Cuban Grabs a Seat at LeBron’s Poker Table
The last time LeBron was on the market, the Mavs politely downplayed their interest because they lacked cap space and could only pull up a chair to the poker table at the invitation of the Cavs. This time, there is still politeness and there is still subtlety. But the chair at the poker table? Mark Cuban has boldly grabbed one for himself.
“I was there for a Shark Tank commitment,” Mark Cuban tells ESPN, coyly fibbing about the fact that he was in Cleveland this week making a pitch to James’ agent Rich Paul. The “One-Percent Chance” nature of LeBron-to-Dallas hasn’t been altered drastically yet. Once James pulled his opt-out shocker in Miami, the Mavs were known to be candidates to be in the mix.
And so they are.
That’s a change from 2010, when the Mavs put together a detailed presentation to LeBron that was never actually presented. Dallas at that time didn’t have cap room, but instead just had “The Dust Chip” (Erick Dampier’s cleverly constructed super-expiring contract) to offer. Mavs GM Donnie Nelson later told me that “etiquette” prevented the Mavs from going straight to LeBron, and that the proper path was to deal with Cleveland first. “Etiquette” meant the Mavs never got a chair at the table. And by the way, in recent days, we are seeing what other NBA teams (the Bucks with Jason Kidd and the Rockets with their No. 7 jersey ad campaign for Melo) think of etiquette.
The Mavs eventually used “The Dust Chip” in trade for Tyson Chandler and then won their title. So it worked out. But when they broke up that team after 2011, a someday-luring of a LeBronesque player was the entire point. Deron Williams. Chris Paul. Dwight Howard. All no-go’s in recent years. Dallas goes all-out again here, even at the risk of disappointment and public embarrassment (“Nobody wants to come to Dallas!”) because this has been the point around here since 2011. This is a result of Cuban’s interpretation of that new CBA, and while we haven’t had a “nuclear winter” as Cuban predicted back then, and we haven’t seen “barring of superteams,” we do have this: LeBron is free. … and at least contemplating leaving the Miami Heat. He’s inviting the Mavs to court him. … along with the Suns, Cavaliers, Rockets, Lakers and whomever.
The four-time MVP, coming off four Finals trips and two titles in four seasons is still ramping up a career that will leave him as one of the two or three greatest NBA players of all time. What is the possibility that he didn’t like having to carry the whole load in Miami at the end (and he did), or that he didn’t like Pat Riley suggesting it would be “gutless” of him to depart South Beach? Or the possibility that he likes both Dallas’ “shiny baubles” (Dirk/Tyson/Monta) AND Cuban’s “business-and-basketball” pitch? In fact, what if LeBron watched Dallas’ “business-and-basketball” meeting with Melo from afar and, viewing himself as a briefcase-carrying businessman, said to himself, “I’d like to be approached that way. Quietly. No parades. Two briefcases”?
You need that chair.
Cuban said before free agency opened that he didn’t intend to make any max offers, and that may have applied to Carmelo Anthony (ESPN reports Dallas talked with him about $18 mil a year rather than his $22.5-mil starting max). But it’s a safe bet that Cuban wouldn’t let a few million dollars get in the way of signing James, who’s starting max will be about $20.3 million. Even with Dirk’s new three-year agreement, the Mavs can get there by trading Raymond Felton or Brandan Wright in salary-dump deals. Or by boomeranging back to Dirk for a re-do.
And they would still fill out a roster. With LeBron on board, the Mavs would surely be able to add a few bargain, ring-chasing veterans to fill out the rotation with quality players. Does Dallas resident Mo Williams want his heart healed again? Does Ray Allen want to sidekick LeBron one more time?
Watch ’em line up.
For now, we watch LeBron’s bidders line up. In one swift act, LeBron has served notice to everyone in Miami, and to everyone around the NBA, that he’s not willing to sit back and allow his future to be controlled by those who aren’t willing to pay the price. Riley’s in-your-face challenge LeBron to do “whatever it takes” to stay together and take responsibility to solve the Heat issues (or be called “gutless”) has been answered with the opt-out move that said: “Let’s be clear: I can move forward with you or without you. Let’s see what you have to offer.”
And now LeBron is seeing what Dallas (and others) have to offer.
Last time around, the Mavs were polite in their approach … and were never allowed to make an offer. This time, amid all the Mavs-LeBron rumors, the relative quiet is about external appearances, covert mystery and Shark Tank fibs. But the behind-the-scenes action is bold. Mark Cuban, his “one-percent chance” in one hand and his cards in the other, has grabbed a chair at the poker table.