DALLAS – There will surely be some bells and whistles during Carmelo Anthony’ s visit with the Mavericks, such as entertainment elements and marketing plans.
You can count on money coming up in the conversation, too, with that discussion centering on just how close Mark Cuban can come to a max-contract offer.
But the Dallas decision-makers firmly believe that Anthony has the purest intentions as he takes a free-agency tour that started Tuesday in Chicago, will make stops in Houston and Dallas on Wednesday, head west to Los Angeles for a Thursday visit with the Lakers and wrap up with the Knicks trying to talk him into returning to New York.
“There’s no question he’s entering the phase of his career where he wants to win,” a source said, well aware that Anthony has advanced past the first round only twice in 11 NBA seasons after carrying Syracuse to a national title during his lone NCAA campaign.
That’s why this will be mostly a meat-and-potatoes presentation. The Mavs’ four-man committee of Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle and All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki will make a five-pronged pitch appealing to Anthony’s burning desire to play for a contender.
1. Play for an elite coach: Carlisle joins Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Doc Rivers as the only active NBA championship coaches, and he’s outwitted two of those men in recent playoff series.
Pop’s Spurs won the series against the Mavs, but it was by far San Antonio’s toughest step to the title, primarily because of Carlisle’s game-planning brilliance. That, as well as the underdog Mavs’ championship march in 2011, offers tangible evidence of the impact Carlisle can have on a playoff series.
“Everybody thought we were going to get crushed,” Cuban said recently. “That allows us not to say, ‘Hey, we played them the best,’ but allows us to say, ‘Look, when it comes to the playoffs in particular, Rick has got the skill set and we’ve got veteran guys who know how to implement offensive and defensive strategies that really give us a unique opportunity.’ That’s something that very few teams can say.
“If you look at other teams with cap room and then you just look at their coach and if they’ve made the playoffs, you look at how their playoff runs went, you’re not looking at them and saying, ‘Wow, that team really … .’ I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but their coaches are not as good as Rick Carlisle.”
Carlisle is also considered one of the NBA’s most creative offensive minds. His ideas of how to help Anthony be more efficient should be welcomed by a 30-year-old who has had to work hard for most of his nearly 20,000 career points.
2. Play with a selfless star: Nowitzki is not only willing to hand the keys to the franchise over to a capable superstar. He’s taking a massive pay cut in an effort to help make it happen – maybe even accepting a lower salary than anticipated if that’s what it takes to make Melo a Mav.
Nowitzki would have no issue with sacrificing shots to allow Anthony to be the new go-to guy in Dallas. Is that the case with James Harden in Houston? How about reluctant recruiter Derrick Rose in Chicago?
Anthony can also ask Monta Ellis have much easier life is with Dirk drawing the defense’s attention when he’s within 30 feet of the rim.
Granted, the idea of teaming up with the 36-year-old Nowitzki would be much more appealing if he weren’t so long in the tooth, but the big German proved last season that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank by averaging an efficient 21.7 points per game during the 12th All-Star campaign of his career. There’s certainly less reason to doubt Dirk now than there was when the Mavs were wooing Dwight Howard last summer.
3. A quality supporting cast: The Mavs believe the trade for defensive anchor Tyson Chandler gave them a legitimate chance of landing Anthony. They can now make the make the case that adding Anthony would give Dallas the league’s best frontcourt.
They can also make the case that a Melo-Dirk-Monta one-two-three punch would be the NBA’s most potent offensive trio.
The Mavs didn’t have Ellis and Chandler on the roster during their previous failed pitches to big fish. Notably, Deron Williams cited the lack of talent around Nowitzki as one of the primary reasons he didn’t come to Dallas.
The Mavs would be challenged to find quality players to fill out their rotation if Anthony signed for a salary presumably starting in the $16-18 million range. However, the resourceful Dallas front office has a history of finding bargain-priced role players.
Which leads us to …
4. A proven front office and culture of winning: When it comes to stability and sustained success among front offices in today’s NBA, only the Spurs trump the Mavs.
Nowitzki deserves much of the credit, but Cuban and Nelson put the pieces together for one of four franchises in NBA history to win 50-plus games each season for at least a decade. They’ve proven they can sustain a contender around a superstar, with a 13 playoff appearances, two Finals trips and one title to show for it.
Cuban is as competitive and committed to winning as any owner in the league. He won’t hesitate to pay luxury-tax bills if he believes he’s making moves that improve a contender’s odds of putting another Larry O’Brien trophy in his kitchen.
Cuban also spares no expense when it comes to technological innovation that can prevent injuries and prolong players’ primes and careers. That could appeal to Anthony as he enters his 30s.
5. A plan for the future: Would Anthony be left as Dallas’ lone star when Nowitzki stops shooting one-legged fadeaways and starts spending days in a rocking chair? Not if the front office executes its plan.
Another benefit of the six-player trade with the New York Knicks was that it ensured the Mavs would have ample cap space again next summer. Dallas intends to aggressively pursue Kevin Love, Marc Gasol and/or LaMarcus Aldridge if they hit the open market.
The Mavs are confident that they can put Anthony in position to contend for a championship immediately and throughout his prime. More importantly, the Mavs believe that’s what is most important to Melo as he decides his destination.