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.
"We went through (the CBA) each and every which way that we could to try to figure out the best way to be successful. Given what happened, I think we put together a damn good team," Cuban said before the final game.
"I wasn't looking ahead at all," he said. "It's, here's the rules we have. Given the rules we have, what's the best way for us to build a team this year without destroying our future? Not, we're going to build next year."
But it's now next year and it has long been presumed that the Mavericks will make a push for free agent Deron Williams, New Jersey's All-Star guard from the Dallas area, if he doesn't decide to stay with the Brooklyn-bound Nets.
Cuban, talking in general about free agency, insisted the Mavs don't know yet what they're going to do this summer. He said there are still many unknowns about how contracts will be done and the costs with the new CBA.
One thing Dallas needs to do is find a younger complement to Nowitzki, who will be 34 next season.
"That's an important piece," Nelson said Sunday, without mentioning any names. "I think you saw during the course of the playoffs that (Nowitzki) was fighting tooth and nail, and he needs help. He needs help and we plan to get it for him."
When asked after the finale the top one or two things the Mavs needed to get done this summer, Nowitzki joked: "We have to get Kobe, Wade and LeBron in here."
On Sunday, Nowitzki said his only concern was for the team to get better. As for Williams, he'd love to have him.
"Get your (rear) home," Mavs forward Shawn Marion said when asked of his recruiting pitch to Williams.
Kidd said he'd like to stay in Dallas, and would have no problem backing up Williams. They happen to have the same agent and probably will play golf together this summer, though Kidd insisted he won't have any influence on Williams' decision.
"He's his own man and he's going to make the right decision for what's best for him to try to win a championship," Kidd said.
The Mavs have plenty of their own decisions that have to be made to try and fix what was a championship team not too long ago.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Nelson said. "You've got to have your (plans) A, B, C, D and E and so on, but you also understand that things are moving and situations are fluid. You go into it with eyes wide open and hopefully you can come out of it with what you want."