Champions no longer built to last - NBC Sports

Champions no longer built to last
As Mavs showed, new CBA will make it harder for teams to repeat
Reuters
In breaking up the nucleus of his team in order to restructure under the new CBA, Mark Cubanÿessentially wasted a year of star Dirk Nowitzki's career.
May 7, 2012, 12:05 am

Win or go home. Championship or bust. The rings are the things.

Pick your clich‚ or catchphrase. It doesn't matter.

Nothing in the NBA has mattered more than a title.

Teams have mortgaged their futures for such opportunities, squandered draft choices, dealt potential for aging veterans.

It is why Pat Riley never copyrighted one-peat or two-peat. It is why Jordan's championships only came in threes, and Russell's in even higher denominations.

It is why Riley, having moved well beyond those Lakers three-peat desires, kept his rag-tag 2006 Heat championship team together, even though it was apparent that, even by then, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and even Shaquille O'Neal were on their last legs.

You never give up the championship hope. Ever. It is why most stay around too long, Parish as a Bull, Pippen as everything but a Bull.

Which brings us to this season's Dallas Mavericks, the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks, a.k.a., the first team to be eliminated from this season's playoffs.

Unlike Riley's hungover Heat champions of 2006, it could be argued the Mavericks had another run in them, clearly capable of more than their four-and-done against the Thunder this past week.

But Mark Cuban saw otherwise. He saw a new collective-bargaining agreement so punitive in its luxury tax, so limited in its constraints to replace overpriced parts that he essentially pulled the plug at the conclusion of the lockout.

But, understand, there is not a single clause in the new CBA that prevented Cuban from re-signing Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea or Caron Butler.

Oh, the tax bill would have been hellacious. And had any of those three broken down again there would have been almost no replacement recourse for years to come.

So Cuban sat back as if on Shark Tank and conducted his own product assessment.

His assessment was to get ahead of the game by essentially getting out of the game (yes, he spent into the tax this season, but that was on a one-year-only basis).

And that's what makes what happened in Dallas this season so different than almost anything that has transpired before in the NBA when it comes to impending free agency.

When the Heat, Bulls, Knicks, Nets and Clippers came calling in Cleveland and other outposts during 2010 free agency, they arrived looking to rebuild from the ground up. Pat Riley only blew it up when the remnants of his 2006 championship roster blew themselves up (Antoine Walker essentially never to be heard from again).

But what Cuban did was take a legitimate chance to repeat and instead trade it in for the opportunity to be the first to restructure under the new CBA mandate.

(To his credit, Cuban has come out amid Dallas' downfall and said he never wanted to have to work under such a system and should have pushed for something that could have provided for a greater chance at championship continuity.)

After the Mavericks were eliminated this weekend, Dirk Nowitzki leaned back in his familiar interview-room, lounge-act pose and admitted this was no way to try to win a championship, with a single-star approach. Not after what the Thunder had done by unleashing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

But by looking ahead to 2012 free agency and the possibility of Deron Williams, the Mavericks essentially robbed Dirk of a year of his career, of one of his few remaining opportunities to win a championship.

It's one thing for the Nets to do that to Williams, himself, in New Jersey. He entered well aware that 2011-12 was nothing more than a holding pattern for Brooklyn and 2012-13.

But contrast that to Dwight Howard, who essentially refused to give up a year of his career with a midseason trade to the Nets and instead agreed to remain with the Magic at the trading deadline, not willing to forgo a championship opportunity that instead was snatched away by a balky back.

Ultimately, what Mark Cuban did was put the Mavericks on hold, pulled them from championship contention (by actions, if not desire) so they could become the first team fine tuned for what this new collective-bargaining agreement will deliver.

And perhaps he was right. Perhaps this season produces a champion that cannot endure because of the new CBA's onerous luxury-tax rules.

Who knows? Perhaps this already is the beginning of the end of Durant-Westbrook-Harden as we know it in Oklahoma City?

Perhaps starting in the 2014 offseason, when the luxury tax becomes absurdly onerous, that's what the NBA will become, teams built to take a mere single bite out of the apple before stepping back to get the books back in order, sort of like those NFL champions in the early years of their salary cap and the devastating impact then on teams such as the 49ers.

If that's the case, perhaps Cuban should have fought harder for a different system.

Because no one is wearing one-peat T-shirts.

Even if that's what they've been left to wear in Dallas.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.



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