DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks never seemed as though they were really defending an NBA title. It certainly wasn't the same team that raised the trophy a year ago.
Circumstances changed after Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks won their first championship only 11 months ago, and celebrated in South Beach before a parade through downtown Dallas.
There was the NBA lockout that led to a new collective bargaining agreement with different rules that affected how owner Mark Cuban put together his roster, and strategically let go of some big pieces. There was the rushed and condensed regular season for the league's oldest team, along with the reality drama with early departed Lamar Odom.
And now the Mavs are done without even winning a playoff game, swept in the first round by the youthfully talented Oklahoma City Thunder, who overcame a 13-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left in Game 4 at Dallas to wrap up the first-round series.
"It's disappointing obviously, frustrating," Nowitzki said Sunday, their 11-time All-Star shocked that the season is already over. "We'd obviously love to get better. ... We went for cap space for the first time in my career, so we'll see what we can do with that the next year or next two years. But we definitely want to improve the franchise."
The loss Saturday night not only ended the Mavericks' championship reign, it started an offseason filled with questions about who will be part of the team next season and the potential for another drastically changed roster.
Jason Kidd, their 39-year-old point guard whose 1,315 career regular-season games are more than any other active player, and Jason Terry are among six free-agent players. Even Carlisle is at the end of his four-year contract, though general manager Donnie Nelson repeated Sunday that he expects the coach back.
"He likes us, we like him. ... Rick's not going anywhere," Nelson said, without elaborating on the status of a new deal.
Carlisle and Cuban have both repeatedly refused over the last several weeks to discuss the coach's future.
"This has been a great opportunity for me and my family and we love it here," Carlisle said Sunday. "That's as far as I'm going to go with talking about it."
After last season's championship, the Mavericks didn't keep center Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea or Caron Butler. Chandler went to the New York Knicks and last week was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year.
While letting those players go seemingly hurt this season, it helped Dallas gain some salary-cap flexibility for free agency this summer.