Where do the Mavs go from here?

In the Daily Dime, Marc Stein discusses the short-term future of the Dallas Mavericks after their first round loss last night to the Spurs.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban didn’t trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in February, taking on millions in extra salary and luxury tax in the process, to make such a swift return to the early playoff misery inflicted by Golden State in 2007. Dallas became the first No. 1 seed in league history to lose a best-of-seven series in the first round that year … and just became the first No. 2 to lose in Round 1 since the NBA went to a best-of-seven format in 2003.

“We’re a failure,” Mavericks guard Jason Terry said. “We failed. There’s no other word but failure. That’s how we feel right now.”

Cuban himself acknowledged after the Mavs’ Game 1 triumph that the F word — yes, failure — was going to be the reaction all over town and all over the league “if we don’t win a championship.”

“We’ve got a great base,” Cuban said. “We’ll have a chance to work with each other [in training camp before next season]. You could see some of the uneasiness because we haven’t had a full season to play together, and that showed a few times, but we’ll pull all the pieces together and we’ll go at ’em again next year.”

Cuban’s “we’ve got a great base” comment implies that he’s not planning to blow up the roster. Dirk Nowitzki, however, is suddenly a candidate to join an already stellar free agent class this summer, though it’s still far more likely that he’ll re-up.

But back to Cuban — the whole we-haven’t-had-enough-time-to-gel line of reasoning is starting to wear thin. Butler and Haywood had 27 games to work the kinks out — how long does it take to develop the necessary chemistry? That’s an entire season for most college and high school teams, and most of them gel just fine. Chemistry can develop over time, but typically speaking, it’s either there or it’s not.

Complicating matters is Cuban’s tendency to drastically alter his roster. In February of 2008, he swapped Devin Harris and two first round picks for Jason Kidd. Last summer, he signed Shawn Marion. And this February, he pulled the trigger on the Butler/Haywood trade. Who’s to say that he’ll be able to control himself when a few more aging, expensive stars become available at the next trade deadline?

As long as Nowitzki is around, the Mavs will be competitive. If he returns to a team that already has Butler, Kidd, Marion, Jason Terry and Roddy Beaubois, Dallas will once again win 50 games and make the postseason. But with the way that they were worked over by an aging Spurs team, does anyone really think the Mavs will make another Finals appearance anytime soon?

It has to be frustrating to let a title slip through your fingers in 2006 and then spend the next three or four years trying to get back to that level. Under the current circumstances, the Mavs seem destined to be a Western Conference also-ran. I don’t blame Cuban for trying to build on what he has, but unless there’s a major infusion of talent — I’m talking a top 10 or 15 player acquired via sign-and-trade — it doesn’t look like the Mavs are a real threat to make the Finals.

That’s the nice thing about knowing that you’re rebuilding. There are no delusions of grandeur.

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