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Why Mark Cuban's Criticisms of the L.A. Lakers Are Dead Wrong

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 25:  Owner Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks stands with the NBA trophy before a game against the Miami Heat on opening day of the NBA season at American Airlines Center on December 25, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2012

Mark Cuban is right about one thing: championships aren't won or lost in the summer.

That said, though, the Los Angeles Lakers had one heck of a summer–even if Cuban isn't especially interested in admitting it at the moment.

ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon reports that Cuban isn't sold on the Lakers' transformation:

"The Lakers have done this before. Gary Payton and Karl Malone and Kobe and Shaq were all together, and it didn't work," Cuban said Monday, referring to the 2003-04 Lakers, who lost in the Finals, when introducing his team's acquisitions to the media and season-ticket holders. "It takes great chemistry. ... It takes guys wanting to be there. I don't know if all their guys want to be there."

In the broadest possible sense, yes, "the Lakers have done this before." You could actually argue that they do it all the time to some degree. This team doesn't rebuild–it reloads, and it does so relatively frequently.

But the comparisons to the 2003-04 run with Payton and Malone are neither accurate nor compelling.

For one thing, Gary Payton was 35, and Karl Malone was 40.

If Los Angeles had merely added Steve Nash (age 38) and Antawn Jamison (age 36), Cuban might have a point. That points falls apart when you recall that the organization also added the league's best center, a 26-year-old still very much in his prime.

Dwight Howard may never be as dominant as Shaquille O'Neal was in his day, but it's hard to argue this team was better nine years ago than it is today.

And that team just happened to make it to the NBA Finals, an accomplishment with which both the Lakers and Mavericks would be pretty happy after their premature exits in the 2011-12 playoffs. Cuban makes it sound as if experimenting with Payton and Malone was an utter failure.

To the extent that experiment wasn't as successful as Lakers fans would have liked it to be, it makes more sense to blame distractions (Kobe's sexual assault charges), Karl Malone's injured knee or a weak bench.

The problem wasn't having too many good players, and it rarely is.

That's not to say the Lakers will fare any better this season than they did in 2004. While we're comparing apples to oranges, the basic thrust of Cuban's sentiment holds some water: talent alone doesn't win titles.

But it sure does make it easier.

There are no guarantees in this business, especially in the postseason. What differentiates one club from the next has more to do with who's executing, the teams that happen to be shooting well at that point in time and countless other factors that fly under the radar. For all the power ranking and re-ranking that typifies how we follow the NBA, how "good" a team is just doesn't count for much in a seven-game series.

How well that team plays counts for everything, and that has as much to do with luck, matchups and coaching as it does the individual career stats belonging to each guy in the rotation.

In other words, there's indeed a kernel of truth to Cuban's comments. Lakers fans should be cautious in their exuberance–to the extent that's humanly possible anyway.

However, they should also take some solace in the fact that this isn't 2003-04 all over again. And even if it were, there are worse things than getting to the NBA Finals.

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