Big decisions for the Mavs

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook goes to the basket as he is defended by Mavericks centre Brendan...

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook goes to the basket as he is defended by Mavericks centre Brendan Haywood (front) and forward Dirk Nowitzki (left) while forward Shawn Marion (second left) and guard Jason Kidd look on during Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference quarterfinal series at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Tex., May 5, 2012. (RONALD MARTINEZ/Reuters/Pool)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:16 PM ET

TORONTO - It wasn’t until late June before Mark Cuban, who went into a self-imposed cone of silence, opened his mouth, a time of unprecedented restraint that took everyone in basketball by surprise, even the NBA’s front office.

It says a lot about the plight of Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks that he hasn’t had to wait as long as he did last spring to voice his opinions, a sure sign that all is not well in Big D.

Changes are coming in Dallas, changes that are so impactful virtually anything is possible, short of Cuban trading Dirk Nowitzki.

The odds of Dallas repeating as NBA champions were longer than Dwight Howard’s wing span, its road to a title so daunting no one in their right mind would have taken whatever percentage was affixed.

In the wake of their one and done in this year’s playoffs, a sweep no less at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Mavs find themselves under basketball’s microscope, a team dotted with so many questions that there’s no easy answer to explain what happened and what could conceivably happen this off-season.

All that is known is that Cuban will not stand pat, will explore all options and commit whatever resource is available to put the Mavs back on the NBA map.

As of today, Dallas has no identity, other than it remains Nowitzki’s team and every piece will be debated to see how it will help this veteran, who isn’t getting any younger.

With the economics of the game now changed, Cuban can’t simply go out and spend money, go beyond a threshold and be more than willing to fork over a tax.

In today’s NBA world, teams can roll the dice by acquiring three big-time assets, as long as the supporting cast is capable and durable to sustain the franchise during the predictable tough stretches.

Jason Kidd is a free agent at a time when he’s no longer that dominant point guard.

Jason Terry is a free agent at a time when the Jet will have to decide between his wallet and wanting to add a second ring.

The future of Rick Carlisle must also be addressed, a head coach who joined Dallas in 2008, but whose track record in the NBA is one that tends to alienate people the longer the tenure goes.

If team options on players aren’t exercised, it’s possible as few as four — Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood and Rodrigue Beaubois — will be back.

With teams now allowed to activate an amnesty, the most likely victim is Haywood and the $8.6 million he’s owed next season.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Mavs GM Donnie Nelson said in what can arguably be described as the most clear-cut statement of this NBA season.

“Obviously we’ve got some decisions to make with guys in the locker room and free agency and such.

“We’ve got a bunch of free agents, so it’s going to be an active summer for us.”

When it comes to action, no one is more adept than Cuban, who may even swallow his pride and take a shot at Steve Nash, the same Steve Nash Cuban allowed to leave Dallas.

The prized player in this summer’s free agency is expected to be Deron Williams, who should declare for free agency and leave the Brooklyn-bound Nets holding the bag.

D-Will is from Dallas and would look awfully good playing second fiddle to Nowitzki.

In getting swept by the Thunder, a team that matched up against Dallas in last year’s Western final, the Mavs experienced the ignominy for only the second time in club franchise.

After losing the first two games in OKC by a combined four points, the Thunder clearly emerged as the better team when the series shifted to Dallas.

In the close-out game, the Thunder went small, going with a lineup that had three ball handlers on the floor, including James Harden, who went to the rim with impunity.

“We need to get better,’’ Nowitzki, last year’s NBA final MVP and a former league MVP, said. “That’s my only concern.

“As the Mavericks, usually we pride ourselves over the last decade not to play for the seventh seed or the eighth seed or just to make it into the playoffs. Our goal was always to be, obviously, one of the top four in the West, get home court and make a deep run.”

It never did play out this season, leaving Cuban and Mavs management in one of those make it or break it off-seasons, a time that will ultimately reshape the future in Dallas.

From the toast of the NBA to just plain toast, some tough decisions are being contemplated, decisions that will have far-reaching consequences.

And in the hot seat resides Cuban, who has never been afraid to express himself or be afraid to rock the boat.

WHAT NEXT FOR VINCE CARTER?

Vince Carter’s career has taken a turn for the worse, his future so uncertain it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll end up next season.

With so many moving parts in Dallas, so much that needs to be done with Dirk Nowitzki now in the latter stage of his hall-of-fame career, there’s a better than good chance that Dallas will not exercise its $3.1-million team option on Carter.

If that’s the route the Mavs take, then Carter will be on the open market, available to any suitor, assuming a suitor even exists.

In spurts, Carter can still knock down shots, but his game is declining almost as quick as his stature in the game.

In his first year in Dallas, Carter posted a career-low scoring average (10.1 point) — and only four 20-plus games, including a season-high 23-point evening, numbers he’d get in his sleep when Vinsanity was at its zenith.

Carter, 35, shot a miserable .293 from the field in the opening round of the playoffs, a sweep at the hands of OKC Thunder, making only three of 10 three-point attempts and attempting a combined eight free throws.

If a team other than Dallas takes a flyer on this one-time high flyer, it’ll mark Carter’s sixth club.

And to think this guy was once the saviour of basketball in Toronto.


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