With championship standards, Mavs set bar high for next season

DALLAS — After hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy above their heads in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks set a standard for themselves each season that can only be met by regaining the title.

Since culminating that year’s championship chase with the ultimate prize, the Mavericks have come short of their goal each season. Still, with Mavs owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson committed to building a championship-caliber team this summer, the expectations going into next season remain high.

“Well, I think Mark and Donnie always look to make this team better and this franchise better. And ultimately, you know, the year we won it in 2011, that’s the standard now,” 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki explained following the Mavericks’ first-round exit in seven games at the hands of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs during this year’s playoffs.

He added: “To follow up by winning in 2011, the next year we snuck into the playoffs and got swept. And then we didn’t make the playoffs and now we’re an eighth seed. You know, we obviously have high expectations. The fan base does and the organization does, and so we want to get back up there. However we need to do it or whatever needs to be done, Mark and Donnie are probably going to do it and we’ll see what happens. That’s really all I can say right now.”

Swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, the Mavs would then find themselves completely out of the postseason the next year following a 41-41 season. This year, however, the Mavs returned to the playoffs for a 13th time in the last 14 seasons thanks to a 49-33 record, pushing the Western Conference champion Spurs to the brink of elimination before eventually falling in a decisive Game 7.

Still, according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, there is no feeling of satisfaction after the team fell short in its pursuit of a second NBA title in franchise history.

“I’m never happy if we don’t win a championship,” Carlisle confessed. “I mean, that’s the kind of standards you come to accustom yourself to when you’re with an organization like this. So, you know, I’ll look at everything and see where we need to do better, and part of that is going to be where we are with the free agents. If we can get most of the team back, we won’t have a lot of upheaval with our system. And if we don’t, we may have to make some significant tweaks. And if we have to, we will.”

Entering the summer with six free agents, including Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ brass will admittedly have work to do this offseason to keep the current team intact while trying to add the right pieces to the puzzle in order to make it a squad capable of contending for the tittle. With nothing less than a championship suffice, however, the Mavs’ front office will look to meet its own high standards by signing players at the right price.

But, as Nelson points out, the Mavs do still remain committed to getting back to the Finals while using this summer’s financial flexibility to their advantage.

“The ultimate goal is to bring a championship here to Dallas as quickly as possible,” Nelson said. “We also respect those that have put us in this position, and so those are the two things that we’ve got to blend. And we’ve got our work cut out, because we’ve got six free agents that have given us their heart and soul.

“To win a championship you have to have lots in that arsenal, and certainly Mark is willing and gracious to spend as much as it takes. He’s proven that over the years, but the reality is we’ve got a (salary) cap. We’ve got to work within some confinement, and so having players that can perform at a high level at decent numbers has its place.”