Behind the Curtain

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on August 5, 2013 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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When asked at the end of the season about his level of commitment about improving the team, Mavs owner Mark Cuban said, “If they don’t know by now that I’m doing everything I can, they’re never going to know.”

He also said that sometime in the summer that clarity would come. The clarity came on Saturday night on his blog (blogmaverick.com) with his missive about where things are now with the team and their pursuit of Dwight Howard. Whether you see it as a detailed analysis of the inner workings of the organization, rationalizing how the last three summers have played out or playing defense, this is a good way to show “how the sausage is made” or what Cuban is honestly thinking.

If you haven’t seen the blog post, you can see it in its entirety here.

The unprecedented access he gives the fans and media and his approach, in general, is so unique. Analysts around the league have already chimed in and there has been one consistent word that has popped up: fascinating. What makes him the kind of owner that he is his willingness to lay all the cards on the table for everyone to see. Cuban doesn’t hide, nor does he shy away.

He went into detail about the team’s pitch to Dwight Howard, mainly focusing on the video they presented to him. If you don’t live in the metroplex, the creative staff for the Mavs does a tremendous job of creating videos for in-game entertainment like the one that was made for Howard. They’ve done them for Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

The video for Howard featured music from the original soundtrack to “Man of Steel,” the latest Superman movie to come out, clearly playing to the larger than life stature Howard has created over his NBA career. Cuban said that Howard’s reply in response to what his ultimate goal was “I want to be epic.”

I’m not sure how I would react if someone said they want to be epic.

Back on point, the video is only two minutes long and the meeting with Howard was three hours long. Two minutes in an 180-minute meeting probably isn’t going to be a massive turning point in a critical meeting, so people doing what they love to do now (judge the quality of something, in this case the video) is relatively meaningless in the big picture. What Cuban does here is relaying information that clearly doesn’t have to be presented.

There were key points in Cuban’s blog I found very interesting.

The first was what I’ve known or believed for a long time: Cuban is loyal to Dirk Nowitzki.

Since Cuban took ownership of the team, he’s worked extremely hard to create a culture of winning and success. He purchased the Mavs at nearly the lowest point. They were one of the biggest laughing stocks in professional sports. He had to get creative, in his own ways, to generate interest in the team and get people (people, not fans) into the arena. He kept working and the success slowly started to follow.

Dirk Nowitzki was the crown jewel that would help take his vision to the next level.

As an aside, getting to do what I do by covering the team allows me to see things many people don’t get to see. I can’t stress enough how much of a competitor Dirk is. The best word I can describe when it comes to Dirk’s workout regimen is relentless. He is a tireless worker. The results of his work shined in 2011. History may or may not shine brightly on the 2011 Mavs, but there will be no doubt that Dirk’s work in the 2011 playoffs will go down as one of the most dominant playoff performances by a scorer in the league’s history. Without a doubt, Dirk was a baddest man on a basketball court at that time.

There is the work on the floor and the approach he takes away from the hardwood that makes to the point where it’s hard to find a better face for a franchise. He has a special ability to lead and to do it with composure and class. When things go wrong, he’ll take blame. When things go right, he says that it was the team that made it happen. On top of being a relentless worker, Dirk is self-deprecating, generous with his time, humble, humorous and thoughtful. When you have all of that in your leader, it’s fair to understand why Cuban would not want to let him go.

Another aspect that would make Cuban fond of Dirk is his transparency.

Again, another aside: one thing I’ve noticed is that Dirk will be an open book in the right situations or with the right line of questioning. Players can often go through the routine of bland answers once they go through the standard round of post-game interviews. If you hang around and pick his brain with straight-forward and thought-provoking questions, Dirk will give you gold.

He’ll also be blunt. Cuban has cited multiple times where Dirk has given his input about the team.

“If you only knew the things he has said to me during recent seasons about our team,” Cuban joked during a pregame interview last season. “I’m glad I didn’t listen.”

His work ethic and determination helped triggered the success the Mavs have had. That has helped created the culture that Cuban has ultimately wanted for the franchise. By trading Dirk and blowing up the organization, they would no longer have that true voice to help calm the troops.

Furthermore, blowing it up and rebuilding would lead to losing. It would be losing on top of losing on top of losing. If you want an example of what the team could be if they decided to go down the tanking wormhole or full-blown rebuilding mode, go look at the Sacramento Kings or the Charlotte Bobcats. Without a true leader, a general sense of complacency would settle in within the organization in the sense that losing would be considered to be alright. That’s the last thing that Cuban wants for his team.

