Cuban might never admit this publicly, but he’s surely taking great pleasure in forcing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to scramble.
There is mutual respect between the front offices in Dallas and Houston, two franchises that have been at the forefront of the NBA’s analytics revolution, with tech-geek Cuban and MIT-educated Morey leading the way. There is also a pretty intense rivalry brewing between those front offices and particularly the two men who are accustomed to being the smartest guy in the room.
Remember that text message Morey sent Cuban last summer inquiring about a deal for Dirk Nowitzki? Cuban took it as a taunt after Dwight Howard declined overtures from Dallas and others to head to Houston. Morey later claimed that it was a panicked plea when he momentarily thought the Rockets didn’t win the Dwight sweepstakes. Sure.
What about the leaks this summer that the Rockets would love to pay Nowitzki like a superstar? Dirk’s intention to give the Mavs a massive hometown discount had been on the record for a full year.
Of course, Cuban is far from an innocent victim in all of this. His recruiting pitch to Howard took shots at the Rockets, such as referencing the fact that Houston has won a grand total of one playoff series in the last decade and a half, contrasting that to the championship culture the Mavs have created. You can bet that got back to Morey.
Then there was the bizarre, brief tenure of Morey’s lieutenant Gersson Rosas as the Mavs’ general manager. It lasted for all of three months before Rosas resigned on the eve of the season opener and soon resurfaced in the Rockets’ front office.
Cuban claimed after Rosas’ departure that the parties agreed he’d come to Dallas for a trial period, but consider how ridiculous that would be. The Mavs were going to give a high-ranking executive from a division rival three months of full access before deciding if he wanted to stick around or head back home? Right.
The truth is that Rosas, who was hired with the understanding that he’d report to longtime Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, made a play to get the kind of power typically associated with the GM title. The “mutual decision” was made for Rosas to resign after Cuban quickly shut down his power play.
Cuban, who has been heavily criticized for his salary-cap-influenced decision to break up the aging 2011 title team, also has to be sick of hearing about Morey’s mastery of this collective bargaining agreement. Not that Morey doesn’t deserve credit. The Rockets have done a phenomenal job of rebuilding over the last few years, accumulating the assets to trade for James Harden and creating the cap space to bid on stars while still fielding a playoff team.
But Morey made a major mistake this summer, declining the option to pay Parsons $965,000 next season in the final year of his rookie contract. The logic was that the Rockets wanted the right to match any offer for their former second-round pick instead of Parsons being an unrestricted free agent next summer, but Morey surely didn’t envision having to pay more than $15 million per year to keep Parsons.
Cuban pounced on Morey’s mistake, having the luxury to bid high because of the Dirk discount.
Again, all this recent history didn’t motivate the Mavs to sign Parsons to a three-year, $46 million offer sheet. That happened because Dallas is determined to make a major upgrade at small forward and pegged Parsons as the best of their Plan B targets after their low-percentage pursuits of superstars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony didn’t pan out.
It was purely a basketball decision, plain and simple. The Mavs made an offer that would be painful for the Rockets to match because Dallas’ decision-makers believe adding Parsons can push last season’s eighth seed up the West standings.
But putting the heat on Houston’s front office, throwing a major wrench in Morey’s ambitious plan to sign Chris Bosh and keep Parsons, is a heck of a bonus, if Cuban is being honest.
As Cuban said about Morey's text taunt, "That's fine. But payback is a bitch."