Whether he's refusing to go in on a deal with Robert Herjavec or allowing Tyson Chandler to walk despite the fact that he was vital in winning an NBA championship, Cuban has rubbed some people the wrong way. After building a championship team, however, he's also developed a rabid set of followers.
Regardless of how you feel about him, Cuban — who has always clearly identified himself as running the Mavericks' basketball operations, in good times and bad — deserves more credit for the squad that he helped put together in 2013-14 than he has been getting.
Finding a Perimeter Scorer
Entering the 2013 offseason, the most glaring need on the Mavericks roster was the absence of a perimeter scorer. Dallas needed long-awaited replacements to former point guard Jason Kidd and center Tyson Chandler, but the most significant weakness was the inability to score when Dirk Nowitzki was resting or injured.
Cuban hit the jackpot when he gambled on the player that most general managers had mislabeled as an inefficient scorer: Monta Ellis.
Cuban turned heads and received mountains of flack for signing Ellis to a three-year deal worth $25,080,000. Ellis was commonly viewed as a player with inefficient scoring tendencies, thus resulting in the belief that he wasn't worth a big contract.
As I wrote before he signed in Dallas, those against him had a case of short-term memory.
During his two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, Ellis averaged 18.9 points and 6.0 assists on a field-goal percentage of .419. What critics are hesitant to acknowledge is that a Bucks guard hasn't averaged at least 15.0 points while shooting better than .440 since Michael Redd in 2008-09.
Blaming the system is often an excuse, but in this case, the results speak volumes.
Prior to arriving in Milwaukee, Ellis had averaged 21.2 points on a field-goal percentage of .472 from 2006 to 2011. He was the primary scorer for the Golden State Warriors and, despite consistently facing double-teams, ranked amongst the league's most efficient scorers.
Clearly, it's more important to look at the big picture than a 103-game window with a black hole of a team.
In 2013-14, Ellis is rewarding Cuban's trust with averages of 20.9 points, 5.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals on .469 shooting from the floor. That's on par with his career marks of 19.5 points, 4.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals on .456 shooting.
Statistics only seem to matter when detractors want them to, so don't let them fool you. Ellis is an efficient and a very effective offensive player.
He's also an incredible signing for the Mavericks.
Upgrade at Point Guard, Center
Outside of shooting guard, where O.J. Mayo was strong but not spectacular in 2012-13, the Mavericks' biggest voids were found at point guard and center. Center wasn't necessarily a critical weakness due to the personnel Dallas possessed last season, but a lack of depth created issues.
Cuban responded by signing the reliable Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, as well as the tough-minded DeJuan Blair.
Calderon has ranked in the top five in assists per 48 minutes in all but one season since 2006-07. He's also a career .405 percent shooter from three-point range, which is a critical factor for a team that won its most recent NBA championship behind marksmanship from distance.
Darren Collison is a solid player, but his marks of 5.1 assists and a .353 three-point field goal percentage from 2012-13 pale in comparison to Calderon's body of work. The Spaniard is already averaging 11.9 points and 4.5 assists on .469 shooting from beyond the arc alongside a ball-dominant 2 in Ellis.
Dalembert has received inconsistent playing time in Dallas, but he's made quality use of his opportunities. In 22.3 minutes per game, Dalembert is currently averaging 6.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks on .562 shooting from the field and .783 from the free-throw line.
That's good for a Player Efficiency Rating of 15.93.
The 32-year-old is regarded for his work on the glass and as a rim protector, and both traits are valuable for a Mavericks team that lacks an elite interior defender.
Blair was inconsistently utilized during a confusing final season with the San Antonio Spurs, but his value is well-established. He's an effort player who, despite standing at 6'7" with no anterior cruciate ligament in either knee, is a menace as a physical defender and a superb rebounder.
Through 24 appearances, Blair has posted numbers of 8.6 points and 7.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes on .532 shooting.
What this all adds up to is Cuban striking gold with four relatively low-profile signings. All four players will play critical roles in Dallas' postseason pursuit, and in 2013-14, the Mavericks have the look of a playoff team.
More important than adding quality players, however, is that Cuban assembled a roster that works well together.
Building a Cohesive Unit
The work that head coach Rick Carlisle has done in 2013-14 ranks amongst the best of his illustrious career. Despite possessing a team with three starters who weren't on the roster a year ago and a number of reserves in that same boat, Dallas is 14-10 after 24 games.
There isn't enough praise to truly honor the masterful job that Carlisle has done, but that doesn't mean Cuban should go without glory.
What the Mavericks have done is assembled a crop of players that fit seamlessly with one another. Their greatest strengths are complemented, and their most significant weaknesses were cautiously weighed and measured to build successful chemistry.
Whether it's down low or along the perimeter, Cuban has constructed a postseason-caliber roster without signing a single guaranteed All-Star.
Thus far in 2013-14, Dallas ranks seventh at 103.1 points per game and ninth at 22.9 assists per contest. Furthermore, Dallas is 10th with a field-goal percentage of .459 and eighth with a three-point field-goal percentage of .379.
Those aren't just strong marks, but they're the numbers of a team that trusts each other and moves the basketball in an efficient manner. Most importantly, it displays an extraordinary chemistry.
That's a scary thought considering this team has spent all of 24 regular-season games as a collective unit. Even more frightening is the fact that the Mavericks can only get better as the season goes on.
Cuban deserves more credit for that very reason.
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