The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets have exchanged blows all summer, which means Tuesday's preseason opener between the two teams might be the biggest preseason game of all time.
Alright, maybe we're stretching it a bit. But now that the preseason is upon us, we have to ask, how serious is this rivalry and is it the biggest in the league right now? Let's find out. That's what this week's roundtable is all about: This Mavs-Rockets rivalry.
I join in this roundtable this week with Kirk Henderson and Doyle Rader, and a big thanks to them for participating. Let's get started.
1) Now that it's simmered down, first overall impressions of this rivalry between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Mark Cuban.
Kirk: This is good for everyone involved, to some extent. Fans love to see their management passionate and if you really boil down their arguments, the way Kate Crawford did here, their disagreement centers mainly on Cuban's flare for the dramatic. So if we consider it theater, it's interesting that Morey even responded, because playing that game with Cuban is never a good idea. Houston has an emerging perception problem around the league about how it perceives it's players, but Morey's comments basically said "everyone does it, including Dallas!"
Anyway, Dallas hasn't had any tangible rivals in a while. The Spurs have been at a different level and the Lakers have fallen off the map. The Rockets are serving as a fun rallying cry for fans during a time of year most people are paying attention to other sports.
Doyle: It's silly. That's really all it is. Cuban has said that he doesn't like "headline porn" but in all reality he lives for it. This is just the latest example only this time he isn't serving Blizzards. These two GM's have been going after the same players for years now. Morey got Dwight and Cuban stole Parsons. The NBA is a business and Cuban is just better at marketing himself. Fans will eat off this 'rivalry' and buy tickets to the games. It's a marketing ploy and it's a good one.
Danny: I agree with Kirk's point about the Mavs needing a rival. I'll take it a step further: It's a rival that Dallas can compete with. Remember last season, the Rockets were supposed to be this juggernaut after getting Dwight Howard. At the end of the day, Houston was the first team Dallas played where people began to think, "Ya know? These Mavs aren't that bad." Then it trickled down to the Thunder, then the Clippers, then the Spurs. All of a sudden, the Mavs are a threat. It's one thing to have a rivalry, it's another when both teams can compete in said rivalry. Add that with this Morey-Cuban exchange, and while it won't matter when the two teams face each other on the court, it's something to talk about.
2) How much should we buy into this Cuban-Morey feud?
photo credit: Getty
Doyle: It's all bluster.
Danny: It's weird. You want to believe it, then you don't think it's serious. Cuban says they get along fine and nothing's wrong, then Morey comes out with comments like that. It depends what side of the fence you want to stand on, but Morey appears to have his heart set on making Cuban's life a living hell. It hasn't worked, but he gets an 'A' for effort.
Kirk: This feels a lot like messing with your best friend. You rip each other back and forth all the time, then one day, one of you says something that takes it a bit too far. Then, things escalate in a hurry. These guys clearly like one another and respect one another, but with a limited resource pool, things were bound to get nasty at some point. I'd honestly expect it to cool down for a while. The Mavericks have higher expectations than at any time in the last four years and as much potential as Dallas has, their season rests on the edge of a knife in a lot of respects. One bad break and things could go to hell quickly.
3) Looking back at what Morey said about team chemistry, Cuban didn't have much of a choice under the new CBA, or so he says, to keep the title team together. Meanwhile, the Rockets didn't even decide to match the offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, the one responsible for recruiting Dwight Howard. How much of it is Morey being right vs. him being a hypocrite?
Danny: This is where, I believe, Morey backed himself into a corner. If he fully believed in team chemistry, he wouldn't have gone out of his way to try and dedicate his entire summer to bringing in Chris Bosh, while retaining Parsons, to create a luxury-cap super team. Cuban didn't want to commit a ton of money to an aging roster, even if they did have another chance at bringing in a title. Let's think of it this way: Since Dallas won the title, Houston has been to the playoffs as many times as the Mavs, and haven't made it out of the first round, either. So it's not like Morey has had much to cheer about, either.
Kirk: Cuban had a choice, let's be clear on that. However, he simply embraced the change in market faster than everyone else. Look at this past off season - three years after the Mavericks won a championship nearly every team in the league had cap space and ended up with significant roster turnover.
In terms of who is right, Cuban or Morey, I don't think either is. I think that Parsons agent, Dan Fegan, had an agreement with Morey. There was NO reason for the Rockets to let Parsons out of his contract. The line at the time was that they needed every dollar free to make a free agent pitch to a guy like Lebron or Bosh, but if $900,000 makes or breaks something like that, then it wasn't going to happen to begin with. Fegan is one of the most powerful agents in the league and if you look at his track record over time, he gets exactly what his clients want in terms of dollars. Parsons wanted more money. The Rockets said they'd give him more, but didn't commit beyond that. A chance presented itself with the market on small forwards becoming rather shallow, and Fegan struck (he's also Monta's agent, everyone remember this). We often talk about players and front offices but rarely mention agents, which seems strange because they arguably wield the most influence in the league.
Doyle: Cuban gambled with the CBA and essentially lost. He recently admitted as much in regards to trading for Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks saw two miserable seasons after winning the title and then squeaked into the playoffs last season. Luckily, they played an exciting series with the Spurs in the first round to salvage the persistent ups and downs of the season. However, they still didn't make it past the first round. Dallas needed to refocus their efforts and that's why they went hard after Parsons. I'm not sure what Morey's motives were but it seemed like he simply didn't want to pay what Cuban would. He didn't want to match the market value. I wouldn't call him a hypocrite, Cuban just called his bluff.
(Side note: Morey hosted a ping pong tournament in Las Vegas during Summer League. He wrecked shop and won the whole thing even taking down reigning champ Rich Cho. He looked like he was a little peeved and had something to prove. Coincidence or just the free drinks from that night talking?)
4) The Mavs-Spurs rivalry is back and better than ever, but until we get to a point where Dallas or Houston is contending for a title, should this be the top rivalry in Texas?
Kirk: Yes, the Mavs-Rockets rivalry should be the one we focus on the most. The Spurs are omnipresent in terms of a bad guy for the casual Dallas fan, but I find the red-hot hate of this renewed rivalry to be a lot more fun.
Doyle: Right now, with all the media hype (including this post) surrounding the verbal scuffle between Cuban and Morey, the Mavericks and Rockets rivalry has taken the spotlight. However, it will all fade when Dallas heads to San Antonio to open the season to watch the Spurs raise yet another banner. The Spurs are the Mavs' main rival and no one else is even close.
Danny: Until the Mavs or Rockets are ready to take the next step for a title and compete with San Antonio (which could be this year, who knows?), then yes, this has to be the top rivalry in Texas. And at most, this might be the second-biggest rivalry in the NBA as of this moment behind Cleveland-Miami.