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Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: February 8, 9:42 PM ET
Mavericks face tough decisions

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

The best sports organizations make tough, unpopular decisions all of the time.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has done it before, like when he let Steve Nash walk away years ago. Or, more recently, when he blew up the 2011 championship team for a hope and a prayer.

Obviously, the decisions don't always work out, but a fear of failure can't ever be part of the decision-making process.

It's time for Cuban to make another tough decision.

The trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and Cuban and the Mavs must decide whether to be buyers or sellers.

Frankly, the answer is obvious. It has been since the Mavs went 2-13 from Dec. 12 to Jan. 9, dropping their record to 13-23 after a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The best thing the Mavs can do is make a trade, if there's one available, that improves them long term. If they must part with quality players and people such as Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, then so be it.

Each would be quality pieces on a championship-caliber team.

The worst thing Cuban and Donnie Nelson can do is pass on a deal because they're harboring some pipe dream about getting into the playoffs.

Carter
Vince Carter and Shawn Marion could prove to be valuable trade pieces.

Why? Just so they can continue their streak of making the playoffs and get obliterated by Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round.

That's about ego -- not common sense.

If Dirk Nowitzki had been healthy all season, then none of us would be surprised if the Mavs had grabbed the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference, but he missed the first 27 games, dooming the Mavs and the season.

For now, the Mavs are an average team by any way you choose to define it.

They remain a short team that struggles to defend, rebound and shoot -- a poor combination of flaws.

If we assume the eighth-place team in the Western Conference finishes at .500, which is extremely conservative, then the Mavs must go 20-13 in their last 33 games.

Houston, currently eighth in the conference, is three games above .500 and five games ahead of the Mavs in the standings.

The Mavs will have to make an unlikely comeback, despite having 21 games against teams with records currently better than .500. By the way, the Mavs are 6-21 against teams currently above .500 this season.

They have difficulty finishing out close games because of their erratic point guard play, and they're 1-8 in overtime this season.

Good NBA teams find ways to win close games. We've seen the Mavs do it for a decade.

Bad teams consistently find ways to lose, which for the most part, is what the Mavs have done this season.

We can come up with a ton of reasons why that happened, but that won't change the reality of the situation. This team isn't that good, and there's not a single shred of tangible evidence that it can play consistently well to make a push for the playoffs.

It has given away too many games. The Mavs have lost to Charlotte, New Orleans, Toronto and Minnesota twice this season.

Part of the reason the Mavs are still languishing under .500 -- they're growing beards until they get to .500 -- is Dirk still isn't Dirk. He's averaging just 14.7 points and shooting 41.4 percent from the field, lows in both categories that he hasn't seen since his rookie season in 1998-99.

We're talking about one of the all-time greats, a player with a career average of 22.7 points while shooting 47.4 percent from the field.

So if Dirk can't carry the Mavs with his offense, it's hard to imagine anyone else doing it. No one else on the roster is a consistently dynamic scorer.

Carter can have a great night here or there, and he has had a number of good nights. O.J. Mayo is not quite good enough to dominate on nights he has the defense's full attention.

That said, there's a reason why they play the games. The Mavs have six of their next seven games at home, and if they're ever going to make a move to get into playoff contention, it will happen now.

Still, nothing should stop Cuban and Nelson from making a deal, if they can get one done.

The Mavs have started jogging on the mediocrity treadmill. Making a tough decision and dealing what few assets they have is the best way to get off.