Since winning the NBA title in 2011 and basking in all the subsequent glory, this is the fourth consecutive year in which the Dallas Mavericks ended their season in disappointment.
This time it was the Houston Rockets who bounced the Mavs out of the playoffs, winning their opening-round series in five games. Since hoisting their championship banner, the Mavs have exited the playoffs in the first round in 2012, 2014 and 2015, while missing the playoffs altogether in 2013.
Now comes time again for Mavs management to pick up the jagged pieces, get back in the lab and use the NBA Draft, trades and free agency to improve a team that went 50-32 this season and finished in seventh place in the rugged Western Conference.
It’s not easy work, but the job falls on owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
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“There will be a few weeks of sitting on this pain [of losing to the Rockets] and then moving forward, starting with the draft,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “And then free agency starts after that.
“So it’ll be a busy summer again for this franchise. But like always, we’re going to trust Mark and Donnie there to get the guys back that we had that we liked and get some guys in to make this team better.”
Mavericks players Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo, Amar’e Stoudemire, Richard Jefferson, J.J. Barea, Charlie Villanueva and Greg Smith all become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Monta Ellis, Al-Farouq Aminu and Raymond Felton have player options to end their contracts, the Mavericks own a team option that’ll pay Dwight Powell $845,059, and they can tender Bernard James with a qualifying offer of $1,181,348.
With only Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris under contract for next season, a host of new players might be headed to coach Rick Carlisle’s roster next season.
“It puts our head coach in a difficult position, because when you’re shuffling in new pieces it’s just more challenging,” Nelson said. “It’s not the preferred way of doing business, but in this age of free agency you have to have talent to win in this league.
“We’ve had pretty good success with getting some young players towards the end of the summer and getting our flexibility. It’s been a strain on our head coach, but he’s handled it like he has with everything and hasn’t complained and made the best with a difficult situation.”
Carlisle already said Rondo won’t be back. The eccentric point guard and Dallas reached a mutual agreement to go separate ways after Game 2 against the Rockets. It was also announced that he had a back injury.
Meanwhile, if the Mavericks can convince Nowitzki to come off the bench next season, perhaps that’ll pave the way for them to sign Portland Trail Blazers free-agent power forward and Seagoville native LaMarcus Aldridge. In addition, if the Mavericks don’t re-sign Chandler, they likely will go after centers Marc Gasol (Memphis), Robin Lopez (Portland), Omer Asik (New Orleans) or DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers).
Chandler, whom the Mavericks did not bring back after the 2010-l1 championship season, noted that it’s critical that he weigh in on everything in regard to his free-agent status, with loyalty and emotions playing a role.
“You have to weigh in on what’s going to be best for yourself, your psyche, how you’re going to perform, where you’re going to be most comfortable at, your family,” Chandler said. “All of those things do come into play.
“It’s just a balance, at the time, where you are in your career and what means most to you.”
Aminu plans to opt-out of a contract that will pay him just $1.1 million next season. The versatile forward will receive a large raise somewhere based on his exceptional performance in the second half of the season and during the playoffs.”
“This is my third free agency in a row,” Aminu said. “So you just look for a great fit.
“This year I think I found one. Hopefully, I can do the same [this summer].”
As far as hoping Ellis and Felton will opt-in and remain with the Mavericks, Nelson said, “Now is the time when you kind of want to get away and not make an emotional decision. Certainly, they’ll have opportunities.
“I think, all things being equal, we’re in a really good position because we’ve just been really blessed since I’ve been here to have great chemistry and leadership. From Mark to Rick to Dirk to Tyson — you can go right down the list — our priority is to keep guys like that in our locker room because that’s been the major key to our success.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760