The only thing you can count on during a Dallas summer more consistently than 100-degree days is a major free agent spurning the Mavericks and signing somewhere else. On Friday, Hassan Whiteside became the latest player to do so, meeting with a Mark Cuban-led contingent in New York but ultimately deciding to re-sign with the Miami Heat.
This has been the Mavericks' offseason strategy for five straight seasons. In order, their top targets have been Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, and now the dual targets of Whiteside and Mike Conley. The Mavericks are still waiting to meet with Conley this afternoon in Dallas, and it's always possible he could snap the ignominious streak. But the odds favor Conley staying in Memphis, the only home he has ever known.
Whiteside was the target who made the most sense in Dallas since beginning this free-agents-or-bust approach five seasons ago after winning the 2011 Finals. Sports betting sites had Dallas as the de facto leader as late as Thursday, while NBA oracle Adrian Wojnarowski called the Mavericks "frontrunners" several hours before Whiteside's meetings. The reasons made sense!
- The biggest one was money. Miami didn't have Whiteside's Bird rights, only his early Bird, meaning they couldn't offer him an extra year. The Heat's final offer ended up being $98 million, while the Mavericks could offer $94 million total, thought to be a marginal difference in the end.
- Whiteside described himself as a "businessman who plays basketball" leading up to free agency. Although Miami described Whiteside as their No. 1 priority, there was questions whether Whiteside felt loyalty back after just two seasons there.
- Whiteside could be described in a similar way as Chandler Parsons, who the partying Mark Cuban won over two offseasons ago. Dallas isn't Los Angeles and it certainly isn't Miami, but it also isn't Memphis or Milwaukee. For young, rich millionaires, there were worse places to live than Dallas.
- With Whiteside's decision reportedly between the Heat and the Mavericks, Dallas seemed to have an advantage because Miami had a Kevin Durant dilemma. After obtaining a meeting with free agency's top star, the Heat had to leave him signing with them open as a possibility, even though only two of Whiteside, Wade and Durant would fit under their salary cap.
By the time the meetings were over, though, something had gone very wrong for the Mavericks. "Miami swung back momentum," Wojnarowski reported in the middle of the night. Maybe DJ Khaled had shown up with the Miami group, convincing Whiteside to stay with the promises of his own, personal Snapchat filter. Maybe Whiteside had been playing Dallas for leverage all along.
It's possible the Mavericks' meeting with him went poorly, too. Time will tell how Whiteside made his decision, and what exactly happened in New York, and why Miami went first despite it being reported that Dallas had the initial shot at sitting down with him. But when the dust settled, and Whiteside announced his decision early Friday morning on Snapchat, this much was clear: he had been the Mavericks' most realistic chance at signing a max-level free agent compared to previous years, and he had still chosen someone else.
Dallas might have come this close with Deron Williams in 2012, with a last-second Joe Johnson signing swaying him Brooklyn's direction. But Whiteside seemed just as likely, for all the reasons above. Technically, Wesley Matthews was signed to the max last summer, and yes, they did nab Parsons from the Rockets in restricted free agency. But Whiteside's signing would have easily rose above those two.
I've praised the Mavericks for their plan the last two offseasons. In 2014, Dallas had a meeting but no shot at Carmelo Anthony, and they pivoted before even taking the meeting when they spotted Parsons as a more viable option. Of course 2015 was a disaster, but it's hard to fault the Mavericks for unprecedented indecision by DeAndre Jordan after he verbally agreed. There's no predicting that. After three days spent under the assumption that he was coming, there was no time to make that same pivot.
But this summer, even with Whiteside deciding his free agency as quick as any max player in recent memory, there may not be anyone to pivot to. Dallas has alienated Parsons, they reportedly won't budge on Dwight Howard and now they have the slimmest of chances at convincing Conley to join a starting lineup that consists only of Matthews and Nowitzki. It's a weak free agency class, which has always been a potential downfall for their offseason dogma. This year, more than any other, it looks ready to backfire badly.
Whiteside had real, tangible reasons why he should come to Dallas this summer. If he still won't pick them after all that, who will?