After a 41-41 season, the Dallas Mavericks seem to be stranded in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
Andrew Bynum didn't come either, opting instead to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Instead, the Mavericks were forced to go with Plan B again for the second year in a row, signing veterans such as Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert to try and revamp a team that couldn't quite get over the hump last year and keep their 12-year playoff streak alive.
It's certainly possible that the Mavericks have gotten better. Calderon is a step up running the offense than an inexperienced Darren Collison, Ellis is a dynamic scorer who figures to be at least an offensive upgrade from O.J. Mayo and they have improved their bench with rookies Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin to go with Wayne Ellington.
The question, though, is just how much has Dallas actually improved from a season ago?
With the Western Conference seeming to be the deepest it has been in quite some time, even a record well above .500 record may not guarantee a playoff birth in 2013-14.
When looking at how the Mavs stack up next year, the first thing that needs to be addressed is their defense.
Dallas was one of the worst teams in the NBA in opponents PPG, giving up 101.7 points a contest, the fourth worst in the NBA.
For starters, Dallas did not address their defensive woes much on the perimeter; in fact, they may have gotten even worse.
Jose Calderon routinely struggles on defense and was once called the "worst defensive point guard in the league," by current Memphis Grizzles executive John Hollinger. Monta Ellis isn't exactly Sidney Moncrief on defense either, as he often has his own issues handling NBA-level shooting guards.
While Ellis and Calderon may certainly help the team score more points and flow better offensively, it's hard to argue that they will improve them on the defensive end.
Instead, Dallas will likely rely once again on an aging Shawn Marion to do the heavy lifting on the perimeter and hope that they have turned the corner in the interior.
That job will primarily be left up to Samuel Dalembert, the Mavericks backup backup target in free agency after Howard and Bynum both turned them aside.
In addition to their ineptitude on defense, the Mavs were also terrible on the glass last season, posting a -3.7 differential in rebounds per-game.
Dalembert was a backup last season in Milwaukee, but when given the opportunity to play big minutes in his career, he has shown that he is a capable rebounder and shot blocker who will be a significant improvement over Chris Kaman from a year ago.
Behind Dalembert is Brandan Wright, who is much more of an offensive threat than a defensive one, and Bernard James, who is a good defender and rebounder but still doesn't figure to be a mainstay in the Mavericks rotation due to his lack of offensive prowess.
When you combine the rest of the roster with Dirk Nowitzki's aging knees and average defense even when healthy, it's hard to imagine the team making any real strides at all defensively in 2013-14.
Still, as I mentioned previously, the team should be improved offensively with the additions of Calderon and Ellis.
The big question will be how well will the two new guards gel with Nowitzki? While Calderon seems like a natural fit due to his pass-first mentality, Ellis is much more of a wild card.
Ellis has played with prolific scorers before, but he still has always been the primary option. In Dallas, that will still be Dirk Nowitzki, who has proven throughout his career that he is one of the best overall scorers in NBA history, and Ellis will have to adjust to that.
Just two short years ago, Nowitzki was playing the best basketball of his career while leading the Mavericks to the NBA championship. Although he has been plagued by lockouts and injuries in the past two seasons, expect Dirk to come back at 100 percent and be back to his All-Star level of play next year.
However, even with a healthy Dirk, the Western Conference is too stacked in the top to expect Dallas to make a significant playoff run.
The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzles and Golden State Warriors seem to be well ahead of the Mavericks right now, so if Dallas is going to make the playoffs, it will seemingly be behind all of those squads.
I do believe that behind a healthy Dirk and with the coaching of Rick Carlisle that Dallas will find it's way into the postseason, but it will be with a low seed and a first-round exit.
Projected Record: 45-37
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