The Dallas Mavericks began the summer with the cap space to sign Deron Williams and the hope of eventually landing Dwight Howard, but they will exit the offseason with neither superstar and no concrete plan in tow.
The former is undoubtedly a disappointment for a franchise looking to lock up a running mate and heir to Dirk Nowitzki, but the latter is hardly as distressing as it may seem. Sports fans crave apparent marching orders, but the best operations in any sporting enterprise—or more broadly, in any enterprise—work with a series of options rather than explicit plans.
Dallas had Williams and Howard front and center among their potential targets, but their inability to acquire either star, while an irrefutable setback, doesn't derail Maverick management's greater process.
Missing out on either player doesn't change the fact that Dallas is poised to have all kinds of opportunities in 2013 and to have more cap space than any other team in 2014.
After all, Dallas didn't let Tyson Chandler walk as a free agent merely for the sake of signing Williams or Howard; Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson elected not to re-sign Chandler for the sake of keeping their books clean and chasing all kinds of alternatives. The ultimate goal is still to land a star player, but the mere fact that two stars have now eluded Dallas' grasp isn't in itself indicative of a complete failure on the part of a franchise that's still positioned well to rebound from their current predicament.
For the moment, the Mavericks have the ability to test out how players like O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison could potentially fit into their long-term plans, and they have that benefit without committing any guaranteed, long-term salary to either player. From that point, Dallas' possibilities only widen, as next summer's free agent class offers a crack at players like Howard, Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum, not to mention the incredible number of possibilities offered to teams with creative front offices and ample cap room.
The need for adjustment in the NBA never stops, and the teams who restrict themselves to specific targets do themselves a disservice. With the league's financial structure as it is, the best in the business live in a world of contingencies. They bide their time rather than waste their resources (whether in the earth-shaking form of living out the aftermath of a failed Chris Paul trade by plotting to get Dwight Howard or quietly passing on re-signing George Hill for the sake of trading for Kawhi Leonard) and make every get a targeted, calculated get.
Dallas missed out on two potentially wonderful additions to their team, but Cuban and Nelson have already passed the test of free agency with their patience; all it takes from here on out is the wherewithal to convert opportunism into something more—a trait which this very same Maverick front office, among others, has demonstrated time and time again.