DALLAS — In the blink of an eye the Dallas Mavericks’ 2012-13 season was over.
Battling all season long before finishing at 41-41 following Wednesday’s 99-87 win in the home finale against New Orleans, the Mavericks then met one final time as a team Thursday while conducting exit interviews with members of the media. And after seeing their consecutive playoffs streak come to an end at 12 straight years, the Mavs see their season conclude in mid-April for the first time since going just 40-42 and missing the postseason during the 1999-2000 campaign.
Now, the Mavs face the challenge of reconstructing a playoff contender, heading into an offseason of uncertainty for the second straight summer following the 20011 NBA championship while needing to make several decisions about a team that finished the season with nine players on expiring contracts.
“Well, we certainly weren’t expecting this,” Mavs president of basketball operations and GM Donnie Nelson said of the early conclusion to the season. “This time of year, you know, we’re gearing up for the playoffs, so this is an out-of-body experience for all of us. We’ve got some work cut out for us. We’ve got a big summer moving forward and we don’t expect to be here having this same situation next year at this same time.”
“There were some positives but we’ve got to get the team better. That’s obvious,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle added. “And so there’s going to be a lot of work this summer. And we’re excited about the possibilities, but we’re not naive to the challenges. There’s a lot of work to be done and we’ll do it.”
That work begins with surrounding 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki with enough talent to once again compete for a title while also building around veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Behind the three core players, the Mavs battled back from 10 games below a .500 record on Jan. 9 before finishing the season on virtually a 50-win pace. Still, the Mavs know that changes are in store as they head into the offseason unaware of which players will join the three veterans and the team’s three rookies next season.
“Well, we had nine one-year players, so I think the roster is going to look different again next year,” Nowitzki confessed. “It starts now obviously with the draft, where we can get a young talent fairly high, so we’ll see how the draft is looking this year. And then July is a big free-agent period for us this year. There’s a couple of free agents out there. If you don’t sign a free agent, if you are under the (salary) cap, sign-and-trade is always a possibility to get your team better. If you’re under the cap, you can actually take some gambles on a deal that’s not great but hoping that it will work out in your situation. I think there’s some options once you’re under the cap, and I think we all know that Donnie and [Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban] are going to explore all these options. They always find ways to make stuff happen. We know that. Their track record is great, and we’ll just have to go from there. It’s a big summer for us. To have the 12-year playoff streak snapped is disappointing, but like I said, Mark has said that this is a big summer for him as well, so there will be probably a lot of changes but it’s hard to predict now. I mean, we could probably use help in every area on the court, so there’s work to do.”
“You know, we want to get better in all aspects,” Carter echoed. “I think right now what’s fortunate for us is the experience. From the last two or three weeks of our season we’ve grown, we’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve never been one to really tell the organization where to go. I just want us to get better and I don’t want to be in this position again. I want an opportunity play for a championship. You know, some of these guys around here were fortunate enough to do so, so that’s my goal and that’s what I take into the offseason is preparing myself and making sure I’m ready come training camp.”
Armed with a draft pick in the lottery and financial flexibility to make a splash in free agency, the Mavs will certainly have plenty of opportunities to address areas of need this summer. They will also have to make a play to keep second-leading scorer O.J Mayo in-house after the 25-year-old 2-guard announced Thursday that he will exercise a player option for the second year of his contract and test free agency while hoping to land a long-term deal to remain with the Mavs for seasons to come.
“Really, I mean, I haven’t thought that far into it. Obviously, with the exit meeting, it’s going to be a situation as far as free agency. I really haven’t looked too into it, though. Try to work something out to stay here. … Just something long-term to lock something in, I think that’s what’s best for me,” Mayo simply said as he heads into the summer after leading the team in minutes played and scoring 15.3 points an outing while starting all 82 games.
“I like O.J. a lot,” Carlisle added. “I think he fits in to what we’re doing, but like everything else in this world, this is probably going to come down to money. Right now, I don’t know where all that stuff is going to stand. He had a very good year for us, so there’s going to be a lot of teams interested in him.”