Fresh off their victory over the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks are now winners of four straight games, which gives the team a little bit of hope in what has otherwise been a disappointing first half of the season.
Even with the winning streak, the Mavs are still six games under .500 at 17-23. They sit at 12th place in the Western Conference and are four games back of the eighth-place Jazz.
Just a couple week ago, the team's superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, publicly questioned the Mavericks' offseason moves, and even speculated that he could be traded if the Mavericks don't start to improve (via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com).
Although Dirk has since said that he wishes to be a Maverick for life, he still created a red flag when the word "trade" and Dirk Nowitzki were mentioned in the same sentence.
Imagining the Mavs without Dirk is something that isn't easily done. Nowitzki has played all of his 14 NBA seasons with the Mavericks, and, for parts of three different decades, he has been synonymous with the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite being a constant All-Star and jetting up the list of the all-time NBA scorers, Dirk's legacy wasn't cemented until 2011 when he brought the Mavericks their fist ever NBA championship.
Nowitzki is a no-doubt future Hall of Famer, and, no matter where he ends up from here on out, the Mavericks will always be the team that Dirk is associated with.
However, the Mavericks, as they are today, are in serious danger of missing out on the playoffs, which would snap a 12-year streak, the second longest in the NBA.
Even with their current four-game winning streak, the Mavericks have a very limited ceiling with their current group of players.
After their championship run in 2011, the Mavericks made a decision behind GM Donnie Nelson and owner Mark Cuban to let go of some key pieces from that championship team and instead focus on building up cap space to land a big-name player to play alongside Nowitzki.
This offseason, the Mavs pursued Deron Williams and Dwight Howard but struck out on both. Instead, they were forced to sign several short-term contracts with role players in hopes that they would mesh and create a contender.
When the plan failed (as it has so far with only a 17-23 record to show for it), it understandably upset Nowitzki.
Dirk is getting up there in age now at 34. He only has a limited number of years to compete for a championship playing at an All-Star level.
While Dirk's age and injury problems certainly were factors in the Mavs trying to acquire another superstar for the future, when the organization took that chance and missed, it took another two or three years away from Nowitzki having a team around him good enough to contend for a championship.
With Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and other key players all gone from a championship team within two years, it makes you wonder just why the Mavs decided not to make another run at things with their core players after their championship run.
Sure, Kidd, Terry and Dirk were all aging, but as they showed in 2011, they all were still capable of playing at a championship level.
If the Mavs had brought back the same roster from 2011, there is no guarantee they would have beat the Heat, Thunder, Spurs or any of the other top teams from last season, but it at least would have put them in a position to contend again.
Instead, the Mavs finished seventh last season, were swept out of the first round and this season may not even make the playoffs.
O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Chris Kaman are all nice pieces for this Mavs team to compliment Dirk, but Dallas simply does not have enough around them to be contenders, and there is no guarantee any of those players will be around past this season.
So, the question has to be asked, if Dallas misses out again in free agency, or on a trade between now and the start of the 2013-14 season (there is no way the Mavs would trade Dirk before at least trying again with cap room this offseason), would they consider trading away the best player in franchise history?
Nowitzki wants to be a Maverick, but, more than that, he wants to win.
While it may hurt Mavs fans if he requests a trade, has the same group around him or potentially even worse players next year, could anyone really blame him?
It's looking more and more like the Mavs are going to have to figure out another plan on how to build their team for the future. More likely than not, that second superstar isn't going to come to Dallas any time soon.
Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are really the only two names big enough to be considered superstars who could be out on the market next offseason.
Paul would be foolish to leave the Clippers, as they are perennial championship contenders now with him and Blake Griffin leading the way.
Howard gets to play alongside Kobe Bryant if he stays in L.A., and, even though the Lakers are struggling now, they have five times more talent on their roster than the Mavericks have. Plus, the Hawks and Rockets will also want to throw everything at Howard if he opts out of returning to the Lakers this offseason.
If Dallas acquires neither of those players, they will have to try and find another All-Star, if not a superstar to come on board.
Rudy Gay, Al Jefferson and Josh Smith are all names that come to mind, but would any of them be enough to turn the Mavs into championship contenders out West?
It may not be enough to win a title, but it may be enough to keep Dirk, who is loyal to the city of Dallas and to Maverick fans who have supported him his entire career.
If Dallas gets no other All-Star to join Nowitzki and have to sign role players again, or if the team is just not good enough to make a deep playoff run, it would almost be foolish of Nowitzki not to ask for a trade.
That time is not here yet, and Dirk would give the Mavericks every chance before making that move. However, I do believe that if Cuban and Nelson knew that they were not going to be in the title mix they would do Nowitzki the service of trading him to a contender to finish off his career.
Nowitzki has given his life to the Mavericks organization, however, in order to be considered one of the greats of all-time, he needs to win more championships.
If being in a Mavs uniform won't allow him to do that, I believe that he would be given that opportunity to try and do it elsewhere.
Dirk Nowitzki may very well be a Maverick for life, and hopefully Cuban has a trick up his sleeve to land a big player who will keep the Mavericks contenders for the remainder of Dirk Nowitzki's career.
However, if they don't, the right move for both parties may be to trade Dirk Nowitzki sometime over the next few seasons and allow him to compete for more rings while the Mavericks rebuild and prepare for the post-Dirk era in Dallas.