Here we are in a dark, scary Mavericks universe. Rejected by Deron Williams and Steve Nash. Terry's gone. Kidd even rubbed salt into our wound by toying with us before rejecting us. Now it's just Dirk, Marion and the D-Leaguers, as some have half-jokingly said. Many fans are calling for Mark Cuban to be thrown into a shark tank and for Donnie Nelson's head on a pike. Even more drastically, they are calling for trading Dirk and starting over from scratch.
The panic is understandable. We're hurt. We've been spoiled with 12 straight, great playoff years, two Finals tries and finally a championship less than thirteen short months ago. Now, all of a sudden we'll be lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective) to stay out of the lottery this year if our existing roster stands without significant improvements. To have blown our abundant riches that fast, no wonder Mavs diehards and bandwagoners alike are ranging from homicidal to suicidal in their reactions to the past week.
We came to Vegas this summer with a fat wallet, a bottom spending limit we set for ourselves and a poker strategy that has won in the past. We placed some big bets and we lost them all. We could have hit big, but Brooklyn went all in on a good hand in a game was stacked in their favor anyway. L.A. called our bluff on another big hand. Now we've reached our spending limit and the wallet's mostly empty. We can cut our losses, lick our wounds, buy a nice consolation dinner and go home and rebuild our bank account for next year's Vegas vacation. Or we can whip out the credit cards and start playing the slot machines. A lot of kneejerk reactions have demanded the latter out of desperation. And a few are even calling for taking out a second mortgage on the house. I may be alone on this, but I sure hope Cuban doesn't listen to them, because slot machines are not a suddenly good investment just because the cards didn't fall your way.
Many are acting as though Dirk's career is basically over, and he'll just rot away alone with his one ring if we keep being stingy in what may be one of his last great years. This is frankly silly. I'd bet losing Terry and Kidd will hurt his enjoyment of being king of the Mavericks, and admittedly Cuban and Nelson haven't yet given him anything to remotely salve the wounds (Nash, Williams, etc.) But Dirk is a professional, and he always rises to the occasion. We still have several options, even this year.
I think there is a much bigger question that critics of Cuban and Nelson's strategy need to answer before lambasting the front office for not paying tens of millions of dollars for decent backups with some potential like Goran Dragic and Omer Asik:
Is avoiding one bad year by overpaying for bad, long-term contracts to keep us in marginal contention worth sacrificing any real chance at Dirk winning another ring with the Mavs?
Because, sorry, Dragic, Asik, and an aging Dirk and Marion aren't catching up with Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka, Lebron-Wade-Bosh, Kobe-Pau-Bynum-Nash anytime soon. That lineup probably couldn't compete with the Celtics, Nets, Knicks or Spurs either. That lineup would be lucky to beat the Grizzlies and the Clippers. And it would be set long term, as those contracts will probably not be very tradeable.
I think we have only three decent possibilities for this season. Most importantly, these choices don't sacrifice long-term flexibility for long term mediocrity. None are ideal, but none are the end of the world either.
1.) TANK IT
Dirk would probably have to be onboard with this decision so we don't end up as the post-Amare Phoenix Suns, pt. II - striving on the back of one star just to make the playoffs. We play the rookies and young guns, start Carter, keep Haywood, trade Marion for picks and young pieces. Maybe we can buy out Calathes from his Euro team. Keep Dirk very well rested. The fans can buckle their seatbelts and expect a season of pure terror. In the end, we get a decent lottery pick or two while preserving both Dirk and all our cap space to compete again next summer.
2.) TRADE FOR A MARGINAL STAR
Marion, Roddy and a pick for Tyreke Evans? Find a player with superstar potential who desperately needs a change of scenery or is being misused in his current system. Preferably on a team looking to improve defense and add veteran leadership, like Sacramento (whom I believe was worst in the league last year on D by most measurements). In Tyreke, we'd have a second cornerstone in place, making us more attractive. In the interim our defense will be atrocious. Maybe we'd be bad enough to still get a decent pick. I don't want to trade Marion, as he pretty much singlehandedly kept us an elite defensive team last year, but do we have a choice? And is Marion even a good long-term investment anyway?
3.) PAY OUT THE BUTT FOR VERY SHORT-TERM DEALS
Kind of what we did last year. Pay stupid money to role players like Chris Kaman, Ramon Sessions, Marcus Camby, O.J. Mayo, or Jose Calderon for a one year contract. Amnesty Haywood to do so. You simply have to pay stupid money for a shorter term for these guys. This lineup would be good enough to make the playoffs next year. It would probably be even better than last year's lineup considering Terry and Kidd's falloff and the slacking of Haywood and Odom. Most importantly we wouldn't put our flexibility for next year at risk. We wouldn't be a real contender (but then we weren't considered such in 2011 either, right?), and there are long-term tax risks for going over the cap. But it would keep fans and season ticketholders satisfied in the interim.
Trading Dirk is not a real option. Anyone saying that really needs a chill pill. We also ideally want to avoid post-Amare Suns-esque mediocrity - too good for the lottery, too bad for the playoffs. So considering the few choices we have, whaddya wanna do?