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Tapping the Breaks on the Train to Panic-town

To follow up with today's theme, I'll be offering the counterpoint to Andrew's article earlier today. I'll try to bring you all back down to earth and try to figure out just what the Maverick's plan is, are they doomed and is the window on the Dirk era snapped shut?

In short, no. In long? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Please indulge me for a few moments.

It's going to hurt. It's going to hurt a lot. Seeing Dirk, Terry, Kidd and Marion standing at mid-court as the banner raises on Dec. 25 without Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler or J.J. Barea beside them will hurt, even if just a pinch. And it should, if you're slightly human. We all watch sports for different reasons, but a big one is becoming emotionally attached to a team, riding the roller coaster along with them, good times or bad. Seeing most of the men that finally brought a much-deserved title to Dallas on different teams will be a shockingly hard emotion to deal with, if only for a few games.

But it's the right move with a franchise with a new focus: sustaining long-term success. Before June of 2011, goal 1A was getting Dirk the pieces he needed to win a title before his era passed by. 1B was doing so in a manner that would keep the Mavericks competitive for multiple years.

That second part worked flawlessly for the better part of a decade. Dallas consistently piled up 50-win seasons in the Dirk/Cuban era thanks a lot of conservative, big spending to win now and later. The moves were never flashy, but kept Dirk and the Mavs afloat, got them into the playoffs and always gave them a chance to spring for a title. Once the big three of Michael Finley, Steve Nash was on its way out, Cuban spent on smaller names that filled various holes. Antawn Jamison, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, Adrian Griffin, DeSagna Diop and Shawn Marion were never blockbuster moves, but each one kept the Dirk era window slightly cracked open while not destroying the Mavericks long-term success. The only "mega deal" was the Jason Kidd trade, which, clearly, paid off.

But now, goal 1A has finally been scratched off the list. Which now makes continued longterm success of the franchise the number one goal. And believe it or not, that means a slight rebuild is in order.

In the old CBA, the Mavericks could go relatively unscathed (due to Cuban's deep pockets) by going over the cap to keep their core intact. If the Mavericks re-signed Chandler, Butler, Barea (and heck, maybe Stevenson) to multi-year deals, Dallas would survive in the short term. They could reach the Finals and perhaps grab another title. But once the harsher luxury penalties start in a couple of years, the Mavericks as a franchise, wil be crippled. They will be spending an absurd amount of money to keep together the oldest team in the NBA with no relief. Could the Mavericks grab another title in that year or two? Sure. But winning a title in incredibly hard and why go all-in when you've already got a championship in your back pocket? The Mavericks have no more urgency to win with this aging roster. Spoiler alert: Dirk is eventually going to look old. Maybe it isn't for another five years, but when it happens, toting around a roster old aged has-beens isn't going to be the best interest of the franchise. With the Dallas Cowboys always being king and the Texas Rangers suddenly becoming a hot ticket, Cuban must be able to maintain enough interest (which equals money) in the franchise. And carrying around bloated contracts and paying very harsh cap penalties won't be the best way to do so.

The possibilities in 2012 are quite mystifying. Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul headline the class. And while Paul apparently will either re-sign with the Lakers (gag) or join the Knicks, Howard and Williams haven't leaked any indications on where they would like to play. If the Nets fail to acquire Howard in a trade this offseason, the market could be ripe for Dallas to grab one (or maybe, *gulp* both). With Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Rudy Fernandez off the books in 2012, the Mavericks could get creative with Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion to theoretically acquire both stars. They also could push for a trade involving their young pieces and Haywood for Howard if the Magic front office gets squirmy by the time the new trade deadline roles around.

But regardless, the Mavericks aren't throwing away a season. Haywood could provide to be more worthy of his large contract by getting 30 minutes a game. Corey Brewer, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones could combine to easily make up for the departures of Butler and Barea. The Mavericks aren't turning into a lottery team here, folks. There's still plenty of talent on the roster to compete while also opening up much more financial possibilites.

Think about it, next offseason the Mavericks could be under the cap for the first time in the Mark Cuban era. The first time. I'm sure there were some ways Dallas could have kept Chandler and still remained competitive in the free agent market in 2012 and beyond, but clearly, Chandler is looking for his biggest payday, the last one of his career and you can't blame him. You also can't blame the Mavs for wanting to be financially responsible for the first time in a decade. They should be allowed to. Cuban's constant spending finally brought a championship. His decision to close the checkbook for one year might open the window up for another one (or two).

Dec. 25th will hurt. It should. But it won't hurt forever.


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