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Old 02-13-07, 06:03 PM
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Cuban picking his spots to pop off

Let me start by saying Mark Cuban is wrong.

Those T-Mobile commercials with Dwyane Wade are clever.

The marketing savvy of Cuban is at work again. The moment you sense an unusual calm in his demeanor, the moment you're prepared to write about how he's stayed in the background and let the focus fall on his team, Wade happens.

Or John Amaechi.

Or some other slight or topic du jour that gets Cuban's creative juices flowing.

But don't let the last few days fool you. The Mavericks owner has been more selective with his taunts and comments this season. He's adjusted his sarcasm nozzle from spray to direct stream.

Cuban wants you to know this has nothing to do with any fines threatened by commissioner David Stern or the offseason words of star Dirk Nowitzki. It has everything to do with the team's success.

The Mavericks enter tonight's game against Milwaukee with the league's best record and an unfathomable nine-game lead over San Antonio in the Southwest Division. The Mavericks have been so dominant they could go the next two months without a victory and still finish the regular season with a winning record.

When you're that good, you don't take shots – unless someone else starts it.

Cuban is no different from any other billionaire provocateur. He doesn't want anyone to think he's gone soft. When it was suggested several weeks ago that he seemed to be holding his tongue this season, the Mavericks owner went on the offensive.

"Are you kidding me?" Cuban asked incredulously.

Since Cuban was wearing a T-shirt that read, "I'd Rather Be Fighting The Man," I lost that round.

But talk to Cuban long enough and he does concede a difference.

"We're playing really, really, really, really well," Cuban said. "When you're the underdog coming up, you're in a different position and it's easier to tweak people. You call Phil Jackson your bucket boy and all that.

"Now, if someone calls me out, I'll go right back at them."

Wade didn't call out Cuban. But he did go after Nowitzki, which is why the owner went after the Miami star on his blog, questioning everything from Wade's leadership skills to his commercials.

He does love to watch Wade shoot free throws, though.

It's ironic that Nowitzki is the middle-man in Cuban's most entertaining outburst of the season. After the Finals, Nowitzki came out and said that while he appreciated Cuban's passion, it wasn't always good. He said the owner needed to learn to control himself like the players do and not yell at officials all the time.

You want to know what impact those words had on Cuban?

"The very next day we're in Las Vegas, and I was giving him" a hard time about it, Cuban said. "I was asking him, 'Dirk, should I wear a suit out tonight?' "

And what about the notion that the Mavericks would be better off if Cuban said less?

"There are so many clueless people," Cuban said. "Yeah, that will change everything, right? They said that when I bought the team, too. Shut up. We'll never win because you're in the way, you're a distraction.

"It's really killed us over the past seven years. We're far worse."

When it comes to the officiating, Cuban has shut up. He's come to the conclusion that his observations prevented the league from making needed personnel changes. He's content to work behind the scenes for now in the hope those changes will be made.

If not, Cuban said he won't be afraid to speak out again, "knowing they [the NBA office] only respond to public criticism."

Which brings us to Stern.

Cuban has developed a running gag to address his differences with the commissioner. Almost every answer refers to what he has learned at David Stern University. Cuban will tell you he's currently enrolled in minutiae administration to learn how to pay attention to the smallest detail and turn it into a big event.

Stern hasn't had much to say about Cuban since the Finals. But when asked about the Mavericks owner in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Stern admitted there were times he wanted to respond but stopped himself, saying, "David, you're bigger than that."

"I agree with him," Cuban said. "He definitely thinks he's above it all."

Cuban will never be above it all. That's why he often finds himself in the middle of things. It just won't happen as often as it has in the past.

The Mavericks are too good.
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