The next thing that stood out was his assertion that the game of building a team has changed. He stated that it appears that a general blueprint has been set and more and more teams around the league are trying to operate off that blueprint, like most organizations would do. If someone sees something that has been successful, they will often try to copy it.

The thing about being successful is that it isn’t easy. If it were easy, everyone would be getting a trophy. While people try to follow that blueprint, like Cuban said, it does present an opportunity for those who decide to take a different path.

The Mavs’ path went towards trying to get Dwight Howard and they failed. As I mentioned here, the front office has done an impressive job of assembling a cast of characters that will be fun to watch. The 2012-13 roster was intriguing in its own way as it had pieces that could have meshed together and provided potential pieces for the future.

Players like Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon represent what he calls the “fallen angels” as they were players that were perceived to fill a certain role for different organizations and were unable to do so. As he mentioned early in his blogpost, Tyson Chandler represents a major “fallen angel” success story.

Whether it is Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Brandan Wright, Jerry Stackhouse or Vince Carter, Cuban and the Mavs do have a hit-rate of sorts when it comes to figuratively putting square pegs into round holes. There is a definite sense of self-belief in the system and culture as he states that they don’t really pay attention to what those players did in the previous stops and they believe more in what could do within their own system with their own players.

It’s apparent that Cuban is willing to sacrifice profitability in the pursuit of championships. Many fans have suggested that Cuban has gotten cheap over the years, mainly after they won the championship. They’ll site that they avoided giving contracts to one or multiple members of the championship team and went with one-year contracts for players that were younger and thus would be cheaper. Mark Deeks of Shamsports.com, an invaluable resource for those who want to know salary cap nuances, detailed that the notion of Cuban being cheap is a misnomer.

The link clearly shows that in the 10 years since the luxury tax has been applicable, Cuban has been the second-highest payer of luxury tax fees. He has talked about a two-year plan to help build the team back into a championship contender. They hope they have executed part one of the plan successfully with players such as Ellis, Calderon and others helping establish a new core. With more cap space coming next summer, they will hope to find another star to help forge a new chapter for the organization.

This all part of a process that Cuban and the Mavs believe in. It’s a process that is unique compared to other teams around the league. It’s a process that he took the time to explain to his fan base and anyone else who wanted to listen.

Whatever you think of him, you have to respect his delivery, openness to things revolving around the Mavs. As many fans around the league have seen – or in many cases, don’t see – Cuban took the time and effort to make sure he was communicating with his fans. By letting you look behind the curtain, it gives a general sense of trust and loyalty.

He swings for the fences. Like most people, he will swing and miss. The most successful people in life are the ones that are willing to take a risk or swing for the fence. The ones who keep trying, even after failure, are the ones who are ultimately rewarded. When it comes to Cuban and the Mavs, he stands up and lets you know the thought process in the decisions that were made.

Someone is ultimately going to be proven right, the naysayers who thought the championship core should have been kept together, the ones who believe tanking is the true route to success or Mark Cuban. Either way, he has a plan and he’ll share it when he can.

“We’ll try to be as transparent as possible, within competitive reason,” Cuban said at the end of the season in relation to his team’s approach. I would say that mission has been accomplished.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University. Bryan channels his inner-Clark Kent on a day-to-day basis. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.

  • danielconst

    It’s frustrating reading so many say how pitiful the mavs pitch was, as if the video was the only part of it.. I guess people just love to judge and criticize things like that. You’d have to be incredibly naive to think that they sat Howard down, said look at this video then left… guhh… I mean the video wasn’t amazing but when you have no idea about the content of the meeting it’s easy to just judge something that was probably very relevant to the meeting as a whole. rant over.

  • solidus

    Thanks for the insights in this article. This was the best piece I read on Cuban’s blog post. I’m much more optimistic about the season – you reminded us that this is a two year plan and it’ll be a really good core to take to the table of next year’s free agent class.
    Let me make the point clear: my thinking is, so many teams are going to tank to get into the Wiggins sweepstakes, they might be turned off some of those teams outright. Maybe we make a strong showing in the playoffs, show we have a team with Dirk and hopefully Marion/Carter resigning, and we can add a fierce wing player or dominant center.