Early exit portends to big changes coming to Dallas Mavericks

The defending NBA champions Dallas Mavericks' falling in the first round against Oklahoma City point to big issues that need to be addressed.

Dirk Nowitzki has called on Dallas Mavericks management to bring in players 'who can make plays for themselves'.
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It may someday be difficult to remember the Dallas Mavericks ever were NBA champions.

A year ago, they made an unlikely dash to the finals and then shocked the Miami Heat in a series remembered more for the fecklessness of the Heat than for the skill of the Mavs.

This year, they started poorly, regained their interest long enough to qualify as the West's sixth-best team, and then went out, almost without a whimper, in four games to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

To be fair, their title defence may have been doomed from the moment that Mark Cuban decided to pare the payroll. The owner allowed Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson and JJ Barea to leave, and they had been three of the club's top seven players.

That exodus may prove a mere prelude to what awaits this off-season. The veteran guards Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are free agents. They are unlikely to keep the centre Brendan Hayward. And Rick Carlisle, the coach widely praised for the conquest of the Heat, also is out of contract.

The method behind the madness is the flexibility the Mavs have built under the salary cap.

How they choose to spend that money could make for one of the league's more interesting stories this summer.

They still have their centrepiece, Dirk Nowitzki, but he will be 34 next season. The German is already lobbying for a talent infusion.

"We need some guys who can make plays for themselves," he said. "That's pretty obvious. If you look at all the top teams now, they have at least have two, three guys who you can just throw the ball to and they do their thing."

He cited Oklahoma City, noting that Russell Westbrook shot them down in Games 1 and 2, with Kevin Durant taking over in Game 3 and James Harden finishing them off in Game 4.

The Mavs may be hoping for help through free agency, but the list of available elite players is down to one - the New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, who happens to be a Dallas native.

Kidd, 39, said he would return to be Williams's backup, but no one knows where Williams will land. Cuban and Don Nelson, the Mavs general manager, said Carlisle will be back, but they concede to challenges ahead.

"We've got our work cut out for us," Nelson said. "You've got to have your plans … 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."

The idea is for 2011/12 to have been a pause in the Mavericks' excellence, not the end of it.

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