Kiss Mavs' playoff streak goodbye

Your Dallas Mavericks, among the NBA's best franchises since owner Mark Cuban bought them, are headed to the lottery for the first time in forever.

It's actually kind of sad. The reality is the Mavs just aren't good.

Not with Dirk Nowitzki missing three to six weeks depending on whom you believe. And not with O.J. Mayo as the team's second-best scoring option. And certainly not with Eddy Curry as the starting center Tuesday night when the season opens against the Los Angeles Lakers.

If we're honest, the Mavs are a short team that can't shoot. They don't have a single dude on the roster other than Dirk who averaged more than 13 points a game last season.

They don't defend particularly well and defensive rebounding is going to be a struggle all season. They don't have much muscle along the front line and no one aside from Brandan Wright consistently plays above the rim.

Now, they'll play hard and scrap because Rick Carlisle is the coach, and he's among the game's best. So there's no doubt Carlisle will maximize this roster's talent, but that's not going to be quite enough to secure a playoff berth.

The MFFLs -- Mavs Fans For Life -- will shout from the roof of every high-rise condo in downtown Dallas that the Mavs have more athleticism and youth and that's enough to make the playoffs.

And those on the Mavs' payroll -- real or perceived -- will provide plenty of chatter about Mayo's potential and Chris Kaman's effectiveness at center and Elton Brand's toughness and Darren Collison's explosiveness.

The Mavs would've been a playoff team this season and been bounced in the first round again if everything had fallen right for the team. Instead, the season hasn't even started and there's been way more bad than good.

That's reality. That's truth.

No one expected 34-year-old Dirk to have knee surgery after he spent the summer getting married and training so he'd be in great shape. Kaman was available because he has a history of getting hurt.

Well, he strained his back in the first practice and a strained calf has forced him to miss the last few preseason games and the opener against the Lakers. Delonte West was a quality piece, but he was so focused on his contract situation that the Mavs waived him, fearing he would infect the rest of the roster.

"Here's how I view it. We're in the process of building a championship team every day with this franchise," Carlisle said. "You're at different stages. Until we're completely healthy, we won't know exactly where we're at.

"We study the league. We analyze trade opportunities. We work every day with our guys to get them better and we're always looking to put together the components to make ourselves a championship team."

The problem with the roster Cuban and Donnie Nelson put together is that every significant piece they acquired was an unwanted piece.

It's not like they gave up anything of significance for any of the guys they signed to one-year deals. They were available, and without many options.

Memphis let Mayo, the third player taken in the 2008 draft, leave for nothing and New Orleans declined to re-sign Kaman. Philadelphia amnestied Brand, and Collison lost his starting job to George Hill and was deemed expendable when the Pacers acquired D.J. Augustin.

First-round pick Jared Cunningham is a fantastic athlete, but he's a project who probably won't play much this season. The same goes for second-round pick Bernard James. Jae Crowder, another second-round selection, has been excellent this preseason, but it's asking a lot of him to be a key rotational player this season.

The Mavs had their 11-year streak of 50 consecutive wins snapped last season -- and not just because it was lockout-shortened. The Mavs finished 36-30 and were seventh in the Western Conference.

Not counting last season's abbreviated campaign, the West's previous four No. 8 seeds averaged 46.5 wins.

Bottom line: There's no tangible evidence the Mavs have improved after failing to make Dirk their second-best player this offseason. And that's the biggest problem facing the Mavs.

It's mind-boggling that the Mavs will ask Dirk to lead them to the playoffs. Quick, name another player who's 34 or older being asked to carry his team in today's NBA.

You can't.

The Lakers added Dwight Howard to ease Kobe Bryant's burden. Rajon Rondo is now the epicenter of the offense in Boston -- not Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett.

The same is true of Tony Parker in San Antonio, who sets up Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

Dirk remains a tremendous player and with his skill set he'll probably average 20 points and six rebounds a game.

But it's unfair to ask him to dominate on a nightly basis -- and that's what it would take to get this collection of quality role players into the playoffs.