Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki have been through a lot together over the past 13 ½ years. Together, they were the key parts of one of the NBA's most successful franchises of the past decade, all while enduring more than a few postseason disappointments. The partnership paid off in 2011, when Dallas won the big prize by becoming the only team to date that has beaten the current-day Miami Heat in a playoff series.
That first championship Mavericks squad never really got a chance to defend its crown because of the departure of defensive kingpin Tyson Chandler through free agency after the season, which is where today's story really started. Up to that point, Cuban always had maintained a spare-no-expenses approach to building his teams, always willing to part with draft picks and to take on long-term payroll as long as the only cost was the luxury tax. No owner or executive in the league played the old collective bargaining agreement more effectively than Cuban, who won deserved plaudits for valuing wins more than profit.
Behind their innovative owner, the Mavericks have been at the vanguard of a lot of trends in the NBA, including the analytics movement. In the years leading up to the contentious labor negotiations that led to the lockout during the fall of 2011, Cuban recognized that his usual way of doing business was no longer going to cut it, or so he thought. After allowing Chandler, DeShawn Stephenson, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler all to leave after the title season, he embraced the notion of payroll flexibility.
"This was the plan the minute we agreed to the new CBA," Cuban told ESPN. "This is 100 percent about the CBA and understanding the impact it will have on the market."
Cuban saw that the new agreement would not only dig deeper into his pockets through a more punitive luxury tax, but it also would severely limit the avenues through which he could improve his team. The strategy of leveraging expiring and other short-term contracts into top sign-and-trade free agents was rendered obsolete for tax payers. The new direction, in which Cuban would fill his roster with one-year contracts, made for a yawner of a 2012-13 season in Dallas, but it was a sound plan.
On Friday, Cuban and the rest of us were informed that Dwight Howard was not going to become a Maverick. That, along with Chris Paul's decision to stick with the Los Angeles Clippers, took Dallas out of the running for the only two true franchise players in this year's free-agent class. So Cuban is going to get hit hard in the NBA zeitgeist because he broke up his title team and now has nothing to show for it, and there will be suggestions that the Mavericks are no longer a prime landing spot for elite free agents.
Cuban isn't sweating any of this. Minutes after learning of Howard's decision, Cuban tweeted, "Time to get back to work. The Mavs are back open for business."
So what's his next move?