Mavericks dig for right opportunity

DALLAS -- Hard as it might be to resist making a major change, Mark Cuban claims he won't let his Dallas Mavericks' performance influence his decision making as the trade deadline nears.

"It's really more about what the opportunities are," Cuban said Saturday night. "If we can get better, we'll get better. If we can't, we can't. A win or a loss isn't going to change that."

Cuban made those comments before Portland Trail Blazers point guard Andre Miller blew up for a career-high 52 points to hand the Mavericks yet another gut-wrenching loss. Those have been all too common recently, especially at the American Airlines Center.

The Mavs are a .500 team over the past month after the 114-112 overtime loss to the Trail Blazers, having split their past 16 games. Their early-season defensive prowess is a distant memory, with their last three foes shooting well over 50 percent. Coach Rick Carlisle is lamenting how his team has become "very soft."

Dallas (30-17) is the West's third-place team, but the Mavs are closer to the lottery than they are the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We're just not good enough right now," All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki said after he scored 28 points but missed turnaround jumpers that would have won the game in regulation or sent it into a second overtime. "I don't know what it is. If we knew the answer, we probably already would have done it. We've just got to keep on working."

The front office will keep working the phones. ESPNDallas reported earlier this week that the Mavs are "looking very hard" at their options, according to a source. That's what president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson always does at this time of year, with the trade deadline in less than three weeks.

However, Cuban said he doesn't see any bargains in the trade market at the moment, so he doesn't like the odds of making a blockbuster deal. Carlisle recognizes that trade talk will be prevalent until Feb. 18, but he isn't counting on help coming from elsewhere.

"Rarely do they happen. Rarely does anything come to fruition," Carlisle said. "We have a good enough team to be a contender. But right now, we've got to sort of shift our thinking and we've got to recommit to defense."

Cuban hopes that the Mavs can put the $2.4 million trade exception they created in the recent cost-cutting deal with the New Jersey Nets to use. The ideal situation for the Mavs would be to use that exception to help facilitate a deal between two other teams and acquire a talented young player to add to their bench for the trouble.

But, pessimistic as Cuban might be about the possibility, the Mavs' decision-makers will continue to explore the possibility of a blockbuster deal. It's no secret that struggling swingman Josh Howard, whose contract has an $11.8 million team option for next season, would probably be the centerpiece of the package the Mavs would ship to a cost-cutting team in such a deal.

Cuban won't pull the trigger on such a trade unless he's convinced that it makes the Mavs significantly better. Even billionaires have financial pain thresholds.

"But for the right deal, I'll take more pain," said Cuban, whose losses on the Jason Kidd trade a couple of years ago were in the eight figures. "If it's not the right deal, I'm not about to take any pain. I'm not going to do it just to say we took on more salary to prove a point."

Would Andre Iguodala be the right deal? That's a question Cuban and Co. will continue to ponder in the coming weeks.

The Philadelphia 76ers are shopping the talented swingman. Would adding Iguodala make the Mavs a contender? Is it worth the risk of adding his massive contract (four years, $56 million remaining after this season) to find out?

While the Dallas front office debates those issues, Carlisle and his players will search for a solution with the assumption that the cavalry isn't coming to rescue them.

Tim MacMahon covers the Dallas Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.