DONUT 1: How to judge ...
Sometimes, schemes are judged on their merits by the outcomes they produce. Other times good plans can remain so regardless of their results. Often, success or failure is determined by execution.
So how should we judge the Dallas Mavericks’s grand experiment to acquire a second superstar to pair with, and eventually succeed Dirk?
DONUT 2: The Scoop Of The Day ...
DallasBasketball.com first learned (at 3:08 p.m. Dallas time on Wednesday) the Mavs were in negotiations with both Steve Nash and his soon-to-be ex-employer the Suns. The Knicks were trying to engineer a sign-and-trade for Nash (maybe worth $27 mil over three). The Raptors already sold the farm in their three-year, $32 mil bid.
The Mavs wanted in. Their offer? We are told is is the $8.9 million TE they received in the Odom dump. But it's the other end of the Odom stick that whacks them: Nashie is going to the hated Lakers, with a packet of picks going to Phoenix.
Remember that the decision wasn't up to the Suns, but rather up to Nash. Maybe Phoenix liked Dallas' TE. But it's what Nash wants ... and word is LA helps him be close to Phoenix-based ex-wife and their children.
Dallas' years and money may have driven part of his decision, too. But shy of every detail, this we know: It's nother decision that goes against Dallas ...
DONUT 3: Meanwhile, back at the judgement table ...
To answer that question of how to judge Dallas, we must first recall the radical change in philosophy that was adopted prior to setting the superstar acquisition goal. For the better part of the Mark Cuban Era in Dallas, the Mavericks have rung up large salary bills while acquiring successively increasing talent. To be fair, they can occasionally be accused of overpaying said talent, consistently being among the top-spending teams in the league. However their efforts bore the fruit of perennial playoff contention and were recently affirmed by a championship trophy. Therefore it is difficult to wholly discount their approach. Furthermore, their philosophy was routinely validated by their uncanny ability to hit home runs in the trade market.
However, with the ratification of the new CBA, this approach was deemed unsustainable, and a radical shift in philosophy took place. In place of overpaying slightly-above-average players (something the new CBA was supposed to correct), Dallas adopted a new plan based on fiscal responsibility and cap flexibility in pursuit of a superstar talent, namely some combination of Dwight Howard, Deron Williams or Chris Paul. The latter two ultimately opted in for one more season with their current and thus, the quest became solely focused on Deron Williams.
To make such an acquisition, Dallas needed to begin ridding it self of its salary commitments and would be unable to meet market rates for its free agents from the championship team. Thus, Tyson Chandler, the consensus best center in team history and heart of 2011’s squad, was allowed to walk away after declining Dallas’ reported $20 million, one-year offer. (Similarly, JJB and Butler and Stevenson also were allowed to make their exits.)
Dopey move on TY? It is destined to be a Mavs Immortal Debate.
DONUT 4: The "Difference'' ...
There are two important points to be made before moving forward. One, had those four been retained, and the championship roster returned largely intact, repeat results were far from guaranteed. In the words of veteran colleague Jan Hubbard, "There is a difference between a championship team and a team that wins a championship.'' The Mavericks were the latter and maybe the fifth most talented team in the 2011 playoffs but happened to catch fire at the right moment, giving us one of the most magical, vindicating Cinderella runs in recent playoff history. Saying such does not detract from their accomplishments.
Two, the sole pursuit of fiscal responsibility and cap flexibility are not without their own merits. In a climate that would soon punish big spenders far more harshly than previous years, avoiding the pitfalls of overspending is and will be key to future flexibility of the franchise. Thus, we arrive at the dual meaning of Donnie Nelson’s “financial flexibility is key” credo: avoidance of penalties and the means of superstar acquisition.
With these ideas in mind, Dallas moved away from its old model of roster building towards the twin goals of financial flexibility for superstars in the long term and remaining competitive in the short term. As mentioned, Chandler, Butler, JJB and Stevenson were allowed to walk away. Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer were dumped. More recently, Jason Terry has been allowed to jet away to Boston. All of these moves were made with a single goal in mind.
DONUT 5: The "Gambles'' ...
The decisions have been framed as a gamble throughout much of the Internet by columnists and bloggers, and we all get that. It is a sizeable risk to surrender such productive pieces in the pursuit of greater, with no guarantee of ever achieving that goal. In the superstar-driven NBA, and especially in the SuperTeam era, such can even be deemed a wise gamble and necessary for the franchise to take the next step and remain competitive in the years to come.
However, even wise gambles do not necessarily constitute sound strategy. Our concerns with Dallas’ adopted strategy are twofold: poor asset management, and the inherent dangers of free agency.
Indeed, as mentioned, Dallas surrendered a bevy of assets in pursuit of a chance that a superstar (or two) would decide to come here. In so doing, valuable assets have been lost to a franchise that historically, has been so adept at managing them.
Say what you will about the contracts the outgoing players received and whether or not you believe their production worthy of such. Historically, Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban showed cleverness in talent acquisition via trades. Often, this meant taking on bad contracts, and this method would be far less appealing under the terms of the new CBA. However, just because the front office would lose its fastball does not mean the front office lacked pitches in its arsenal. The Mavericks were chasing roster flexibility, but Dallas’ roster already was unusually flexible by virtue of who was running the show. However, by letting so many assets go, the roster is now woefully short of talent and nearly devoid of tradable assets.
However, all of these assets had to be relinquished in order to jump into the free agency process in a meaningful way. The downside of this plan is it doubled down in an arena where Dallas has so rarely been successful. Part of their lack of success is due to lack of opportunity, as mentioned the Mavericks spending habits precluded them from participation.
