“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”1
You might have seen that this week the Dallas Mavericks are having a moment. A bad moment. The Athletic posted a story detailing the internal riff at the top of the hierarchy and its possible effects on Luca Dončić. Dallas owner 2 Mark Cuban was criticized by SBNation’s Mavs Moneyball for his foot-in-mouth disease. I came of sporting age around the mid-90s. That means I was in my early teens and that’s when “my” story starts. I remember the Mavericks being awful and when Cuban turned them from laughing stock to contenders he got a lot of goodwill. The newer fans (those born after Dirk was a good player and not just a curiosity 3) did not have any of the baggage of the older ones — this is very similar to the “new” Spurs fans who grew up with Timmy and don’t know the stigma that Dave Robinson et al had. Very similar to the Dirk Mavs there for a bit.
As a holder of sports hate for the Mavericks, I find all of this funny. I am happy to see them mess up a possible all-time great player instead of building the right team around him and winning four championships. The basketball fan in me is a little disappointed but that’s love and hate, y’all. You make sacrifices.
Anyway, while I feel like Mark Cuban is kind of a clown, he has done a lot of good for the franchise. He bought the team and then they won a title! They went to two NBA Finals! That is an incredible turnaround for that terrible Maverick franchise that was garbage in the 90s. Now it is time to be the villain, however. For a good number of people, Cuban is simply “ownership” and we have a different view of the bosses than we did in previous decades. It comes for everyone.
Even Pop, who is pretty nearly universally respected, has his critics. A couple of tweets by some respected people (I will not link them because the person I am quoting has them on auto-delete) said “Pop said some of the things Cuban did but we aren’t ready for that conversation”.
Of course, if you are a long time follower of the Spurs you know he means the AAU thing. 4 Specifically, that AAU in the US is bad and the fundamentally-sound European game is “better”. On its face, it reads as dripping with a few “-isms” — race, class, maybe even sex if you squint. I will just point out that the way Cuban framed it is terrible, and what Pop said was back in 2013 or so and its likely that Cubes was just repeating that sentiment. The problem is that no one respects Mark’s basketball opinion while they do Pop’s.
A lot of current American players have started their own AAU squads and the current iteration of that level is much different than the old shoe-company driven ones.
That’s all an aside, however.
The real point of this newsletter is to do a little gloating but also be prepared for the day the Spurs are not on top. They already are considering the future. DeRozan is deciding if he wants to score 21ppg for probably Pop and that will have trickle-down effects. The squad that went 20+ years making the postseason is now picking 11th/12th in the lottery again. The one thing I appreciate from the Spurs organization is that they generally do not think they so clever that they say something stupid. The Mavericks got a little cute with the post-2011 team, have gone all-in on free agency without hitting, and are consistently short of expectations. Over in the Bay, the owner said they were light-years ahead of everyone and while that did translate to three titles, they also did not make the playoffs the last two seasons. It happens.
The Spurs — Pop in particular — long credited their players for the success of the organization instead of patting themselves on the back for their cleverness. David Robinson and Tim Duncan are unique guys and Pop at least has acknowledged and praised them for it. When we compare a DeRozan, Aldridge, or Kawhi to those guys it is unfair and does Dave and Tim a disservice. Sure, the Spurs adjusted the organization to make Tim comfortable (moved the practice facility, acquired particular players, allowed wives on planes, etc) but that is just smart. (Kawhi wanted some accommodations that were impossible (moving to LA) so that is that). Aldridge and DeRozan are good players that are just not next-level like Dave and Tim and that is fine.
The Spurs treat some fringe players with the casual cold-blooded actions of a business but generally do not treat players inhumanely from many reports — despite whatever Trey Lyles is instagramming. They value the experience of guys that know the game and contribute to the culture they want — winning, professionalism, some kind of community understanding.
I think the Mavs’ penchant for being overly clever and optimizing their roster to the detriment of their culture creates a poorer organization. That said, great players can turn awful organizations into champions (ahem Lebron and the Cavs) and that just makes it more important to accommodate your best guys. If Dončić doesn’t like the data guy? It is time to get the data guy out of there.
The above quote is from The Dark Knight and it is a new favorite of (seemingly) everyone’s. Apparently, it was coined in the film but summarizes various philosophers’ views. According to the internet
or “governor”. Stupid.
Don Nelson, former Popovich boss and mentor, said that Dirk was going to be as good as Larry Bird. People laughed, especially in Dirk’s first season when he struggled. He turned into an all-timer so Don knew what he was talking about. Sort of reminds me of Mark Jackson saying something similar about Steph and Klay.
Quote from the Mavs piece about Cuban: “While speaking about Luka Doncic’s basketball education, he made the comment “They [European players] just learn how to play basketball, while our guys [AAU players] learn how to taunt and put together mixtapes.” This comment rankled many, many players. Again.”