DALLAS – Like a savvy point guard playing the passing lane, Mark Cuban saw where the question was going and cut it off.
If this is going to be a down year …
“We’re not ready to go there,” Cuban said. “Look, I’m always the one who says there’s nothing worse than winning 41 games. That’s no-man’s land. You can’t get a good pick. And I don’t see that for us yet.
“Look at it the other way. If we were stumbling along like this and all of the sudden we made a big trade for a German guy for nothing, everyone would say, ‘Oh, let’s see where we can take it.’ So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
This conversation took place at the beginning of the month, when the Mavs were coming off a stretch of eight losses in 11 games. The line of questioning got pushed to the side when the Mavs won four of their next five.
Now that the Mavs have lost three in a row with perhaps the toughest two weeks of the schedule about to start, the rebuilding angle is relevant again, especially with a firm timetable yet to be established for Dirk Nowitzki’s return.
Just don’t expect to convince Cuban that the Mavs would be better off losing. There are a lot of four-letter words that Cuban will let fly on occasion, but “tank” isn’t one of them.
“I just can’t see it,” Cuban said. “We will try to win every game. Just like when I first got here, we were 9-23 and everybody said to tank the season. All the guys that everybody now knows as great, we were trying to trade every day. You’ve just got to build a winning culture. You can’t back away from that.”
A true tanking effort would mean the Mavs would be sellers on the trade market, trying to get picks and/or young players for assets such as O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman. That’s far from Cuban’s thought process at this point. He’d prefer to ponder the Mavs’ future with Mayo.
Cuban hasn’t given up hope that these Mavs can be a threat in the West once their All-Star power forward is in the mix. He also hasn’t given up hope that the Mavs can reload with premier talent without going through a full-fledged rebuilding process, pointing out that the front office has kept its offseason options open via financial flexibility.
These are issues Cuban hasn’t been confronted with before. The Mavs’ lone losing season during his ownership tenure was a 40-42 campaign in 1999-00, when he bought the franchise in midseason and a young team finished strong. The Mavs have made a dozen consecutive playoff appearances since then, winning at least 50 games 11 straight seasons and raising one championship banner.
As competitive as Cuban is, is he capable of being honest with himself if being really bad is in the Mavs’ best interests?
“I’ll know when we suck,” Cuban said. “At the same time, I’ll also know what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s not about anything other than, what puts you in the best position to win a championship?
“When guys know you’re OK with losing, guys play like you’re OK with losing. When guys play like you’re not OK with losing, you get a different culture, different attitude, different approach to the game. We’re not a team that everybody just retired and we’re starting to look like the Bulls in ’98.
“But you won’t see us like some teams have where you win 41 games for three straight years. Then, ‘Oh, this is the year,’ but nothing’s really changed. You won’t see us there.”