DALLAS – Talk about your public offerings. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t need Facebook to inform the rest of the NBA that everybody not named Dirk Nowitzki on his makeshift roster is officially on the trading block.
“We’re letting everybody know that the Bank of Cuban is open,” the billionaire owner announced Monday night before his Mavericks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for a third consecutive victory to climb to 16-23. “If it’s the right deal, we don’t mind taking back money. But we’re not going to do a trade just to do a trade. It’s got to be worthwhile.”
Cuban’s declaration came two nights after he said there is a “100 percent chance” that the Mavs will aggressively pursue trades — either as a main trade partner or as a facilitator in a multi-team scenario — as the weeks and days count down to the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
It’s perhaps the Mavs’ best chance to upgrade a unit that last week dropped to 10 games under .500 for the first time since Cuban bought the team in 2000. The Mavs, five games out of the eighth spot in the West, are in jeopardy of not making the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
So don’t discount Cuban’s comments as a crafty PR move. Cuban needs to keep a fan base that has provided a league-best 449 consecutive sellouts going back to 2001 engaged in a team that has had massive turnover the last two seasons and has underperformed since claiming the championship. Consider it also a warning shot to the current players. Since Cuban’s initial comments on Saturday, the Mavs have blown out the Grizzlies and Timberwolves.
Dallas is in position to take on salary because of Cuban’s controversial financial maneuverings following the 2011 championship when he dismantled the title team. Under the more rigid guidelines and more punitive tax of the new collective bargaining agreement that begins to truly bear its fangs next season, Cuban altered his spend-at-all-costs philosophy. Instead, he went for scaling back salary to create cap space, allowing for the pursuit of high-dollar free agents (a move that bombed this summer when Deron Williams re-signed with Brooklyn) as well as the flexibility to make a blockbuster trade (including, and perhaps most importantly, sign-and-trades in the summer that will be off limits to teams above the luxury-tax apron — the point is $4 million above the tax level, which is $70.3 million this season).
Cuban’s belief is that good players with big contracts will become available as teams seek ways to get under the luxury tax for this season and beyond. An example is Rudy Gay, who is reportedly being shopped by the Memphis Grizzlies. Front offices are also keenly aware of the repeater tax that will be levied on teams that chronically spend over the luxury-tax line.
Cuban said he’s been busy poring over rosters, watching players and making suggestions daily to president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
Dallas has few assets on the roster capable of netting a major acquisition in a two-team swap. The big question is if Cuban can swing a deal that not only improves his team this season, but also makes long-term cap sense. His club is loaded with players on expiring contracts such as O.J. Mayo, a 25-year-old shooting guard that Dallas wants to pan out for its long-range plans. Guards Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and Roddy Beaubois, center Chris Kaman and forwards Elton Brand and Brandan Wright are also on one-year contracts.
Veterans Vince Carter (owed $6.3 million through 2013-14) and Shawn Marion (owed $17.5 million through 2013-14) could be of interest to a contender.
Going nowhere, the owner has made clear, is Nowitzki. And that’s not because the sweet-shooting 7-footer is believed to be the only player in the league other than Kobe Bryant with a no-trade clause in his contract.
Cuban said flatly that he won’t trade the 15-year face of the franchise.
Nowitzki, whose four-year, $80 million contract expires after the 2013-14 season when he will turn 36, has been consistent in saying he wants to remain with Dallas until he decides to retire. He did recently express skepticism toward Cuban’s plan and went so far as to wonder if it would be in Dallas’ best interest to trade him if it fails to land a star player to build around before next season.
Stay tuned. Plenty of intrigue to come as the Bank of Cuban is officially open for business.