Mark Cuban says he is so over DeAndre Jordan. Theirs was a four-day courtship that was not a foundation for anything, including heartbreak. They were not lifelong friends, they never pinkie-swore to anything, there was no trust to be broken.
So when Jordan backed out of his commitment to Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks in free agency last summer to re-sign with the Clippers, Cuban says he shrugged and moved on to the next deal like any shrewd businessman would.
“That’s just the nature of the beast and you just deal with it accordingly,” the billionaire team owner said this week. “Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t do.”
Well, yeah. Except when failing to secure Robert De Niro for your mafia movie leaves you with Steven Seagal and Keanu Reeves as the fallback options.
Don’t be lulled into thinking Dallas is going to somehow come out on the better end of the Jordan jilting just because it beat the Clippers on Wednesday or because the Mavericks’ record edged above .500 after the season’s first 2 1/2 weeks.
This is a team that might make the playoffs, but it won’t go anywhere until it can add the kind of foundational piece that Jordan represents as one of the game’s top centers.
Veteran Zaza Pachulia has gotten off to a better-than-expected start as the player the Mavericks plugged into the spot they had saved for Jordan, notching five double-doubles in his first nine games. He also prompted a zinger from Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle after making two free throws in the final minute against the Clippers.
“Our guy is a 90% free-throw shooter,” Carlisle said dryly before pausing to add, “and we love him.”
For how long? Pachulia has been in the league for 13 seasons and will turn 32 in July, meaning he’s probably not a long-term answer even if he has been more than serviceable in the season’s early going.
The Mavericks’ other primary center is a guy who once famously ran back across halfcourt on defense when his team had taken an offensive rebound and was still attacking the basket.
Yes, we’re talking about JaVale McGee, the player more likely to appear on TNT’s “Shaqtin’ a Fool” blooper segment than in an All-Star game. McGee is expected to return this month from the leg injury that has sidelined him all season.
The Mavericks are actually ahead of schedule on the injury front. Shooting guard Wesley Matthews surprised nearly everyone by playing in the season opener only 7 1/2 months after tearing his left Achilles’ tendon and small forward Chandler Parsons has returned from microfracture surgery on his right knee.
“The good news is we’ve got guys playing earlier than a lot of people expected them,” Cuban said. “The bad news is we’re sitting them on the back end of back-to-backs.”
Matthews bucked that trend by talking his way into the lineup against the Clippers after playing the previous night against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Mavericks’ training staff could breathe easy after Matthews scored a season-high 25 points and seemingly nodded his head in satisfaction as many times.
Dallas’ elation in beating the Clippers was palpable. Matthews initially thought he would play alongside Jordan before becoming the Mavericks’ consolation prize in free agency, and Dirk Nowitzki had hoped Jordan could help deliver him one more championship run on the way to the Hall of Fame. It was probably no coincidence that Nowitzki scored 31 points on 11-for-14 shooting, easily his best performance of the season.
That brings us back to Cuban, who emphatically pumped his arm after Nowitzki banked in a late three-pointer that essentially secured the Clippers’ defeat. Cuban said he wasn’t bitter about Jordan’s free-agency reversal but acted otherwise, spending about 10 minutes on consecutive days talking about little besides Jordan.
The owner also threatened to release text messages Jordan had sent him over the summer, an act that would do nothing except make Cuban look like a spurned lover.
“He’ll probably write a book about it,” Parsons said of the text messages.
Cuban insisted he did not second-guess his role in the Jordan saga, saying the only thing that qualified as a regret during his time with the Mavericks was his failure to re-sign Steve Nash before the point guard went on to twice become the NBA’s most valuable player with the Phoenix Suns.
“It’s not like what did you learn, is there a lesson to learn from?” Cuban said. “No. He did it his way, we did it our way and that’s it.”
That might be it indeed, for the Mavericks’ chances to be anything beyond a middling team any time soon. Jordan might not have broken any trust but he left a franchise without one of the pieces it needed to live happily ever after in the Western Conference.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch