Hubbard: Criticism of Mavericks makes little sense

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If you live in an area other than Dallas, Texas, you probably are not aware that if the Mavericks had brought back their team of a year ago, they would have won their second consecutive NBA title.

Yes, that is correct.

Add Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson to the Mavericks roster, and instead of being swept by Oklahoma City in the first round, the Mavericks would have won in six games at the most, maybe five like last year and, well, hell, they might have swept the Thunder.

At least that is what we hear from local eggheads.

I might be tempted to point out that with Chandler, the Knicks went from 42-40 last season to 36-30 this season. They were swept in the first round last year and will leave the playoffs after winning one time this year.

Minnesota and New Jersey did not make the playoffs last year and after adding Barea and Stevenson, they didn’t make the playoffs this year.

Yes, you say, but you’re missing the point. Each of the three added an important element to the Mavericks’ title team from last season. They were part of a delicate chemistry that was disrupted when they were allowed to leave.

And I answer back by saying that perhaps you do not understand the fundamental difference between the following two items:

1. A championship team.

2. A team that wins a championship.

On a national scale, the Mavericks were never viewed as one great teams in NBA history. There were no comparisons with Magic’s Lakers, Larry’s Celtics, Michael’s Bulls or Duncan’s Spurs.

To be accurate, the Mavericks didn’t have the best talent last year. Kobe’s Lakers had far more talent. So did Miami, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and maybe even Orlando.

The Mavericks were more in line with the 2004 Pistons team that featured Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben and Rasheed Wallace. It is doubtful that any of those players will be in the Hall of Fame, but they played Hall of Fame team basketball and won the title.

That’s what the Mavericks did last season when they swept a superior Lakers team in the second round and in the process gave credibility to all the pertinent clichés – captured lightning in a bottle, clicked on all cylinders, put it together at the right time.

Consider some of the aberrations in that series – Jason Terry shot 59 percent from the field and 68 percent from 3-point range. Peja Stojakovic shot 52 percent from 3-point range and averaged 12.5 points. Two series later against Miami, Stojakovic was so ineffective that he played 26 minutes during the 6-game series.

And then in the Finals, they faced a Miami team that had a larger number of superstars in their prime, but who were surviving on talent rather than teamwork. The Mavericks entered the series as a confident group and, well, they were on a roll.

To think that would happen exactly the same way this year is foolish, and the Mavericks did in fact offer Chandler and Barea one-year deals. Perhaps Stevenson would have signed a one-year contract, but the Mavericks felt they upgraded that spot on the roster by signing Delonte West.

But Chandler and Barea wanted multi-year deals, and with the new collective bargaining agreement going into effect, the Mavericks would have paralyzed themselves for at least four years.

TNT’s Steve Kerr last worked as a general manager for the Phoenix Suns. His knowledge of the game and the implications of the salary cap are unsurpassed. He pointed out during a telecast that if the Mavericks had signed Chandler et al, they would have been gambling they could compete at a very high level for several years.

But if they were wrong, they would have been locked in to their roster. They would have had no options.

That is where the Knicks find themselves. They already used their amnesty provision. They have big money players in Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. They are all but bereft of draft picks. They added Chandler at $15 million a year. They have no roster flexibility going forward unless they trade one of the big names. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson did not want to be in that position.

The Mavericks have two players – Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd – who will be in the Hall of Fame, but Kidd is 39 and more suited for a backup role. And the humorous part of some of the criticism Cuban receives is that some of the people who rip him are the same people who were saying at this time last year – believe it or not – that Devin Harris was better than Kidd and that the Mavericks made a mistake trading Harris.

Think the Mavericks could have won a title without Jason Kidd?

It is understandable if every once in a while, Cuban gets a little testy with the press, although the mistake he makes is to lump everyone together. There is a large difference between those who understand what he tried to do in turning the team over, and those who simply talk before they think.

“I’ve heard some of the talking headless (media being critical),” Cuban said when he met reporters before the Game 4 loss to the Thunder. “. . .  (T)hose who are talking otherwise haven’t read the CBA and are just talking out their (expletive) without any foundation. But that’s what you guys do. Given what happened, I think we put together a damn good team. If we had one break, one call, one bounce, we’re having a completely different conversation and you’re thinking how smart we are instead of how stupid we are.”

For the record, Cuban wasn’t being stupid. Nor was he simply trying to save money. But he had no idea – no one did – that Lamar Odom would fail as spectacularly as he did. No doubt that Odom had some personal issues that troubled him, but, well, he wimped out on his team. No one saw that coming.

With Odom at his Sixth Man of the Year best, the Mavericks would have been far more competitive. They likely would have had a higher seed and perhaps even home court advantage in the first playoff round. But when Odom played with such indifference, the Mavericks sent him away. The result was they had a much weaker team than it looked like they would have at the beginning of the season.

No, Cuban can’t be accused of being stupid. But he was gambling. And with any gamble – even one where the odds look great – much can go wrong.

Cuban had a not-so-secret goal of surrounding Dirk Nowitzki with free agents Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. That won’t happen because Howard is signed for an option year in Orlando. Even if he is traded, the Mavericks do not have the assets to acquire him.

And lately, there have been rumblings that Dallas-native Williams will move with the Nets to Brooklyn. So Cuban could find himself in a total rebuilding mode.

But throughout his tenure in Dallas, he has demonstrated that he is capable of building and rebuilding on the fly. He made a huge mistake letting Steve Nash leave as a free agent and got nothing in return in 2003. Yet by 2006, he had his team in the NBA Finals.

During a period of four seasons from 2007 to 2010, the Mavericks lost in the first round three times and won only one playoff series. Cuban and Nelson remained patient, added Chandler and Stevenson, and the team won a title.

In allowing Chandler, Barea and Stevenson to depart, Cuban looked to the future rather than the present. He took a gamble, like doubling down on an 11 in black jack.

Ultimately he may have been dealt a deuce, but it was a bet that made sense. The Mavericks overachieved last year in winning the first title in franchise history. A streaking team can win one championship. Only great teams win two straight.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.

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