Exclusive: The Mavs' 3-Platform Sales Pitch To LeBron, Wade And Beyond
by Mike Fisher    Sun, Jun 27, 2010, 05:10 PM
 

Exclusive: The Inside Story Of The Mavs' 3-Platform Sales Pitch For Summer Shopping

From LeBron And Wade And Beyond: Unselfishness, Business And 'Uncle Sams'

By Mike Fisher -- DB.com


   The Dallas Mavericks have formulated The Sales Pitch.

    It does not feature a set-in-stone itinerary. It does not feature show-biz flash. It does not feature a singular target.

     But at 12:02 a.m Eastern time on July 1, the Mavs will put into action their Summer of 2010 sales pitch for available NBA stars – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and all the rest, the marketing wave set to occur only after Dallas has, hopefully, secured the services of Dirk Nowitzki.

    “We definitely have a plan,’’ Mavs GM Donnie Nelson tells me. “There are details to it. … but there also needs to be flexibility in it.’’

    The Sales Pitch is a living, breathing, flexible thing … and DallasBasketball.com, after a dozen conversations with the principals (some for attribution, some from unnamed sources, some as general background) has learned that The Sales Pitch is founded upon three fundamental platforms.

    Read on for the details. …

  JOB 1: SECURING DIRK NOWITZKI

    “We will be anywhere and we will do anything,’’ Donnie says, “to make sure that gets done.’’

     At present, the Mavs are in discussions with Nowitzki about an extension that can pay him his existing one-more year (at $21.5 mil) plus three more years of max money. But also on the table: Dirk exercising his right to opt-out, thus earning himself not only a new four-year contract worth around $96 million (four years is the max length due to his age) but also a no-trade clause.

    I put the question to Donnie: Wouldn’t it be ideal to have Dirk done by 12:01 a.m. on July 1, and then to be able to go forward – at the aforementioned 12:02 -- with Nowitzki as part of the recruiting team?

     “Ideal? It’d be right up there as ideal,’’ Donnie says. “But we’ll do it however Dirk wants us to do it. If he and Holger (Geschwindner, Dirk’s mentor) want to meet us in Antarctica, we’ll fly to Antarctica.’’

    It cannot be more basic: Any Dallas recruiting effort in other directions is completely hamstrung until paperwork on The UberMan is completed.

     Says Kidd: “He’s the centerpiece. He’s the attraction for any of the other free agents. To play with Dirk makes the game is so much easier.’’

    The game on the court … and the game of recruiting, too.

 

     THE THREE FUNDEMENTAL PLATFORMS OF THE MAVS’ SALES PITCH

     We could use any player as a guinea pig for how the three essentials of The Sales Pitch will be presented. But this applies almost regardless of targets’ names:

     1 Dallas will provide you the perfect Robin.

     Which NBA superstar who has spent a lifetime as a Batman is truly willing to accept the Robin label? Would Wade do it for LeBron? Would LeBron do it for Wade? Will Bosh do it for either of them?

     Some of the shoppers will on July 1 issue pitches based on what I believe is a fanciful notion – a Fantasy Basketball notion – that doesn’t take into account the egos of those being courted.

     The Mavs won’t say that about other teams’ plans. But everyone involved in the Mavs thinking will acknowledge that Dallas believes it has a card to play here that is not fantasy.

     And Jason Kidd will say it on the record.

     “Come here,’’ Kidd essentially said a few days ago when he was ‘play-acting’ a recruitment pitch with Ben and Skin on ESPN Radio, “and we will let you play with the best Robin in the league.’’

     It was play-acting, but as I confirmed shortly after, it was also a revelation: The Mavs’ No. 1 platform in The Sales Pitch is this organization’s climate of unselfishness. Mark Cuban is among the most financially generous owners in the history of sports. Team leader Kidd is among the most giving distributors in the history of basketball. And team MVP Dirk Nowitzki is among the most unselfish superstars in the history of ever.

    The Mavs believe in Dirk Nowitzki and his role as the tone-setter in The Climate of Unselfishness.

