Weekly Countdown: Mark Cuban: 'We've made a lot of mistakes'
Mark Cuban won't break up Mavericks, but will try to lure top free agents
Eastern teams (Cavaliers, Magic) may have tougher road than Western foes
More topics: Cavs' three-point shooting; Spurs are back; semifinal predictions
5 Takes with Mark Cuban
Part II of my lengthy invterview with the Mavericks' owner:
What's next? Cuban didn't discuss the Mavs' summer plans, because he was still planning to beat the Spurs (who held a 2-1 series lead at the time we met). But now that Dallas lost in the opening round for the third time in four years, there will be conjecture of a "house cleaning" that may even involve the departure of Dirk Nowitzki.
I don't see this happening. First of all, is Nowitzki going to walk out on his $21.5 million salary next season to go to New York, Miami or Chicago? I can't imagine that he would submit to such a jarring change, or that he would leave a franchise that has won 50 games or more each of his last 10 seasons. Very few franchises have the ambition and the means to contend for a championship annually, and Nowitzki is playing for one of them.
"We've made a lot of mistakes," Cuban acknowledged of the Mavs' acquisitions before citing their institutional strength. "We've tried to rebuild without rebuilding. We've replaced [Steve] Nash, we've replaced [Michael] Finley, and hopefully in 10 years we'll be able to replace Dirk. But it's just a question of recognizing what you have from being close enough to the team."
He is not going to break up this team just to start over via the draft. But he will do what he always has done -- seek better assets -- and this is a good summer for that. Cuban is certain to remind any of the top free agents, including LeBron James, that if they're looking to move then they should consider joining Dallas. The Mavericks aren't under the cap, but they have a deep wealth of assets to turn a sign-and-trade for James, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson.
There are two ways to approach free agency. One is to unload contracts and create space under the cap while losing games; the other is to acquire assets to be used in a sign-and-trade while winning games.
In theory, a sign-and-trade is preferable to free agents because it can provide them with close to $30 million extra over the length of a new contract. If a star wants to make big money with a winning franchise, isn't he going to consider the Mavericks? As frustrated as they were by their loss in six games to the Spurs, I see Cuban dealing from a position of strength this summer. If they undergo a major change it will be to bring in new talent, and not simply to unload the roster.
On his management style. Cuban believes his daily involvement with the team is crucial to managing the roster.
"I'm so close to everything that's going around that you can't bull---- me," he said. "In other situations [as an owner] you're depending three levels back on what your GM says, and then maybe you go in and hear what some players say, and then maybe your coach tells you something different. I've been able to keep my eye on the long term and short term, and if I hear something, chances are I've also seen it [first hand].
"And that's not to say I've caught everything, because I haven't. But there's no way you're going to be able to tell me one thing and then do another -- and when you do, I see it and I catch it. That's why we put Shawne Williams out to pasture [as part of a January trade with the Nets for Eduardo Najera]. There are other examples, but he's the most obvious. I sat and talked with him. He told me one thing; I checked up [and the truth turned out to be] the exact opposite. And then I confirmed it was the exact opposite. Then he did it again; it was the exact opposite. When you lie to me, we'll figure it out, as opposed to a GM who may have said -- and I don't want to make this sound like it's Donnie [Nelson, the Mavs' president and GM] because it's not; Donnie will admit his mistakes -- 'I don't want to admit a mistake.' Most GMs don't even travel with the teams. Unless you're there, you're not going to see all this stuff that destroys chemistry."
The same oversight is applied by Spurs president and coach Gregg Popovich. "He's involved in everything," Cuban said. "It works for him and they're playing their best basketball of the year right now, bar none, and he deserves credit for that."
On why he doesn't rely on coaches for advice on personnel. "That's where I've made my most expensive mistakes is on [listening to] coaches," Cuban said, though he won't name the players he shouldn't have signed on a coach's advice. "With every coach I've had, I've made a mistake that they were pushing."
Cuban has employed three coaches -- Don Nelson, Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle -- in a decade of ownership. "My feeling in the past has always been, Let's get that coach off to a good start,'' he said. "I've only really changed coaches twice. So I go to bat for him ... but it's never, ever going to happen again."
To balance as well as deepen the layers of advice he receives, Cuban has rehired sports psychologist Don Kalkstein to work full time with the Mavs. Cuban said he dismissed Kalkstein in 2007 at the request of Johnson before rehiring the psychologist last season.
