Hours before the Dallas Mavericks‘ title defense fizzled in a first-round sweep, a first in Mark Cuban’s dozen seasons, the outspoken and out-of-the-box owner of the dismantled champions chastised sports writers, demanding the know-it-alls digest the new collective bargaining agreement before questioning his suddenly scaled-back spending approach to team building.
For the many fans who didn’t find the enthralling document on the best-sellers shelf at their local bookstore, a perception surfaced that the new fang-bearing CBA, with its harsher luxury tax penalties, scared the billionaire Cuban from re-signing Tyson Chandler this past December and into becoming cheap.
What other explanation could there be for an $88 million payroll — in the top three in the league and $18 million over the luxury tax line — during the championship season and a payroll today that stands to top out at about $61 million, $9 million below the tax line?
In actuality, Cuban doesn’t fear the larger luxury tax hammer the CBA starts swinging in 2013-14 nearly as much as the roster handcuffs it will slap on luxury tax offenders.
This is not about being cheap versus spending extravagantly, as Cuban unabashedly had done throughout his ownership and as the Brooklyn Nets did this summer in an attempt to put a competitive team around prized free agent Deron Williams, who spurned the Mavs and sent them scrambling for contingency plans. This is about differing interpretations as how to best to build a team under the new rules.
The Nets and Mavs have emerged as a fascinating case study in opposing approaches to the new CBA that will play out over the next three to five years.
Brooklyn, boasting a payroll approaching $82 million next season with five projected starters each earning at least $10 million and a slew of long-term deals, is locked into restrictive luxury tax territory through 2015-16. The newly fiscally self-restrained Mavs, with only Dirk Nowitzki ($20.9 million) scheduled to make more than $8.5 million next season and no one locked up beyond 2013-14, are flush with cap space for the foreseeable future.
“The money is secondary to the team-building strategy,” Cuban said. “Once you get above the tax apron [the $70.307 million luxury tax plus $4 million], there are limitations in player movement that I think have a big impact on how to build a team.”
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