A Look Back at The Year That Wasn't For The Dallas Mavericks.

So. The Mavericks season is drawing to a close — and much in the same manner in which it started.

Here the Mavericks are, once again, facing a myriad of questions — if, granted, different ones than were confronted in October — as the off-season begins earlier than has become custom for this franchise. That's because, last week, it became official: Dallas was formally eliminated from playoff contention after an ugly loss to the Phoenix Suns. And this, of course, means that the Mavs will miss the post-season for the first time in 13 years.

None of this is altogether surprising, though. Not after this season.

This was a year marred by inconsistencies. And not only were these apparent in the play of the players on the team, but also in the range of personnel that was brought in to try and steady a roster that at times appeared on the verge of complete collapse.

In all, 23 different players wore Mavericks jerseys this season. There was a steady core of players throughout the year that Rick Carlisle relied on most, to be sure, but the team resembled a revolving door for the most part.

Eddy Curry, Derek Fisher, Troy Murphy and Chris Douglas-Roberts are just a few of the names that were brought on board in the hopes that their limited skill sets could help the Mavericks attain some measure of buoyancy. Some of these also-rans did actually make a few positive contributions, if only minute ones. The vast majority of these players, however, saw little playing time en route to being waived and forgotten. Only Mike James found a role with Dallas — in what has to be one of the more remarkable, on many levels, signings of the season.

But the big story this year, clearly, was Dirk Nowitzki's time on the injured reserve at the start of the season. He eventually missed the first 30 games, a stretch of time that serve as the catalyst for much of the disrepair that the Mavericks saw this season. Despite Mark Cuban’s gutting of the championship team from two years ago, it's still Nowitzki that binds this team together, and Dallas posted a record of 26-25 with Nowitzki in the lineup. Perhaps that's not a terribly impressive mark, but the majority of the losses the team suffered with Dirk playing occurred just after his return. Since then, he has steadily rounded into form. It's not beyond the realm of possibilities to say that, had he been healthy throughout the year, the Mavericks would be continuing their string of playoff berths.

The reality, however, is that Dallas is a team still searching for its identity at this point. This is not a completely isolated crisis of image, however. In fact, image and perception are oft discussed topics where the City of Dallas, and what culture we glean from it, is concerned. It can be an all-consuming train of thought, and yet the conclusion we must draw where the Mavericks are concerned is that they, for this season at least, are far from a world-class entity.

To get back to any semblance of the championship team, the front office, headed by Donnie Nelson and Cuban, is going to have to put far more work into wooing players to come to Dallas, despite the restrictions placed on spending under the current collective bargaining agreement. Nowitzki has stated that he too will hit the campaign trail, pitching to free agents in the hopes that they will join him on his quest to return to the Finals. The Mavericks have the money to spend, we know this. The question is whether players want to come to Dallas.

And if it's indeed the goal of the Mavericks to return to playoff contention, there are several areas that the team needs to address. Interior defense and rebounding have been glaringly deficient this season. Aside from Elton Brand, who has not looked spry late in the season, Dallas' frontcourt has been manhandled on the glass, while frequently allowing opponents to simply slide past them. As a team, the Mavericks gave up the second most rebounds of the season while allowing opponents to shoot 44.6 percent from the floor. Needless to say, these numbers are indicative of a middling team.

Ball handling is also an issue that has haunted this team. Though the Mavericks only committed the fifth fewest turnovers in the league — a number that might come as a surprise — the turnovers came at some of the worst opportune times.

This, in turn, led the team and Carlisle on a quest to find a way to remedy the situation. Darren Collison's role as the starting point guard was frequently targeted with the aforementioned James filling that role to close the season. If Collison is not to be the starter going forward — and since James is 37 — the Mavericks will have to look to free agency to fill the void at point.

Free agency is just one of the concerns of the Mavericks this summer, though. The team must also address the players that are currently on the roster, many of whom have one- or two-year contracts. One such player: O.J. Mayo. Mayo has a two-year contract with Dallas with a player option for his second year. This means that he can opt out of his contract after this season ends. He is slated to make $4.2 million next season if he chooses to stay with the Mavericks, but it's likely that he'll opt out and test free agency. If he does so, Dallas will still have a chance to resign him, although, after Carlisle's hash statements about his effort in Monday night’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Mayo’s former team, nothing is certain.

What is certain is that the Mavericks cannot remain complacent. Nowitzki only has a few more years left before he eventually retires. Dallas needs to act strongly this summer in order to surround him with players who are capable of competing consistently at high level.

Not only that, but the team also needs to plan for its future without Nowitzki. The onus last summer was to add young talent to the team while also picking up veterans on affordable short-term contracts. Emphasis should again be on adding young talent this summer. There's a decent group of young and veteran players on the roster now — but decent can only get you so far. A .500 record, if the team wins against New Orleans on Wednesday night, is where it got the Mavericks this season.

Next season, they must do better. And, once again, it's what Dallas does over the summer that will determine much of what is to eventually come.

The Mavericks can ill afford another lost season like this one.

Cover photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.

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