     2 Dallas will make sure this is a “business deal’’ and not a “circus.’’

     From one source with deep knowledge of what the Mavs are planning and deep knowledge of what is being planned by at least one other team, the Knicks:

     “For whomever, if this recruiting process is really about having dinner with Donald Trump and Whoopi Goldberg, and if that’s really what is ultimately going to convince a player … well, maybe that’s not the sort of guy you want to be committing $125 million to,’’ the source tells me. “I think Dallas has more respect for these guys than that. I think Cuban is going to go to them, businessman-to-businessman, and offer them a chance to become a partner in what the Mavs are, a member of the business family in Dallas. I think the Mavs believe that the right guy will be attracted to that.’’

     And, I would add, that the wrong guy will be attracted to the wrong things. In the specific case of James: If he has a primary focus on being a record producer and a clothing-line designer, and believes those pursuits can only be realized for him while playing somewhere besides Dallas … well, that’s his primary focus and persuasion may not be enough.

     I throw this notion at Donnie, too.

     “I’ll put it this way,’’ Nelson says. “I find it kind of impossible to believe the media reports that say a certain team has already made dinner reservations for when they want a certain player to come to town. I’ve got news for those teams: It ain’t going to work that way.’’

     Dallas believes the players will be doing the scheduling, and that their right should be respected.

     “Nobody knows yet what player will be in what city on what day,’’ Nelson says. “How could a team know? We’re not supposed to have had any contact with those players yet. We cannot know.’’

     (Interestingly, Donnie tells me this on the afternoon of Friday, June 25. A few hours later comes the report that LeBron James has cancelled his “elaborate free-agency tour’’ and will instead be meeting with teams when they come to his town. Coincidence? Or Donnie having in-advance insight into what would be advisable for LeBron to do?)

     But when the Mavs do know? They will point out the lure of playing some home games at Cowboys Stadium (which could excite Cowboys fan LeBron and others). They will make note of Texas' absence of a state income tax. They will do so within the context of having made business appointments with desired targets. Not circus events. Not “penthouse extravaganzas.’’ Not cocktail parties with Whoopi.

    Business appointments.

     3 Dallas will provide you ample “Uncle Sams.’’

    It is Kidd who uses the term “Uncle Sams.’’ What does he mean by this?

    Kidd tells me: “There is never going to be a time the Mavs lose a game, or have a bad season, because the owner didn’t try hard enough. Or spend enough. In Dallas, we have an owner that will make the same kind of commitment to greatness that a great player will make. Only in Mark’s case, that commitment means money.’’

     Ah, “Uncle Sams.’’ Like “Benjamins.’’ Money.

    It is a critical point, Kidd thinks: The available player needs to be made to understand that his signing isn’t just about his new owner paying him $125 million over six years. (Important selling point for the Mavs: That’s the Sign-and-Trade number; in straight free agency, players moving to new teams can only get five years and $96 million. So a player should theoretically prefer to be S-n-T’ed to his new team.) It’s about that owner’s willingness to spend the next six seasons paying the signed player’s teammates, paying coaches, marketing the team so it plays before big audiences. … the entire financial commitment that goes beyond just one well-paid guy – because one well-paid guy isn’t going to win championships.

     “Because of Dirk, we have a guy who is both Batman and Robin,’’ says Kidd, “and because of Cuban we have Uncle Sams.’’

     None of these things necessarily made Dallas “special.’’ Just a bidder, is all.

 

    THE SHOPPING TARGETS

    A year ago, the Mavs had two immediate summer priorities: Ink Jason Kidd, and get Marcin Gortat’s signature on an offer sheet. They succeeded at both, with Mark Cuban jetting to New York to huddle with Kidd and with coach Rick Carlisle jetting to Florida to recruit Gortat.

     “This year,’’ a Mavs source tells me, “it’s a hell of a lot more complicated.’’

      One reason for the complications is the high number of product on the shelves. There is Dirk, and then LeBron and Wade, and then Bosh and Amar’e and Joe Johnson and David Lee and Carlos Boozer and more. And those are only the probable unrestricted free agents. Then there are the restricted guys, a list that notably features Rudy Gay. And of course there are players who are under contract but who may be available in a more traditional trade, a group that might include an almost endless assortment of names. (Notable: Even if the top-tier FA’s go elsewhere, the Mavs keep shopping. The DUST Chip be discussed in exchange for, say Chris Paul … or Al Jefferson … or any guy employed by a team in sellers’ mode.)

    Have the Mavs prioritized their list? We assume so  … but I like Kidd’s answer when I ask him for specifics.

