Buck Harvey: Dirk as fat Shaq: Following his owner

Most in the league thought Mark Cuban had it right. Why not play with an eye on the summer of 2012?

Enjoy the championship glow. Don’t re-sign Tyson Chandler or J.J. Barea, freeing up salary cap space. Try to win with what you have this season. And then get in line for Deron Williams or Dwight Howard or both.

It is smart basketball, as well as smart business. Dallas fans, also caught up in the championship glow, aren’t about to go away now.

But the message drifted down, turning Cuban’s best player into Shaquille O’Neal with a German accent. And this isn’t what Dirk Nowitzki needed.

He already had too many reasons to relax.

Nowitzki might be back for today’s game against the Spurs, and he might also be ready to resume last season’s stature. It’s all possible, and that’s another reason most in the league thought Cuban had it right. The Mavericks are still capable of winning a few games, especially after Lamar Odom arrived as a gift from the Lakers.

Cuban said the same in late December when asked if he was sacrificing this season for the summer. “That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Cuban said. “If that were the case, why would I take on Lamar’s salary?”

But Cuban takes on everyone’s salary. Besides, the Mavericks had spent more than a decade building and rebuilding ? around Nowitzki. Then, after finally getting it right, they added Odom and Vince Carter and thought the pieces would magically fit? They know, better than anyone, how difficult the process is.

Give Cuban the benefit of doubt, though. He’s paid for that much. And give him the following point, too.

“They were panicking when we went on a West Coast road trip late last year, too, and we got blown out at L.A. and Portland,” Cuban told reporters recently. “And that was 70 games into the season. And then we lost to Denver at home and George Karl says he wants to play the Mavs in the playoffs.”

He’s right. Every year is a grind. And in a lockout season, with all the variables that presents, the defending champs should be granted a dip or two.

Still, Nowitzki’s personal reversal is something else entirely. Nowitzki had never coasted as Shaq once did, using the regular season to get in shape. Nowitzki had spent his life in a Teutonic training camp, with a personal trainer and a weighted vest.

Or, maybe that’s just it. Last spring was the result of his labor, and this title was mostly a relief to him. Nowitzki had been mocked for his first-round exits, even mocked when he won his MVP trophy. Now it was time to get a ring, meet President Obama and see how well a La-Z-Boy contains a 7-footer.

The media are not the ones saying it. Both Cuban and Rick Carlisle have said Nowitzki came into the season out of shape.

But Cuban is also an enabler, and it began with a celebration that continued on past South Beach. The Mavericks hung on to this title far more than the Spurs did with theirs. Gregg Popovich, for example, was so intent on rebooting his teams after championships that he would forbid his marketing department from showing Finals highlights the next season on the video scoreboard.

Cuban, in contrast, is looking to reboot his franchise this summer by becoming active in free agency. Nowitzki, who will be 34 in June, is likely less excited about Dallas’ prospects over the next half-dozen years.

Nowitzki showed no signs of resignation last week. “I haven’t seen one team in the West,” he said, “that I’m scared of.”

He won’t be afraid of the Spurs today. But if he isn’t the same, and he isn’t for the rest of the season, then there are reasons.

Even if Cuban had it right.


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