Talent evaluation and financial planning around an NBA salary cap is a tough, often thankless job. To look at a player, in some cases a kid who may be 19-20 years old, and determine whether or not he’s going to develop into a real player or maintain current form is a near impossible task. And no one, no matter how good their track record, gets it right 100% of the time. While many of these moves can be found in the years following Dallas’s lone championship in 2011, others date back more than a decade. Sure Dallas looks to have a promising young core again, but these five roster moves can’t help but leave Mavs fans wondering “What if.”
5. Trading for Lamar Odom
Ah, the Lamar Odom trade. On paper, it looked like a steal. A trade exception worth $8.9 million for the reigning 6th man of the year? In a post-Tyson Chandler world for the Mavs? What’s not to like? Ohhh just the fact that Odom would be so aloof during his 50 game tenure while hiding a coke problem that the team would essentially banish him shortly before a playoff series that would see the defending champs swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder. In his time in Big D, Odom averaged just 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds on 35% shooting from the field, 25% on beyond the arc and 59% at the charity stripe. Hardly befitting of the reigning 6th man.
This one is hard to place solely on Cuban given the sense it made at the time but, alas, regrets don’t always come from poor decisions.
The Lamar Odom trade exception would find its way from the Lakers to Houston, where it was used as part of a trade package to land James Harden in H-Town and send what would become Steven Adams and Kevin Martin to OKC. The Harden move would then pique Dwight Howard’s interest and lead to the Cuban’s top 2012 free agent target spurning Dallas for Harden’s Rockets. So that’s a blow to the ego. Ultimately the ghost of the Lamar Odom trade thwarted a Dallas free agency pick the following Summer while making in-state rival Houston a serious contender. Not exactly the way the Mavs brass likely drew it up.
4. Trading for Rajon Rondo
You knew this one was going to make the list, didn’t you? Of course, it had to. The blockbuster trade that ended up being little more than a ball buster for the Mavericks. Attempting to solidify their roster for the future around a core of Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk, and Tyson Chandler (now on his second stint in Big D), Cuban pulled the trigger on the trade, sending reserve forward Brandan Wright and guards Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder along with a 2015 first round pick and a 2016 second round pick. The first round pick was lottery protected.
So what happened? Well, similar to the situation with Lamar Odom, Rondo would clash with teammates and coaches and quickly flame out, being sent away from the team in the midst of their first-round playoff series with the Houston Rockets. The Mavericks claimed it was due to an undisclosed injury, but we all know the truth. Rondo quit on his team, and the Mavs leadership knew it. So with their supposed stud point guard ready to hit free agency, Dallas officially folded on their core of the future.
Said Mavs Coach Rick Carlisle after the playoff loss when asked by reporters whether he ever expected Rajon Rondo to suit up for the Mavs again: “No, I don’t.”
What remains of this deal? Well, Jae Crowder has become an integral part of a very good Boston team in the East. Dwight Powell, meanwhile, is all Dallas has left, and his poor performance and inability to get onto the court the past couple years has made the new 4 year, $37 million deal they gave him look all the stranger. This deal is a loss all the way around.
3. Passing on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2013 Draft
In 2013, fresh off their second failed free agency Summer in a row, Dallas showed it hadn’t learned its lesson -nor has it appeared to do so even to this day, frankly. Dallas wanted a big fish, and they had their eyes set on DeAndre Jordan. But rather than focus on building and developing from within, Cuban continued a long, long streak of draft neglect, opting to take Kelly Olynyk, and then trade him to Boston for the 18th pick, Shane Larkin, rather than taking the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Considering Olynyk was a nice piece for Boston the past few years and that Larkin bounced around before finding a little niche in Boston as well, this decision looks disastrous for Dallas.
Since coming into the league, Giannis has averaged 14.9 points a night on nearly 50% shooting, while chipping in nearly 7 boards and 4 assists. Still not convinced?
