By Chris Axmann
After the first championship in franchise history, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban let the core of the 2011 team walk out on him: Tyson Chandler left to New York Knicks, Caron Butler signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, and J.J. Barea went to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Instead of sticking with the team that got them there, The Mavericks traded for Lamar Odom, who brought Khloe Kardashian with him: in retrospect, her arrival was the beginning of the end. The defending champ Mavs were swept out of the playoffs in the first round.
Next year, the rest of the core left: Jason Kidd agreed to a deal with the Knicks, and even the Jet took the runway for his last time in a Maverick uniform. Deron Williams chose the Nets, so the Mavericks scraped O.J. Mayo off the bottom of the free-agent bucket. For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, the Mavericks found themselves on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
Golden State Warriors castaway Monta Ellis carried the Mavericks to the Playoffs in 2013-2014, though the team was bounced in the 1st round by the champions-to-be Spurs’ team. The next season, the Mavericks carried Rajon Rondo to the Playoffs in 2014-2015, again being dispatched in the 1st round, this time by the Rockets.
Now, a month after the Mavs third consecutive 1st-round exit, Cuban faces another fork in the road – the same fork that Mavs fans faced a year ago after our dreams of DeAndre Jordan became nightmares of him dancing back to Los Angeles. Cuban knew what the future held last year:
Mark Cuban admitted this was a DeAndre or doom summer. Mavs would have gone in tank mode if they struck out.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 3, 2015
Yes, Cuban knew it then, and he knows it now: 2011 is too far in the rear-view, and that good ol’ Mavs Magic has decidedly turned back into a pumpkin.
It’s time to face the music; someone get Sam Hinkie on the phone, because it’s time for a rebuild.
I would go grab a beer, or, if you’re one of our younger readers, it might be best to just close this window: what comes next is not for the faint of heart.
First off, a rebuild means saying goodbye to Dirk:
“Tanking is just not part of my DNA, not the way I’m wired. I want to win, I want to compete. … I want to have the feeling this franchise is going for it… If a franchise decides to take a few steps back to eventually take another step forward, then I understand that decision. But I don’t need to be a part of that.”
As soon as Dirk puts pen to paper and signs another contract, the Mavericks’ hitch their wagon to another couple of seasons of mediocrity. Yes, Dirk is still producing, but in the absence of some miracle free-agent signings this off-season, contention isn’t in the cards. Judging by our luck in free-agency over the last few years, that seems unlikely to say the least. Dirk’s dedication to winning is admirable, but as teams reap the cap-space rewards of the NBA’s new TV deal, the increased number of competitors for max-contract free-agents push Dallas’ own championship aspirations further and further into the future.
Compare the Warriors’ prospects with those of our beloved Mavericks. On one hand, we have a 73-win team on the verge of a second championship. Going into this off-season, restricted free-agent Harrison Barnes will demand an 8-figure salary, but the Warriors easily have the salary flexibility to keep their core intact. If Golden State should choose to let Barnes walk, taking his choice of the numerous max offers from teams willing and eager to overpay for his services, the team enters the free-agent market alongside our Dallas Mavericks with just as much money to throw at Al Horford or Kevin Durant.
Horford and Durant are both superstars whom have yet to validate their respective superstardoms with that ever-elusive championship ring; if either chooses to leave their current teams (Atlanta and OKC – both teams with more wins than Dallas last season), it will with be greener pastures in mind; It will be difficult for the Mavericks to argue their case.
A similar situation played out just south of Dallas when LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs, who used the cap situation to free up just enough space to absorb the superstar forward on a max-contract. This off-season, rumors are already flying about the possibility of San Antonio landing free-agent point-guard Mike Conley and riding this Summer’s cap spike to yet another star.
In the NBA, not all cap-space is created equal; while the cap continues to balloon over the next few seasons, that will become dramatically clear as the rich get richer and the winning get winning-er. I want the Mavericks to bring a championship trophy back to Dallas as much as any Mavs Fanatic, but after being thoroughly beaten by Durant this post-season, what chance does Dallas have against Kevin Durant next season if he’s playing alongside Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green?
How’s that beer looking? Empty yet?
Good: now, go grab a glass of ice water to wash it down – this next part should be more refreshing.
This is Dirk’s city, through and through: if Dirk wants to go at it again next season, we’re right there with him, championship or not. This is Dirk Nowitzki we’re talking about: champion, MVP (regular season and Finals), and the best basketball player that has ever suited up in blue and white. Cuban and Donnie won’t blow this up until he’s had his fill of the bright lights and hangs it up to pursue his next arena.
But, we need to know what we’re signing up for. This next couple of seasons might be a bumpy ride: heck, the next couple seasons after them might be even bumpier. So, in my next article, I’m going to break down the prospects who could help Chandler Parsons and young star-to-be Justin Anderson bring the Mavs into the post-Dirk era and beyond.
Meanwhile, Mavs fans will enjoy 41 more home games of Dirk greatness; and, If Dirk wants to sign up for another 41 after next season, then we’ll show up to a sold out arena to be there too. Until the day comes that Dirk walks off the court for good, let’s not sweat the small stuff too much – just enough to keep the Mavericks’ future as bright as the team’s past.
The Mavericks’ second championship can wait if it has to; let’s enjoy Dirk while he’s still around to witness. We might get lucky and rediscover the championship chemistry that we witnessed in 2011; either way, Cuban will have another season or two to work on the statue of Dirk’s classic fadeaway that should be put right in front of the American Airlines Center in Victory Park.
The extra year or two should be plenty of time for Cuban to make sure that the statue is flawless: we all know that Dirk deserves nothing less.
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