NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Cuban's greatest fear for the Dallas Mavericks is playing out in Brooklyn.
The Mavs owner was heavily criticized for stripping down his 2011 championship roster after the ensuing NBA lockout, opting to create space under the salary cap by not making competitive bids for several key players once they became free agents. His concern was that the franchise would deteriorate into an expensive team that wasn't good enough to contend and didn't have any realistic avenues to improve under the new collective bargaining agreement.
That appears to be the scenario for the Brooklyn Nets, who have stumbled to a 5-13 start despite a veteran-loaded roster with a bloated payroll that will cost owner Mikhail Prokhorov $190 million including the luxury tax this season.
"That's exactly right," Cuban said Wednesday night. "You get stuck. That's exactly what I thought. ... That was definitely a fear."
Cuban had paid the luxury tax every season of its existence until 2011-12. The new CBA includes much harsher luxury tax penalties, which escalate for repeater taxpaying teams and at an incremental rate based on how much teams are over the limit.
However, it's not necessarily the money that concerned Cuban. Rather, it's the difficulty of improving a roster as a team paying the luxury tax under the current set of rules that led him to bid farewell to key championship pieces such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and current Nets guard Jason Terry.
"Those two go hand in hand," Cuban said. "If we were [a team full of 25-year-olds], the massive luxury tax bill is nothing. But when you know as you get older, you get stuck. ... It's not just that you're stuck for a week or a half a season, you're stuck. Now that the rules got even more stringent, you're even more stuck."
Cuban's plan had been to sign a superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki in one of the last two offseasons. But he struck out on that goal, as Nets point guard Deron Williams and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard turned down the Mavs and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul declined even a meeting with the team.
The Mavs instead added several free agents this summer, a crop headlined by guards Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. They're now positioned to contend for a Western Conference playoff spot -- after Dallas' 12-year playoff run ended last season -- and will have the cap space to be major players in free agency again this summer.
The Nets did manage to make bold moves last summer, acquiring 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce and 36-year old Terry in a trade with the Boston Celtics. Their contracts are worth a combined $33.4 million plus luxury-tax penalties this season. Garnett and Terry are signed through next season.
"There was a reason they were trying to get rid of them," Cuban said of those contracts.
That trade created a lot of positive publicity for the Nets at the time, but it hasn't panned out so far. The production of Pierce (12.4 points per game), Garnett (6.5) and Terry (5.3) has dropped off dramatically from last season in Boston, much less the prime of their careers. Now, the Nets are in the news for the wrong reasons.
"It was almost like the Lakers, right?" Cuban said, referring to last season's heavily hyped Los Angeles team after its summer acquisitions of Howard and Steve Nash. "It was just preordained, a super team, and it's just tough. We went into last season thinking the Lakers [would be great]. The discussion was, would they win 70 games? Super teams are tough, particularly as guys get older. Again, they could still turn it all around. It's just not easy."
Asked if he had any advice for Prokhorov, Cuban cracked, "Drink more? I don't know."