Eras have a definitive starting point and a definitive ending point.
Clearly this current Dallas Mavericks' era could have a few starting points: The hiring of Don Nelson in 1997, the draft-day trade for Dirk Nowitzki in 1998 or the sale of the franchise to Mark Cuban in 2000. For the sake of this argument, we're going to suggest that the official start was the 2000-01 season, the launch of a decade-plus string of 50-win seasons and the first venture back into the postseason since the 1990s blackout.
And so may we now suggest that the current Mavs era -- with the first-round sweep at the hands of the Western Conference's baby superstars in Oklahoma City and an expected roster overhaul that could turn over everyone not named Dirk Nowitzki -- represents the end of a 12-season era. That era included three coaches guiding vastly different rosters -- with Nowitzki as the only constant -- to at least the West finals.
In those 12 seasons, the Mavs hit phenomenal milestones and set the standard for teams to come:
* The franchise's first championship in 2011
* Two NBA Finals appearances (2006 and 2011)
* Three West finals appearances (2003, '06, '11)
* 12 consecutive postseason appearances
* Franchise-best 67 wins in 2006-07
* 11 consecutive 50-win seasons (or the equivalent of a .600 winning percentage) all with Nowitzki, and the last eight with Jason Terry.
That last feat is also the signal of the end of this era. This season's team with its hastily fashioned roster finished 36-30 (.545), the first time since the the 1999-2000 season (40-42) that it did not reach at least a .600 winning percentage. It meant a struggle just to secure a playoff berth, finishing with the No. 7 seed and the same record as the No. 8 seed Utah Jazz, and just two games ahead of the lottery-bound Houston Rockets.
"When you’re used to going a little farther and doing a little better, everything becomes a priority," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "The priority is for us to be healthy in the here and now, and also in the long-term, and to never go back to those 10 years of the Bataan Death March walks in the desert of no playoffs. That’s the plan."
Welcome to the new era.
The question ahead is whether the second decade of Cuban-style Mavs basketball will begin in earnest next season with local lad Deron Williams as Nowitzki's sidekick until the big man decides to step aside, or if next season only becomes something of a stopgap before regrouping in the summer of 2013 with a new plan to keep the successes coming.
At the moment, we can't even be sure if coach Rick Carlisle will make Dallas the longest coaching stop of his 10-year career. Carlisle appears headed toward free agency, having yet to strike a deal with Cuban for a fifth season and beyond. At times Carlisle has, strategically or not, talked about coaching the Mavs in the past tense. Other times he seems ready to embrace the uncertain future.
"I look at this summer for this franchise as a summer of opportunity and excitement," Carlisle said. "And I don’t think anybody should look at it any differently."
Surely the coaching situation will get resolved soon, seemingly with Carlisle signing a lucrative new deal to stay in Big D. Then all attention will shift to July 1 and the start of free agency, and whether the perennial All-Star point guard called D-Will will make 2012-13 the official launch party for the next era of Dallas Mavericks basketball.