A brief, blunt conversation between Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban during the Mavericks' European trip last fall pretty much foreshadowed that .500 team's biggest problem.
Nowitzki: "We can't pass and we can't shoot. Our guards aren't there."
Cuban: "Are you kidding me?"
Nowitzki: "Sorry, bro."
It's not unusual for Nowitzki to express some doubt to his billionaire boss, who recalled the exchange during an appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN on Tuesday. Never to that extreme, though.
"That was the first time I've ever heard him say anything that negative," Cuban said, "and he was right."
In the next breath, Cuban noted that Nowitzki is all smiles these days. The Mavs' offseason backcourt makeover has apparently brightened the big German's mood.
Gone are Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Mike James. Here are Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris, although the latter is still weeks away from being ready to play after undergoing toe surgery.
The buzz phrase at the American Airlines Center is "basketball IQ." The belief is that the backcourt shuffling has turned that from a major Mavs weakness into a significant strength, especially with Calderon, whose career assist-to-turnover ratio (7.2/1.7) is outstanding.
"You have no idea how brutal it was," Cuban said. “I remember Shawn Marion just looking at me and saying, 'Point guard.' It was brutal. We tried and tried and Mike did his best to try to fit in, but you can just see the difference.
"Monta with basketball IQ is better than anything we had at the point last year. Our guys tried hard. They were great people, but they just didn't have the skill set. ... We saw just the difference with Jose and Monta out there. We're going to be able to make just a lot smarter decisions and play better basketball."
The Mavs' power brokers believe the benefit will be much better performance in crunch time and a much more aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball.
"I think [fans are] going to be reminded of the Mavs from 2011, from 2006 and '07," Cuban said. "We move the ball. There's just the beauty of the ball going around the perimeter to move faster than the defense and hit the guy to hit the shot. They're going to love that."