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The Mavericks aren't worse than they were last year—in fact, they might be better. But they're worse than they were in 2011 because they took a gamble in free agency that didn't pay off.
Dallas took a risk in 2011, deciding to swing for the fences rather than play it safe. The Mavericks let center Tyson Chandler, a huge part of their title run, leave and sign with the New York Knicks to conserve cap space for the 2012 free agency run. Speculation bloomed that they were hoping to sign both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams.
Of course, Howard remains in Orlando and Williams remains in Brooklyn. While the Mavericks did sign O.J. Mayo, he's a poor consolidation prize after sacrificing a potential title contender to go after Dwight and/or Deron. Mayo is a decent pickup, no doubt, but not much more than decent.
They also signed Chris Kaman to a one-year deal, which was a solid move.
Truth be told, their best move was a sign-and-trade with Indiana that swapped backup center Ian Mahinmi for Darren Collison.The Collison acquisition was a very smart move and helps ease the disappointment of missing out on Williams... a little bit, at least.
The Mavericks didn't take a HUGE step back—heck, a starting five of Collison, Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Kaman might be stronger than last year—but their title window is officially closed.