The title of this article was brought to you by Kirk's favorite song.
Mavericks fans who have been brave enough to keep watching of late, may think they're watching one of the absolute worst teams in the NBA. The sad truth is, they aren't.
Mavs fans under the age of 25, probably even under the age of 30, have no real appreciation of what the lowest echelon of basketball actually looks like, and believe me, I'm not saying that as a cheerleader for this squad or as someone who is certain they'd rather watch tonight's game than get punched in the nuts.
The sad truth is, for as horrible as they've been at rebounding, the Mavericks are actually still 19th overall. For as horrible as they've been at passing, they're still 13th overall in assists. For as lackluster as their offense has appeared, they're still 13th overall in scoring. For as porous as their defense has been, the Mavericks are still 23rd in...okay, that actually sucks pretty bad.
But those aren't just numbers indicating badness, they're numbers indicating that in every case except the D, there are at least 10, more often 17 teams worse than what you're witnessing. It just doesn't feel like that because of the dissonance between expectations and performance in this case. The shittiness here is not absolute, it is relative.
Here's the thing. People think it's some kind of wizardry, or at least a really shitty form of wizardry, that the Bobcats have acquired three straight Mavericks center castoffs, Gana Diop, Erick Dampier, now Brendan Haywood. They're not, however, doing it for fun.
That's REALLY being one of the worst teams in the league. When you don't get to dream about having enough cap space to attract Deron Williams. When OJ Mayo won't take less money to play for you, but you have to pay Ben Gordon 12.4 million dollars to do so. When the slightly-too-large salary you take on isn't Shawn Marion's 8.5-9 million, it's Tyrus Thomas' 8-8.6, Gana Diop's 7.3.
When the most important day of your year has nothing to do with games but with ping pong balls, and when they don't fall out how you want, because every draft is not 2003, you don't get Anthony Davis you get the capable, high-motor, never-gonna-be-an-all-star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
It's like eating your green beans, when you're a kid. You may not like what you have, but there are children in Africa who have to eat Gana Diop and Ben Gordon to survive.
(Did that metaphor go okay? Was that alright?)
People think the Bobcats are throwing out stupid cash for stupid reasons, and it's true they're not the best run team, but what people around here don't realize particularly often is that not having to spend stupid cash for stupid reasons is a luxury earned by being good enough to attract good players in the first place.
This isn't even that mysterious a point. Free agency is not a free market. The max players will get max offers from everyone who's in a position to hope, the near-max players nearly the same. Since they're all going to get the same money, the players make choices based on other things. Some may make choices based on front offices they like, some on cities they want to live in, some on the media cache of a given place, but most free agents worth having do it based on winning.
The sad truth is, financial flexibility, the only kind the Mavericks have, may be the least valuable kind of flexibility, after high draft picks, young talent, and good contracts, and all of this after, flexibility or no, being a plausible threat to win the title. This is because, against, the top free agents get the same offer from every team who can offer and because, as we've seen over and over again, the odds are stacked pretty hard against a marquee free agent MAKING free agency if he's planning to leave, although recent events may have taught players, or at least agents, to remain publicly ambiguous about such details, and the new CBA certainly makes it more lucrative to become free agent than otherwise.
The Mavericks, then, were in one sense pretty smart to chase talent immediately after winning a title, when the intangibles that they could offer were at their highest. Unfortunately, after a first round sweep and now this mess, they get dumber every year.
All this is a long way of saying that Chris Paul looked like he was having a lot of fun last night, and I don't suppose he got the impression the Mavericks were. In the offseason, the Clippers can offer him an additional year and more cash, Griffin and Jordan to lob to, Caron to back him up, and the Mavericks can offer him, you know, last night + Dirk. Not a piddling addition, far from it. Still...
So, I thought, here, I'd ask you what YOU would do. The Mavericks clearly have a couple of options here, and also a mixed option. As some have argued, they can keep staying low, payroll and talent rise, until they land a big fish free agent because, after you've tossed Tyson Chandler out and you get this, why not just wait it out. I would argue that, the longer they spend not being particularly good, the less likely they'll show up on any big fish's list, but I'm just one man.
They can see if they can get Mayo for 10 mil or so, maybe get Brand and Kaman to re-sign for small amounts, maybe Collison if he turns it around, maybe Wright if he turns out to be effective, have a lot on the books next year, but also talent and a team that could make the playoffs, keep whatever draft pick they get even if it means spending money, and refocus themselves on just having a good team---which may be the best way to attract big name talent, though it may also be impossible at that point to sign them.
Or, they can try a mixed approach. They can keep, say, OJ Mayo, a very talented scorer, currently 8th in the NBA (and shooting a higher percentage than anyone ahead of him except LeBron, Durant and Kobe), Dirk and Marion next year, and not have all that much cap space (that alone takes up about 42 million dollars, presuming Mayo signs for 10 million), but still some---and besides that hope that the combination of that nucleus of talent and the huge amount of cap space they'll have in the summer of 2014, when they currently have 0 salary commitments will set them up well for the future.
What would you do?