Calling the Dallas Mavericks 2011 NBA champions feels like an awful long time ago, especially when the next few years look so bad.
Taking inventory after the whirlwind of the 2013 free-agency period, and the future of the franchise looks awfully bleak. Instead of landing the marquee players owner Mark Cuban hoped, the team struck out on big names for two straight summers.
To make matters worse, the moves they made and happenings of the summer have put the Mavericks in the worst place in the NBA—the middle. That means no high draft picks, and no real shot at a title.
In other words, the Mavericks are doomed to NBA purgatory. And here's why.
Lack of Young Talent
Currently, Dallas's best player is 35 years old.
Yes, Dirk Nowitzki is a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best basketball players of all time. But his days of carrying a team are over.
Even if Mark Cuban still thinks he can be an MVP, it's time for Dirk to play second fiddle to a young up-and-coming player.
And the Mavericks don't have that guy on the roster—unless that guy is Shane Larkin, Dallas's 2013 first round pick and son of MLB great Barry Larkin.
The 5'11" Larkin was a surprise star on the Miami Hurricanes last year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.6 assists and two steals a game. He was efficient too, shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three.
But Larkin is a bit undersized and slipped all the way to pick No. 18 in a draft that wasn't considered to be very good. So as intriguing as he may be, expectations are not that he will be the next great Maverick.
And he broke his ankle before playing a single summer league game, putting him out two-to-three months.
His physical tools and efficient style are interesting, but he still has a lot to prove before he can be called anything more than promising.
The only other guys on the roster who can even be called young are Ricky Ledo, Gal Mekel, Jae Crowder and Monta Ellis. Though Ellis is a stretch. But nonetheless, there doesn't seem to be a budding young star in that group.
The main way to solve a dearth of young talent is through the draft. A high pick has been proven time and time again to be the best way to get a franchise building block.
But alas, all indications are that the Mavericks are too good to get a top pick.
Take it from Cuban himself, as reported by The Dallas Morning News.
Plan B was put together the best possible team that not only gives us a chance to compete this season but creates a foundation for future seasons knowing that we still have max cap room and flexibility to improve our team.
From that quote, it looks like Cuban has no intention of bottoming out for a year. He wants to remain a decent team, one that could compete for the playoffs.
And his roster can do that. Dirk may be old, but he's not washed up. Shawn Marion is still around. And signing guys like Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert are moves that ensure NBA mediocrity.
And NBA mediocrity ensures a pick in the middle of the first round...not normally where stars are born.
Here's a look at our 2014 Draft Top 100. Wiggins, Randle, Parker all would've went No. 1 in 2013 http://t.co/qz4ufP9hpP— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) July 3, 2013
So there's a chance the Mavericks get more bang for their buck with a pick in the teens next year than other years. And there's the chance of a miracle, that the Mavericks somehow strike gold in the lottery.
But those are both chances. Drafting in the teens and looking for a stud means the Mavericks organization has to be either excellent at scouting prospects or really lucky.
If they want to get something really good out of the 2014 draft, they'll probably need to be both.
And this middle-of-the-pack drafting problem persists after this season as well. Until the Mavericks bottom out, they won't get a top pick unless they swing a major trade for a pick. And both of those seem unlikely.
So it's going to be very hard to find Cuban's next star via the draft unless something changes.
The Mavs went into the offseason with plenty of salary cap room, and for reasons we will get into later, they couldn't spend it on marquee guys.
Cuban encountered this same problem in 2012, and he opted to roll over his cap room to the next summer by signing players to one-year deals, all in the hopes that he could make a big splash in 2013.
Having struck out two summers in a row, the front office went in a different direction. It began signing guys left and right, though nobody incredibly notable.
And subsequently, The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw wondered exactly what the Mavericks' plan was, especially after going back on the Devin Harris signing when he injured his toe.
No Devin Harris deal and Shane Larkin out for 3 months. What letter of the alphabet are Mavericks on now...Plan --?— Tim Cowlishaw (@TimCowlishaw) July 13, 2013
Essentially the Mavericks were signing similar caliber players a summer ago but to longer deals.
Locking up approximately $15 million per year in Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, on the other hand, can be deemed problematic.
Calderon averages 7.2 assists for his career and is a great shooter. Ellis averages 19.4 points and 4.7 assists as well as 1.7 steals. So on paper it's not so bad.
But these guys are horrible defenders. That's an issue. Calderon is 31, and he just got a four-year deal. That might come back to bite the Mavs. And Ellis is a notorious chucker, averaging 17.5 shots per game in 2013, and he was shooting 41.6 percent from the field. That's abysmal.
The Ellis signing could be okay. The Mavs did well with Jason Terry, who was a notorious gunner before coming to Dallas. But it's scary signing a guy like Ellis to a big deal. Even if he's got some clutch shots like the one to the right on his resumé.
Essentially, it's worrisome having that much money wrapped up in two guys with big question marks. The Mavs might be more interesting to watch in 2014, but these contracts could become big problems.
Inability to Sign Elite Free Agents
This might be the most notable problem of all. The Mavericks had copious amounts of cap space this summer and were targeting Dwight Howard.
But they ultimately lost out on Howard. Just like how they never got a chance to go after Chris Paul when he re-signed with the Clippers, or how they lost out on Deron Williams, who says Cuban missing their meeting to film his show Shark Tank was a factor in returning to the Nets.
Before all these misses on stars, Dallas looked like an attractive destination. It had a players'-first owner in Cuban, a large market in Dallas, an established star in Nowtizki and a great fanbase.
Yet, despite how all that looked, the Mavs couldn't lure anyone to come to the franchise. And that's alarming.
With Nowitzki saying he'll take a massive pay cut next year, the Mavericks are yet again poised to be big players in free agency in 2014.
But if the last two years are any indication of the future, that salary cap room might be a big waste.
Notable players like DeMarcus Cousins, Larry Sanders, Pau Gasol, Paul George, Luol Deng and Avery Bradley, among many others, can all become free agents in 2014. But can the Mavericks sign any of these guys?
It's a question that has yet to be answered. Maybe the Mavericks were simply unlucky this year. Maybe they really are a destination.
But if they aren't a destination, between their draft issues, lack of young guys and recent signings, the Mavericks look to be doomed to NBA purgatory for a good long while.
Happy hunting for that eight seed.