In the 16 full seasons that he’s owned the Dallas Mavericks, owner Mark Cuban’s teams have never had a losing record.
But unless the Mavs win 10 of their remaining 11 games to post a break-even 41-41 record, they will have their first losing season ever under the Cuban regime.
Of the prospects for that occurring, Cuban said: “It doesn’t make me happy. The first losing season since grade school.”
Cuban agreed on Jan. 4, 2000 to purchase the Mavs. After the ownership exchange from Ross Perot Jr. to Cuban, the Mavs finished the remainder of the 2000-01 season with an impressive 31-19 record in a 40-42 season overall.
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Then came 11 consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins — three 60-plus-win seasons were sprinkled in — while the Mavs established themselves as one of the NBA’s best franchises. That includes a 2006 NBA Finals berth and a world title in 2011.
The Mavs finished the strike-shortened 2011-12 season 36-30, then missed the playoffs for the only time in the past 16 seasons when they posted a 41-41 record in 2012-13. What followed were three straight eliminations in the first round of the playoffs after win totals of 49, 50 and 42, respectively.
So how does Cuban swallow what may become his first losing season as the Mavs’ owner?
“The same way I do every other time,” he said. “I put it in my mouth and I swallow the drink, the soda.
“It’s just is what it is, and there’s not a whole lot I can do. I guess I can go to Russia and ask them to hack the NBA and put out some fake news.”
The Mavs would like nothing better than to reverse the 31-40 record they’ll take into Saturday night’s 7:30 home game against the Toronto Raptors. Meanwhile, Cuban doesn’t believe the Mavs, 10th in the West and 3 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, are light years away from being a championship contender.
“Everybody we’ve got has got to improve and we’ve got to add one significant piece to get to a championship quality,” Cuban said. “I know our guys that are here are going to improve, and we’ve still got to just add that (significant) piece.”
Cuban joked that if the Mavs had LeBron James, they would only be one significant piece away from a championship.
“LeBron plus Manny, Moe and Jack to get to the Finals, or Moe, Larry and Curly and Shemp,” said Cuban, referring to the three Stooges. “No one forgets about Shemp.”
The only franchise with more playoff appearances than the Mavs (15) over the last 16 years are the San Antonio Spurs, who are 16-for-16.
Injuries to Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams was the primary reason the Mavs got off to a poor 4-17 start this season. The Mavs have since been 27-23 while climbing into the postseason conversation.
“Our backs were against the wall, we had a horrible start,” Cuban said. “Four and 17 — it doesn’t get much worse than that — and then we fought back to get into it.
“We kind of ran out of gas, but that’s just the way it goes. We made some trades, made a lot of changes and positioned ourselves for the future.”
Rookies Dorian Finney-Smith and Nicolas Brussino have shown promise, and the Mavs signed rookie free-agent point guard Yogi Ferrell and acquired 22-year old center Nerlens Noel in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Our young guys are getting in a lot more minutes, we’re finding out a whole lot more about them,” Cuban said. “The fact that we went from 4-17 to competing for a playoff spot with six 10-day contract players over the course of the year and one of them (Ferrell) starts for us now, that’s saying something.”
Recent losses to lower tier teams Phoenix and Philadelphia may wind up costing the Mavs a playoff berth. And Cuban knows that.
“It’s on us,” he said. “There’s no excuses, I’m just saying we ran out of gas — it’s on us.
“We win those two games we’re having a completely different conversation.”