The general message from each player at Monday’s exit interviews was simple: The Mavs had a two-part goal this season. They accomplished Part One, which was simply getting back into the playoffs after missing out last year for the first time since 2000. Part Two was making some noise once they got there. Although Dallas ultimately fell short in its upset bid against No. 1-seeded San Antonio in the first round, the building blocks are in place for a run next season, so long as the Mavs can blend in potential new faces this offseason with the ones already in the locker room.
Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, Dallas had experienced fairly significant turnover during two consecutive summers. Nine new players donned Mavs uniforms this season, and as a result head coach Rick Carlisle’s team spent much of the first half of the season just getting to know each other. After the All-Star break, however, the Dallas locker room came together and cruised to the finish line, sporting the most efficient offense in the league after the brief February respite. Carlisle, general manager Donnie Nelson, and several players all said keeping the team’s core together is the first step toward winning a playoff series next season and competing for a second NBA championship. Given the players already under contract with the team, the Mavs believe cap flexibility this summer could give them an inside track back to the upper echelon of the West.
“Veteran continuity is one of the important things for continued success,” Carlisle said. “It’s one of the reasons that San Antonio’s had such a long run. We had a long run here before we weren’t able to make the playoffs last year. Dirk (Nowitzki), Vince (Carter), Shawn (Marion), those guys will be key guys this summer as we start talking to guys. That experience and that know-how and the fact that those guys are such good players, it’s gonna give a team like us a starting point every year.”
In order to keep that core together, the Mavs will have some decisions to make in regards to the soon-to-be free agents on the roster. Six players — Nowitzki, Carter, Marion, Devin Harris, DeJuan Blair, and Bernard James — will be outright free agents this summer, and a seventh, Samuel Dalembert, has only a partially guaranteed contract for the 2014-15 campaign. Dallas will have roughly $30 million in cap space to work with this summer, much more than most of the other 29 teams in the NBA. That gives the team plenty of free-agent options moving forward, but Nelson said the signing process will begin internally. “Our priority is to look from within first,” Nelson said, “and just take care of the guys that have really taken care of us over the course of the years.”
Here’s a run-down of each free agent on the roster.
2013-14 Stats: 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 49.7 FG%, 39.8 3-PT%, 23.6 PER (10th in the NBA)
That Dude has given every indication that he plans to return, as have Nelson and Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban. “Dirk’s not going anywhere,” Nelson said. “He’s built this franchise. He’s been with us from day one. Certainly there’s a negotiation to take place, but he loves this city and he wants to call it this home. We certainly reciprocate those feelings.”
Nowitzki has always said he plans to retire a Maverick, and in many ways what Dallas does this offseason will depend on how quickly the team can re-sign Dirk to another deal. It shouldn’t take long.
“We’ll find a good way where I feel respected for what I did, and where we still have enough money left for us to bring great players in,” Nowitzki said Monday.
As for in which areas Nowitzki thinks the team can improve, he said the answer is pretty simple: Just improve.
“You can always get better,” he said. “You can always get more athletic at every position, you can never have enough shooters on your team. You could have another playmaker. You can always get better. That’s not the problem in this league. We’ll just have to wait and see how the summer goes. There’s a lot of cap space. Donnie and Mark are probably gonna go to work. We’ll go from there.”
2013-14 Stats: 11.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists
The Mavs’ 37-year-old sixth man only has one goal, and that’s to win his first title. A franchise’s outlook will matter once he hits the open market.
“The right situation is what it’s all about,” Carter said. “At this point in my career, I just want to play for teams that compete for a championship. I just want that opportunity.”
What does that mean in terms of Carter’s chances of re-signing with Dallas? After all, there are sure to be several championship-caliber clubs desperate for his services next season. If his exit interview is any indication of his future plans, Carter and the Mavs intend to stick together.
“I just had a nice conversation with Donnie (Nelson), just in passing,” Carter said Monday afternoon. “I think the feeling is mutual on both ends. That’s the goal, to work it out.”
2013-14 stats: 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 35.8 3-PT% (highest since 2002-03)
The Matrix said he plans on spending life after basketball in Dallas, but how much money might it take for him to play out his career in Mavs blue?
“Not too much,” Marion said. “This is a great city. The fans here are amazing … It’s a great environment.”
The 35-year-old Marion has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the best defenders in the league. He can guard four or even five positions on the floor, and has truly given everything he has to the organization.
He and Carter have both made sacrifices of one kind or another during their time in Dallas. Both have spent time coming off the bench, and each has played fewer minutes than they might on another team. However, their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed in Dallas.
“They both have been good ambassadors for the franchise,” Carlisle said of Marion and Carter. “They’ve both been multi-purpose players. Marion’s versatility is well-known, and I’ve been a big supporter and one of his megaphones for it the last few years. Vince had a great series against San Antonio. He was good offensively and defensively, and he was a leader. Both of those guys were leaders. That’s why those guys were really important.”
Added Nelson: “We’ve got some different issues that we’ll deal with during the course of the offseason. But from the veteran leadership that we’ve had in that locker room — over the course of not just this season, but the last several — those are the kind of guys that you want representing your franchise and your city. I’m of course talking about Dirk, and Shawn, and Vince, and you go right down to some of our younger players. We go out of our way to try to get those guys into our locker room.”
2013-14 Stats: 7.9 points, 4.5 assists, 2.1 rebounds
Harris missed the season’s first 41 games as he recovered from foot surgery, and spent his first month or so back going through what Carlisle has called his personal training camp and preseason. His impact was certainly felt, however, once he came back healthy. Dallas was 25-16 with Harris and 22-12 after Feb. 1.
During his exit interview, Harris said he’d like to return to the Mavericks and sign a multi-year deal. The point guard actually agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the club last summer, but question marks surrounding his foot injury reduced the deal to one year.
“It was a pretty complex negotiation last time,” Harris said. “I don’t really know where (contract talks) will go. My intent is to come back, but only time will tell whether that will happen or not.”
Nelson stressed the importance of having a player as quick as Harris. “I think in the new game, to have guys who can get in the paint in create, is extremely important, especially given the dynamic of the Mavericks,” he said.
2013-14 Stats: 6.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 53.4 FG%
Blair proved during the series against San Antonio that he can be a difference-maker on a playoff team. He brought energy and toughness to the team during the near-upset, and never failed to provide a jolt of excitement to get the crowd going.
Blair spent the first four seasons of his career in San Antonio before the Mavs inked him to a one-year contract last summer.
2013-14 Stats: .9 points, .9 rebounds
James played just 30 games this season after appearing in 46 last year for Dallas. The Mavs’ three-center rotation of Blair, Dalembert, and Brandan Wright left little room for James to find playing time. However, Carlisle loves Sarge’s maturity and his ability to stay ready. An athletic big man who’s still learning the game, James can become a rotation player in the NBA if he continues improving.
(Sarge’s fellow center, Sam Dalembert, has just a partially guaranteed contract for the 2014-15 campaign. However, Nelson and Carlisle have both commented on Dalembert’s future with the club, and all indications are that he’ll be back manning the middle next season.)
Once the Mavs take care of their own free agents, their plans for the rest of the summer will become more clear. Dallas plans to make some noise in the playoffs next season, but first bring in some new talent in addition to the group of players it chooses to retain.
“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. Those are the two things that we’ve got to blend.”