- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2011

DALLAS (AP) - After years of bankrolling one of the NBA’s highest-paid teams and paying more than $1 million in fines for haranguing the refs, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is making perhaps his biggest sacrifice yet.

He’s gone silent.

The normally loquacious Cuban hardly has been heard from since the Mavericks got out of the first round of the playoffs. During their second-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Cuban was as visible as ever _ jawing with Kobe Bryant during a game, joining players and coaches in the post-series greeting line to shake hands with Phil Jackson _ but he either avoided interviews or only made small talk with reporters.

Asked in an email Thursday if there was a reason for his recent low profile, Cuban replied, “Nope.”

Without Cuban explaining his new approach, speculation abounds. Perhaps someone dared him to see how long he could go. Or maybe he was just trying something different in hopes of a different result for the Mavericks; after all, his club hasn’t won any championships in 11 years of trying as he has soaked up the spotlight.

If that’s the impetus, and the Mavs end up winning their first title … well, there’s no telling what might happen.

“It should be about the players, never about the owner,” Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki said. “We played a great series (against the Lakers), we fought hard and battled and that was fun. I haven’t really seen Mark since then and that’s probably a good thing. It’s fine.”

Dallas has won at least 50 games in each full season under Cuban’s watch. Nowitzki’s rise to among the game’s elite players is a big reason, but so is the owner’s willingness to load up on quality players, coaches and whatever else he considers might give his team an edge.

For years, that included getting fined for lashing out about officiating. That hasn’t happened in a while, though.

Before Game 2 of the first-round series against Portland, Cuban refused to comment when the Mavs were assigned his least favorite ref, Dan Crawford. Dallas had won only one of the last 18 playoff games Crawford had worked, until bucking the trend that night.

Yet that wasn’t the dawning of the Quiet Cuban era.

Following a loss in Game 4, Cuban piped up with some specific complaints that he said would likely get him fine. They didn’t, which led to rumors of another possible, but highly unlikely, explanation for his new leaf _ some sort of secret probation.

Nowitzki believes there’s something else at work. His boss has mellowed.

Cuban has gone from being single to getting married and having two young daughters. Earlier this season, Cuban estimated that he’d missed more games in 2010-11 than all previous years combined, mainly because he was staying home for soccer games and dance recitals instead of joining a road trip to Cleveland and Indiana.

“He still gets fired up during games,” Nowitzki said. “He’s still a huge fan once the ball goes up. He’s still in it with his heart. … He picks his spots better, I think. He’s not as hands-on as he was. He’s still hands-on for an owner, I think, but not as hands-on as he used to be.”

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