Here’s how Mark Cuban views the first NBA postseason that doesn’t include Dallas in a dozen years: "Mavs fans just want teams with free agents to get eliminated early."
Well, then Lakers-Spurs couldn’t have gone better, huh?
After all, Dwight Howard’s team got swept. Heck, Howard didn’t even stick around the whole four games, getting ejected early in the second half of the embarrassing finale. And then he called his season in Los Angeles "a nightmare."
Howard, as expected, is sending all sorts of mixed messages about whether he’ll stay or leave L.A. It’s at least enough of a possibility that the Mavs must be fully prepared to make their best recruiting pitch.
And, no, there isn’t any question about whether the Mavs would want to take on all that Dwight drama. Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb for NBA GMs: If you can get the game’s best big man in his prime, do it.
Howard has plenty of baggage, but he’s a perennial All-Star who averaged 17.1 points, a league-high 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in a down year while coming off back surgery and dealing with a bum shoulder. He represents the Mavs’ best chance of pulling off the "quick rebuild" that Cuban is determined to make happen.
(That’s assuming Chris Paul stays with the Clippers, which we’ll probably address after the other L.A. team’s playoff run is over.)
Let’s make another thing clear: A lack of cap space won’t be the reason if the Mavs miss out on Howard. They’d have to move Shawn Marion or Vince Carter to be able to give him a max deal, but it wouldn’t be difficult to dump the salary of a quality veteran entering the last year of his contract. (CBA expert Larry Coon details the Mavs’ cap situation to the dollar here.)
First and foremost, it’s a matter of whether Howard is miserable enough as a SoCal scapegoat to leave the Lakers’ five-year, $118 million offer on the table to take $87.6 million over four years from another team.
If that’s the case, then Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle and that goofy German guy must make a strong enough pitch to persuade Howard to pick Dallas instead of other potential destinations, such as Houston or Atlanta.
All due respect to Dirk Nowitzki, who is more than willing to become the second fiddle to accommodate a twenty-something superstar, but the presence of one of the all-time best power forwards can’t be the Mavs’ primary selling point. Not with Nowitzki turning 35 this summer and James Harden just approaching his prime in Houston.
The Mavs must sell Howard on their ability to build and sustain a contender around him. They did it for a dozen years around Dirk, and they need to make Howard believe they can do it for a decade around him.
Cuban, who is making the great sacrifice of not scheduling any "Shark Tank" tapings during the July free agency period, has to paint a championship picture for Howard. The big man has to believe, with the Mavs scheduled to have a ton of cap space again next summer, that the front office can put the pieces around him required to get another ring.
Two major pieces are in place: Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle, who can help the Mavs’ cause by showing clips of some of the plays the Pacers used to run to get Jermaine O'Neal the rock during his All-Star days.
And the Mavs must play to Howard’s flaws, convincing him that he’ll be comfortable in Dallas for the rest of his career. It helps that the front office has a strong relationship with agent Dan Fegan, who also represents Marion.
Is it likely that Howard will leave L.A. for Dallas? Nope.
But, hey, what were the odds in October that the Lakers wouldn’t win a single playoff game? That stunning development – and all the drama that unfolded this season in L.A. – certainly improved the Mavs’ odds of landing the NBA’s best big man as their next centerpiece.