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The Mavericks’ rebuild just got more difficult with the Pelicans’ trade for Cousins

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Dallas has taken a step back this year, while the rest of the Southwest Division is apparently in an arms race.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

At some point, the Western Conference has got to get a little easier....doesn’t it?

With the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans last night, yet another team in the Mavericks’ own division got a little scarier. The Mavericks sit a game behind the Pelicans in the Western Conference’s fight for the eighth seed, and for a while it looked like Dallas could be competitive for that spot. Barring injury, that spot will almost certainly go to New Orleans now.

The Mavericks are quickly becoming the very small fish in the Southwest Division. Just looking at the mass of talent on every other team is astonishing. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the NBA’s perennial best coach in Gregg Popovich. The Rockets have James Harden, the Grizzlies have Conley, Parsons (when he’s healthy), etc. — need I continue? You know the rosters. And the Mavs play each of these teams four times a year.

And now New Orleans will make their push. With the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies sitting in second, third and sixth position in the West, the Mavs may be the only team to not make the playoffs out of the Southwest.

This is somewhat by design, of course. If Dallas’ goal this season is to have a bad record and get a good draft pick, fine — that’s not a bad goal! With some signature wins lately, though, many have been questioning whether Dallas has it in them to compete for that eighth spot.

Yes, the Mavericks still have talent. Dirk Nowitzki, of course. And an up-and-coming guy in Harrison Barnes. Wesley Matthews remains a competitor. And there are younger guys in Powell, Anderson, Finney-Smith and Ferrell who have each shown flashes at times this season. Unfortunately for Mavericks fans, their rebuild started in a year in which the West is nothing but an arms race.

And as we all know, Dirk won’t be around much longer.

In terms of a longer outlook, assume Boogie re-signs with the Pelicans. Despite his agent’s comments, they’ll hold his Bird rights and be able to offer him significantly more than any other team. (He is also from nearby Mobile, Alabama.) The Spurs stay the Spurs, the Rockets still have Harden, the Grizzlies are perennial contenders.

So, unless the Mavericks can pull some kind of rabbit out of their hat this offseason in terms of a major trade or signing — and there aren’t that many good options out there — this rebuild just got a lot harder and possibly a lot longer and more painful, as the teams they play most often in a season just continue to get better. They’ll have a good draft pick. And that’s where they’ll have to start.

Long story short: apparently, the Wild Western Conference isn’t going away anytime soon, and the Mavericks are going to have a lot of catching up to do.