    “It’s everybody,’’ Kidd says. “We’re prioritizing everybody. … It’s everybody. You don’t have a (limited or strictly-ordered list). You know, you want to go after the top guys and let them know how great the city of Dallas is and also understand how great Mark is and how great this team is  … You know Cuban wants to win a championship … and there are quite a few guys out there.’’

    From what I gather, the Mavs would like to avoid having anyone think “this guy is Choice 1’’ and “that guy is a backup plan’’ and the like.

    Dallas wants feelers everywhere … invites to everyone. … opportunism on everything.

    This overall philosophy differs from that reportedly present in other outposts. New York wants LeBron. Miami wants Wade plus Amar’e. Houston prefers Bosh. Fine, but … respectively, if LeBron turns down New York, how to the Knicks convince the ensuing candidate that he’s not sloppy seconds? And why should Amar’e agree to be a supplementary piece? And how can Houston prefer Bosh over LeBron?

    (My opinion only: When ESPN Insider says that the Knicks have a Plan A, B, C and D, and that Plan D is signing Nowitzki, I’m left believing somebody is trying to pull a fast one on somebody. That report came out weeks ago, and its specificity seems bogus. Does New York really have three well-considered plans it believes it might strike out on? Does New York really believe that Nowitzki would prefer to be an afterthought signing as the lone-star Knick instead of remaining in Dallas? I say either the report is goofy … or the Knicks plan is.)

    The Mavs surely like LeBron better than Joe Johnson. They surely like both of them, though. And Wade. And Bosh. And more. And they think there are enough eggs to be placed in enough baskets to make multiple pitches without making enemies.

    There is a belief in many circles that LeBron is leaning toward Chicago. Nevertheless, Dallas must – and will -- take its swing. There. Everywhere.

    The identity of the ideal guy? What I know for certain comes when you go back and review Kidd’s words about “Dirk-as-Robin’’: The ideal guy is a player so gifted that he’s actually a candidate to be the Batman to Nowitzki’s Robin … to be superior to Dirk or on par with Dirk or at least to be the heir to his Mavs mantle.

 

    THE TRADEABLE ASSETS

    DallasBasketball.com has covered this territory in great depth over the last 12 months. But I’ll offer a refresher course and then an update of just how forward-thinking the Mavs are in terms of Summer of 2010 preparation. Some of the prominent assets:

    *The DUST Chip: The purposeful invention of the Mavs front office (in July 2009 discovered and nicknamed by our David Lord), Erick Dampier’s contract. D.U.S.T. (“Damp Ultimate Sign-And-Trade’’) means that after July 10, 2010, a team can trade for Dampier (and give Dallas the ability to trade-match a salary up to $16.4475 million) ... and then that team can immediately release Dampier. The new team gets the payroll, cap and perhaps the lux-tax relief without ever having to spend a dime for a contract that is on the books at $13 million.

     *Caron Butler: One year left on his expiring deal at $10.5 mil. He represents a contract that will eventually disappear as well as a two-time All-Star will can help a team until then. (Caron seems to understand all of this.)

     *J.J. Barea: One year left and $1.8 million. Dirt-cheap for a rotation player whose contract will expire. (Yes, JJB knows all of this, too.) 

      *Rodrigue Beaubois: Unlike the three aforementioned assets, Dallas is extremely unwilling to lose him. But the Mavs feel his value (which is obviously far in excess of his modest contract worth $1.1 mil, $1.2 mil and $2.2 mil in the next three seasons) has been established not only on the floor during his rookie season but also this summer. Other teams are making it clear they like Roddy B as much as Dallas does.

     *Dominique Jones: The 25th overall pick in the recent NBA Draft. Did Dallas pay $3 mil to Memphis to acquire the pick because it believes in the scoring guard? Yes…. But the Mavs also paid $3 mil to pocket yet another asset.

    My recent story on how Roddy B and Jones are more than just “the backcourt of the future’’  is not one I created out of thin air. One of the reasons the Mavs pinpointed Jones at 25 is because they believe a handful of teams liked him enough to consider him a mid-first-round talent – and some of those teams will possibly be interested if faced with Sign-and-Trade proposals from Dallas for players who want out.

    I’m told there are at least five teams that would’ve considered Dominique Jones in the 17-to-26 range. If they wanted him then. .... Dominique Jones isn’t the hub of a Mavs offer (The DUST Chip is). But Dominique Jones could be a spoke of the wheel.

