Following the Nets: Taking Ownership
DALLAS -- When Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks in January 2000, he didn't have a timetable for turning around a franchise that went 239-549 (a pitiful .303 winning percentage) during the '90s.
"You can't plan that, you just don't know," Cuban said as he worked out on a Stairmaster before Wednesday night's Nets-Mavericks game.
Cuban, however, knows when things could turn around for the Nets and their brethren across the Hudson River, the Knicks: in a New York minute. Actually, he gives it a little more than a month.
"I said this to Kiki and Rod both," Cuban said about Nets coach and GM Kiki Vandeweghe and team president Rod Thorn, "there's about a month, five weeks left in the regular season. In five weeks, them and the Knicks become the darlings of the NBA. They're all anybody's going to be talking about in regard to free agency.
"They're gonna go from being zeroes to heroes. The guys in the locker room who will stick around over there, they'll be talking about them as they're key components in the next generation Nets.
"Five weeks. They're going to be everybody's darlings."
Obviously, it's not that way now as the Nets have been everyone's doormats as they entered their Wednesday night game against Cuban's Mavs with a 7-56 record. The Mavs, meanwhile, had ripped off an NBA-high 12 straight games and look every bit a championship contender.
As for any similarities between the two franchises in respect to when Cuban took over the Mavs and where the Nets are now, Cuban dismisses such a notion.
"Not at all, not even close," Cuban noted. "When I got here, management was like, 'Let's blow up the season to get a draft pick.'
"I was like, 'We have to start to win.' We didn't gear toward free agency at all."
Cuban can rattle of the numbers easily as he describes that first season as Mavs owner. Dallas was 9-23 when Cuban bought the team, but finished the 1999-2000 season with a 31-19 run.
"And that included a six-game losing streak," Cuban noted.
Like a good half-court set, change for the Mavs came from the inside-out.
"We had to change the culture," Cuban said. "It wasn't like, 'This should be easy.' You had to get people to recognize that if they didn't play to win, they would be gone.
"I just had to change the culture."
And Cuban changed the Mavs culture with three things he had plenty of: time, attention and most famously, money. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who has a deal to buy the Nets, has the money. The question is how hands on will Prokhorov be, and does anyone need to be as hands on as Cuban felt he needed to be.
"Of course, money helps, especially where we were coming from," Cuban said. "I probably had to overspend to compensate for the perception that Mavs were a cheapskate organization that didn't care about winning.
"I had to overcompensate. I don't know if the Nets have to do that or not."
As for the criticism that he went overboard with a luxurious locker room in the American Airlines Center, Cuban said it's not a spend-money-to-make-money thing.
"You have to treat people with respect and put them in a position to succeed," he said. "Sometimes you have to step out of the ordinary. That people may criticize, that you just have to ignore.
"You gotta be there every day. They have to see you to know that someone is holding them accountable.
Cuban's hands-on -- and some would say annoying -- philosophy has paid off handsomely. The Mavs are 583-272 under Cuban's ownership and have been to one Finals.
"I was at practices. If they were practicing at Reunion [Arena], I'd be running stairs. If I can work, they can work.
"There was really only one direction we could go, and that was up."
Same goes for the Nets, who will break ground on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday. In the meantime, the Nets will head for Newark to play in the two-year old Prudential Center before heading to New York's most populous borough.
Cuban insists, it's not where you play, but who plays for you and how well they play.
"It depends on the culture of the team," Cuban said. "Reunion was a dump, it didn't matter. If the players feel that someone cares about winning and puts that emphasis in and follows through, that's contagious. It won't put you over the top, but it could set you in the right direction."
But moving from the dreadful Izod Center in the Meadowlands to the Rock and then to Barclays can only help the Nets in wooing free agents, for whom they have plenty of salary cap space. Couple that with a nice nucleus and things can turn around sooner rather than later.
"I think that's what people are missing," Cuban said. "While it's painful now, they'll have a great draft pick and they have a good nucleus with Brook [Lopez], Devin [Harris], Yi [Jianlian] and Courtney [Lee].
"If they're able to develop a winning culture, it could be a quick turnaround."
The Nets and their fans can only hope Cuban was as correct about this as he was with the Mavs.