Like the man who traded a paperclip and ended up with a house, piece-by-piece and brick-by-brick is…
The 'Jurassic Mavs' And 'Chaos Theory'
A brilliant plan can no longer be touted as ‘brilliant' after it's failed. In this sense, the Mavs are ‘Jurassic Park,' in which amusement-park scientists built real dinosaurs by extracting their DNA from the bellies of mosquitos preserved in amber. Brilliant! (Until the dinosaurs began dining on amusement-park guests.) What went wrong with in the movie is the same thing that's gone wrong with the Dallas Mavericks' "Plan Powder:
"You decide you won't be at the mercy of nature. You decide you'll control nature, and from that moment on you're in deep trouble, because you can't do it…. Don't confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can't make the ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can't make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe." – Dr. Ian Malcolm, from Michael Critchton's book (and film) "Jurassic Park.''
"We had to change our approach," Mavs owner Cuban told DallasBasketball.com in December of 2011, after the franchise's glorious championship and painful reaction to the new CBA installed that fall. "Under the old CBA rules, we keep everybody, for sure. But the rules changed.''
The approach became known as "Plan Powder.'' It was hardly universally beloved; after all, it meant that Dallas would have to allow members of the title team to go free. Most notable, of course, were center Tyson Chandler and backup point guard J.J. Barea. The Mavs front office wanted them back, but their return would have to be on Dallas' terms … on what Dallas views as the CBA's terms, really.
It was an excruciating process for Mavs fans. But it was more excruciating for Cuban – who is a fan, too, immersed in the business and pleasure of this franchise more than any of us, and acutely unhappy about having the CBA change (which he voted against) force him to do something he found unsavory.
"In this system,'' Cuban told us then, making what he believed to be the best of it, "cap room will be more valuable than ever.''
"Cap room'' was going to be the inventive way to lure LeBron James to Dallas in the summer of 2010. And it was going to be the inventive way to lure Deron Williams to Dallas in the summer of 2012. And it was going to be the inventive way to lure Chris Paul or Dwight Howard – or hell, why not both? – to Dallas in the summer of 2013.
Of course, what Dallas did in stripping down the title team – firm in the belief that Tyson wasn't going to be great enough to lead the Mavs to continued title contention and therefore not worth "superstar money'' -- wasn't actually "forced'' by the CBA. It was dictated by Dallas' interpretation of it, and Dallas' basketball-science prediction of what was to come.
"This was the plan the minute we agreed to the new CBA," Cuban told us. "This is 100 percent about the CBA and understanding the impact it will have on the market."
Many of us – certainly me – swooned over Dallas' obvious mastery of the labyrinthine CBA. Media experts on the subject, including our own David Lord, weren't convinced that letting Chandler go was wise. Still, the Mavs had done their homework. And for the most part, we were impressed when they showed us their work.
"You never had control, that's the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. But I made a mistake, too, I didn't have enough respect for that power and it's out now.'' - Dr. Ellie Sattler.
And that's where Chaos Theory rears its predictably unpredictable head.
In the 1991 book, "Jurassic Park'' visitor Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematics expert, is troubled by Hammond's belief that he's gained control of nature. Malcolm warns of "an inherent danger" with Jurassic Park due to "the unpredictability of complex systems."
And with the 1993 release of the movie, "Chaos Theory'' seeped into pop culture.
Chaos Theory, as explained by Dr. Malcolm, states that tiny variations or actions within a complex system will cause unforeseen, drastic changes to the system as a whole. And because there are so many small, unpredictable variables in nature, there are dangers in assuming the viability of a complex plan, no matter how brilliant.
"The type of control you're attempting,'' Malcolm tells Hammond, "is not possible. Life finds a way."
What happens inside the ingeniously-planned Jurassic Park? A car's engine stalls. … A corrupt employee deactivates a security fence … Females find ways to breed with each other … The T-Rex doesn't want to be fed a chained goat, it wants to hunt its prey. … Nature overtakes nurture.
What's happened inside the Mavs' ingenious plan? "Chaos Theory.''
The Mavs had their summer-of-2010 cap room but never even got a meeting with LeBron James. We wrote stories and recorded songs while the Mavs plotted out a presentation … that never was presented. (Maybe because Heat boss Pat Riley engaged in secret and not-exactly-legal meetings with James before he was ever a free agent.)
They had their financial ducks in a row for summer-of-2012, too. I remember vividly the numbers entering last offseason: Dallas had less than $40 million committed for 2012-13. The cap was going to be $58 million. That left $18 million, exactly the right amount to bring DFW native Deron Williams home. He was clearly unhappy with the Nets and he was clearly an object of the Mavs' affection.
The Mavs believed their pitch was pitch-perfect, with every detail covered -- right down to how the DFW native Williams would add power to his in-laws' Carrollton-based ministry.
