Q&A: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Franchise head talks Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook and how his team has developed since championship season in 2011

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Mark Cuban isn’t Russell Westbrook’s favorite NBA owner. But the brash billionaire remains a heavyweight in Dallas where, to paraphrase a Texas saying, he’s all-hat and all-cattle. When Cuban talks, you may not agree with what he’s selling or even like it, but he’s always worth a listen.

A year ago he stuck a finger in the eye of every basketball fan north of the Red River when he said Westbrook wasn’t a superstar. Then with Westbrook averaging a triple-double for Oklahoma City and chasing Oscar Robertson’s feat, Cuban doubled down on his assessment a week ago by crossing Westbrook off his MVP list. Cuban’s reasoning: Westbrook hasn’t won anything as a solo act, at least not yet.

“He’s putting up superstar numbers. That’s for damn sure,” said Cuban. “I’m not trying to take away anything that he’s been able to accomplish. But I’m not changing my definition … the criteria hasn’t changed.”

Cuban knew his comments would be fresh meat for sports talk shows and the internet, but of course Cuban never cared about how his opinions would be weighed by the public. Never has and perhaps never will. He has spoken his mind since purchasing the Mavericks in 2000, sometimes to a great disservice to his considerable wallet — fines for knocking referees were commonplace early in his ownership — but always to tell you exactly where he stands.

In that sense, Cuban is the rare owner who not only faces the music, he composes and plays it, and very often at ear-blasting volume.

This of course makes him a sought-after interview subject, and Cuban is extremely approachable, usually taking questions — any questions — while riding his stair master in the Mavericks’ locker room before games. In that sense, only Cuban can one-up Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, at least when football season is over.

He’s fiercely protective of the Mavericks and unlike other NBA owners will travel to road games, although increased family obligations have reduced that schedule. The other day, Cuban half-joked about the major changes in the Lakers organization, with Magic Johnson and ex-agent Rob Pelinka assuming control of the basketball operations.

“The worst it is, the better for me,” Cuban said of the Laker shakeup. “The more turmoil with 29 other teams, the happier I am. I hope they fail miserably. I hope they fail horrifically. But I do hope they lead happy lives.”

Here’s a Q-and-A with Cuban about his favorite subject, the Mavericks, and the newest member of the NBA’s 30,000-point club:

NBA.com: Dirk Nowtizki plans to return next season which means he’s virtually guaranteed to spend his entire career, nearly two decades, with the same team. Will we ever see a player do that again?

Cuban: I’m not sure we will. Dirk is a creature of habit. He’s also incredibly competitive and driven and loyal, not just to me but the organization and the city of Dallas. He gets it. He’s a guy who appreciates what he’s got. He’s also one of those guys who’s happy to give it back to the organization and city that has been loyal to him.

NBA.com: We’ve seen other superstars have issues with their teams — folks forget that Kobe Bryant, who also spent his entire career with one team, demanded a trade from the Lakers. Has Dirk ever been that forceful or that angry with you or the team? Has he ever wanted out?

Cuban (laughs): We’ve squabbled over stuff. Oh, yeah. You have your disagreements. It’s no different with Dirk. He’s let me know a few times. But he has a great grasp of the big picture. He doesn’t let the little stuff bother him at all.

“He has the most understated swag I’ve ever seen. His brother likes to dance. Seth will just kill you and then give you a little hand motion. He’s so non-demonstrative. He’s not ‘look-at-me.’”

Mark Cuban, on the difference between Seth Curry and his brother, Steph

NBA.com: When did you know Dirk would be on track to score 30,000 points, become a game-changer for players from Europe and get an automatic ticket to the Hall?

Cuban: Before I bought the team and was just watching games as a fan, I thought he was just another big white guy from Europe that (former Mavericks coach Don Nelson) brought in. Then you start watching him and you realize he’s something special. Then when I bought the team, I saw how hard he works all the time and how driven he is to make his team better and win games.

NBA.com: Since winning the NBA Finals in 2011, the Mavericks have gone through a period of reinvention. Dirk is getting old and the roster has undergone a facelift and currently lacks an All-Star. Yet the team has improved steadily this season. Your thoughts?

Cuban: We’ve basically gone through a rebuild in one season. It’s a credit to Rick (Carlisle, the Mavericks coach) but also everyone on this team. There’s still a lot more to do. Nobody’s writing us in for The Finals this year. Our guys really worked hard, as hard or harder than any team in the league. Look at Miami. They’ve undergone a lot of changes too, much like we have, and they just play harder. I remember the Celtics after they traded off Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and they tried to find themselves and they did that by playing their asses off. That’s who we are now. Teams kind of look at our talent and don’t know what to expect but it’s hard to keep up with us when you go 15 deep with guys playing hard. It’s our calling card. I love it.

NBA.com: Dirk has decided to ride it out in Dallas here in this twilight rather than ask to be traded to a contender. That surprise you?

Cuban: No. This has reinvigorated Dirk. He sees the big picture. We just have to keep on improving and playing harder than anyone. We’re in a win-win situation. We lose, we get a better draft pick, we win we get into the playoffs. It’s fun. It feels a lot more like 2000 when I first brought the team. All this young energy, exciting, fun to watch, we’re at a place where we’re not supposed to be.

“When I first came to the Mavs, Nellie was firing up 50 threes a game. We were shooting more than anyone and people thought we were crazy. I was always for it.”

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

NBA.com: While Yogi Ferrell has justifiably generated lots of surprise because of his out-of-nowhere story, isn’t Seth Curry, brother of Stephen, an unexpected story as well?

Cuban: He has the most understated swag I’ve ever seen. His brother likes to dance. Seth will just kill you and then give you a little hand motion. He’s so non-demonstrative. He’s not ‘look-at-me.’ To me, the more of a show you put on when you do something, the less swag you have. He doesn’t tell you, he scoreboards you, and to me, that’s the ultimate swag. We want him to be here forever. He’s our kind of guy. Swaggy Swag.

NBA.com: Curry and Wesley Matthews and others are distance shooters. Offensively, the entire league has become a rim-or-3-point-shooting league. Is that good? Are you a fan of that?

Cuban: Hell, yeah. It’s entertaining. It has made the game better now because it requires a lot more skill. When I first came to the Mavs, Nellie [former coach Don Nelson] was firing up 50 threes a game. We were shooting more than anyone and people thought we were crazy. I was always for it. But it’s like anything else. If it’s done efficiently then it forces the defense to try to stop it. If someday we have 6-9 guys with long wingspans able to defend the three better and stop it or limit it, then it’s time for something else. Things evolve and things change.

NBA.com: It seems like yesterday when you came to the NBA and shook up the old boy’s club. But the reality is 16 of the 30 teams have changed ownership hands since you purchased the Mavericks 17 years ago last January. You’re officially a veteran. Feel old?

Cuban (laughs): It was a whole lot more fun when I was the young guy screwing everything up. But (the establishment) listened to me and I guess I molded them into what I wanted (laughs). So now that there’s nothing new to change and I don’t have any reason to complain, it’s all good. I didn’t adapt to them, they adapted to me. I was a bully, my way or the highway.

NBA.com: You’ve never held back your thoughts about President Trump and most of those thoughts were extremely critical. Yet you were rather complimentary about his address to the nation. Are you getting soft politically?

Cuban: He was presidential. More power to him. I was happy to see that. But that’s not the hard part. Now we have to see what happens from here. I compliment him when he does it the right way, and when he doesn’t, trust me, I’ll rip him.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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