Why NBA Free Agents Should Spurn Mark Cuban's Mavericks After Jason Kidd Fallout
There will be no welcome wagon awaiting Jason Kidd when his New York Knicks stop by the American Airlines Center to play the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. There will be no holiday greetings or "good to see yous" from Mavs owners and noted windbag Mark Cuban, though, as he told Dwain Price of The Fort Wayne Star-Telegram, he wishes Kidd no ill will and hopes the home crowd doesn't either:
I hope they cheer for him. He helped us win a championship.
That’s it. Period. End of story.
But not really. See, when Kidd opted to sign a three-year, $9 million pact with the Knicks this past summer, he allegedly did so despite having all but committed to staying in Big D. Kidd's decision, rather predictably, got Cuban all hot and bothered. As Cuban told the Ben and Skin Show on ESPN Radio in Dallas in August (via Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News):
I was more than upset. I thought he was coming (back). I was pissed.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
J-Kidd’s a big boy, he can do whatever he wants. But you don’t change your mind like that. I’m sure I’ll get over it at some point, but as of right now, I wouldn’t put J-Kidd’s number in the rafters.
I like J-Kidd. He’s a good guy. But I just thought that was wrong. You can’t put a guy’s number in the rafters when he decides he doesn’t want to be there.
It hurt my feelings, period, because I thought that we had developed a relationship and I thought [Kidd] was committed to the organization. It sure seemed like he was. I mean, J-Kidd was active in going out there and talking to Deron Williams the whole time. I guess it was more shocking and surprising than anything else.
Of course, Kidd wasn't the only longtime Mav to go rogue in July. Jason Terry ditched Big D for a gig with the Boston Celtics, though Cuban claims JET might still have his jersey retired because he handled his free agency in a more Mark-friendly fashion:
Jet was 100 percent honest and straight forward about everything. No problem with what Jet did whatsoever.
As scathing as Cuban's commentary is (or was, rather), let's not forget that these words were uttered three months ago. Since then, Cuban has softened his stance on the potential retirement of Kidd's number (per Dwain Price):
I’m not even going to go there any more. That just turns into headlines.
There will be a time. I have to save those. I have to have those back pocket headlines that I need, so if somebody does something stupid and...then we’ll talk about J-Kidd and jerseys.
But the damage is done. And Cuban, for all his recanting, still looks like a younger, more successful (on the court) facsimile of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert—a man who feels like his players owe him something beyond their contractual obligations.
Which they don't, because, as folks in the NBA are prone to repeating ad nauseum, "it's a business," and they can do whatever they please. And for the most part, they (i.e. free agents) have chosen to steer clear of Cuban's domain.
For all the talk about how great an owner Cuban is and how he's transformed the Mavs from a doormat into a destination—by upgrading the facilities and pampering players with all manner of modern (and futuristic) amenities—he and they have yet to lure in a star via free agency. The team drafted Dirk Nowitzki and traded for the rest of the core players from the 2011 champs—Terry from the Atlanta Hawks in 2004, Kidd from the New Jersey Nets in 2008, Shawn Marion from the Toronto Raptors in 2009 and Tyson Chandler from the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010.
The Mavs' most noteworthy signings have been guys who were either over the proverbial hill (Vince Carter in 2011, Elton Brand in 2012) or pining for a short-term audition (Chris Kaman and OJ Mayo in 2012).
Mind you, those last three acquisitions (Brand, Kaman and Mayo) came in the wake of the Mavs' big swing and miss with Deron Williams. They'd previously been anointed the favorites to wind up with D-Will, a hometown hero who played his high school ball at nearby The Colony High School, even though the Brooklyn Nets could offer him more years and more money to stay put.
But Cuban wasn't at those meetings between Williams' camp and the Mavs' contingent. Rather, Cuban was in California, taping episodes of the ABC show Shark Tank. As D-Will told reporters in October (via Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com):
I think (Cuban) would have been able to answer a lot of the questions me and my agent have for him that really didn't get answered that day pertaining to the future. And I think if he was there he would have been able to answer those questions a little bit better. It maybe would have helped me.
(I wanted to hear about) the direction of the future of the team, other than Dirk. Players they were thinking about. Everything was basically just their track record, trust their track record, which is, you know, I can honor that, because they do have a good track record but it's not enough for me, especially when (Nets general manager Billy King) was updating me daily.
Cuban, as you might expect, had a snide retort for the All-Star point guard, telling Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:
I’m a big D-Will fan, but I’m kind of surprised that he would throw his front office under the bus like that by saying that I would make a difference. I would have expected him to say – like I’d expect one of our guys to say – ‘Hey I’m so thrilled with the front office and the moves we made and our team that it wouldn’t have mattered what he did.’
That’s what I expect our guys to say and that’s the way I feel about our team. Again, I’m a big D-Will fan, but it’s not about individual players, it’s about building a team. And I really think we put together a good team for the current team and the future.
He’s a superstar point guard, but my goal is to build a team. That’s the important thing, to try to win championships.
I’m flattered that he thought my presence would have made more of a difference than what the Nets’ management did.’
It's bad enough that Cuban can't absorb a free-agent fail without a petulant response. What's worse, though, is the way in which his Mavs have parted ways with their own free agents over the years.
The departures of Kidd and Terry merely continued a long-standing trend under the Cuban regime. In 2004, his Mavs let Steve Nash walk to the Phoenix Suns, with whom he won two MVPs and appeared in three Western Conference Finals. In 2005, they waived Michael Finley via amnesty. Cuban later encouraged Mavs fans to boo the former All-Star when he returned to the Metroplex as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
And last December, following a prolonged lockout, the Mavs refused to re-sign Chandler, Caron Butler and JJ Barea—key players all to the 2011 champs.
Which is to say, Cuban took a mulligan on his team's title defense, even with a franchise superstar (Nowitzki) nearing the end of his prime.
If you were an NBA free agent, would you sign with the Mavs?
Chandler was signed and traded to the New York Knicks, Butler cast his lot with the revitalized Los Angeles Clippers, and Barea took his talents to the Great White North to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
As for the Mavs, they stumbled to the No. 7 seed in the West and were swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
Is it any wonder, then, that free agents don't flock to Dallas as they supposedly should?
If you were a free agent, would you want to play for a childish egomaniac who isn't likely to keep you around long-term and is liable to rip you publicly if/when he doesn't? Would you want to stick with a franchise that had a chance to win not one but two titles and opted not to pursue the second, choosing instead to gamble away its future on players (D-Will and Dwight Howard) who never came? Would you want to work for an owner who's more concerned with furthering his own career as an entertainer than he is with furthering yours as a basketball player?
Did you answer "no" to these three questions? Chances are, then, that you understand where Kidd and his cohort are coming from.
So when the 8-1 Knicks battle the 6-6 Mavs in Big D and the fans decide to vocalize their displeasure in concert, it's not Jason Kidd they should be booing.
It's Mark Cuban.
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