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Mavericks tumble to 22nd in ESPN's Future Power Rankings

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Traded draft picks and free agent near-misses have left the Dallas Mavericks with a cloudy future, according to ESPN.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's latest Future Power Rankings were released last week for Insider subscribers. The Future Power rankings are a fun if largely subjective examination of how each franchise projects to perform over the next three seasons, and its grading system uses five categories to arrive at the final number: players (duh), management, money, market and draft.  Unsurprisingly, the top two teams are the NBA Finals matchup that will get underway Thursday.

For the Dallas Mavericks, the Future Power Rankings represent an alarming trend. Get ready, folks:

We'll start in August 2012, just 14 months after basketball nirvana enveloped us all, where the Mavs ranked sixth in the FPR. Armed with cap space and the cache of a recent championship run, things looked okay despite a lackluster title defense.

Then in September 2013, after another offseason that didn't deliver the star free agent signing promised, Dallas checks in at #12. Money still looks good, the team still plays in a fairly large market, and we'll note quality marks for management structure...just don't pay attention to that tidbit about Gersson Rosas being "poached" from Houston. Also, don't Google Gersson Rosas.

Fast forward to September 2015, following the summer of DeAndre, and the slide continues for Dallas, now at #14 and probably thankful to be even that high. Money and management balance out poor scores in the player and draft categories, but the write-up gives the impression that the franchise is teetering on the brink of collapse rather than poised to ascend.

That brings us to now, where Dallas has fallen all the way to 22nd. Every category except market saw a drop, and only five teams rated worse in terms of players. Management continues to rank as the team's best category, but at a certain point you have to wonder how that can be when that management is responsible for the lack of talent on the roster and the poor draft results.

The 2015-16 Dallas Mavericks exceeded almost all preseason expectations, making the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 years and actually finishing with the highest playoff seed (sixth) since 2010-11, the title season. That's all true, but what's also true is that at 42-40, that Mavs team would have been a 10th place squad in the West plenty of other years. Whether it was mass injuries, chemistry problems or both, a handful of more talented West teams seemed to conspire to keep Dallas in the playoff hunt even when they had little business being there.

At some point, the Rick Carlisle smoke and mirrors show is going to run out of juice. The Mavs' one and only star turns 38 in a matter of days; he, too, will hit a wall eventually. Behind him, the Mavs have a pair of nice, solid wings, who both have giant injury questions surrounding them, and combined are going to eat up more than a third of your cap space going forward. Behind them...well, Dallas has practically nothing.

The cost of renting Rajon Rondo, like Lamar Odom before him, was a first round pick you'd love to have right now, and an awful taste in your mouth you can't seem to wash out. What is perhaps worst of all is that there is a segment of the Dallas fanbase that feels just fine about Cuban and Donnie Nelson trading picks, because the expectation level for when the team actually uses them is so low that trade ammunition becomes an acceptable alternative. Perhaps Justin Anderson can change that attitude, but it's still too early to make that prediction with much conviction.

News flash: Cuban was really really close to landing DeAndre Jordan, and while no sane person was going to pick that version of Dallas to win a title right away, Jordan would have dramatically altered the direction of the franchise.

But, in free agency, really close is the same as not close at all, and there doesn't appear to be a player quite like DeAndre this summer who is realistically interested in coming to Dallas. We'll find out for sure in a few weeks. Even if Mark Cuban pulls off a coup in July, it's fair to question just at what point the franchise falls past the level where escape velocity is achievable. In other words, if the winning formula is based around Dirk + Carlisle's ability to coach up veterans, then even with a name free agent, there's only so much time before that carriage turns back into a pumpkin (I'm just trying to cover my bases with the references here).

At some point, Dirk is going to retire, and then a true rebuild really will be necessary. When that day comes, some scary questions will need to be asked. Is Cuban going to be truly committed to building through the draft then? Is Carlisle going to be on board as well? Will Rick bolt for another team and Mark bolt for politics?

For now, it looks like we can hold off on answering those tough questions, but one question appears to have been already answered: the Mavericks future is no longer bright.