Let’s be clear about one thing. If Deron’s decision was a business transaction, the Mavericks would have won it. They would have because they made the smart business moves—they got Deron space, and future flexibility.
The Nets, on the other hand, made a series of terrible business decisions. They traded what turned out to be the #6 pick in the NBA draft for Gerald Wallace, and then paid Gerald Wallace 40 million dollars over 4 years. They picked up Joe Johnson’s ridiculous contract. When Deron signed, it locked him into a team that has more or less no shot of winning a title AND almost no possibility to change.
The Mavs saw all that, and assumed Deron would see all that---and not see some other numbers. Like: Without Jason Terry, the Mavericks had exactly one player that scored more than 11 points, last year, to the Nets’ 6 (Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Anthony Morrow) and one more if they re-sign Kris Humphries. Or that even with all the cap-cutting moves the Mavs have pulled over the last couple of years, they’re at 44 million with just Dirk, Marion, haywood, Carter, Beaubois, Jones and Wright—not exactly cap city.
The Mavericks were smug. They assumed Deron would see what they saw, that this was not a team with basically nobody but Dirk on it, graying by the second, but a lion in winter, a sleeping giant, ready to take over the world as soon as he agreed to lead them.
Honestly? I know it’s silly, but the day I first figured the Mavericks weren’t going to be able to pull this off, once I talked myself into the possibility they could (which was significantly after the Tyson Chandler heartbreak) was Tuesday, February 28th—when the Mavericks lost to the Nets 93-92, in a game in which Deron went 3-15. It might have worked if the Mavs could have bluffed their way through their season, their aura of invincibility after years of success, and a championship, was that good. They didn’t that day, right before Deron’s eyes.
They wouldn’t later, either.
The Mavs were smug because they were smart. They’ve always been smart. That’s why they have the respect they do, and that’s why they have such a winning tradition. It’s also why they have never once convinced a high-profile free agent to come to Dallas. It’s also why, since Jason Terry, they’ve never brought significant talent to Dallas in a trade except for, accidentally, Tyson Chandler.
They always make the smart move. Donnie is a singles and doubles guy, and he doesn’t believe in the draft. So they got Terry, so they got Delonte West. So they got Marion, Peja, and Nick Van Exel before them. They’ll make a difference, but not the difference. They would never give Gerald Wallace a 40 million dollar contract, or pick up a 20 million dollar one for a guy who doesn’t score 20 a game and doesn’t play team ball. They would never, never trade a sure top 10 pick for Gerald Wallace.
But like I told Josh earlier today, while the Mavericks were doing the "smart" thing, the Nets made some of the dumbest moves and trades we’ve seen in a long time—and they have D-Will.
Because they didn’t shy away from talent that was also trouble. Because they didn’t sacrifice everything for a shot at something they couldn’t really afford (Dwight Howard). Because they wanted to capitalize now, and they did it, no matter what it took---and because they didn’t lose sight of the fact that the number one thing Deron wanted was a competitive team and that, if going after Deron meant not having one, it wasn’t really worth doing.
Mark Cuban, a brilliant businessman, looked at the new CBA and saw that the smart thing to do would be to manage cap space and preserve flexibility. But the best thing to do, always, is to take advantage of the opportunities you have and try to put the best team you can on the court, period. The Nets did that, and showed up with Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans. The Mavericks showed up with a calculator and Dirk Nowitzki--completely ignoring the fact that they had not been impersonating a good team very well for the last twelve months.
And that’s how the Mavericks two years of deprivation and sacrifice ended with nothing.
So here are the things that I can remember or think of that the Mavericks gave up to pursue Deron Williams:
Al Jefferson, who could have been had for two draft picks.
Not just Tyson Chandler, but the fabled "DUST" chip which was used to bring in Tyson, who was SUPPOSED to be the next DUST chip, but was too good, therefore kept for a year--but wasn't good enough to be signed again. And the DUST chip disappeared.
Any opportunity to do anything useful with Lamar Odom’s carcass or contract--the Mavericks instead treated a guy who gave them nothing as nicely as possible, to make nice with his agent, traded him exactly where he wanted and to a rival, and got literally zero in return.
There were, in addition, presumably many opportunities that we don’t know about, that would have improved the team in the short term but taken on salary. The Mavericks kept saying no, kept refusing chances to get better, because it would mean not having the money.
Maybe, next time, they should just try to get better.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how the Mavericks can salvage this. Steve Nash is not so much a worse piece than Deron, with the right personnel, and there are other things the Mavericks can do to at least be better than last year. I think Dirk'll have a bounce back year, I think Roddy will have his first ever training camp (broken foot two years ago, no training camp last year), I think the other guys might contribute something--we might, overall, be surprised.
But tonight, we regret, and we lick our wounds.