However, even when presented with their best opportunity in years, there seemed to be problems with the approach to Deron Williams.
Perhaps Mark Cuban’s absence at the pitch meeting did not affect the outcome, or perhaps it did surrender a chance Dallas had to demonstrate a key advantage: involved ownership. Mikhail Prokhorov and Cuban, functionally, are the same NBA owner in terms of war chests. Yes Prokhorov’s wealth is greater, but one can only spend so much money in the NBA. (Or so we thought.)
To the eye of perception (if not the eye of reality) Dallas’s strategic advantage was squandered when Cuban opted to remain in LA to film “Shark Tank”/be closer to AgentLand.
The easiest move would've been to keep Tyson. What fan would've bitched about that? What reporter would've dissed it, or bothered to cite CBA reasons against it?
So yeah, Dallas went with the not-easy move. ... Tyson out, a Deronesque player in ... and Michael Finley in part in charge?!
DONUT 6: "Strawberry-and-Creamed'' ...
It doesn’t matter what the truth of the situation was, it’s perception that’s key, especially in sales. The perception that emerged in the last few days, at least publically, was of a distant Cuban and Nowitzki ... Dirk in England for Wimbeldon ... while the Mavs' were getting strawberry-and-creamed in negotiations.
Here's a thought why maybe all Mavs hands should've been on deck: Is somebody going to tell us that Dirk in the room wouldn't have influenced Nashie?
Further, Brooklyn was busy making a string of acquisitions to impress Deron. Yes, the Nets have painted themselves into a corner with the acquisitions of Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Mirza Teletovic, and Reggie Evans. Furthermore, there was the sexy breaking of fake-news that the Nets were still involved in Dwight Howard talks.
But Nash and the Lakers? It's easy to put Brooklyn in the rear-view. But the Lakers? Every-present in a frame above our Fireplace of Hate.
Meanwhile, Dallas had to strip down just to have a seat at the Deron table and had to endure Odom to have the tool to bid on Nash. It’s hard to sell NBA players, who often lack knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts of salary implications and roster building, on the merits of cap space and flexibility.
When comparing Dallas’ threadbare roster to the perception of a rapidly improving Nets squad, coupled with an already-better offer on the table from Brooklyn, maybe the advantage shifted even further in New Jersey’s direction. In LA, Kobe probably helps, eh? Furthermore, with the squandering of one of Dallas’ key advantages -- Cuban as a shark in real life instead of one on TV -- it’s easy to see how Deron arrived at his decision. ... And when the charming Nash holds his presser, America (if not Canada, which must feel betrayed) will understand.
DONUT 7: Follow Fish and the Mavs on Twitter! ...
DONUT 8: Wrong-Way Mavs? ...
So was Dallas’ approach the wrong one? Was their plan wrong all along? It’s easy to let your heart yell that but hard to get your head to prove.
Financial flexibility is no less important today than it was on December 25th when last season began. (Except ... We are working on one theory that we're going to get Mavs execs' help on ... which might require them to admit a huge miscalculation.) For now, though ... cap space cannot score 20 points a night and lock down the paint on defense.
Roster flexibility cannot help ease Dirk’s burden and take over for him when he retires. Dallas is not crippled being stuck in bad contracts owed to a declining roster. However, currently, they seem quite impotent with only cap space as their biggest means of talent acquisition.
The powder is still dry. For what that is worth.
DONUT 9: DB.com on the radio this week ...
Fish joins Elf on Thursday and Friday on 105.3 The Fan, co-hosting as we talk Mavs and Cowboys and Rangers with you ... join us!
DONUT 10: The Mavs Suicide Hotline ...
So we vent. This midnight reflection on the Deron Decision and "The Mavs Suicide Hotline'' starts like this:
We’re manning the phones at The Mavs Suicide Hotline. And we’re calling the phones, too. Irrational? Emotional? Is that us? We’re fans like you, the only difference being the credentialed lanyards that stupidly hang from our necks. And with Deron Dissing Dallas, we’ve earned the right to irrational emotion. So hand Fish a pitchfork. Hand MDug a torch. Let’s go roast the f--- outta the Mavs.
You think that's a smug mockery of your anger? You are wrong. It is an honest statement on OUR anger. Yours and ours.
DONUT 11: Getting Beyond Deron and Steve Nash ...
The merits of the plan do not depend on these PG’s decisions. Dallas began this process chasing the Nets built-in advantage to offer more money and an extra year to Williams. They placed themselves in a position of make the pitch. If there are criticisms to be made, then the execution of the plan is the target. However, it’s unknown how many, if any, mistakes Dallas made in this process, since we may never know how close Deron came to signing with Dallas. Nashie? Sure it was close. Who cares?
Deron called it "a tough decision,'' yes. Nash will, too. Characters on Twitter, though, is all those are.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
The promise of Dallas’ adopted plan lies in its continued potential. It's just got to. Just because Deron and Nash didn’t make it here doesn’t mean Player X won’t next season. (We've decided to avoid naming the DH person or the CP person.)
Or, depending on how the next 48 minutes or 148 hours plays out, a handsome use of the Mavs' $8.9 million TE. ... If it's not Nash-worthy, I'll work somewhere else. Dallas believes that. So do we. Watch and see.
Such potential offers little solace right now, but in a day, or a week, when Dallas is still at the table with top free agents, armed with the lessons learned from the failure to acquire Deron, perhaps the outcome will be different. Until then, expect more financially flexible moves like what was seen last season ... scream at every swing-and-miss if you must ... judge slowly ... and take comfort in the knowledge that his failure is not fatal and the promise of the plan, as lofty as it seems, remains intact.