Howard opted to sign a four-year, $87.6 deal with the Houston Rockets, choosing the Rockets over several suitors making max offers, including the Mavs. Dallas used its available salary cap space to sign several free agents, most significantly signing Ellis to a three-year, $25 million deal.
Cuban said it was too early to say whether Howard or Ellis should be viewed as the "consolation prize," although Dallas clearly made Howard their top priority when free agency opened, with Cuban fronting a Mavs contingency that met with Howard and his agents in Los Angeles.
"Plan B sometimes is better than Plan A," Cuban said about an hour before the Rockets faced the Mavs at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night. "Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't do, but it's still too early to tell."
Ellis, 28, a guard in his ninth season who has never been an All-Star, has exceeded expectations early in his Dallas tenure. He entered the night ranked 11th in the NBA with 22.1 points per game, shooting 47.3 percent from the floor and averaging 5.5 assists.
Howard, 27, a 10-year veteran center who has been an All-Star the last seven seasons, entered the night leading the NBA in rebounding (13.9), ranks fourth in blocked shots (2.4) and averaging 17.2 points per game.
Cuban said this summer that he thought the Mavs were better positioned to compete this season than they would have been with Howard's max deal on the payroll, although Howard would have been the centerpiece for the franchise's future. His point then was that the Mavs were able to sign three starters – Ellis, point guard Jose Calderon (four years, $29 million) and center Samuel Dalembert (two years, $7.6 million) – instead of one with their cap space.
Cuban didn't back off those comments Wednesday, jokingly referring reporters to Google. "It's too early to know," Cuban said. "So far, so good."