Well, Saturday night was not much fun for Mavericks fans. The Oklahoma City Thunder swept the defending NBA champs, 4-0, in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, leaving both the team and everyone who covers them with a lot of time to think about what happens next. 

Five takeways from a disappointing—if not entirely surprising—season and post-season.

1. It really was the end of an era
Jeff Caplan of ESPN reported that the Mavs’ 36-30 record put an end to an eleven-year streak of fifty-win seasons.

Of course, the NBA lockout meant this season was just 66 games, rather than the usual 82, but both the Spurs and the Chicago Bulls went 50-16, and, as Caplan also noted, during those eleven seasons, the Mavericks had never finished with a winning percentage lower than .600 either.

Brad Gardner of SB Nation Dallas Stars’ blog Defending Big D also pointed out another ignominy involving both hockey and basketball:

2. But everybody saw it coming. 
They were the defending champions, yes, but the Mavericks parted with so many players from the 2010-2011 team (including Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea) that it was really not the same.

“If you look at our roster to a man, it was a long shot this year,” Jason Terry said.

Dirk Nowitzki expressed a similar sentiment: “We need some guys that can make plays for themselves,” Nowitzki said. “That’s pretty obvious. If you look at all the top teams now, they at least have two [or] three guys that you can just throw the ball to and they do their thing.”

Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote, “Despite the B.S. denials that will be heard from Mark Cuban over the next weeks and months, let it always be said that the world championship team was never allowed to defend its title after being dynamited from within by the owner.”

3. We didn’t have to wait long for the “B.S. denials”
Before the Game 4 loss, Cuban addressed the team’s construction, which was hampered by the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, inasmuch as the team can’t spend money like it used to, and apparently chose to save money for future signings instead of blowing it for the short-term possibility of going back-to-back.

As Caplan and Tim McMahon of ESPN.com wrote:

“If you want to nail me for something, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a huge (expletive) that I didn’t fight for the new (collective bargaining agreement) harder,” Cuban said . . .

“Oh, hell no. No, no, no, nope,” Cuban said when asked if he has second-guessed himself. “Not even a millisecond. Because those that are talking otherwise haven’t read the CBA, like I know you guys haven’t, and are just talking out their ass without any foundation.”

“These are the circumstances that everyone in Big D at least understood, if not accepted, when the lockout ended in December,” wrote ESPN’s Marc Stein, adding that “the Mavs’ primary objective this season was winning the offseason.”

4. Not so many happy returns
That’s how Tom Ziller of SB Nation saw it too:

By the time we open the 2012-13 season, the only players remaining in Dallas from the championship squad might be Nowitzki, Beaubois and Jones (neither of whom played in the 2011 playoffs) and Brian Cardinal, the ersatz mascot Brian Cardinal, who himself is a free agent. It’s completely possible that only Nowitzki will remain.

Cuban and Nelson got what they wanted: a title in the Nowitzki era. Now they are happy to let their free agents get what they want: more money. It all helps get the Mavericks closer to a clean slate as the franchise exits the Nowitzki and enters the ________ era. It all helps the team move on toward that next championship, in whatever form it might manifest.

The champs aren’t crying too hard over a sweep on Sunday. Hell, the brooms just might help get this mess cleaned up more quickly.

Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said the player who’ll be missed the most is Terry, who has been on the team since 2004 and, he argued, deserves to have his number retired. 

As Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News reported, Terry gave away his jersey (which players aren’t supposed to do) to a long-time season ticketholder after Game 4, suggesting that he knew it was his swan song. 

Also technically a free agent is head coach Rick Carlisle, whose four-year contract has expired. Galloway noted that Carlisle ominously said “I had four great years here” but neverthless concluded that he’d be back. “Rick’s not going anywhere,” team president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson told the media, including Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News

5. Deron, Deron, Deron
All this delayed financial gratification was supposed to be about two players: Orlando star center Dwight Howard, who may or may not be available, and Nets guard Deron Williams, who just happens to be a hometown boy.

Even last Tuesday, when the Mavs’ playoffs hopes were still alive, fans were talking about Williams with Dallas Morning News beat writer Eddie Sefko, and today the paper also came out with a slide show of the Colony native.

Nowitzki mentioned Williams too (“He’s a Rangers fan I guess, so he can watch plenty of games”), and Jason Kidd has pretty much said he’d happily come back to Dallas and back up Williams for what could be his final season. 

It’s long been said that both the Nets and the Mavericks would like to have both Williams and Howard. ESPN’s Stein wrote that “one source well-acquainted with Williams’ thinking told ESPN.com this weekend that the Mavericks, in their current state, have no better than a ’50-50 shot’ of getting D-Will’s signature in July … despite the fact that the Nets aren’t any closer to landing Howard than they are.”