In none of the four major North American sports is it easier to repeat as champion than in the NBA. Over the past 25 years, in both hockey and baseball, there have been just three repeat champions. In the NFL, there have been four. In that same period, the NBA has seen 10 champions defend their titles.
So when the defending champs go down the way the Dallas Mavericks did in the first round of this year’s playoffs—in a sweep to the Oklahoma City Thunder—it’s a little baffling, even though we were all prepared for this outcome after witnessing the approach the front office took in the offseason and the way the team played in the regular season. Dallas had three major free agents (Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea), and lost all three. The one guy they brought in to fill the gap, Lamar Odom, was a bust of epic proportions, with his season ending when the team politely requested that he not show up anymore.
It’s hard to fault the Mavericks’ decision-makers for going down this road. That’s because the new collective-bargaining agreement that was hastily passed in late November will increasingly put an emphasis on financial flexibility, taking away one of the great advantages the Mavericks have had in building their team under owner Mark Cuban—a willingness to absorb large salaries even if it meant paying the luxury tax. History is clear on this: Cuban has been OK with overspending, whether it is Antoine Walker, Antawn Jamison or Erick Dampier. Dallas is the only team to have paid the NBA’s tax every year since it’s been applied.