Last season, he averaged 22.9 points on 52%, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Oh yeah, and 1.9 blocks per contest. Now, inching closer and closer to free agency for the first time in his young career, the Greek Freak appears ready for a massive payday. One can only imagine how the past few seasons would’ve looked had Cuban not ultimately made the decision to pass on the versatile talent four years ago. There’s no telling how Giannis’s presence would’ve changed the outcome of the past four seasons, let alone what talent would be in Dallas now, but could you image a lineup featuring Dennis Smith Jr, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Antetokounmpo, and Dirk? Yes, that lineup leaves out Nerlens Noel, but if things had to be shaken up, then Matthews likely is the cast-off, making the lineup even more dangerous looking (Smith Jr, Barnes, Giannis, Dirk, and Noel).
It might be a pipe dream, but one can only imagine. What had happened had Dallas focused on the little things rather than swinging for the fences year after year post title.
2. Letting Tyson Chandler walk (Twice)
Something tells me Cuban would probably cite the previous entry as a bigger regret but this one arguably stands out more. Sure, Giannis would’ve given Dallas a bonafide stud and potential superstar to add to their already impressive young core, but Tyson Chandler was the heart and soul of the 2011 championship team. Bringing intensity and attitude, Chandler helped lead the Mavericks to their lone title by way of a major upset against Lebron James’s Miami Heat. It was the pinnacle of everything Dallas and Dirk Nowitzki, in particular, had been striving toward, and the fact that it seemed to come out of nowhere only made it more incredible. So how did Dallas celebrate their title? By letting the heart and soul of their title team walk -or, more accurately, be traded away via sign-and-trade to the New York Knicks. That year, all we heard in Dallas was to ‘keep our powder dry,’ but when the playoffs rolled around, the defending champions found themselves swept out of the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tyson Chandler, meanwhile, won Defensive Player of the Year and became an All Star for the first time.
Flash forward four years. Dallas has stumbled and bumbled through roster overhaul after roster overhaul in an attempt to find a formula that would help win their first playoff series since the 2011 Finals. The Knicks, meanwhile, have grown frustrated with nagging injuries hampering Tyson Chandler and his strong-willed leadership demanding full effort out of an underachieving team in New York. The Mavs then proceeded, mere days after signing away Chandler Parsons from Houston, to trade for their former big man and fan favorite. The move made Dallas look dangerous on paper, but when it became apparent the point guard position was still a significant weakness, Cuban again pulled the trigger on the aforementioned Rajon Rondo, thereby unintentionally torpedoing his team once more. Dallas would lose to Houston in the first round in 5 games and Cuban would again shun Tyson for a chance to chase the big fish, this one named DeAndre Jordan.
1. Not Resigning Steve Nash in 2004
Cuban himself has called this his biggest regret as the Mavs owner. That alone should say it all. Behind Dirk Nowitzki’s ascension into superstardom and Steve Nash’s elite offensive playmaking, Dallas charged into the Western Conference Finals in the 2002-2003 season. In fact, were it not for Nowitzki suffering a sprained MCL and missing almost the entire series against the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas may well have won it all that year. Instead, they tried to rebuild on the fly changing out faces like Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz for Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison. On paper, it sounded like a pair of upgrades -especially with Van Exel’s swift decline- but the move did not pan out for the Mavs as they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs to the Sacramento Kings in just 5 games. That offseason, feeling free agent Steve Nash was breaking down physically, Cuban made what he felt was the savvy move, declining to offer a max contract and letting the Phoenix Suns swoop in and steal the Canadian point guard away. The result? Nash would go on to win back-to-back MVPs immediately in Phoenix and bounce Cuban’s Mavs in the second round of the 2005 playoffs. Ultimately, Nash would never win an NBA championship, nor would he even make an appearance in the Finals, but his absence was felt mightily in the 2006 Finals when Dirk led the Mavericks to a 2-0 series lead before Dallas would go on to lose in 6 games. Dirk and Nash missed out on their first title due to injury in 2003, and had they not separated, they may have won 2 or 3 more before it was all said and done.
As I said at the beginning of this piece: talent evaluation, whether by way of the draft, free agency, or trades, hardly an easy task. But what ultimately has plagued Dallas most in the majority of these instances is its obsessive pursuit of a big fish rather than admitting it was going to have to begin a rebuilding process the way the Celtics have. If you look at Boston today, they’re stacked with talent and have a horde of first-round draft picks amassed over the next few years. Dallas, meanwhile, has four young players, each with varying degrees of promise, and little else. Simply put, there’s a reason all items on this list, save the Steve Nash decision, occurred after the 2011 Championship Parade.