The best this year's Mavericks team could manage was 41-41, and just two years removed from an NBA championship squad, Dallas now has to find a way to push its way back up in a loaded Western Conference.
I've discussed previously just how close the Mavericks are from being a contending team again, and there are clear areas that this team needs to address if it wants to make it back into the postseason.
With only five players under contract for next season, the Mavs will certainly have some flexibility in terms of how their roster is going to shake out in 2013-14.
There are certainly some players from this past season who will be coming back to big D, but without a doubt, the Mavs will be looking to improve through trades, free agency and the draft.
That being said, just where should Dallas begin this offseason? If the Mavericks can get their priorities straight, they could end up having a productive offseason and build a team capable of competing with the best NBA teams in 2013-14.
1. Improve Defense and Rebounding
The No. 1 priority for the Mavericks this offseason has to be improving the team's defense. The Mavericks ranked 27th out of 30 NBA teams in opponent points per game last season, and their defense single-handedly kept them out of the postseason race.
If Dallas had played the defense that we have been accustomed to seeing out of Rick Carlisle-coached clubs this past year, it could have made a serious push past the two teams in front of it for a playoff bid.
It's no coincidence that when the Mavericks won their first and only NBA championship in 2011, they excelled defensively.
While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry may get the most credit for the team's playoff run, players like Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson helped anchor the Mavericks defensively and allowed them to overcome explosive offensive teams in the playoffs like the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat.
After the 2011 season, however, the Mavericks lost Chandler, Stevenson and a plethora of other good defensive players.
They lost even more after 2012 when Jason Kidd went to New York, and this year the Mavericks were a shell defensively of the Dallas teams of the last five years.
Going forward, the team's top priority has to be addressing its defensive struggles, as well as its struggles on the glass.
Defensive and rebounding can often go together, so it's no surprise that with their inability to get stops, the Mavericks also ranked 28th in the league in rebounding differential.
While the Mavs may not be bringing in a Defensive Player of the Year quality of player like Chandler, there are realistic options such as J.J. Hickson, Paul Millsap, Greg Oden and Timofey Mozgov who could anchor the middle of their defense and help with rebounding.
If they would rather go the route of the NBA draft, Alex Len, Rudy Gobert and Lucas Nogueira are all young prospects who along with an improving Bernard James could make a difference down low.
On the perimeter, Dallas also could use a guard or small forward who could help take some of the pressure off Shawn Marion and the other Dallas guards.
Tony Allen or Andre Iguodala could be available, and they are two of the best stoppers in the entire league. Beyond them, the Mavs could look at a younger players such as Lance Stephenson, who is an excellent defensive player.
Once the Mavericks improve defensively and in rebounding, and only then, can they afford to look into other areas this offseason.
2. Finding a Solid Point Guard
Simply put, Darren Collison was not consistent enough to be the Mavericks' long-term plan at the point guard position for next season.
That's not to say Collison was bad, or that there is no value in bringing him back; however, if he is going to come back, he needs to be pushed by another guard with high value (no offense to Mike James or Rodrigue Beaubois, but...).
If they want to try for a reasonable option (we will get to the more unreasonable options later), Devin Harris, Jose Calderon or Jarrett Jack all could be excellent veterans who can come in and compete with Collison while also helping him grow as a lead guard.
If the Mavs don't bring back Collison, it's even more important for them to have a point guard on the roster next year who is capable of running the team's offense, which was one of the best in the NBA this past season.
3. Getting Younger
The Mavericks are too old to be a team that can compete consistently in the future.
Arguably their three best players this past season were Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, all of whom are well into their 30s.
The Mavericks have to go out this offseason and acquire some young talent who can be their core for the future.
One thing the team hasn't really done well with over the past decade is building through the NBA draft. Now that they have a lottery pick in 2013, this is their potential opportunity to bring in a player who can help them for years to come.
If the Mavs see someone they like in the top five or 10 and the lottery balls don't help them out, they can't be afraid to pull the trigger and try to move on to land that cornerstone player.
In free agency, they also need to focus on bringing in youth, especially on their bench. With all of the veterans the Mavericks have, young players have a real opportunity to hone their skills and play behind some of the most successful players of this generation.
Once their time is up, than the young players can come in and be ready to fill their shoes.
4. Bringing in a Star Player
Bringing in a star player is certainly a priority for the Mavericks this offseason.
However, this can happen only after the Mavs improve in the areas stated above.
For starters, a star is not going to want to come to Dallas unless he believes he has a chance of winning there, and with the way the roster is right now, that is not realistic.
Once Dallas gets better defensively, finds a solid point guard and gets younger, then it will become a much more attractive destination for a free agent.
Dallas also needs to build its team around the fact that it may very well not be able to sign a big name this offseason.
We have seen the team swing and miss on bringing in stars before, and it is essential for the Mavs this season to be more prepared if they get shunned once again.
Which of These Players Is Most Likely to End Up in Dallas Next Season?
Having said that, there are some very attractive options out there for the team to look into.
Howard seems like the much more likely of the two to end up in Dallas, but the Mavericks would gladly take either of them if they can somehow sway them into leaving their L.A. homes.
A small step down from there, there are also several other star-quality players available.
From the point guard spot, the team could look into bringing in Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee. Jennings is a shoot-first type of guard, but he surely would bring some star power to the team's offense and could be a great compliment to Dirk Nowitzki.
Other guards on the perimeter who could come in potentially and be a better fit than O.J. Mayo was this past season are Tyreke Evans, Monte Ellis or Kevin Martin.
If the Mavericks want to go after a star big man, they have plenty of choices aside from Howard.
Front and center would be Andrew Bynum, who missed all of this season with Philadelphia and is now a free agent.
Bynum along with Nowitzki would give the Mavericks a potentially unstoppable combo of 7-footers if Bynum is able to stay healthy.
Beyond that, Josh Smith and Al Jefferson are also prolific power forwards who could come to Dallas if the Mavs believe they are the right fit.
There are All-Star players out there for the taking in the upcoming months, but the Mavericks can only afford to go after them once they have addressed some of their other glaring issues.