Coming into the 2012-13 season, the Dallas Mavericks had mixed expectations.
Some thought that the Mavericks ability to sign several veteran players to compliment Dirk Nowitzki would put them in the mix in the loaded Western Conference.
Others thought that their inability to sign a superstar player, and the fact that they had lost almost all of the remaining pieces from their 2011 championship season, would leave them struggling to squeak their way back into the playoffs.
As we sit here on March 2, the Mavericks season has gone much more towards the latter of those opinions.
Dallas sits at just 26-32 and a full five games out of the playoffs. Despite signing talented players in the offseason, the team has just not clicked consistently enough as a unit to be even a .500 team.
The Mavericks haven't missed the postseason in twelve years, but unless they are able to turn things around in a major way in the last month and a half, that streak will end in 2013.
The Mavericks front office is largely to blame for how poorly the team has played this season.
The downward spiral of the franchise started two offseasons ago, when coming off their first NBA title, they opted not to re-sign key players from their championship team such as Tyson Chandler and J.J.Barea.
As a result, in the team's championship defense, they lasted only four games in the playoffs being swept out by Oklahoma City.
Following the 2012 season, Dallas lost even more players from that team including their starting backcourt of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.
This was partially by design however, as the Mavericks opted to go the route of clearing as much cap space as possible to attempt to land a top level free agent.
On the Mavericks radar were primarily Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, but as we know, neither of them ended up in Dallas this season.
Forced to come up with something with their Plan A failing miserably, Dallas signed a plethora of one-year contracts to fill up their roster spots.
Although this strategy has ended up failing so far, the players they signed did have decorated pasts.
Dallas managed to land the services of O.J. Mayo, a potential 20 points per-game scorer, who they figured will be the number two option on offense behind Dirk Nowitzki.
They also signed two former All-Star big men in Elton Brand and Chris Kaman who they believed would help sure up the middle.
In addition, they traded for a young point guard with high upside; Darren Collison.
Despite the team's talent on an individual basis, they have struggled playing as a team this year. Defensively the Mavericks have just been unable to improve, and coach Rick Carlisle has been desperately trying to find ways to sure up his team on that end of the ball.
They also have not rebounded the ball well, have turned it over far too much and have struggled to win close games which is why they sit six games under .500.
The Mavericks also had to play without their top superstar Dirk Nowitzki for the first third of the season, which has put them at a huge disadvantage.
Even since he has come back, it is hard to argue that Dirk Nowitzki has been the same this season. While I do believe he will get there, the knee that Nowitzki had to have surgery on is still clearly an issue for him, and he may not be at 100 percent all season.
With many of the Mavericks players likely moving on in the offseason, we may never know if this team could have been a contender with a fully healthy Dirk Nowitzki on board.
Dallas opted at the trade deadline in February to do little to try and improve their team. Dallas made a minor trade to pick up backup guard Anthony Morrow, but that was the end of the activity for the Mavericks.
Many thought that Dallas would try to land a star player at the deadline, or at least a defensive big man, but they opted to do neither.
Others believed Dallas would try and take advantage of the attractive expiring contracts that they had, and acquire more draft picks and trade pieces for the offseason, but again they stayed put.
It was somewhat surprising that the Mavericks didn't make some kind of move to put themselves in a better playoff position, but even if the Mavs did sneak in this year, it would be hard to see them getting passed the first round.
The fact of the matter is that this is essentially a lost season for Dallas. The Mavs just haven't been able to put it all together for one reason or the other this year, and their inability to sign a superstar in the offseason has put them in a precarious position.
The one thing that the Mavericks front office has to be commended on though for their performance this year, is the amount of flexibility they have left themselves.
By signing as many short-term contracts as they did, Dallas gave themselves an out if they underperformed during the season like they have.
Once more in the offseason, Dallas has the opportunity to go after a superstar player and attempt to lure them into joining the Mavericks moving forward.
If somehow Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, or another All-Star player ends up with the Mavericks for the long term, their offseason strategy for the last two years may be able to be excused.
However, if Dallas fails yet again and are forced to go out and fill up seven or eight more roster spots with less than desirable players, the ire of Dallas fans will be directed towards Donnie Nelson and the rest of the Mavericks front office.
In a way the Mavericks front office grade for this season is still incomplete. As I mentioned, if they are somehow able to land a big name in the offseason, it may make up for how the team has performed this year.
Still, the Mavericks as of right now are a team in purgatory. The have an aging superstar who only has a limited number of seasons left to be a top notch player, and they have surrounded him with little talent at least for the time being.
They aren't good enough to make a deep playoff run, but they aren't bad enough or young enough to attempt to re-build from the ground up with draft picks.
The Mavericks are putting all their eggs in the superstar basket for the offseason of 2013, but there is a very good chance that it may lead to nothing at all, just like it has this season.