For the third time in four years, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks will watch the second round of the NBA's postseason instead of playing in it.
Another early exit has the blogosphere and NBA community abuzz about what the franchise's German star might do in the wake of another botched title run.
Should he stay or should he go?
Can he win a title with a team guided by proactive but intrusive owner Mark Cuban?
A die-hard fan's passion and deep pockets give the Mavs' boss an edge.
Cuban will spend until he finds the right combination.
He also meddles to the point where his enthusiasm inhibits player development and some necessary goodbyes.
The Spurs ousted the Mavs in six games and inquiring minds want to know: will Nowitzki opt out of his contract, and/or will he say "adios" to the team that made him a star?
Don't bet on it.
Here are five reasons the front of Nowitzki's uniform will still say "Dallas" when the 2010-2011 season tips off in late October.
Loyalty for most American-born stars rarely runs deep.
LeBron James would still have been the top selection in the 2003 NBA Draft had the Cleveland Cavaliers failed to win the No. 1 pick.
Dwyane Wade never worried about falling out of the lottery. Ditto for Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
Perhaps the best example is Nowitzki's cross-state counterpart. The other lottery squads in 1997 developed a distaste for the San Antonio Spurs.
Those other unlucky GMs knew Tim Duncan would be special.
Teams did not line up as readily to select Nowitzki in 1998. When Don Nelson convinced the Mavs' front office to use the sixth pick on a scrawny kid from Germany (via a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks who picked ninth), some thought the unorthodox coach was reaching.
Tim Tebow's dissenters have nothing on Nowitzki's.
Many Dallas fans abhorred the choice and wondered how Nelson could pass up on Paul Pierce.
There wasn't a place for Nowitzki in the NBA when he first arrived stateside, even if his talent tantalized a select few.
With the unflappable backing of Nelson, and eventually Cuban, Nowitzki built his own niche.
The Mavs' brass kept the faith, even after his disastrous rookie season spurred the doubters to spit more venom.
He paid management back by becoming an All-Star and a future Hall of Famer.
Pierce managed to capture the championship ring Nowitzki doesn't have. The gap between the two stars, however, isn't wide.
Since taking the franchise's reigns 10 years ago, Cuban has doggedly and sometimes mistakenly built his team's around Nowitzki.
Does the forward have it in him to abandon the squad that has never wavered in its support or its belief he would become an all-time great?
How fitting that Cuban owns a sports franchise in the same city as Jerry Jones.
His resume may not boast the titles that Jones' does, but he opens his wallet with a similar shrug.
Why shouldn't an owner do everything in his power to field a champion?
He forked up $17 million of his own money to make the numbers in the trade for Jason Kidd work.
He dealt away expiring contracts to take on added salary in Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, and Caron Butler.
In his post-elimination press conference on Thursday night (how many other owners do that?), he apologized to Dallas fans for failing to bring the Larry O'Brien trophy to Texas.
That will matter to Nowitzki.
Other owners—Donald Sterling comes to mind—can cope with losing and embarrassment so long as they turn a profit.
Accepting defeat is not in Cuban's DNA.
Nowitzki has complained about his boss's propensity to meddle and bemoan officials to his team's detriment.
He has never derided Cuban's willingness to open his checkbook.
That will make a difference as Nowitzki ponders his NBA future.
If Nowitzki opts out of his current contract, he will leave a guaranteed $21 million on the table.
Even a star defined by his humility cares about Benjamins.
Would you walk away from that kind of money in this economy?
Sure, a double figure number of franchises with cap space to burn will court him.
How many owners will offer Nowitzki more than $21 million plus the other perks that come with playing under Cuban?
For every detractor in Dallas there are four others who swear by Nowitzki.
A friend and life-long Mavs fan delivered this brash statement the night the Spurs ousted the Mavs: "If Dirk leaves, so will my allegiance."
Can Nowitzki bring himself to wear another jersey? Could he accept playing for another fan base, or more important, could he stomach taking the American Airlines Center court as an opposing player?
Nowitzki talks to no end about his championship aspirations. As he limped off the AT&T Center court Thursday night, he was visibly shaken and wore a look of despair that suggested he knows the end of his career lurks.
As his age climbs, his opportunity to win a title shrinks.
The question only he can answer: Is he determined to secure that elusive banner as the Mavs' best player, or will he decide to play second fiddle to another proven champion?
Does a departure from the Metroplex qualify as an admission of failure on his part to meet expectations?
Nowitzki will not have to answer that question because he will not opt out of his deal.
The next time he boards a plane at Dallas' Love Field Airport, it will be to return to Germany or with his Mavericks teammates.