There was certainly a sense of unfulfilled success as the Dallas Mavericks assembled for one last time to conclude the 2009-10 season. That's because the Mavericks didn't see their season coming to an end in the final days of April.
Dallas' 97-87 loss in Game 6 to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night handed the Mavericks their third loss in the first round of the playoffs in the last four years. That's not the ending that the Mavs saw when they planned out their season goals at the start of training camp back in September.
"I think we're having this conversation (about the end of the season) way too soon. I would have thought we would be talking about this maybe some time in June," forward Shawn Marion said on the quick postseason exit.
"It's still fresh, so it still hurts right now," Dirk Nowitzki added.
Friday, much sooner than Nowitzki and Marion expected, the team met with members of the Dallas media to conduct final interviews before venturing out to various summer destinations. Though the Mavericks won 55 games during the regular season, eventually capturing just their third division title, the attention quickly turned to what the team needs to do to contend for an NBA championship next season.
"We accomplished a lot this season, but now we have to immediately turn our focus to next season," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
But there are a few unanswered questions that the Mavs must address this offseason.
First and foremost is Nowitzki's possible free agency. The Mavs' unquestioned leader and all-time leading scorer in franchise history could opt out of his contract, making him one of the prize jewels in the long-awaited free agent class of 2010.
"It's too early for me to say what I'm going to do," Nowitzki said. "I don't have to make a decision until July...But I always said I want to end my career in Dallas. It wouldn't feel the same putting on a different uniform."
President of basketball operations and general manager Donnie Nelson is dedicated to keeping Nowitzki in house.
"I could never envision Dirk in another uniform. Both (Mavs owner Mark Cuban) and management are determined to do whatever we have to do to make sure that isn't the case," Nelson said.
Meanwhile, his coach and teammates don't even want to think about the possibility of Nowitzki leaving Big D.
"I can't even fathom that," Carlisle said. "I'm confident that Mark and Donnie will take care of that. I can't imagine him playing somewhere else."
"He's the cornerstone of the franchise. I'd say there's probably a 98 percent chance of him coming back," Jason Terry said after teaming with Nowitzki for six seasons.
But while the likelihood of Nowitzki testing free agency seems slim, center Brendan Haywood will definitely be testing the market as his contract draws to a close.
Haywood, a new arrival to Dallas along with Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson after a seven-player trade with Washington on Feb. 13, figures to be a very sought-after big man come July. Still, the 7-footer said that he would love to return to play his home games in the American Airlines Center.
"I haven't talked to my agent yet, and we will sit down and go over my options. But I loved playing in Dallas. I loved the atmosphere of the crowd and I think I fitted in well with the guys in the locker room. But it's too early to talk about what's going to happen now," Haywood explained.
Nelson, however, has made it clear that re-signing the former North Carolina standout is on the Mavs' summer priority list.
"We have a lot of things in the works, but we'd love to have Brendan back," Nelson said.
But while Nelson prepares himself for the next few months of willing and dealing, both the executive and the coach believe that rookie Rodrigue Beaubois is a building block for the organization's future plans.
The Guadeloupe native and former French League product dazzled at times during his first year. Now Beaubois will be asked to patent his skills, likely playing in the Summer League as he tries to make the transition from playing the majority of his minutes off the ball to running a team as a point guard.
"If you look at (Beaubois), he played about 80 percent of his minutes off the ball. He's going to improve and get better, and we'd like to see him become better both with the ball and off the ball," Carlisle said. "But he's a special player and a hard worker."
"(Beaubois) has a swagger about him. And if he stays humble, he will be fun to watch for a long time. He is a special player, and if he can stay grounded, he has a good future," Nowitzki said of the 22-year-old.
Now the players go their separate ways, coming together again in September with hopes of contending for a title.
"We're close (to competing for a title). We're constantly evolving, we keep changing. The City of Dallas deserves it, a championship," Terry concluded.
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