"Avery didn't like him around," Cuban said. "Avery wanted it to be his team. It was my decision to think, Well, Avery took us to the [2007 NBA] Finals and won 67 games, he's earned that right. It turned out if we would have kept him, [Johnson] might still be here."
Why is a psychologist so important to the team?
"When you have 20-something-year-old kids, they're going to have fun, right?" Cuban said. "I don't have any problem with that as long as it doesn't bother your job. And so the minute it impacts your ability to do your job, I have a problem with that."
Cuban counts on Kalkstein to provide information on team chemistry -- but to do so without betraying confidences.
"He won't give me the particulars on individuals, but he gives me the sense of the team,'' Cuban said. "He won't violate privacy, but I'll ask how one guy fits in the team situation vs. another guy, how one guy can communicate with the coaches vs. another guy, will this guy be able to evolve and communicate with the coaches? We've got to be able to put everybody in a position to succeed, and the only way to do that is to be able to communicate with him or find somebody who will.
"Chemistry is critical. Sometimes there are little nuances of things that negatively impact the chemistry that over the course of the long season you've got to be able to nip in the bud. And if you don't -- you see it with teams all the time, and most teams just hope they work themselves through and put it on the coach or the GM [to fix the issues]. But just because you coach basketball or you evaluate basketball talent, that doesn't mean you're great at sports psychology or understanding the chemistry of a team. And just because it worked in the '80s doesn't mean it's going to work in the '90s or the 2000s or the 2010s.
"You've got to be able to cut bait and know when you've got problems and know when you can solve those problems internally and when you can't, and know what you're going to do about them. There are guys we traded just because of addition through subtraction."
So Kalkstein helps? "He always does, yes," Cuban said. "And you put that together with your own personal experiences and what you see. He travels with us, he's out there with the guys shagging balls, and he's behind the bench with the coaches."
It's not like the players have formal sessions with Kalkstein. "No, he just talks to them -- let's go out and shoot, and he'll shag balls for them and just talk to them. And again, I won't ask him what he tells them or what he asks them, because I want them to know that it's private and that he doesn't share that with me at all. But he helps to qualify our roster -- here are the guys who are going to be able to communicate, and here's where the communication problems are going to come. ... You've got to know everything.
"He's the reason why we drafted Devin Harris [with the No. 5 pick in 2004], because when he interviewed Devin over some of the other players he said, 'This guy has heart, he has this-this-this-this' -- and he was right."
According to Cuban, Kalkstein urged the Mavericks to not draft another highly rated player in 2004 and vowed to quit if they overruled him to pick the player anyway. "He said, 'If you don't have any use for me, you're not going to listen to me.' "
On Michael Jordan's ownership of the Bobcats. Cuban believes Jordan will be a successful owner because he has put his own money into the team. "When you're that close and you have that much money invested, it's hard not to be involved,'' he said. "When you're young and you have that much money invested and you're as competitive as we both are, why would you not [be involved]?
"They're already better, and it's not an accident they got better when they found out he was going to [buy the team]. It was the same situation as mine -- I hadn't been officially approved yet, but I was there [with the team]. And when you're there and they can talk to you and you can talk to them and they recognize the boss is paying attention and you can't play games, that's a huge difference."
So Jordan will turn the Bobcats into a better franchise?
"I know he will," Cuban said. "You don't want any franchise to suffer, and Charlotte has suffered. And he knows how to be a good salesperson too. Part of it is he's already doing that. That will be the harder part over time, because it's such a time commitment. But he'll recognize it as a parallel to the emotional commitment."
On being heckled by fans on the road. "I love it because they pick on me instead of the players," he said. "The last player ever to get heckled on the Mavericks is Shawn Bradley. Since he left no one on the Mavericks -- ever since I sat behind the bench -- has gotten heckled. They pick on me. And it's even funnier when you go to some cities -- San Antonio included -- where if they're really picking on me, I can stand up while they're shooting a free throw in the second half, which is our end, and they'll start booing me while their guy's on the line. It's happened here."
He tried that trick in Game 3 last week at San Antonio. "I did and they tried to scream, 'Cuban sucks!' But then it got drowned out by, 'Let's go Spurs!'"
Cuban often hears Spurs fans shouting, 'Show me your rings!' "Fans like to say that, like they were on the court winning the rings, right?" he said. "It's stupid, but in the bigger sense it's good because the fans connect that much. Most of the teams in the NBA haven't won rings, and that's the way it goes. I'll be around a lot longer to keep at it."
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