The Mavs couldn't have predicted that Williams would be attracted to remaining with the Nets by their acquisition of Joe Johnson, playing on what Dallas officials thought was the NBA's most bloated contract. ("The Shiny Object Factor.'') They will never know if Cuban's decision to fulfill his commitment to the TV show "Shark Tank'' (thereby missing the Deron meeting) negatively impacted talks. Maybe somebody said the wrong thing in the meeting, maybe the Nets said the right thing, or maybe the fifth-year guaranteed money for a free agent to remain with his present employer is all it takes for a guy to stay.
Deron didn't come to Dallas.
This offseason, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard were targets 1A and 1B. The Mavs' intellectual approach to the financial juggling put them in the incredible and enviable position of being able to consider "The Double-PipeDream'' of acquiring Paul AND Howard … and when rumors surfaced this summer of the two of them wanting to play together … Well, "Plan Powder'' looked especially astute.
But then the traditionally stupid and frugal Clippers did something smart – and highly unpredictable: They moved mountains to hire Doc Rivers. Paul, as a result, never entered the free-agent market.
And then Dwight Howard involved himself in a series of unpredictable events, too. Did Kobe say something offensive to him? Why wasn't Phil at the Lakers meeting? How did the Warriors get involved in this? How is it that Dallas was stripping itself of assets while Houston was gathering assets … and Houston's sales pitch is the successful one?
Oh, and in the end, involving Dirk Nowitzki in the Dwight recruiting meeting -- a theoretical closer -- didn't matter as much to Howard as the series of "Dear Dwight'' texts from the innocuous Chandler Parsons that put the Rockets over the top?
What was Chandler Parsons doing in the fall of 2011, as the CBA was being ratified? Recovering from his Florida Gators losing to Butler in the Elite Eight. Reveling in having been named "Fifth Team All-America.'' Getting his degree in telecommunications. Being selected in the second round by Houston. Spending the lockout playing with Cholet Basket (France), averaging 10 points a game.
How could anyone have predicted that a "Fifth Team All-America'' from Florida was going to serve as the Dwight Howard tipping point?
To his credit, Cuban isn't running away from the truth of the results.
"We obviously went after Dwight,'' he said to DB.com here and then elaborated on KESN. "We were disappointed, that was our primary goal. We failed in that. It was unfortunate but that was the way it turned.''
"We failed'' are not a pair of words often uttered around here. But the words fit.
One of the reasons trades serve as a time-proven method of team-building is that the player -- poor indentured servant that he is -- hasn't a voice. It's two teams, bartering mostly in private, business performed behind the curtain, and agents and fans and teammates and wives and the media are not actors in the play. Trades eliminate the tiny variations or actions within a complex system will cause unforeseen, drastic changes to the system as a whole.
Attempting trades, if only for that reason, is a method superior to free-agent courting.
There was no way to calculate or predict the impact of Riley's envelope-pushing or Joe Johnson as a shiny object or "Shark Tank'' as a Cuban lure or Doc Rivers leaving Boston or Chandler Parsons having any influence on anything or anyone, ever.
The Mavs' next plan -- or heck, their next move of any kind -- should bow to the concept maybe first recognized by Aristotle, and then violated inside "Jurassic Park":
And maybe it does. Cuban points out that post-Dwight, "We had a Plan B and the Plan B was to put together the best possible team that not only gives us a chance to compete this season but creates a foundation for future seasons, knowing that we still have max cap room and flexibility to improve our team going forward.''
Have they done that? Nowitzki is at $22,721,381 but comes off the books next summer and is willing to give Dallas a massive home-town discount. Marion's at $9,316,796 and is an expiring. Ellis is at $8,000,000, a bargain compared to what his previous employer was offering. Same with Calderon at $6,791,570 (relative to his $11-mil salary last year.) The Mavs are in control of their future commitment to Dalembert at $3,700,748, less than half what last year's starting center (Kaman) made. B-Wright is a nice value at $5 mil and Carter is still a steal at $3,180,000. Ellington is at $2.6 mil. The Mavs will have Larkin at $1,280,800. Crowder is paid $788,872. James is done right there, too. Ledo is locked down at $544,000. Mekel is locked down at $490,180.
All that fits. A little more to come. (DeJuan Blair at the minimum?) And cap room for next summer as well.
Meanwhile, you'll note that there isn't a newly-inked one-year deal in the bunch. The "One-Year Contract Experiment'' of last year is dead, also a failed bit. And Cuban and Donnie have hired a new GM, Gersson Rosas, maybe the biggest change/admission of all ... and a humbling one, if you think about it.
"The kind of control you're attempting simply is... it's not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but,... I'm simply saying that life finds a way.'' – Dr. Ian Malcolm