Mark Cuban: Learning From Mikhail Prokhorov?

A few days ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban posted a blog post on his personal website, regarding the state of the Mavericks: http://blogmaverick.com/2013/08/03/lets-talk-mavs-mffl/. The post is long, but can be boiled down to 2 essential points about the state of the NBA, both of which relate to the Nets:

1) Cuban argues that tanking is a flawed method of team building because, with everyone trying it, the tanking market has saturated and it has become harder to build through the draft. Essentially, first round picks have become overvalued as everyone tries to use them to build, and building through the draft creates the risk that a given draft may not have a star available when you pick.

2) Cuban justified adding Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Devin Harris, DejUan Blair, and Gal Mekel to his roster, in the belief that having them in place would make Dallas more attractive to free agents. He stated, “We have been hurt by not having a core of players in place that free agents see as teammates they want to play with.  That shouldn’t be the case next year.”

The irony of these arguments? After years of fake battles between Cuban and Prokhorov, be it name calling in 2010, saying Prokhorov “did not know” what he got himself into, kickboxing challenges, or disingenuous offers of congratulations, Cuban always seemed to believe he had an upper hand, that he would steal Prokhorov’s best player from under his nose. But in looking at Cuban’s new views about rebuilding under this new CBA, it appears that suddenly Cuban is taking notes from Prokhorov’s book.

In thinking about Cuban’s first point in relation to the Nets, Cuban essentially argues that with everyone looking to tank and stockpile picks, there is new opportunity to turn picks into veterans because picks now have such high value. Economically, with teams conveying picks less frequently, their value has spiked. Thirteen first round draft picks were traded in 2010-2011, the last year of the old CBA, but only two were traded this season. Cuban’s argument? Look no further than Prokhorov’s Nets. The Nets were able to secure Deron Williams for three draft picks (including Derrick Favors): the Nets’ used Williams’ allure to build a title contender and the best piece they gave up was Favors. And then, the Nets in perceiving the value of picks in team building acquired the Rockets 2012 first round pick (which was lottery protected), which they eventually used to secure Joe Johnson in a move that led to Williams resigning. The pick became Lucas Noguiera: who likely will not be in the NBA next year. And then, with the Garnett and Pierce trade, the Nets further took advantage of pick overvaluation, securing both players along with Jason Terry for picks that may not be lottery picks.  All told, the Nets acquired 4 elite players since February 2011 by surrendering 7 picks, only 2 of which project to fall in the lottery, and thus far the best player of that lot is Favors.

Cuban believes building via the draft may have become an oversaturated market, which has led to the ability to secure high quality pieces for picks? Sounds like he admires some of Prokhorov’s work as owner.

As to Cuban’s second point, he essentially argued that the acquisition of Ellis, Calderon, and the rest of his summer pieces were move valuable than the extra cap space he could have next summer. In his mind, presenting Dirk Nowitzki and the multiple players acquired this summer, along with one max slot, to bigtime free agents beat pitching Nowitzki and two max slots. And he may be right. If you look at many of the big free agent decisions recently, players have based their decisions largely off the roster presented to them, putting teams in something of a catch 22. On one hand, to acquire a big name free agent you need cap space. On the other, you need attractive pieces in place that they want to play with: even though getting those pieces requires eating cap space. Cuban learned the hard way that cap space and the promise of his reputation was not enough, and acquired players on “bad contracts” so that he could pitch them and Dirk, instead of Dirk and “an island” as Williams described in discussing his free agency decision.

Inspiration for Cuban’s new view? Again, look no further than Prokhorov’s Nets. The Nets were panned for acquiring Gerald Wallace and then Joe Johnson, in the belief that they overpaid and surrendered too much. What happened? Williams signed with the Nets in large part because, with them, Lopez, and other veterans in place he believed he had pieces around him that he could win with. Sure, the Nets could have retained flexibility, but if they did Williams likely would be a Maverick today, per his own words. The Nets had to make sub optimal moves, if considered in a vacuum, in order to secure Williams. Just like the Knicks had to do in overpaying Amare to entice Melo, or the Heat in overpaying role players like Mike Miller and Joel Anthony that the big 3 respected. Maybe those moves are less than ideal, but if they mean acquiring a foundation player, then you make them.

So, perhaps Cuban also received inspiration from the Nets, in his decision to bring Ellis and Calderon, and other free agents, into the fold. Maybe those moves, like the Wallace and Johnson moves, are sub optimal if considered on a vacuum. But if they result in a star coming in 2014 or 2015? Then they were worth every penny. Sounds like Cuban, again, is taking a page out of Prokhorov’s book, hoping to emulate his spending spree.

When Prokhorov bought the Nets, he became a highly visible owner because of his billionaire status. Cuban, perhaps sensing him as a threat, felt free to take the occasional jab at his Russian counterpart. He was the owner with the proven experience, the established credibility. The owner who took multiple teams to the playoffs (culminating in a championship) as Prokhorov bought a 12-70 team.

Nowadays? Seems like the tables have turned, and Cuban hopes to take a page from Prokhorov’s book. Just read between the lines of his blog post.

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