I hear you, Mavs fan.
Your sports heart is battered; let down from the championship glory of 2011 that now seems like much more than two short summers ago. Left at the altar by Deron Williams last summer and without a playoff berth for the first time since before your sixth grader was born, and with nothing but a pile of dry powder to console you.
You are right to be skeptical.
Now, with offseason rumors already swirling, you are afraid to believe again. With that in mind, let's apply some rationality to the Mavs’ situation this summer.
Ushered in with the loss of Tyson Chandler, the primacy of financial flexibility will, one way or another, end this summer. Either the Mavericks will realize the goal of landing a superstar (or two), or they will go about the business of building and secure talent to deals longer than one year.
Either way, the experiment likely ends, whether in glorious validation or thoughts of what could have been.
Plan ‘A,’ of course, is to lure either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard to Dallas. However, logic suggests this will be a difficult proposition, to say the least.
Both Paul and Howard would be spurning teams in a destination market, on rosters that are more asset-rich than the Mavericks’. Most importantly, they are financially-incentivized to remain with their current clubs.
This is the same calculus that Deron Williams solved last summer and ultimately led him to staying with the Nets. It’s a simple statement of inequality: Dirk + star player X + rest of Mavs’ roster < star player X's opportunites with current team.
Given that the facts on the ground for Paul or Dwight are largely the same this summer as they were for Deron last offseason, we should not expect a different outcome this time around.
However, in a very important way, the facts on the ground aren’t the same as they were a year ago.
Indeed, Williams was the only big name Dallas had a shot at last summer. This time around, however, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are both available and their dual availability creates a very different possibility.
If Dallas could find a way to acquire both, it changes the calculus for each individual player. No longer is it Dirk + Dwight OR Paul + rest of roster. It’s Dirk AND Dwight AND Paul.
Why does that matter if Dallas only has room to sign one of them? Sounds double-pipe-dreamy, right?
Here’s the difference: Members of the Dallas front office believe they can acquire both.
Remember, Howard and Paul had planned to team up in Dallas last summer, when they both would have been free agents. However, Howard’s strange final chapter in Orlando blew up any chance of a union in Big D. Then, both Howard and Paul landed in L.A. in situations that seemed great from the outside: Paul, as the captain of an up-and-coming Clippers squad and Howard as the final piece on a talent-laden Lakers squad.
However, things did not end well for either player this season, as both got tossed in the elimination games of ignominious first-round exits, far underperforming expectations.
Why would Paul consider leaving? For one, winning.
Paul is a supreme competitor and would bolt from the Clippers if he believed brighter prospects lay elsewhere. He now heads a talented, but flawed, Clippers squad and their weaknesses were exposed this spring. They aren’t very good on defense, and despite their extreme athletic edge in the front court, it remains an area of weakness. Further, Paul will likely not tolerate the subpar coaching of Vinny Del Negro much longer -- and while it is expected Del Negro will be replaced by a new coach, that situation is very much up in the air.
And few teams can boast a coach as good as Rick Carlisle.
If the Mavericks can effectively pitch to Paul the potential for winning is better in Dallas, which would require the ability to simultaneously acquire Howard, then they have a shot with Paul.
Howard’s reasons for leaving are likely very different. For one, Howard’s psyche has a far different makeup than Paul’s. Still competitive, Howard is more concerned with having fun, being liked, and feeling valued by an organization than Paul.
Howard seems the more likely to leave his current situation after his season-long “nightmare” (his word) with the Lakers. From feuding with Kobe, to bristling at Mike D’Antoni’s coaching, Dwight’s season in LA was not what he had hoped. Kobe is not going anywhere and neither is D’Antoni.
From his days in Orlando, we know that Dwight needs to feel the love on an organizational level as well, and he wants to have some input on organizational decisions.
If the Mavericks can pitch Dwight on being a player-friendly, perhaps even ego-stroking, team where he can have fun but still be respected as ‘the man,’ they could create a key edge over the Lakers.
To both players, the Mavericks would have to pitch the idea that their market potential would not be lessened in Dallas after leaving Los Angeles, but if anyone knows the value of a good pitch, it’s billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
Now, even following this logic, it’s still a massive long shot, a pipe-dream within a pipe-dream.
Dallas would need to shed salary, meaning trading Vince Carter and Shawn Marion without taking salary back. Nonetheless, those are still relatively minor obstacles given how productive both players remain and how eager Dallas will be to give them away, if the need arose.
Dallas’ biggest obstacle will be financial, as both Howard and Paul would have to turn down compelling financial incentives to remain in Los Angeles. History says, this almost never happens in team sports.
However, if Dallas can leverage their ability to acquire both Howard and Paul, while pitching to each player that their different and specific needs can be met by joining forces in Dallas, it just might be possible.
In other words, to have a realistic shot at either Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, Dallas needs to have a shot at both.
For tweets about financial flexibility, dry powder and Game of Thrones, follow Chuck Perry on Twitter at @TheChuckP. Really, why wouldn't you want any of that?