DALLAS -- Jason Terry has been preparing himself all season to let go. It won't be easy.
On Saturday night, after the Oklahoma City Thunder ended the Dallas Mavericks' title defense in a sweep, the idea of leaving the Mavs' locker room one last time started to hit home. If he doesn't return, Terry said he still has hope that the franchise will reserve a spot in the rafters for his No. 31 jersey some day.
"This is where the Jet was made," said Terry, who was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4, just his second start all season. "The whole mantra of the Jet's on the runway, and the community and everything, they made me who I am. So that's just a hard pill to swallow if I have to leave that behind. But it's a reality."
Terry will become a free agent for the first time in his 13-year career July 1. He's spent the last eight seasons in Dallas since coming over in a trade to replace Steve Nash after he bolted for a lucrative payday with the Phoenix Suns.
As disappointed as Terry was that the championship team was not brought back and that the title defense ended so quickly, he will always go down in Mavs' lore for scoring 27 points in the Game 6 clincher last June in Miami and for the remarkable run he crafted after enduring several gut-wrenching playoff losses with Dirk Nowitzki.
"The whole entire journey," Terry said. "Think about it, losing the '05-'06 (NBA Finals), being the guy that everybody was looking at for what happened and then to come through like we did last year is going to be my lasting memory -- if it has to be."
Terry didn't finish this season off quite as well. He had tough night in Game 4, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and he had all kinds of difficulties -- just like every other Mavs guard -- defending Thunder guard James Harden in the fourth quarter.
With three seconds left in Game 4, Terry said he spotted his four daughters in the stands. After the buzzer sounded, he took off his jersey and handed it to longtime Mavs season-ticket holder Neil Hawks and tossed other souvenirs into the AAC crowd that he has entertained for eight years with long-distance buckets and encouraging cheers by flapping his arms and putting his hand to his ear.
"Just mixed emotions right now," Terry said. "I'm not going to go home and cry about it. But, again, look at what we've accomplished here. To leave that all behind, that's tough."
Nowitzki was the only other member of the Mavs team that endured the 2006 Finals collapse and the following year's crushing first-round defeat to the Golden State Warriors after a 67-win season. The two have had their run-ins on the court and shared difficult times along with the highest triumph 11 months ago.
Nowitzki said he hadn't yet had time to process life possibly without the Jet.
"I think that’s something that’s going to sink in more over the summer," Nowitzki said. "That’s another decision obviously we have to make. He’s probably going to test free agency and see what’s out there for him. Obviously he’s an older guy, see what kind of money and what kind of contract length people are going to give him, but obviously we’d love to keep him. Not only as a player has he been phenomenal here, but in the community, he’s one of a kind.
"You guys know he’s always smiling and high-fiving and bringing 85 kids to the game. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful guy. That’s another decision obviously that we’ll wait and see what happens this summer, but I haven’t really thought about him leaving. That never crossed my mind. The end kind of snuck up on us now."