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How did we get here?

It starts with shots not falling. That’s the thing about life. You and I, mostly, have the same amount of problems today as we had yesterday. But it was the traffic jam on the way to work that made us remember that.

The Dallas Mavericks have a simple problem: Like the Celtics, like the Lakers, even like the Knicks to a degree, the teams helmed by old stars, the lack of any kind of training camp means they’re just not as good at the things they usually do, and they just may not be, this season.

The Mavericks are a team of All-Stars and ex-All-Stars. There’s not a player among them, with the possible exception of Roddy B, who can be considered anything close to a flash-in-the-pan guy. They’ve made long, great careers out of doing the same things well game in and game out, for years.

But now the shots aren’t falling. Then they remember.

You’re the Dallas Mavericks. You’re Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry---even Peja Stojakovic. Your whole life has been basketball, and that life has one goal. A championship. You grew up watching Michael and Magic and Larry. Hell, if you’re Jason Kidd, you almost played against them. You ddi play against Jordan.

You’ve been one of the best forever, but there’s always been a Lakers team or Spurs team just a little bit better, a little bit luckier.

Then it happens. Out of nowhere, you get that championship. The whole enchilada. You want—of course you want—what everybody else got. What nobody else ever had to ask for, because it’s too crazy to imagine anything else. You want a chance to do it again. Like everybody else has always had.

Instead management watches your defensive anchor, the best center the Mavericks have ever had by a factor of thirty, with the exception of Roy Tarpley, walk away without saying a word. They watch the guy whose insertion into the starting lineup in Game 4 of the Finals kept the from being the team that never won a championship because they lost to the Heat twice. They watch a defensive stalwart with a wicked three-point shot go.

It may turn out to be a smart move, it may turn out to be the right move. But it says to the players, you know history? Legacy? The teams people remember?

Yeah, you don’t get any of that.

I think the Mavs will still make this season look okay, when all is said and done. Dirk still looks okay, they’re still feisty enough to get NEARLY rid of ALMOST every lead they needlessly spot the opposing team by the middle of the fourth.

I think they can still be dangerous, if Delonte West comes back and plays well, and Haywood comes back and plays well, and Terry figures it out, and Roddy finds some consisntency and nobody else gets hurt.

But here’s what I know: the fact that this is true is unintentional.

Sure, Cuban and Donnie made a good faith effort to field as good a team as they could without imperiling their major instiutional goals.

You think that matters to Jason Terry, who has meant nearly as much to this team over the last half-decade as Dirk has, who had a brilliant postseason, and then had his request for an extension laughed off?

You think that matters to Jason Kidd? What the hell does Jason Kidd care about the next generation of the Mavericks?

You think it matters to Shawn Marion, who some games does all the defense for the Mavs, who has reinvented himself as a role player and has chased every tough cover the Mavs have had for three seasons now, every game, and who knows the Mavs have to unload him? Haywood, who never got that starting job he was promised, and now that he has, probably has to be amnestied?

The thing is, none of that has to matter. This a high-character team. They have a lot of pride, they live for winning basketball games and they will, if they can at all. But it’s a funny thing about life. You can have the same amount of things to be mad about when things are going well, but you don’t think about them. That doesn’t mean they’re gone.

The Dallas Mavericks have the second worst record in the NBA over the last ten games, just behind the thrilling shootout that is the Bobcats and Hornets dogfight for Worst Team in the NBA honors. They, incidentally, lost to the Hornets. And the Nets. And Sacramento.

Right before that, they beat Boston, the 76ers, the Nuggets, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Wolves and the Nuggets again, so it’s still there, that ability to win. wrote today, something is wrong with the Mavs. This is mine. That something is this:

The Mavericks are having their championship defense stolen from them, player by player, game by game. They didn’t get their players, their family. Then they didn’t get training camp. On the other end of the fence, next year, is a big white blank where the only person guaranteed to still be here is Dirk Nowitzki. They got sold out on both ends.

And maybe that’s not 100% true. And maybe, they don’t believe it all the time. Maybe they know that management busted its butt for ten years to get a championship caliber team out there every year, despite some years, and some first-round dropouts, that might have made a lesser team blow it up—hell, the Lakers got rid of Odom and are talking about Pau because they faced adversity for the first time in three years.

Maybe they know a lot of this was bad luck. Management would have loved it if Tyson or JJ had had another year on their contracts. They just couldn’t do four, five, or six because by that point Dirk is 40, and what does it matter that you have a fiery back-up point and a near-all-star center?

But the shots aren’t falling. So they remember the rest.

They remember that, regardless of the reasoning, they’ve all had the best team they’ve ever been on taken from them. They remember they’ve been told to do the best they can and try to make it look good anyway, but that all of them will probably be looking for a job next year---and in their mid-30s, with pricey contracts, they know that no one’s going to be looking very hard.

They remember that the NBA screwed them by not giving them a training camp, by forcing them to play 66 games in just a few months. They remember all the things they’re going up against it, and yeah, something’s wrong, because that is a crappy, crappy deal for players who should be Dallas heroes for the rest of their lives. The past erased, the future gone. And the shots not going in the dang basket, no matter what you do.

And that's where it sneaks in. Since the shots aren't falling anyway, it whispers, what's the point?

I can’t honestly say that I blame them a bit. But it's one more game I sure hope they win.