    File it away as a minor detail here, but an important example of the details being covered.

    By the way, between those assets and more, somewhere in there, there is actually enough ammunition to execute more than one deal.

     Dallas has created for itself the convenience of not having to first strip down in order to build up. Chicago and Miami are trading off parts to maximize room. That’s a valiant effort – but if multiple stars don’t agree to go to the Bulls or the Heat, those roster might remain stripped down … or will add overpriced third-tier performers to fill the void.

    Assuming the signing of Dirk, Dallas can pitch the idea that the Mavs are not trying to go from zero-to-60. In terms of literal wins and losses and in terms of figurative roster improvement, they’re trying to go from 55 to 60.

    “We have a plan,’’ Donnie says. “We’ve got some things that are ready … that have been ready for a long time. And we think we have other things that we might have to get ready on the fly.’’

 

    THE MAVS POINT MEN

    Mark Cuban. Donnie Nelson. Jason Kidd.

    Those three men have almost universal respect in the sport, in part due to their unique charms. They are, to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,’’ true “connectors’’ in the basketball world. The three of them are without much pretense. Cuban is a social pal and financial role model to hundreds of NBA players. Donnie is the scout who first got to know them when they were 19, and he hasn’t an enemy in the NBA. Kidd is everybody’s admired big brother.

   They are the key point men. The recruiting coordinators, if you will.

    Using LeBron as an example: While he might be leaning in another direction ... while the Mavs may be a longshot here ... there is absolutely no way LeBron will fail to give Cuban and Kidd an audience. Their presence gives the Mavs at least their chance.

    So will the Mavs need three private jets? Four planes? Five?

     “You know Mark,’’ Donnie says. “If he has to enlist the entire American Airlines fleet, then that’s what he’ll do.’’

    Here’s a chunk of my exact question to Kidd (some tongue-in-cheek, some not) on this subject … and here’s Kidd’s exact response (also some funnin’ and some not):

   Fisher question: “I think a few weeks ago you were being way overly-humble when you said, ‘I’m not in the recruiting business. I’m just a player.’ Because in truth, if I’m Cuban, I’ve got to put you and Dirk and whoever on a plane, maybe some dancing girls, and head to Cleveland, or Miami, or Toronto, or wherever I’ve got to go.’’

    Kidd answer: “Well, hopefully we’re cuter than dancing girls so he doesn’t have to put anybody else on the plane! But you know, we’re going to play our part and see what happens. I mean, this probably will go down in history as the wildest NBA free agency (period) ever, because you have a lot of talented players there. And it’s going to be interesting to see if guys are leaving, or everybody stays pat and stays home.’’

    Kidd clearly has a serious feel for this. And of course, a playful access to dancing girls. Just in case.

    Carlisle plays an important role, too, as do other members of the organization. Not the least of which, by the way, is stability. As I write this, the Blazers, Clippers, Warriors, Suns, Cavs, Lakers, Celtics, Nets, Wizards and Hornets (am I missing anyone) are in various states of flux … selling their teams, firing their GMs, proceeding without coaches. …

     Not in Dallas. The Mavs have the committed owner. They have GM who has been here for a decade and in the business since 1986. They have a coach who is staying put.

    And – hopefully – they have Dirk Nowitzki.

    The trickiest situation with potential point men happens to involve Dirk – and not just his signing.

    Nowitzki does not travel in the same circles as his NBA brothers. (This month, he met his girlfriend’s parents by traveling to her home … in Sweden. An NBA first?) And while the MVP is respected, smart, funny and warm …

    “We don’t want to put Dirk in a situation he’d be uncomfortable with,’’ Donnie says. “However, he wants to help, and he’ll be a great asset.’’

    One person close to Nowitzki adds this: “I think that honesty about (Dirk’s role and personality) actually works in Dallas’ favor. It’s just going to be one more thing that seems real (about the Mavs). They’re not putting on airs. They’re not pretending. They are letting guys be themselves, which really is how they run that organization anyway.’’

    Having said all that: If you are LeBron/Wade/Johnson/whomever … it would be kind of impressive to hear your doorbell, peek outside, and see on your front porch the smiling fivesome of Cuban, Donnie, Kidd, Carlisle and Dirk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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written by erick , June 29, 2010

great work, excellent article.



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