Mark Cuban isn’t bullish on the Lakers this season

By Quixem Ramirez

Apr 20, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talks with small forward Shawn Marion (0) on the bench during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Warriors 104-94. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Mark Cuban failed to court Deron Williams away from the Brooklyn Nets. Signing with Dallas would have required Williams to forgo $25 million, or about $1.25 million annually, and that wasn’t something he wanted to do without the assurance that the Mavericks could compete for a title.

Despite this, Cuban forged enough cap space — most notably, letting Tyson Chandler sign with the New York Knicks for four years and $58 million — to make something out of nothing.

Rather than Williams, the Mavericks “settled” for a versatile combination of Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Jae Crowder, Jared Cunningham, Bernard James, Dahntay Jones, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo. That is a major haul and Dallas will remain contenders this season as a result. Depending on how you view their infusion of talent, you may believe they are elite or a fringe playoff team.

The Los Angeles Lakers have had a much different offseason: They weren’t expected to be major players in free agency and in the trade market because of their cap structure. But they managed to essentially turn a trade exception and Andrew Bynum into Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Those are major upgrades, obviously.

Cuban, meanwhile, isn’t a believer. He cited the Lakers ill fated 2003-04 squad, despite the additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton — along with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal — that fell to the Detroit Pistons in five games in the NBA Finals. The Pistons won with a concerted effort, and finite identity, and the Lakers couldn’t muster the same cohesiveness.

“The Lakers have done this before,” Cuban told the media and season-ticket holders. “Gary Payton and     Karl Malone and Kobe and Shaq were all together, and it didn’t work. It takes great chemistry … It takes     guys wanting to be there. I don’t know if all their guys want to be there.”

Fair point. But this scenario is also very different. Howard isn’t at the tail end of their careers, Nash is much more effective than Payton and the ’04 Lakers didn’t have the luxury of a Pau Gasol, who could legitimately be considered as their fourth option.

It is nice to be optimistic but it is hard to deny the Lakers as a championship contender this season.