Is Mark Cuban Ruthless Enough To Win It All?
It's been a fairly extraordinary offseason in a few respects, including this: a true NBA superstar appears to be on the trade market for the second time.
Back in May, we wrote a piece arguing that we thought Dallas should trade Dirk for KG in a heartbeat and, in a poll that we ran, about 60% of you agreed with us that the Mavs would get the better of that trade.
Now, Kobe Bryant appears to be on the market, with Dallas reported to be one of the few teams for whom he would waive his no-trade clause, and our analysis is similar to what it was in May: you gotta trade Dirk for Kobe if you're the Mavs.
In general, we think that teams often overreact to playoff losses and end up making their teams worse by breaking them up prematurely, so we respect the approach that the Mavs have taken this offseason overall.
Despite Dirk's playoff shortcomings in '07 and the '06 Finals, we certainly didn't advocate Dallas shopping him around, as that's how a team usually ends up getting 50 cents on the dollar for its assets.
But this is a rare opportunity (though, amazingly, the second one of this offseason). I mean, we're not talking about just All-Stars here - Jermaine O'Neal-types who are important pieces. In Kobe (as well as KG), we're talking about one of the 5-10 true difference makers in the league - one of the very short list of players who is better than Dirk.
Yet, Mark Cuban has dismissed the idea out of hand, saying "Dirk is untouchable" and "If and when I talk to Jerry [Buss], I'll make it clear that we're not going to trade Dirk."
Why not? I think that it's related to this clip, which is of Mark Cuban talking about Dirk emotionally at this spring's MVP press conference:
It's a genuinely touching moment, and helps you understand all the reasons that Cuban is loyal to Dirk:
• Dirk was there when he first bought the team, and has been there with him all the way on the road from NBA laughingstock to model franchise;
• He's seen Dirk himself rise from the ridicule he endured in his rookie season, and develop into an elite NBA player;
• Dirk has done so largely due to an incredible work ethic;
• In short, as a person, Dirk is everything an owner would want in a franchise player. He's the type of guy an owner can be proud of.
That's the thing: all of this is admirable. We respect Cuban for his loyalty in standing behind his player in a time of adversity. And we're not trying to pile on Dirk - he is everything that's right about the league.
It's just a stark evaluation from a basketball standpoint: Kobe Bryant is a better player. It might not fit the Mavs as cleanly as a KG trade would have in terms of position, but we still think it would work.
The facts remain that Dallas should have won the 2006 Finals and they should have played San Antonio in the 2007 Western Conference Finals to essentially determine the league champion, and Dirk was a big part of the underachievement in both instances.
Kobe is a proven playoff closer, and it's an equal tradeoff in terms of age (both are 29). Kobe might not be as pleasant of a guy to be around, and it might require another move to balance out the roster, but we still think it would make Dallas a better team in the long term. We think Mark Cuban needs to put aside his personal loyalties, as he did with Steve Nash and Michael Finley, and make the deal.
Hey, maybe, since the market for Kobe is so limited, Cubes thinks he can get him without giving up Dirk - more power to him if he can.
And listen, we take no pleasure in writing this - if Dirk ends up leading Dallas to the title, we'll be the first to admit that we were wrong. We admire Dirk and admire Mark Cuban for the way he's backed his star - we're just analyzing this coldly from a basketball perspective, and wondering if Cuban is ruthless enough to do the same.