We all love the Dallas Mavericks. That love is so intense it can border on irrational. Pair that general adoration with the devotion to a transcendent superstar like Dirk Nowitzki and you have a special relationship. That's what makes a lot of the failures that come with rooting for the Mavs so hard to swallow sometimes.
That's important to remember in all this. We love Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks and watching an orange ball swish through a metal hoop.
So when we all woke up to the news Friday morning that Hassan Whiteside was staying with the Miami Heat and Nicolas Batum with the Charlotte Hornets (with Mike Conley still a longshot) the grief process began almost immediately.
Unlike last year, I went through this process fairly quickly.
Getting rejected in such a humiliating fashion as the Mavericks did with DeAndre Jordan last year changes you as a fan. So when the news broke just after 7 a.m. over Snapchat that Whiteside was staying in Miami, my first response was to actually cackle.
He told the world over a social media platform I don't understand. That seemed impossible. Then I saw the actual video. It looks like a joke. It looks like an act by an immature performance artist who wants to be loved. Was that really how he announced his free agency? It seemed so.
Whiteside really announced he'd return to Miami and then WALKED OUT, oh my god: pic.twitter.com/eAgkZezvSx— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) July 1, 2016
A large part of me never really thought Whiteside would sign, so getting over denial took minutes.
My favorite grief stage, anger. It's the place my fandom reverts to often, despite my love for the team. Being angry at this situation came naturally, because the over-arching fear around this site for weeks has been that the Mavericks were aiming too high, acting like the hottest team on the market when they really never had a strong pitch to begin with.
And don't come at me with any notion otherwise. I love Rick Carlisle, but he's a hard man to play for. I love Dirk Nowitzki, but he's 38. I'll be forever grateful to Mark Cuban for pumping life into the franchise, but he inserts himself into far too many things in the Dallas Mavericks process, which is very problematic.
Getting mad at the Mavericks is easy. They have made so many mistakes, so many blind acts of hubris that many of us are numb at the next dumb thing they do. Consider this: they led their pitch to a proud man looking for his first huge contract WITH A CARTOON. I'm back in the angry stage just thinking about it. Mark Cuban was a big part of the pitch and he should be embarrassed. You can bet your ass that the Miami Heat didn't have any cartoons in their pitch.
This hasn't even touched on the Chandler Parsons situation, a player the Mavericks so brazenly disrespected on the way out that the thought of approaching him to re-sign could not be considered. There was that much animosity. Oh and did you see how reports are now saying that Parsons and Mike Conley have discussed pairing up to play ... in Memphis? This all makes me sick.
Getting over anger is hard. I keep reverting back. The Mavericks made fools of themselves again.
Traditional bargaining would've involved looking for the next option. "Maybe they could sign Mike Conley anyway. Maybe Jeremy Lin is a solid fallback. What about Al Horford?"
Instead I started bargaining about Dirk. Maybe Dirk Nowitzki will finally free himself from the shackles the Mavericks have placed around his legacy with so many horrible front office missteps. Maybe Dirk will go to Golden State and be the Splash Father the Splash Brothers need. Maybe just once, Dirk won't have to be Titan for a team, no longer holding the weight of the world on his shoulders. Maybe Dirk will be free.
But I moved on from that too. Dirk will never leave. I don't want him to, not really, but I want him to be happy and he's living in basketball purgatory.
It all just makes me so sad. I'm grieving, really grieving in a way I didn't think I could with the Mavericks anymore. We have been blessed with so many great years and I'm thankful. And yet we live with the nagging "what ifs" which have grown into a cacophony of rage because nothing we fans do makes any difference.
This sucks. This absolutely sucks right now. Despite making it through all five steps, I've backslid here to depression a few times already.
I've accepted that the Dallas Mavericks will rebound because they always do. I've accepted that the team, led by a brilliant coach and player, will scrounge together 40-something wins. I've accepted that I'll watch and cheer because that's what I'm wired to do.
I've also accepted that the front office was born on third base thinking they've hit a triple. I've accepted that the Mavericks don't grasp that Dirk Nowitzki is what has made the Mavericks great, not the other way around. I've accepted that we will live in the world where the Mavericks forever think themselves the prettiest belle at the ball, despite years of actual evidence that they're the actually the wallflowers standing in the corner.
Maybe they won't change. Maybe they will. To process grief collectively is at once helpful and painful.
I still love the Dallas Mavericks, despite REALLY wanting to hate them sometimes. This free agency failure will get easier the further we get away from it. Eventually, it might even be funny. Who knows, maybe the Mavericks dodged a bullet. Probably not, of course, but maybe.
Finding hope in the darkest of places is what fandom is all about.