceptions to be able to offer four-year minimum salary deals, with one or more non-guaranteed years, to develop promising players and maximize bargains.
FISH: What else must be done here, though, is more "winning'' in negotiations. Not just on the Dwight level (which would've been nice) but also on the Gal Mekel level. If he can play a little bit, that was a win.
D-LORD: Another potential win: Unless it's a huge bargain, I would offer no four-year deals. Meaning Calderon "won'' that aspect of his negotiation. (That's not to say Jose will fail to be of value in Dallas, as we discuss here.) And here's why:
A four-year contract is not a trade asset. You can stretch-waive a player on a bad deal, but it's not an asset and you can't trade that undesirable for a star.
A player on a bargain deal is the best "cap space" you can have. You can trade them or give them away for a pick at any time you wish.
Preferable contract length is the two-to-three-year contract at a bargain price. That gives a year or so to foster the value and look for a way to reap that value – and the team getting him will have him at a good price for another year. Maybe Devin will fit into this concept.
Until there is a star, free agency, trade deadlines and draft days are times to buy low, sell high … not to build a roster for a few wins.
THE TOTAL PICTURE
LORD: Living by those rules would add up to a lost year on the court, but a focused year in roster-building. Dirk, Marion, and Carter would all get traded for assets usable for trading for a star. Bargain contracts would be pursued, to create more assets. Cap space and players would be available to other GMs, at a price. And the losses on the court would lead to a high draft pick in a stacked draft, where a star can hopefully be obtained.
At the end of the year, ideally a future star has been drafted, assets have been accumulated to trade for another, and there will be cap room for Dirk, perhaps Marion and Carter, and potentially another star in free agency as well. The holdover players will have benefited from a year of generous NBA minutes.
That's the right way to do a "quick rebuild" and with the 2014 draft stacked with talent, now's the time to bite the bullet and do it.
FISH: Cuban has made it clear that he won't go that way, as dissected here by Michael Dugat. The more realistic option: We as Mavs fans -- hungry for a second title and deserving of contention -- at least temporarily manage our expectations. David, you note above that maybe Mark is trying to "manage fans' expectations.'' I don't need his help there; I can decide for myself what is reasonable effort and what is acceptable production.
You get a flavor of that on DB.com Boards and I get it on a daily basis from some of the hundreds of thousands of people who check out DallasBasketball.com every year: "Passionate'' doesn't have to equal "irrational.''
This franchise made a massive admission in the hiring of Rosas, has in Carlisle the right coach to see it through good times and bad, has ownership with an unquenchable commitment to excellence, and most of all, has Dirk -- and Dirk's Seal of Approval.
When attempting to evaluate and improve, the Dirk Seal of Approval is a good start.