All the Mavs can do is play the hand they re dealt.
Mavs waiting to play the hand they're dealt: A Dwight/CP3 primer
Every NBA team needs to adjust their offseason goals based on how their season ended and the assets they have. For most of the last twelve or so years, the Mavericks focus in May was to maximize playoff success. Their team would always range somewhere between good to title-contending and, as is the case with most quality franchises, their success generally came with very little financial flexibility to improve the roster during the offseason.
That is certainly not the case this time around.
At the absolute bare minimum, without any additional roster moves, the Mavs will have roughly $14 million to throw around in free agency. That s good and all, but that flexibility came as a byproduct of a volatile roster situation and more disgruntled players than we ve been used to during the Dirk era in Dallas.
This year, rather than worrying about their own playoff situation, the Mavericks focused on teams with free agents to be. It s no secret that Dallas plans to take (another) swing at a big fish this summer, specifically Clippers point guard Chris Paul or Lakers center Dwight Howard. Once the Mavericks were eliminated from playoff contention, the only thing they could do was pray for messy Los Angeles meltdowns from the Lakers and Clippers in order to maximize the odds that their free agents would be unhappy and walk away. Basically, the Mavs and their fans needed to hope for a scenario like that Tommy Lee Jones movie where a volcano blew up in Los Angeles... except a basketball version of that.
Man, what was the name of that flick again? I ll think of it.
Anyway, Dallas may have gotten their wish. To be clear, landing either of these stars is an unlikely prospect and the Mavericks know that. That s not going to deter them from chasing both players and presenting their case, so the best they can do right now is hope all the cards fall their way during the pursuit. So far, that scenario has played out almost perfectly.
The Lakers and the Clippers maintain 'Larry Bird Rights' on Howard and Paul, respectively. What that means is both teams have the right to offer an additional year and a bigger dollar figure to their free agents, whereas other teams cannot. This rule was designed to help teams keep their star players and remains the biggest hurdle the Mavs will have to overcome in convincing either player to walk away from that sweet California sunshine.
In the case of Howard, it s more of a mental game than it is with Paul. He flat out wants to be loved by everyone. From the Mavericks point of view, ideally they wanted to see a situation where Howard simply wasn t happy and turned into the scapegoat in a series where the Lakers fizzled out. If Howard doesn t feel the love, he ll make it known and his play will reflect that. When Kobe Bryant went down with a torn achilles before the playoffs started, Howard could ve viewed that as a free pass. If he had gone out there, played hard, put up numbers and maybe even helped win a game or two, no one would have blamed him for the inevitable loss the Kobe-less Lakers would ve suffered at the hands of the second seeded San Antonio Spurs anyway. Still, Dwight just couldn t quite play that role.
In a series the Lakers can file away in their worst case scenario drawer, they were overwhelmed by the Spurs in a four-game sweep. The Lakers had built-in excuses with so many injuries to key players, but this was still all about Howard saving face, which he couldn t. In Game Four of the series, the Lakers and their fans saw the last of 2012-13 Dwight Howard -- chirping at general manager Mitch Kupchak after being ejected. He definitely seemed unhappy in perhaps his final minutes as a Laker, but can the Mavs capitalize on that and make it known to him that he ll be The Man in Dallas?
Bummer for the Lakers, but best possible scenario for Mark Cuban. Who was likely watching from a big ol comfy chair, with a cigar...and brandy? I don t know. Doing rich guy stuff.
After winning the first two games of their series against the Memphis Grizzlies, it seemed Chris Paul and the Clippers would not follow suit with their Los Angeles counterpart. How wrong that assessment was... as the Clippers went down in spectacular fashion to Memphis, losing their next four games. Not to be outdone by Howard, Paul was ALSO ejected after picking up his second technical foul for gut checking Memphis center Marc Gasol. I don t know what it is about Los Angeles, but none of their star players ever want to stick around in a series when their team is getting pummeled. Ejection is the only way.
Regardless, after Dwight Howard set the bar so high with his exit, Chris Paul topped it and Mark Cuban could not have hoped for better. Now, the plan for Paul is for Cuban, Donnie Nelson and even Dirk Nowitzki to go to work convincing the point guard that spending the rest of his prime in Dallas alongside Nowitzki would be the best route for him to take. Points in that proposal will almost certainly include how the Clippers are saddled with a low-tier coach, questionable ownership, and supposedly immature co-stars in power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan.
Now, are either of those arguments worth an extra year and $30 million to Paul or Howard? That is the big question -- and history says no. As the Mavs front office is well aware, money and job security always seems to trump everything else when it comes to contracts in the NBA. All they have been doing this offseason is hoping the cards fell their way in the first round. They did, and now all anyone can do is wait around with their thoughts until free agency hits.
Volacano! That s the name of the Tommy Lee Jones 1997 classic. Nailed it.
Kevin Brolan is a contributor to DallasBasketball.com and HoopsAddict.com. Follow him for mind numbing thoughts on basketball, most sports, and general nonsense at @kevinbrolan.
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