Mavs could have a busy offseason ahead

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DALLAS - Jason Kidd has to decide where he'll play next. Dirk Nowitzki has to deal with a girlfriend in jail. Josh Howard has to get ready for ankle surgery.

So much for the Mavericks savoring their longest postseason run in three years.

The end of an intense, exciting, second-round series against the Denver Nuggets means the players must start dealing with serious issues they put on hold while there were better things to do, and it means the front office better start getting to work on improving the team for next season.

Kidd is the top priority; not only does the club want him to stay, there would be a void at point guard if he goes. He told his bosses Thursday he's enjoyed being here and told reporters, "I would love to be back." Still, he's a free agent, which means he can shop around.

At 36 and without a championship, he might want to join Kobe Bryant on the Lakers or LeBron James in Cleveland, just to name two guys who've talked about wanting him as a teammate. The question then becomes how much those teams are willing to pay. Ultimately, Kidd might wait to see which contending team offers the best combination of dollars and years.

"There are no guarantees. You could pick the favorites for next year to win a championship and things could go sideways," he said. "Whether it's here in Dallas or wherever it may be, I still feel that I have a lot to give to the game. I feel great, and I thought I had a pretty good season. As much as everybody talks about my age, I still feel like I can compete at a high level."

Perhaps the biggest thing the Mavericks have going for them this offseason - in the Kidd bidding and otherwise - is owner Mark Cuban's passion, and his checkbook.

At a time when other teams are looking to cut payroll, Cuban has been saying for months that he would take on big contracts as long as he gets his money's worth.

"If an opportunity presents itself as a result of the market going a certain direction, I think it's safe to say Mark will take full advantage," said Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations.

Because the Mavericks are over the salary cap, any big changes must come through trades. They could offer the expiring contract of center Erick Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse and his $2 million buyout on a $7 million deal or maybe even Howard, a versatile former All-Star who also is going into the final year of his contract.

Howard had a lot to prove this season after a series of off-court troubles. He played well when healthy and was darn good late in the season and in the playoffs despite a left ankle that likely needs arthroscopic surgery "to clean out all the junk." He's visiting a specialist in New York next week.

Dallas' best-case scenario is for Kidd and Howard to remain alongside Nowitzki, then for other moves to bring help at shooting guard and center. The club would like to get more scoring from those two spots, but also is looking to improve on defense.

Then again, as coach Rick Carlisle said Thursday, "Every team is looking for athleticism, shooting and size, to get more dynamic in general."

In their first season under Carlisle, the Mavericks started slowly (2-7) but finished strong, winning 50 games, then knocking out the rival Spurs in the first round. After losing the first two games against Denver, they had a controversial loss in Game 3, won Game 4 and then were outclassed again in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

"Denver was just a way better team with way more weapons," Nowitzki said.

Nowitzki just finished his 11th season and ninth straight on an all-NBA team. To him, every season that doesn't end with a championship is "another opportunity that kind of slipped away from me."

Figuring that he'll only be an elite player for three or more seasons, he really wants to see the talent around him upgraded.

"You have to have Kidd back, keep some of the core guys and just add pieces," Nowitzki said. "That's what it always comes down to, just adding players who can play. I think it really showed in the second round that we need some athleticism as well. Denver was just stronger and faster, it felt like, at every position.... We'll see what happens this summer."

Among the things Nowitzki must deal with is the ongoing saga of Cristal Taylor, who was arrested at his house last week and facing a variety of charges, including a probation violation from Missouri that is keeping her held without bond.

"I'm OK," he said. "It's been a tough two weeks. That's really all I can say about it."


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