The Mavs, Dwight, CP3 & 'The Cuban Umbrella'
Were Dwight Howard's struggles with the Lakers warning signs of things to come or exactly what potential suitors were hoping for? Is Chris Paul's early playoff exit with the Clippers a sign of some sort as well?
When July 1 arrives and it's time for the Mavs to make their pitch, can Dallas' Mark Cuban do something more than simply be present?
Yes. Cuban can offer shelter for Superman.
Yes. Cuban can position himself as the Anti-Sterling for Paul.
Seven points and eight rebounds. 3-of-9 shooting. That was Dwight Howard's stat line before being ejected from the Lakers' final playoff game.
It served as a microcosm of Howard's season, which he referred to as a "nightmare" that he couldn't wake up from. Howard's health was constantly in question, his effort was periodically in question, he had trouble building chemistry with his teammates and, as has been the case during much of his career, it was hard to tell how seriously he took the struggles of his team.
All of this raises a few questions for fan bases whose teams are considering investing a whole lot of money in Howard (the same fan bases that likely poked fun of Howard and became tired of his indecisiveness for the past two or three years).
Questions like, is this guy really worth it? Does he really care that much? Will he ever return to dominance since his back surgery less than a year ago? Is he a chemistry killer? A coach killer? An attention-seeking diva?
The Lakers went south. Dwight is the scapegoat. And the Mavs are ecstatic about that.
The way to get lightning to quit striking Dwight Howard -- the way for Howard to avoid the lightning that seems to make him cringe and shrink -- is for him to erect a lightning rod.
That lightning rod exists in Dallas in the form of Mark Cuban.
Cuban doesn't end up in the headlines only for attention's sake or ego's sake -- though certainly there is some of that. If you look closely, though, Cuban's theatrical tactics are also designed to protect and defend his Dallas Mavericks players.
So how does Howard fit into all of this? Snugly under The Cuban Umbrella.
If Howard were in a Dallas Mavericks uniform he would have a billionaire cheerleader on the sideline who isn't afraid to defend a guy when it's more trendy to bash him. If Howard wants to be on a magazine cover, Cuban will endorse it (and by the way, Dirk will be happy to step back). If Howard is in the mood to hide from the critics, Cuban will climb the stair-stepper and take the bullets.
That works on two levels: it provides Howard the simple reassurance of having someone important support and believe in him (which despite our willingness to treat athletes like robots, can be a significant factor) and it allows Cuban to take some of the heat off of Howard. Instead of headlines reading "Is Howard Committed?" many will read "Cuban Trusts Howard's Commitment."
Speaking of commitment ... did the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers have it? Is their first-round loss to the Grizzlies (after owning a 2-0 lead) the result of chemistry problems and junky coaching and the trickle-down effect of having the most malevolently clownish owner in all of pro sports?
If you believe that franchises reflect their leadership, then Donald T. Sterling's Clippers -- with back-to-back playoff seasons for just the second time in 29 years! -- will continue to go nowhere fast. You don't have to be an NBA insider to know the stories accusing Sterling of everything from penny-pinching to slum-lording to overt racism.
Cuban is the Anti-Sterling. And here comes "The Cuban Umbrella'' again.
If CP3 believes the Clippers' coaching was not ready for prime time, he can compare it to Carlisle, widely considered one of the three best in the NBA -- because Cuban wants nothing but one of the best. If CP3 wonders if the Clippers will make long-term financial commitments to greatness, he can compare it to Cuban, widely recognized as a spend-to-win leader. ... because Cuban is fully invested in W's vs. L's, something that's never been a Sterling priority.
July 1 is the day. Smart money hasn't changed; Dwight and CP3 each get five years (and $118 mil) to stay in LA vs. four years (and $87.6 mil) to sign elsewhere.
"I've got a lot of time to think about that," Paul said after the Clippers' ouster when asked about free agency. "As I do with any decision I make, I consult with my wife, my parents, my brother, my family. I might even let little Chris chime in on this. We'll see what happens."
Chris, the Mavericks would like you to know, that as with Dwight, there is room for your wife, your parents, your brother, your family and even little Chris ... all under "The Cuban Umbrella.''
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