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by Mike Fisher    Wed, Aug 6, 2008, 08:01 AM
ESPN’s Chad Ford writes that “the great thing about the offseason is. … everybody’s a contender.’’ And then a few paragraphs later, he writes: “Coming into this season, the Mavs no longer look like a contender.’’ Chad is confused. We’ll clear things up with some “Fish Or Cut Bait,’’ featuring this tantalizing question about the NBA’s problems with expectations, perception and desire for freshness: What if the New York Knicks traded for the entire Mavs roster?  



FORD WRITES: “Two seasons ago, the Mavericks were an elite team in the NBA and had the league's best record. Coming into this season, the Mavs no longer look like a contender.’’


WE RESPOND: This is another of many summer-long portrayals of the Mavs as “in decline,’’ and we agree with that part. We are reminded of the mid-90’s Cowboys and their critics, who puffed their chests in predicting that the football team was “in decline.’’ Really? You think? After winning three Super Bowls in four years, where else, exactly, was there to do but down?

Once the Mavs won 67, they were destined to be haunted by it, in a sense: If in the next season they’d won 66, they’d be “in decline.’’

We disagree with the “non-contender prediction’’ if only because we believe that if you are in the tournament, you can contend. And we believe at this very early stage in the game that the Mavs figure to be in the tournament. So CUT BAIT.

FORD WRITES: “In fact, there's a small chance they might not even be a playoff team in the wild, wild West.’’

WE RESPOND: That reads like a rather waterlogged prediction:  A small chance they might not even be a playoff team’’? Um, yeah, we suppose there is that chance. Know what, though? Beyond the defending conference-champion Lakers, pretty much everybody else runs a similar risk, no? In the forthcoming “wild, wild West’’ race, San Antonio had better stop aging, New Orleans had better keep growing, Houston had better cease talking. But sure. There is a chance, however small, that a pretty-good 50-win-caliber team will finish ninth. So we give Chad Ford some leeway here and FISH.

FORD WRITES: “The Mavs still have Dirk Nowitzki, but the rest of the team is fairly underwhelming at this point.’’

WE RESPOND: We wonder if it is “underwhelming’’ based on its raw talent and accomplishments, or whether it it VIEWED as “underwhelming’’ because it feels so “been-there-done-that.’’ Ask yourself this: Say the New York Knicks made a trade. Somehow, they managed to acquire Josh Howard AND Jason Kidd AND Jason Terry AND Damp AND Diop AND Bass AND Stack. … oh, AND Dirk Nowitzki.

What would Chad Ford say then? What would the media say then? How would the predictions read then? How many magazine covers would the Big Three of Dirk/Kidd/Josh appear on then?

Our answer: This exact same collection of people -- Cuban and Donnie and Carlisle and Josh and Kidd and Dirk – would be viewed as the exact opposite of “underwhelming’’ if they were suddenly representing a newly-assembled New York Knicks. The story would be fresh and exciting, the Knicks would be a favorite to qualify for the NBA Finals, and Chad Ford would be pretty much experiencing an orgasm.

(One more swing at the "we-love-freshness'' angle: In Chicago, they are banking on the sheer presence of Mark Cuban to immediately and magically end a century of bad baseball. What, he's got baseball magic but no basketball magic?)

In other words, CUT BAIT.

FORD WRITES: “The addition of Jason Kidd at the trade deadline last season looks like an awful move in retrospect. It's unclear whether Kidd really has the juice left to be an elite point guard.’’

WE RESPOND: Two important points, both of them about the “unclearness” of it all: Ford is, we think, being fair in pointing out that Kidd will, at some point, run out of gas. At the same time, it is just as “unclear’’ whether the trade is “an awful move in retrospect’’ because there IS NO RETROSPECT. It just happened! The Kidd trade cannot be fully judged until his career is complete. … and maybe cannot be fully judged until Devin Harris’ career is complete. Devin is 25. He’ll likely play 10 more years. So, for this decade, anyway, we CUT BAIT.

FORD WRITES: “Josh Howard's brushes with controversy over his comments on smoking marijuana and a charge of drag racing this summer haven't helped.’’

WE RESPOND: Let’s be clear: Josh Howard’s brushes with controversy have hurt is credibility, his marketability and his trade-ability. But talking openly about smoking pot and driving a car at a dangerous speed have NOTHING to do with whether he can go get you 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists a game. NOTHING. So if Chad is talking about Josh as, say, an endorsement guy, he is correct. If he’s talking about Josh as a basketball player, we CUT BAIT.

FORD WRITES “And that huge $30 million-plus contract that they gave DeSagana Diop will come back to haunt them the same way that $60 million-plus contract they gave to Erick Dampier did.’’

WE RESPOND: We find this sentence to be painfully misinformed. Damp’s number was actually $73 mil. And Dallas didn’t sign him it to him, Golden State did. There is nothing particularly haunting about Damp’s money (except to fans whose senses are offended by seeing a non-superstar make $10 mil a year). Dampier, for all his flaws as a player. has been a key piece to a team that, as Ford mentioned, went to the Finals and won 67.

 Meanwhile, there is nothing at all haunting of Diop’s contract. And really, in basketball-salary terms, there is really nothing all that “huge’’ about it, either.

We CUT BAIT on this one. … on pretty much every single word in that sentence.

FORD WRITES: They were active trying to get their hands on Ron Artest, but, like the Rockets, it was more an act of desperation than a savvy basketball move.’’

WE RESPOND: Chad Ford shoves the Mavs in between a rock and a hard place here. While he urges the Mavs to make an impactful move, while he cautions teams against “inactivity’’ and then uses the related word (“active’’) to describe Dallas’ pursuit of Ron Artest, he also chides the Mavs for proving their “desperation’’ by doing so.

So Dallas is wrong for not trying to get an Artest, is wrong for trying to get an Artest and, yeah, you guess it: CUT BAIT on this confounding take.

FORD WRITES: “And sometimes, a team's inaction can be the worst blow of all to a hope-filled fan base.’’

WE RESPOND: As true at that is – certainly so now in Dallas, where the audience is not fully satisfied with 8X50 --  the deflation of a “hope-filled fan base’’ cannot be the deciding factor in the TOT’s personnel moves. The trade for Jason Kidd, the move to install Rick Carlisle as coach, the promise of Gerald Green. … all those things are nice in terms of the “hope-filled fan base.’’ But they are the equal of making certain the American Airlines Center’s nachos are cheesy enough.

They have nothing to do with basketball.

We know for a fact that Mavs owner Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson are acutely aware of the need for most electricity jolts.  But those jolts need to be made within the blueprint of the assemblage of a team. Once upon a time, Dennis Rodman played here; the acquisition was designed to get headlines.

The Mavs are beyond that now. Smart fans know it and appreciate it. So while we hope that Josh Howard’s misbehavior doesn’t turn off patrons the way the Pacers’ miscreant actions turned off Indiana, we CUT BAIT on over-worrying about “inaction’’ and its impact on the audience if only because we’re too busy concerning ourselves with “inaction’’ and how it affects the roster.

FORD WRITES: “The great thing about the offseason is -- for a few short weeks anyway -- every team is a contender. A great draft pick, a savvy free agent pick up or a timely trade can turn around the fortunes of a franchise virtually overnight.’’

WE RESPOND: Finally, something we can completely agree on: Things can turn around overnight. … and there are about 90 overnights between now and the start of the season. THREE MONTHS! Dallas is clearly in need of an addition that is “great,’’ “savvy’’ and “timely.’’ … But we can FISH with Chad Ford on this one because there remains plenty of time for “timely.’’

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