By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
FORT WORTH, Texas — With the hour-long line of smiling fans asking to take selfies, requesting autographs and even pitching business ideas as if this was a super-market version of Shark Tank finally dwindling, Mark Cuban leaned back on a shopping cart filled with palm-sized boxes of Simple Sugars facial scrubs, of which he owns a 33 percent stake, and exhaled a relieving, “Ahhhh…”
“It’s been a long day,” Cuban said, his recently replaced left hip reminding him that he’s still only five weeks removed from the operating table.
Dressed in his traditional blue jeans and a T-shirt, this was his final stop of a whirlwind Thursday at four Central Market grocery stores at opposite ends of the expansive Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cuban was promoting four products he’s backed on the television show “Shark Tank” and are now being carried by Central Market.
Cuban claims more people these days recognize him as a shark than as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But, make no mistake, while Cuban enjoys helping burgeoning entrepreneurs obtain the American Dream, his undying passion remains running the Mavs.
And for the first time since Cuban chomped on a stogie and clutched the Larry O’Brien Trophy three summers ago, a bubbling of excitement surrounds the team. Among those who waited in line to shake Cuban’s hand or give him a hug: a wide-eyed dreamer who asked how to start some kind of mesquite wood business; the student council president of a local high school who pitched a-day-in-school idea; and an affable, gray-haired fellow Cuban said was his acting coach from 20 years ago (Cuban thought acting class would aid his social scene) who handed him a manuscript he wants made into a movie (Cuban owns Magnolia Pictures).
But many, many more asked one simple question: “Are we going to win this year?”
“I hope so!” Cuban responded to each.
Mavs fans had become used to disappointment in the post-title summers as Cuban failed to land a marquee free agent. He didn’t get a big fish this summer either, but a series of moves have ignited serious intrigue, starting with the reacquisition of championship center Tyson Chandler in a deal with the Knicks.
“It was kind of surprising that we got it done, just because with that many pieces and the fact that no one finds out,” Cuban said of the trade in brief moments when the selfie line died down. “I’m glad we got it done. We’re excited. He can kind of quarterback our defense, he makes everybody better defensively and he’ll make Monta [Ellis] better offensively.”
A few weeks later Cuban gambled and won, stealing up-and-coming small forward and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from division rival Houston with an out-of-this-world offer sheet, a move that could have also blown up in his face. Cuban flew to Orlando, Fla., to hand deliver the contract offer at midnight and then he went out for drinks with Parsons and his parents.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would have 72 hours to match the three-year, $46 million offer. In the meantime, Houston signed Trevor Ariza, also a Mavs target, and the speculation game was churning hard on what Morey would do.
“I was 90 percent,” Cuban said of his confidence that he’d land Parsons. “Because of the way the numbers worked, and they’re a very logical organization, they’re very obvious, like we all are, like a lot of teams are, about their approach to building a team and flexibility.”
Then came a wrench. LeBron James signed with Cleveland, leaving former Heat teammate Chris Bosh in limbo. Reports suggested Bosh was leaning toward signing with Houston, and if he did, the Rockets reportedly would match the Parsons offer.
“I don’t think that [Bosh’s decision] mattered all that much, honestly,” Cuban said. “I guess they said they’d go for it if he [Bosh] had gone [to Houston]. That would have put them in a tough spot and they probably would have tried to do a sign-and-trade. And if they did a sign-and-trade then they would have had a hard cap, like you’re seeing with the Clippers, and that would have meant they couldn’t add anybody else at all.”
Ultimately, Bosh took Miami’s max deal and Morey pulled the plug on Parsons. Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.
Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.
“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”
Needless to say Cuban is looking forward to his young acquisition relocating to Dallas in the coming weeks and joining Ellis, Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Brandan Wright plus other more under-the-radar pickups in Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson, and then eventually the elder statesman and now the heavily underpaid 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki when he returns later in September.
“I try to keep an even keel,” Cuban said of his excitement level for the season. “I don’t get all excited about winning the summer. That’s almost the kiss of death.”
Still, as summers go, this one was pretty good.
“It could’ve been worse,” Cuban said.