After offering free agent center Dwight Howard a max contract, this is what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban must say: “It’s yours. The keys. The house. My plane. Take my dog. All of it — it’s all about you.”Cuban’s right-hand man in what will be a desperation free-agent sales pitch Tuesday, Dirk Nowitzki, then must tell Dwight: “The Mavs are yours. Not mine.”If the Mavs have any prayer of signing the NBA’s most coveted free agent (their chances are around 33.333333 percent), they must promise everything up to and including the moon when they meet with Howard.The key to any successful recruiting visit — from the armed forces, to college football, to pro sports — is to always over-promise and worry about the details later. Go ahead and just lie to Dwight — get him here.Props to Raising Cane’s for offering Dwight free chicken fingers for life if he signs with the Mavericks. If it’s me, pass on the money and always take the free food, especially when it’s fried chicken.Depending on what report you believe, the Houston Rockets are the front-runner to sign Howard, who apparently hates his situation with the Los Angeles Lakers so much that he would take $30 million less just to leave.Other reports have the Mavs as the leader. That means it’s likely down to Houston, Dallas and L.A. One in three are not terrible odds. (Personally, I promise to read every Nicholas Sparks book when an NBA player takes $30 million less to leave Los Angeles.)For the sake of the Mavs, and hoops in this great region, the fingers are crossed extra, super-duper tight that they pull this off and sign this prima donna head case.If/when the almighty Howard does not answer this latest Mavs prayer with an “I do,” the team must admit some harsh truths and get real.The decision to gut their title-winning team made perfect financial sense because it created substantial financial freedom to pursue the NBA’s best free agents. And all of the money is worthless if the best NBA free agents don’t want to come here.The Mavs keep telling themselves they were in the mix for Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. But being in the mix is much different than landing any of these players.The Mavs want to believe they are on the same plane as New York, Boston, Chicago and L.A. but who are we kidding? The Mavs are better off to admit they are not that much different than an Oklahoma City, Indiana or Milwaukee.There is a reason why the state of Texas does not have a state income tax — they want people to live here and pay all of the other taxes. It works for us peasants.Franchises in the smaller, less hip cities build their teams knowing they are never going to land the premier free agent. When was the last time a Middle Earth team signed a big-time free agent in the prime of his career?The good news is, however, that the Spurs, Thunder and Pacers have all demonstrated you can win big without throwing everything into the NBA’s risky free-agent pool.The Indiana Pacers pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without the benefit of having ever landed a big-time free agent or a top-tier lottery pick.The Pacers are now one of the NBA’s best teams because of shrewd drafting, player development and a couple of smart trades.The problem with this type of plan is that it takes considerable patience, and usually a fair amount of pain and luck.The Mavs did this once back in 1999 when they traded draftee Robert “Tractor” Traylor to the Bucks for the rights to Dirk.A “no” from Howard will put the Mavs in exactly the same scenario they wanted to avoid. Because they are committed to the big-time free agent, the Mavs will be forced to sign a load of veterans to one- or two-year deals because they don’t want to overcommit to a contract they can’t dump.A “no” from Howard, and the Mavs will look a lot like they did last season.Maybe Howard will surprise us and say yes to the Mavs, and we can instead begin a Miami Heat-style preseason championship party at the American Airlines Center.Hope he does.If he doesn’t, the Mavs must get real and admit the Big Fish free agent route is a Big Waste.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @macengelprof