"He should've been used more the entire series," said Derek Harper, who played 12 years for the Mavericks and is now the team's TV studio analyst. "He could've made a real difference. Why didn't he play more? Coach Carlisle has to answer to that one."

Without a first-round draft pick and with Carlisle, Kidd, Terry and—in all likelihood–Dirk Nowitzki back next season, the 2011 Mavericks will likely not look drastically different. The hope? Beaubois will blossom after spending the summer working on his point-guard skills, and Dallas will use Erick Dampier's expiring $16 million contract to help land an impact player in free agency. Though LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be available, the Mavericks are more likely to target a Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or Joe Johnson.

The long-shot kink in the plans is Nowitzki, who could in July opt out of a contract scheduled to pay him $21 million next season and become a free agent able to sign with any other team. After another spectacular season ruined by insufficient help—only twice in 10 years has he had a 20-point scoring sidekick—a downtrodden Nowitzki isn't rubber-stamping his return to Dallas.

Think we should blow up
the Mavericks because they got beat in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs? Think again.
NEWSCOM
Think we should blow up the Mavericks because they got beat in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs? Think again.

After playoff elimination in 2007, Nowitzki headed for a month of soul-searching and backpacking in the Australian outback. Here's hoping that's as far as he goes this summer.

Said general manager Donnie Nelson, "I can tell you from Mark [Cuban] to management, all the way down, we will do whatever needs to happen to make sure Dirk's in a Maverick uniform."

Without Nowitzki, the Mavericks totally rebuild and crumble into a lottery team.

With him, they add an elite free agent and simply, stubbornly reload.

"We're close," Terry said. "We're constantly evolving. We keep changing. The city of Dallas deserves a championship. And we are going to get one."

Are we there yet?

Sadly, still nope. But neither are we totally, hopelessly lost.

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