These days, he’s more of a setting sun. Poor Dirk Nowitzki, soldiering on as his career winds down, with hopes for a second ring fading away. Where did it all go wrong?
Cuban still talks the talk. He still gets out there on the court in a sleeveless sweatshirt, clanking balls off the rim, tolerated by actual NBA players. He still does interviews, spouting gibberish about new digital media or claiming that the Miami Heat are the villains of the league. Meanwhile, the Mavericks are a middling prospect with a modest budget. Their $67,938,658 team salary ranks 15th in the league.
Heading into Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas is playing .500 ball with three wins and three losses. That’s good for 10th in the West.
When it comes to explaining the path back to the playoffs, Cuban talks about snatching up undervalued veteran contracts. From an entry in his own blog:
I like our ability to work with what I call “fallen angels”. Players who are traded or left unsigned because everyone in the league thinks that they can only be the player they saw in another organization.
The truth of the matter is that this is plan B or even C at its best for Cuban. This past summer, the Mavericks were one of five teams granted meetings with free agent Dwight Howard. The superstar center wound up taking his talents to Houston. That stings.
Eric Freeman for Ball Don’t Lie explains the Mavs’ problem in detail:
After their title in June 2011 (and the lockout that proceeded it), the Dallas Mavericks opted not to bring back the core of their 2011 championship team with the hope of maximizing their financial flexibility to add a younger star to turn the team into a viable long-term contender. Two years later — after missing out on Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, and Chris Paul — it’s clear that this plan has not been carried out in its ideal form. A lottery team in 2013, the Mavericks now face the reality of their new position. That championship season was a long time ago, given the short windows of NBA contention. Like many teams, they’re now struggling to stay relevant.
Does an owner absolutely have to overspend for results? Not always. Sometimes, a team that seems designed for tanking actually does overachieve. Take the Philadelphia 76ers for example, the team with the lowest payroll in the league and a record of 4-2. That’s a result of players flat-out balling, not management strategy.
So what’s Cubes been up to at present? Well, let’s give the guy a little credit. The billionaire was recently cleared of insider-trading charges in a case that dragged on for five years. That’s a big deal and nothing to make fun about. He’s also heading into the fifth season of his highly successful reality TV show, Shark Tank. Witness the sublime excitement and anticipation below:
Beyond discussions of boosting the performance of undervalued misfits and new economic models, the Mavericks owner also tries to stay relevant across the social-media spectrum. Here's Cuban being all about Cuban:
For what it’s worth, doing a Rap Genius search on “Mark Cuban” doesn’t yield all that much—there’s an appearance he did on Leno, talking about A-Rod, plus one quick line from Lil Wayne in the Meek Mill song “I’m a Boss.” The line? “I’m tryna get money, money like Mark Cuban.”
Word to Lil Wayne—Cuban’s saving it these days, not spending it on NBA bling.
The season has only just begun, of course. It’s way too early to say that all is lost for the Mavericks. New arrival Monta Ellis is a legitimate force to be reckoned with, driving the team to the tune of 23.8 points per game.
There’s also proud veterans like Vince Carter, Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert. These guys care about the game. They’re out there fighting the good fight against a new generation.
And then there’s Dirk Nowitzki, now in his 16th season in the NBA. He’s only got so many bullets in the chamber, and time is running out. Cuban says the centerpiece of his franchise can still be an MVP at age 35. Unfortunately, he hasn’t tossed Nowitzki a lifeline, and the sharks are circling.