When Dallas handed Chandler over to the New York Knicks in 2011, he was immediately missed. His departure, however, was acceptable. Even after he helped the team to a title, the Mavericks had to let him go. If they wanted to land another superstar or two, like Dwight Howard or Deron Williams, he was necessary collateral damage.
But then it became clear, at least at the time, that Howard wasn't going to hit the open market in the summer of 2012. No matter, though. After the Oklahoma City Thunder swept them in the first round of the playoffs, the Mavericks set their sights on Mr. Williams.
That didn't go as planned, either.
One Dwight Howard-esque decision later, Jason Kidd spurned the Mavericks in favor of the Knicks, leaving Cuban and the already decimated Dallas organization with even less. Just to add insult to the Mavericks' injury, Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers.
At that point, the team was forced to explore alternative options. O.J. Mayo was brought in to run alongside Dirk, Kidd was replaced with Darren Collison and Chris Kaman was brought in to fill the season-long void left by Chandler.
Per Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, Dallas' franchise star is beginning to question the direction that Cuban has taken this team in:
"It's going to be tough now," Nowitzki said after the Mavs' home overtime loss to the Western Conference cellar-dwelling New Orleans Hornets. "I always liked to think you don't want to build your franchise on hope.
"We hoped for Deron last year. We hoped for Dwight. Why would he leave the Lakers? To me, it makes no sense. He's in a great situation. Why would CP3 leave? [The Los Angeles Clippers are] the best team in the league probably right now. They're probably the deepest team. So are you going to hope that we get something?
If you're Cuban, you can't hear that and not be borderline perturbed. Nowitzki is one of the poster boys for loyalty and dedication, and for him to express doubt and disapproval just seven games into his return is nothing short of terrifying.
Truthfully, Nowitzki's sentiments wouldn't matter much if the Mavericks had already admitted defeat. If they were content with playing the season out, dealing the expiring contract of Nowitzki and starting from scratch, there would be no cause for panic.
But that's not the plan. That hasn't been the plan.
Dallas wishes to contend, and to do that, it's going to need to bring in marquee players not named Dirk Nowitzki over the offseason.
Yet that becomes much more difficult when you have the most altruistic of athletes in Nowitzki perpetuating the very ambiguity that continues to cripple this franchise:
Maybe Cuban has something up his sleeve. Maybe you have to take a chance on a bad contract to get him in here and make something happen. I mean, I don't know. That's something we'll have to see this summer. We're going to play out this season. I'm going to get better and better, hopefully from game to game, so I can actually close out some of these games. And then we'll see what happens.
At 34, Nowitzki is wearing thin on patience, and we can't blame him—especially when Chandler and Kidd have helped lead the Knicks to the league's fifth-best record.
Right now, Dallas is 21st in rebounds per game with 41.5. Nowitzki obviously knows the Mavs could have used the Association's ninth-best rebounder in Chandler and his 10.3 boards a night.
The Mavericks are also in the bottom half of the NBA in assists per game and struggling to close out bouts in the fourth quarter, to which Nowitzki claims (via Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News) wouldn't be the case if Kidd were around:
Execution down the stretch has been one of our problems. The last couple years, we knew each other so well and we had a point guard in Jason Kidd who was one of the smartest out there.
It’s going to take a little more time together to figure it out.
If we're to put any stake in Nowitzki's most recent sentiments, though, we know that he doesn't unconditionally believe that his team is going to pull it together.
And while that would be a call to action for some, Cuban (via MacMahon) has not taken exception to Dirk's take:
"Dirk gets upset when we are in a tough period," Cuban replied in an email to ESPNDallas.com. "If you only knew the things he has said to me during recent seasons about our team. I'm glad I didn't listen :)
"That's Dirk. He uses being mad for personal motivation. No one on this team should be happy with the way we are playing right now. I know I'm not. But we aren't going to change our approach. We will be opportunistic and try to get this season turned around."
Perhaps we should admire Cuban's "approach." He refrained from adding any more fuel to the fire; he didn't provide Nowitzki with any more ammunition to unleash.
But his assertion that the Mavericks "aren't going to change" doesn't come as comforting.
Clearly, this isn't a championship-caliber roster, yet Cuban continues to ride that fading wave of "hope" Nowitzki chastised.
Once Nowitzki reaches full strength, hopefully the Mavs will make the playoffs. Hopefully, they will turn this season around. Hopefully, Dallas doesn't become the standard for a blueprint gone awry.
Hopefully, things will change by virtue of them staying the same.
And yet, if we've learned anything over the past two years, it's that "hope" only gets you so far.
It wasn't hope that won Dallas a title in 2011, after all. It was depth, skill and a dynamic roster that brought the Mavericks that far. Not hope.
The hope shouldn't be that Dallas suddenly turns this ship around. Rather, the hope is that Cuban comes to understand the only way of righting this present wrong is by abandoning the very hope he speaks of.
And embracing change.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of Jan. 6, 2013.