DALLAS — For the first time since he bought the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of the 1999-2000 season, owner Mark Cuban won’t be able to harass officials in the playoffs.
Two nights after the Mavs were eliminated from playoff contention, snapping the franchise’s record run of 12 consecutive postseason appearances, Cuban fell on the sword, taking the blame for a season that remains one game under .500 with three to play. On Wednesday, Cuban contended that had Dirk Nowitzki not missed the first 27 games of the season after knee surgery, and a career-high 29 in all, that his club would be fighting for a fifth or sixth seed.
On Friday he said he failed to put a good enough team around his 7-foot star who led the franchise to two NBA Finals and the 2011 championship.
“Look, it didn’t work out the way we planned. It’s all on me and [president of basketball operations] Donnie [Nelson],” Cuban said prior to Friday night’s overtime win over the Denver Nuggets. “It’s our job to put people in position to succeed. We didn’t do enough of it. It’s not an apology. It’s just the nature of the beast. I bust my ass to do as best as we can. No one hates losing more than me, so I’ll keep on busting my ass and hopefully it will change.”
Cuban opted not to re-sign key players from the 2011 championship, in particular last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, in order to create cap space under the altered rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The club chased Deron Williams last season but failed to lure him, setting in motion a run at players on the final year of their contracts or signing players to one-year contracts to keep salary cap room wide open for this summer.
While Cuban acknowledged that the franchise is now in a rebuild mode, he said it will be a quick job.
“It’s not a four-year rebuild cycle,” Cuban said. “I guess when you miss the playoffs, by definition you’re rebuilding. So we’ve got to get better.”
After striking out on Williams, Cuban and Nelson quickly went to work to construct a team. They felt confident about pieces acquired, namely O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison to replace Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, plus center Chris Kaman, easily the most offensively gifted big man the Mavs have had, and Elton Brand.
But, with Nowitzki out of the lineup, Dallas skidded to a 13-23 start. And while coach Rick Carlisle shuffled through starting lineups like a deck of cards, the Mavs still managed to make things a bit interesting over the last few weeks in the race for the eighth spot, but ultimately they were never able to fully recover.
With three chances in the past two weeks to get back to .500 for the first time since December, they lost by double-digits in each game, the last coming Wednesday to the last-place Suns.
The loss sealed the Mavs’ fate as an unfamiliar participant in the upcoming draft lottery.
“Look, we did the best we could,” Cuban said. “We obviously didn’t have what we thought we would have. We obviously should have had more. I don’t know if we could have, but we should have, and so it’s all on me. If that means I let Rick down, I let Rick down. People always give me (expletive) — why do you always put your email up on the screen and why are you always out front? This is why. So if someone’s got a shot to take, take it at me.”