LAS VEGAS (CBS SPORTS) – It’s been a weird 13 months for the Dallas Mavericks. Not long after raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy as 2011 NBA champions, their typically big-spending owner, Mark Cuban, morphed into a Nervous Nellie.
Well, maybe that’s a bad choice of words, given Cuban’s past entanglements with someone named Nellie. But, the point is, the owner who epitomized the sky’s-the-limit spending philosophy under the previous rules has flipped 180 degrees to a sky-is-falling strategy. And you know what? It’s working.
Working, you say? Cuban purposely cleared massive amounts of cap space for a run at Deron Williams and/or Dwight Howard and went 0-for-2 for various reasons in and out of his control. He wound up with a modest free-agent haul in O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman, traded for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones, and plucked Elton Brand off amnesty waivers. But in the new world order of the NBA’s financial reset and more restrictive collective bargaining agreement, Cuban was simply playing the cards he was dealt — or, rather, the cards he helped deal. The deciding factor will be whether his interpretation of what the new landscape means is correct, and I wouldn’t bet against him.
Despite his unprecedented posture of restraint in the months that have passed since Dallas’ championship, I wouldn’t count on Cuban being quiet and timid — maybe strategic is a better word — for much longer.
“I just think there’s a different approach,” Cuban told CBS Sports during an interview at Summer League, which wrapped up Sunday in Las Vegas. “You see what’s happening with teams that are up against the financial limits and it’s impacting their behavior. But we haven’t seen what’s going to happen with the trade limitations and things like that — not being able to do sign-and-trades, all that kind of stuff.”
For a deep-pocketed owner who’s always been willing to trade and deficit-spend his way to success, how is this new model better? Why would he fight for a system that stops him from spending and trading?
“Is it better? It’s just different,” Cuban said. “The rules are the rules. Look at Chicago — they got rid of three really good rotation players because of the new CBA. Look at New York — they weren’t able to match on Jeremy Lin. Under the old CBA, it would’ve been a no-brainer. And that’s before the trade limitations and different team-building impacts come into play, and those don’t start until next year. There’s some teams that just are oblivious to them that I think it’s going to hurt, but we’ll see. Maybe I’m wrong.”
Don’t bet on it. Cuban was always the renegade willing to spend and take on bad contracts to keep his payroll high and his team’s success constant, because that’s what the rules allowed. League negotiators admitted during the lockout that the old luxury-tax system didn’t have the intended effect of suppressing the payrolls of the top-spending teams, and Cuban’s Mavs were Exhibit A in the conference room during all those months of negotiations.
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