Cuban's Mavs a model for Raptors franchise

Outgoing Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. (MIKE STONE/Reuters file photo)

Outgoing Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. (MIKE STONE/Reuters file photo)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:13 PM ET

TORONTO - The Dallas Mavericks once were an organization quite similar to the Raptors.

They didn’t win much and they didn’t spend big-time money in order to compete.

The team had some solid players in the 1980s but was a complete laughingstock in the 1990s.

Then billionaire Mark Cuban took over and everything changed. After 11 years in the lottery, Dallas returned to the playoffs in 2001 and the team would have won the 2006 championship had it not suffered one of the biggest meltdowns in finals history against Miami, blowing a 2-0 series lead.

Already a ridiculously rich man, Cuban’s goal with the Mavericks was to make them a destination (nobody provides more amenities for players than the Mavs) and a winner.

“Every group of fans wants to feel that their local team has someone who is living, eating and breathing their competitive situation, their future and their enjoyment of the environment in the arena,” NBA commissioner David Stern told ESPN on the 10-year anniversary of Cuban’s ownership of the team.

Cuban says he has lost tens of millions since buying the franchise in 2000, but he doesn’t really care.

Meanwhile, faceless Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd. is all about making money and the Raptors have one playoff series win in their 16-year history.

The Raptors — 11th in salary — have never exceeded the NBA’s luxury tax, the dollar-for-dollar stipend levied against the league’s richest franchises (eight teams have exceeded it this season).

Dallas does so annually, its $87.8-million-US payroll is third in the league and that doesn’t even take into account the extra $17.5 million it pays in luxury tax.

That monster payroll allows Dallas to become something like a modern-day Noah’s Ark (two-deep at every position) which makes season-ending injuries to stars like Caron Butler — which would debilitate teams like the Raptors — mere bumps in the road.

The advantage Mavericks bench boss Rick Carlisle has wasn’t lost on Raptors head coach Jay Triano.

“Dirk’s (Nowitzki) a great player, the focus is him, (but) when you go to the bench and have a guy like Jason Terry who would be starting on most teams, a guy like Shawn Marion who has started on a lot of teams (including the Raptors), that’s pretty impressive.

“And then Brendan Haywood who has started a lot of games in the NBA, you’re going against a team that can put guys on the floor who know how to play,” Triano said.

The Raptors can only dream of such depth until ownership opens up the chequebooks, something that certainly won’t happen until it proves it can consistently win at least a round in the playoffs.

Until then, Triano is left to console himself that at least newcomer James Johnson gives him some size to throw out against the sturdy Mavs. Having Leandro Barbosa to match up with fellow sixth-man-of-the-year winner Jason Terry and the other sparkplugs off of the Dallas bench also helps.

But really, given the talent and age discrepancy, Sunday will be men against boys.

Dallas might not be getting a lot of attention, considering their outstanding record, but the Raptors know what they are up against.

When asked if people are sleeping on Dallas, Triano didn’t sound convinced.

“I don’t know,” he began.

“They fly under the radar until you try to prepare against them and then you go, ‘This team is pretty darn good.’ ”

With a little draft luck and a loosening of the purse strings, the Raptors hope people will be saying that about them one day.


Videos

Photos