As we sit now in mid-March, the Dallas Mavericks are still teetering on the brink of relevance this season.
The Mavericks sit at 29-33, in 10th place in the Western Conference and three games out of the playoffs. While it certainly is plausible that they sneak in and find the eighth spot, the Mavericks' lack of consistency suggests that they probably will fall short.
Part of the reason why this season has turned out differently than many had expected in Dallas is because they had to play the first third of their season without Dirk Nowitzki.
The NBA Finals MVP in 2011, Nowitzki's accolades speak for themselves in the NBA. As recently as last season, Nowitzki was an All-NBA performer.
When Dirk went down with a knee injury in the preseason, it thwarted the momentum that the team had going into the season.
Mavericks fans were feeling relatively good about their team coming into the 2012-13 season due to the fact that they were able to sign several capable players in the offseason, including O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Darren Collison.
However, Nowitzki's injury set the team back. In fact, it took them until February to really get off the ground at all.
With Nowitzki out, the team adapted a certain style of play. The Mavericks were in the top 10 in points and were primarily a fast-break offensive team.
When Dirk returned, they were forced to play more in the half court. Players like Mayo and Kaman were getting less touches because of Nowitzki returning, and it didn't help that their defense continued to be among the worst in the league.
You can hardly blame Nowitzki for the team having to adjust to him. After all, he is the superstar. However, the Mavericks getting used to one style of play and then have to change it drastically has hurt their season.
Nowitzki has also had to deal with his injury and getting back into the flow of his game all season long. To this day, 2013 Dirk is not the player that we are accustomed to seeing. While he is steadily improving, his shot isn't always there, and his defense and rebounding have taken a step back.
Eventually, Dirk will get back to 100 percent, but it may be too late to save the Mavericks' season.
Regardless of how the Mavericks fare for the rest of this season, it's highly unlikely that this roster will be making a deep playoff run. Dallas just lacks the defensive intensity that is needed to win a playoff series, especially against the league's top teams.
They are at best a one-and-done playoff team, so Dallas will have to make a choice this offseason about how they want to proceed with their future.
Dirk Nowitzki has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade, and it is hard to imagine the team without him on it. Still, there were rumblings earlier in the season about Nowitzki potentially wanting out, and although they have died down, there may be some calls to the Mavs' front office this offseason about their German superstar that they will have to consider.
The fact is, a trade could end up benefiting the Mavericks in the long run. If Dallas is able to acquire some young pieces and draft picks that could turn out to be their future, it could build this very old team up from the bottom, a place where many feel they need to start from.
However, when it is all said and done, trading away Dirk Nowitzki, the staple of the Mavericks franchise, is not really an option.
Dirk has proven that he still has enough left in the tank to build a contender around him. Few other players in the NBA can bring to the table what Dirk can, and if the Mavericks were to trade away Nowitzki, it could be years before they were back in the playoffs.
Not to mention, trading Dirk basically eliminates the chance of the Mavericks landing another superstar in the near future.
At 34, Dirk only has three years max to win another NBA championship. The appeal that the Mavericks can sell to free agents is that Nowitzki playing at his best fully healthy with another superstar by his side to help share the load equals a championship contender.
It may be a tough sell, but it's the only one they can make. Dallas can't expect to build a team based just off of Nowitzki at this point. Dirk's production will likely go down from his 2012 stats every year for the rest of his career (his stats this year are skewed because of the injury). It doesn't mean he isn't still an elite player, but the days where you can build the entire roster around Dirk Nowtizki's strengths and weaknesses are gone.
Dallas needs to find a way to lure another star player to Dallas. It may very well be Dwight Howard in free agency, but more likely, it would be through a trade done by the front office.
Even if a player like DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Smith or Brandon Jennings becomes available, it still may be enough to put the Mavericks in contention if the rest of the roster is built correctly.
Dallas needs someone who can come in and help take away the load offensively from Nowitzki. Bringing back O.J. Mayo to go with that other star player could be the solution if the Mavericks are able to pull it off financially.
Mayo has been an effective player this year, averaging more than 17 points per game, and paired with Nowitzki and another All-Star player, that trio could become deadly once they learn how to play together.
Dallas, though, also has several other holes that need to be filled, and bringing in one player, no matter who that player is, is not going to win them another championship.
The Mavs must make real efforts to better their bench play, find one, if not two better point guards and find a big man who can protect the rim on defense.
Only when the team makes a serious effort to improve, and for the long term, will they be able to make a run at a title, no matter how many stars they have on their roster.
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