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Mavericks’ Mark Cuban opens up on where NFL falls short to NBA, Jordan vs. Harden debate, why AAU needs to go

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban appeared on “Kanell and Bell” on CBS Sports HQ Tuesday morning and discussed a variety of topics with the show’s hosts, including the reigning Rookie of the Year, abolishing AAU, whether or not Carmelo Anthony deserved a spot on Team USA, Harden vs. Jordan, the ‘player empowerment era’ in the NBA and the league’s wild offseason

Here are some highlights from Cuban’s appearance:

On what makes Luka Doncic so special: 

“He has a great basketball IQ, he’s got amazing court vision, and he can be physical with guys because of his strength, and because of his height he could make a pass over a guy … Every guy on the court knows Luka is going to see them and give them the ball right where they want it right when they need it, and that’s what makes him special … Not only does he have the vision, not only does he have the anticipation, but he’s got the size to be able to see you and get you the ball. It just took him a little bit of time at the beginning of last year to get used to the speed of the game.” 

On getting rid of AAU: 

“We’ve got to replace AAU. I think that’s a big cause of the consternation and problems that we face. I’m a big fan of starting to do academies, where we take kids who are in the Dallas area and develop them so that they’re performing not just on the court, but also doing well in school and understanding that basketball IQ isn’t just about what you do on the court, it’s about how prepared you are for life, because so few are going to make it. So I think there’s a lot of obligations for the teams and the NBA, but a big part of it is going to be doing our work when the kids are 13, 14, 15 years old in terms of being realistic about their chances and what it takes.” 

On the player empowerment era: 

“Unlike every other professional sports league, we’re a talent-driven league … We get the benefits of that. Our guys have the biggest social media following, our guys have the biggest social impact when there’s issues around the country, around the world. Guys have made the effort to develop those followings, and to build themselves as brands, and the NBA is the only professional sport that has really benefited from that, and the trade-off from that is the talent has more power, and in reality that’s just real world … I don’t have a problem with it.” 

On the mass player movement over the offseason: 

“I think this summer, it really benefited the NBA. We went from the Warriors being a dynasty to being wide open. The best way to judge that is from our ticket sales. Last year, there were two teams that never played to an empty seat: whatever team LeBron [James] was on or playing, and the Warriors don’t play to an empty seat anywhere in the league. Everybody else had to hustle to sell tickets. Now, that’s different. You’re going to have two stars on a lot of different teams. Now the Lakers, and still the Warriors with Steph [Curry], now the Clippers, a little bit more so the Bucks, now maybe the Rockets might be a draw. So you’re going to have more teams that are able to sell more tickets and that benefits the entire NBA.”

On believing that Carmelo Anthony deserved a roster spot with Team USA: 

“Dirk [Nowitzki] earned the right to be a Dallas Maverick for his entire career, whether he plays 20, 21 or 51 years, and I thought Carmelo, given the impact he’s had on USA basketball, earned that same right as well. People have asked me, ‘If you wanted him so badly why didn’t you put him on the Mavs?’ Well, it’s a different game, different situation, different season. But no matter what, if you’re part of USA basketball, and the international game is such that the court is not as big, the rules are a little bit different, the 3-point line is not as far, he can contribute there. As long as you can get him to accept his role, whatever [head coach Gregg Popovich] decides he has to do, then he should be on that team. He’s earned that right. It’s not even about contribution, it’s really about the fact that Melo has been part of that team for so long.” 

On Rockets GM Daryl Morey saying that James Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan: 

“It’s a different game. The mid-90’s game was brutal … It was a much more physical game. So being able to score back then meant being able to deal with physicality. Now, there’s so much more space because of five-out, five being able to shoot the ball, that you have the opportunity to score more. The 3-point shot is more prevalent, so I think Daryl is right in terms of absolute analytics, but the real question is if you put Michael Jordan in today’s game he might struggle some, because he wasn’t a pure 3-point shooter. Well, that’s wrong, he wouldn’t struggle. He would be incredible, but I don’t know if he’d be as efficient. But knowing Michael, he’d figure out how to be a 45 percent 3-point shooter, and that would change the equation. 

So, let me rephrase. If you put Michael Jordan in today’s game and he improved his 3-point shot like you know he could, then I say Michael Jordan would be the more gifted scorer in today’s game because he’s more multi-faceted. James Harden in today’s game, analytically-driven with lots of space, is only shooting layups and 3-pointers. I think for today’s game he has optimized his scoring. So comparing this era versus last era analytically, I think Daryl is right; Harden is the better scorer for today’s game, but I don’t think it’s apples to apples.” 

On the difference between the NFL and NBA: 

“The NFL sells the NFL. The NBA sells its players. The NFL markets the NFL. The NBA markets its players, and players drive who we are in the NBA. You couldn’t identify 90 percent of NFL players if they were standing right in front of you. That’s a big part of their core problem. If you look at the social media following of NFL players, it’s not that big … So, that’s an issue for NFL players, and I’m thinking it’s by design from the NFL because that’s what gives them more leverage. NFL players don’t make nearly as much off the field, other than the quarterback and maybe one skill position player, maybe two per team, as NBA players do, because they just don’t have the brand or visibility. That gives the NFL a lot more negotiating power, and I think that’s something that the NFL should be helping their players with more.” 

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