Which owner does Chris Paul want to trust with the prime of his career?
That simple, direct question will probably be at the center of the Mavericks’ July recruiting pitch to the NBA’s premier point guard.
There are plenty of sensible reasons for Paul to want to stay in L.A. The Clippers can offer much more money, are coming off a 56-win season and have a young co-star locked up long term, plus CP3 would surely have the typical franchise player’s right to fire Vinny Del Negro and hand-pick his next head coach if he so desired.
That’s why the Mavs must hammer the Mark Cuban versus Donald Sterling angle. And it needs to be a vicious knockout.
Cuban couldn’t ask for a better opponent. Mudslinging is awfully easy when there’s so much truthful ammunition.
First and foremost, of course, Cuban has to sell the Mavs and himself. He has to make Paul believe that they can build a perennial contender around him, much like the Mavs’ front office did for a dozen years around Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban’s combination of deep pockets, basketball passion and brainpower ranks right above Rick Carlisle’s coaching genius among the Mavs’ top selling points for Paul.
It certainly helps that Cuban has the track record of taking over a league laughingstock and making it one of the NBA’s most respected franchises. His commitment -- financially, emotionally and intellectually -- was a major factor in the Mavs reeling off 11 consecutive 50-win seasons and 12 straight playoff appearances, getting to the Finals twice and winning one championship.
Few franchises can measure up to that success, but it’s especially impressive compared to Sterling’s Clippers.
While Cuban helped lead the Mavs out of laughingstock status, the Clippers spent decades among the dregs of the NBA largely because of Sterling, who is widely considered the worst owner in major professional sports.
And that’s not nearly the nastiest thing said about Sterling, as detailed in the 5,000-plus-word 2009 ESPN The Magazine story headlined, "The disastrous tenure of the Clippers owner runs much deeper than losses." That delves into such disturbing subjects as the lawsuits stemming from Sterling’s attempts to avoid renting to black or Hispanic tenants, sexual harassment of his employees and the married man’s under-oath, unashamed admittance to having a proclivity for high-priced prostitutes.
When it comes to the Clippers, it isn’t necessarily accurate to call Sterling inept. He’s succeeded in his primary goal: Making millions of dollars in profit on a consistent basis. It’s just typically been at the expense of fielding a competitive team.
Since Paul’s arrival in L.A., the Clippers have had the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. They also matched the previous franchise total of playoff series wins, advancing to the second round last season.
The first 30 years under Sterling? The Clippers had a grand total of two winning campaigns and 17 head coaches. Sterling, a billionaire who built his fortune primarily in real estate, became notorious in the NBA for his penny-pinching ways.
"I'm offering a lot of money for a poor black kid," Sterling once allegedly said regarding a difficult negotiation with No. 1 overall pick Danny Manning, according to former general manager Elgin Baylor’s wrongful termination lawsuit.
Another charming Sterling line from that lawsuit: "Look at those beautiful black bodies," which was allegedly often uttered while repeatedly parading a posse of women young enough to be his granddaughters through the Clippers locker room while players were showering. (That story has been confirmed by players, many of whom have been subjected to socializing with Sterling and such women.)
Sterling can claim that he’s changed his basketball ways. He can point to the Clippers’ payroll, which was more than $10 million above the salary cap but still under the luxury tax this season. The post-lockout trade for Paul was the most high-profile of several expensive moves the Clippers have made over the past couple of seasons, including signing Blake Griffin to a max contract that kicks in next season.
Questions the Mavs can pose to Paul: Do you really trust Sterling to continue to spend what’s necessary to give the Clippers the best possible chance to win a championship? How could you trust a man with Sterling’s track record in and out of basketball?
Cuban has proven he’ll pay extraordinary prices to compete for titles. The Mavs have made many creative moves to upgrade personnel during his 13-year tenure, and they usually cost him millions of dollars. Nobody west of New York has paid more in luxury tax over the years.
Of course, Cuban has drawn criticism for the cost-cutting stripping down of the 2011 title team. But that strategy of favoring financial flexibility can be easily explained to Paul, whom the Mavs have coveted so long that they tried to use the expiring contracts of Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse as trade bait to get CP3 and whatever bad contracts New Orleans wanted to dump from tight-fisted former Hornets owner George Shinn.
Cuban valued Paul so much that he was willing to take a massive risk, particularly in the court of public opinion, just to have the chance to make the perennial All-Star point guard a Maverick.
It could all be worth it if Paul’s decision comes down to Cuban versus Sterling.