Will Dirk Nowitzki's Injury Force Mark Cuban to Build a Legit Contender?

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 6, 2012

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks sits on the bench duiring a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center on November 12, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dirk Nowtizki is not swooping in to save the 2012-13 season for the Dallas Mavericks.

Not anytime soon at least.

The 14-year veteran "doesn't think" he'll make it back by his self-imposed mid-December target (according to Eddie Sefko of DallasNews.com). From the sound of things (he's started shooting, but not running), he'll be lucky to be back by Christmas.

Without the sharpshooter in their lineup, the Mavericks have sputtered through the early part of the season. At 8-10, Dallas holds the 11th spot in the Western Conference standings.

Their offense isn't special (98.3 points per game, 13th in the NBA). And neither is their defense (100.7 points allowed per game, 23rd in the league). They don't extend offensive trips or close out defensive ones thanks to their league-worst rebounding differential (minus-5.4).

Cuban hoped to lure a superstar to Dallas over the 2012 offseason, be it Deron Williams or Dwight Howard. When both targets fell through, Cuban had no option but to settle on cheaper players on short contracts (O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand).

The team's uninspired play reflects that settlement.

The roster has talent but nothing resembling a superstar. Given the fact that elite teams base their championship stock on the number of superstars in their rotations, it could be a long season for the emotionally charged owner.

Cuban needed his supporting cast to keep this club within reach of a playoff berth until Nowitzki returned. When the Mavericks rattled off four wins in five games to open the season, it appeared like Nowitzki's biggest task might involve improving their playoff seeding.

Then the schedule toughened. And Cuban's squad went reeling.

Online Graphing
(Statistics compiled from basketball-reference.com).

With four losses in their past five games and a late December stretch against the NBA's elite looming, it now appears that even a healthy Nowitzki won't be enough. O.J. Mayo is a decent second option, but who else draws defensive attention on this team? Chris Kaman? 36-year-old Vince Carter?

If Cuban is smart, his best decision is to patiently work his way through the 2012-13 season, then attack the potentially loaded 2013 free-agent class with deep pockets. The class features talent, depth and intrigue at all five positions. Not to mention the Mavericks could potentially add some inexpensive talent with their 2013 (top-20 protected) first-round draft pick.

The trade market seemingly offers a quicker fix, but players who are already available aren't good enough to help this team get back into the race. By the time more-talented players become available near the trade deadline, the Mavericks will be lucky to be holding even a semblance of hope for the playoffs.

Patience has rarely yielded itself to the Dallas owner. And it won't come easily with Nowitzki's career window inching toward closure. It will be a laborious process.

But it's a journey that this franchise has to make. Superstars are so hard to come by, and Dallas discovered one in a lanky 20-year-old German with a sweet shooting stroke and little else.

Cuban's championship desires are understandable, commendable even. But they're also the reason that those lofty plans need to be shelved for the next six months.


All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/5/2012.