Dwight Howard: Dallas Mavericks in Trouble Now That D12 Isn't Available

Chris HummerAnalyst IAugust 13, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) is introduced to the media as the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers by General Manager Mitch Kupchak during a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers aquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition, Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Dwight Howard is a Los Angeles Laker, leaving the Dallas Mavericks with a simple question.

What do we do now?

Their whole plan of action was to clear as much cap space as possible for the free-agent class of 2012.

Mark Cuban deconstructed a championship team to do so, letting fan favorites Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea walk.

The move created plenty of financial flexibility, but it also resulted in a poor 2011-12 season. The Mavs stumbled through much of the year, earning the seventh seed. They were rewarded for that showing with a four-game thrashing by the eventual Western Conference champions Oklahoma City Thunder.

However, it would all be worth it if they could lure Howard or Deron Williams to Dallas.

The only problem was Howard wasn't there to sign—he ended up inking a one-year deal with the Magic.

But it was okay, Williams would for sure come home to play in Big D.

Then a surprising thing happened, at least for Dallas fans: He chose to stay with the Nets where he could make more money and play with a better roster.

Then Dallas fans were asking, "now what?"

Cuban responded by pushing for a plan of flexibility once again, signing a group of low-cost bargain players like Elton Brand and Chris Kaman.

This kept his options open for the free-agent class of 2013 that was scheduled to include Andrew Bynum, Howard and James Harden—all while maintaining a level of competitiveness this coming season.

Now in all likelihood, after the blockbuster four-team trade, Bynum will re-sign with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers and Howard will learn to love L.A.

And anyone who thinks James Harden is a player who can win a team a championship is kidding themselves. He's the third-best player on his own team, and that's the same Thunder squad that just lost in the finals.

This means that Dallas is stuck with an aging Dirk Nowitzki, and a band of one-year rentals.

O.J. Mayo may turn out to be a great signing, and Darren Collison, Brand and Kaman are all solid players—but they don't equal a championship.

Dallas will likely be significantly better than last year with the current group, but the Lakers' improvements and the Thunder's growth will make it hard to contend in the West.

But that's not even the worst of the issues.

The future is the most concerning.

Right now, the Mavs are stuck in limbo between great and terrible. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, but not talented enough to make any noise.

And it will be the same thing as long as Nowitzki is in Dallas; he's just too good to allow the Mavericks to become a lottery team.

With no high draft picks and no franchise-saving star in sight, the Mavericks have no real way to solve this issue either.

Cuban has to come up with a way to creatively solve this quandary. Whether he convinces Chris Paul to join up with the team this summer, or whispers in Bynum's ear that home is not where the heart is, something needs to be done.

As constructed, this is a playoff team. Only thing is, that's no longer good enough in Dallas.

A championship changes expectations, and that's a great thing.

But up to those standards, the Mavs are in a load of trouble because they’re just not ready to meet them for the foreseeable future.