Mavs head into summer of uncertainty
Earl K. Sneed reports from Sunday's exit interviews as the Dallas Mavericks begin an offseason with several decisions needing to be made about a locker room full of free-agents-to-be.
Mavs head into summer of uncertainty
DALLAS — Less than 24 hours after watching a 13-point lead evaporate before falling to a 103-97 series-clinching loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks still had not grasped that their reign as defending champions had come to an end.
Becoming the first reigning champs since the 2007 Miami Heat to get swept out of the first round of the playoffs just a season after hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Mavericks — much like last season after winning the title — head into an uncertain offseason. Now, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and veteran players Jason Kidd and Jason Terry headline a long list of names in the Dallas locker room that are free-agents-to-be, after six free agents hit the market immediately after singing "We Are the Champions" last summer.
“I’m not gonna talk about my situation right now, but this is a summer that’s gonna be very exciting for our fans and our franchise,” Carlisle said when the team gathered for exit interviews on Sunday. “There’s flexibility for the first time in a long time. … So, there’s a lot of great possibilities and there’s gonna be a lot of decisions that need to be made. I look at it as an opportunity for the franchise and something people should get excited about.”
While locking up Carlisle tops the to-do list of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson, their plan may also stretch beyond the current roster, heading into the summer with financial flexibility for the first time in the Cuban era and also armed with the 17th pick in June's draft.
Still, the job of building a championship contender could prove to be a daunting task.
“Well, we’ve got our work cut out for us, obviously. You know, we’ve got some decisions to make with guys in the locker room and free agency and such,” Nelson explained. “So, clearly to have more than one or two guys to create opportunities and shots and that type of thing, that’s important. We’ve got a bunch of free agents, so it’s gonna be an active summer for us.”
He added: “The reality is there’s some changes that will be made and that’s the reality. We do it every year. It’s just one of the basketball 101 laws. You've just gotta continue to evolve, you’ve gotta continue to upgrade. … Listen, how many years have we made the playoffs now? We don’t plan on putting out anything less than a championship-caliber team. That’s been Mark’s history and that’s our commitment to our fans and this city.”
That commitment begins with the franchise aligning 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki with more elite talent, eyeballing a free-agent class that could improve the 7-footer’s supporting cast.
The need to add a superstar to play alongside last season’s Finals MVP appeared apparent after the Thunder's three-headed attack of three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and sixth man James Harden shared the load will threading the Dallas defense. The Mavs now admit that they too must have multiple scoring options in order to compete in the ever-changing Western Conference.
“You know, if you look at all the top teams now, they at least have two or three guys they can just throw the ball to and they do their thing,” Nowitzki explained following the Game 4 loss. “If you look at OKC, who we just lost to, it was either Westbrook in Game 1 and Game 2, then it was Durant (in Game 3). [Saturday], they just throw it to Harden and he goes off. So, if you want to be an elite team in the league right now, you have to have two or three guys that can go off at any time. I just thought they had more weapons than us. That was pretty clear.”
“Yeah, that’s an important piece. I think you saw during the course of the playoffs, [Nowitzki] was fighting tooth and nail and he needs help,” Nelson added. “He needs help and we plan to get it for him. … In this league, you’re always looking for athletes. You’re always looking for folks that can protect the paint, you’re always looking for guys that can create their own shot. Oklahoma City series, we were beat on both sides of the ball. We couldn’t create opportunities, life was very difficult and it was a grind, but we’ve gotta get guys that can create those opportunities and make life easier for Dirk and the rest of the boys.”
While the front office is busying working its magic to bring in more talent, the fates of Carlisle, Kidd and Terry — the three mainstays on a list of seven free agents and four players with team options — remain up in the air. But with Nelson vowing that “Rick’s not going anywhere,” the attention turns to the 39-year-old Kidd and 34-year-old Terry, two stars on last season’s championship squad who have both been valuable contributors to the franchise and the city since their arrival.
“We would love to have those guys back. It’s all at what price, and they’ve got decisions to make,” Nelson concluded. “Their agents have decisions to make, we’ve got decisions to make, and so, certainly we’d love to have those guys back at the right price.”
“Well, I’m a player, so I don’t have anything to do with that,” Kidd added. “That’s up to our owner and the president and GM, those guys and the coach. They’ll figure out how to get this team better, and hopefully I’ll be back. … I think Cuban and those guys have a plan, and we’ll see what happens this summer.”