In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA championship. Two seasons later, they have lost eight out of nine, are 13-21 and appear doomed to miss the play-offs for the first time in 13 seasons.
Frustration is running high. The owner Mark Cuban, the coach Rick Carlisle and the star player Dirk Nowitzki, have all expressed aggravation in the past week.
"It's killing me," Cuban said.
The Mavericks played their opening 27 games without Nowitzki, who had knee surgery in October, but they have been even worse since he returned, losing five out of six, most recently at home to the New Orleans Hornets, the worst team in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks can only hope they have hit rock bottom.
"It feels like a lot of things," said Shawn Marion, the veteran forward. "There's no way to really explain it more than that. Every loss hurts, but it seems like we just can't win."
Marion and Nowitzki are two of the few players remaining from the championship team of 18 months ago. Gone are Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and JJ Barea, the first-team centre and two starting guards. Also departed is Jason Terry, their top reserve.
Cuban allowed all of them to leave, hoping their departures would free enough salary-cap room for the Mavericks to sign one or even two leading players who would be available in free agency.
However, Deron Williams committed to the Brooklyn Nets, and Chris Paul and Dwight Howard did not become free agents, as expected. This season's Mavericks are built around journeymen in the final year of their contracts - Elton Brand, OJ Mayo, Darren Collison and Chris Kaman. The hope is that Paul or Howard become available this summer.
Nowitzki, for one, seems weary of the plan. "It's going to be tough now," he said. "I always liked to think you don't want to build your franchise on hope."
He doubts Howard will leave the Los Angeles Lakers ("It makes no sense") or Paul will abandon the Los Angeles Clippers who are "the best team in the league probably right now. They're probably the deepest team. So are you going to hope that we get something"?
He added: "Maybe Cuban has something up his sleeve. Maybe you have to take a chance on a bad contract to get him in here and make something happen. I mean, I don't know."
Carlisle, who a year ago was being hailed as one of the league's great coaches, was so upset by his team's play that last week he threatened to suspend his underperforming players.
A few days later he backed off, but the frustration level is starting to pervade a team going to pieces.
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