- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

They are having a good laugh at Mark Cuban’s expense in Phoenix after he allowed Steve Nash to walk last summer and the Suns eliminated the Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs.

Cuban is an easy target, no doubt, given his over-the-top personality and Donald Trump-like need to be at the forefront.

But Cuban made the right call in not re-signing Nash. Cuban recognized what most NBA observers recognized at the time: The trio of Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley just never was going to be able to finish the job in the playoffs; never was going to win the NBA championship because of its over-reliance on perimeter scoring and lack of commitment on defense.

Cuban needed Nash’s salary slot to alter the dynamics of the Mavericks, and it led to the acquisition of Jason Terry and Erick Dampier.

You can argue Terry and Dampier are not necessarily the solution to the fate that befalls the Mavericks each spring. You cannot argue with the thinking that motivated the maneuvering.

The Mavericks have become a franchise that routinely wins 50-plus games every season. But no one takes the Mavericks too seriously in the postseason. They are entertaining. They score in bunches. They win a lot of little games. Yet you know how it is going to end. You knew it when Nash was with the Mavericks, and nothing has changed in his absence, at least not yet.

Both Terry and Dampier now have playoff experience, a season behind them, and we will see in the next season or two if Cuban’s vision is as fuzzy as it has been portrayed.

Cuban, in fact, could have been the one chortling if Nowitzki had played in the manner of a first-team All-NBA performer.

The Suns-Mavericks series tipped in favor of the Suns because Nash played like the NBA MVP and Nowitzki played in a stupor at times. Nowitzki put up good numbers, yes, but they were hard-earned numbers, hardly efficient.

And except for the shot that won Game2, Nowitzki too often was nowhere to be found in the waning minutes of the mostly see-saw affairs. That was especially evident in Game6. As Nash made play after play near the end of regulation and overtime, Nowitzki was busy going to the floor, looking for a foul call that never came his way.

It was amusing to hear Nowitzki complain afterward how his team’s collective basketball IQ had dropped appreciably since the departure of Nash, because he was as guilty as anyone of being dumb.

His hurried 3-point attempt to tie the game near the end of overtime was about as dumb as it gets, in the company of Terry not picking up Nash near the end of regulation.

Nowitzki had plenty of time to create a much better shot for himself. Or, if need be, he possibly could have taken a dribble or two, drawn a double team and then passed to an open teammate.

Instead, he jacked up a ridiculous shot, as if there was barely a second left, and that was the season for the Mavericks.

And so the questioning of Cuban ensued, as if anyone envisioned the otherworldly season of the stringy-haired Canadian.

Nash is a three-time All-Star, but he is where few athletes ever reach now, in this harmonious place of near perfection.

It is almost easy to forget where Nash and the Mavericks were last season at this time — drummed out of the playoffs in five games. And it is easy to forget that Nash was part of the problem, as he shot only 38.6 percent in the series.

It seemed clear then that the Nash-Nowitzki-Finley foundation had reached its level of competence, and Cuban was confronted with a clear choice: re-sign Nash and be content to be a 50-plus win team each season that lacked the interior pieces to be a viable championship contender or let the point guard skip town and use his money to find those pieces.

Cuban chose the latter option.

His thinking was clear, the execution of it still unclear.

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