The Dallas Mavericks are in a make-or-break season, but not because Dirk Nowitzki's championship window is nearing a close.
The Mavericks are trying to lay a solid foundation while 13 of the 15 players on their roster potentially could become free agents next summer. They are searching for some stability less than two years after winning their only NBA championship, and a bunch of players are fighting for long-term contracts.
While he's still trying to locate a star to play alongside Nowitzki, owner Mark Cuban is adamant that his franchise will not become a proverbial revolving door where players are here one season and gone the next.
"Our goal is to have these guys in Mavericks uniforms for a long, long time," Cuban said. "It's not like musical chairs at the end of the roster and guys know they're just rentals and can get cut at any minute.
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"These are guys that have an opportunity to really contribute, really establish their careers and take themselves to the next level. It's always an audition, but we want to find reasons to keep guys."
The Mavericks basically have gutted their 2011 NBA championship team in favor of players with less expensive and shorter contracts.
Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations, declares that it's difficult to plan for the future when teams don't know the entire downside of the new collective bargaining agreement that the NBA put in place last winter.
"Certainly, all eyes are on next summer with the super tax and the penalties," Nelson said. "I think we did our work early a little bit in some of those areas, and so our ship is in real good position as we enter into next summer.
"We don't honestly know what's going to happen and we don't know how it's going to affect free agency until we get to free agency. You really have the conversation sitting down in the smoky room of, 'OK, what's the new system? What's the new successful system?'"
Whatever that new system is, the Mavericks hope it'll enable them to squeeze another championship out of Nowitzki, 34, before he retires.
The Mavericks have positioned themselves financially to be a major player in free agency next summer. And if the team still can't land a big prize, Cuban is hoping the players on the roster will acquit themselves so well this season that he'll be able to keep them next season.
"We want this team to play well and perform and these guys to be here forever," Cuban said. "Why would we want it any other way?
"You want to have a team you can keep around for a long time. You don't want to have to go through this every summer."
While Nelson and Cuban are responsible for building the Mavericks, coach Rick Carlisle is the man responsible for making it all work. Carlisle has often been mentioned as one of the NBA's best coaches, along with Boston's Doc Rivers and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.
Carlisle also has a close working relationship with Cuban, who didn't see eye-to-eye with previous coaches Don Nelson and Avery Johnson during their last days in Dallas.
"Mark is obviously driven by success, and nothing's more important than the success of the Dallas Mavericks," Donnie Nelson said. "The Mavericks are really his family and this is the quintessential essence really of Mark in terms of sports and entertainment.
"And so Rick, from a statistical standpoint, there's mutual kinship there. They've absolutely hit it off because Rick's a tech guy and there's all kinds of stuff that they go back and forth with."
Carlisle, who is entering his fifth season with the Mavericks after posting a 198-114 record under Cuban, believes that his owner will continue to make good on his promises.
"I know this for sure: The Dallas Mavericks would not be one of the top franchises in the NBA if it wasn't for Mark Cuban," Carlisle said. "This guy has done everything that he promised to me and has made my job very easy."
Now if Cuban can lay the foundation for a bright future, that would continue his trend of making Carlisle's job easy.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760