DALLAS (AP) -Forced to deal with a long offseason, Dirk Nowitzki plans to spend much of it figuring out what went wrong for him and the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs.
``The next couple of weeks are definitely going to be tough,'' he said Saturday. ``A lot of thinking.''
Among the things he'll ponder: How did the Dallas Mavericks' 67-win regular season come crashing down in the first round? And how did he go from being the likely league MVP to being part of a team that couldn't get past a No. 8 seed?
The one question Nowitzki won't ask himself is the one everyone else is asking about him: Does he have what it takes to lead a team to a championship?
``I think I did a decent job in the regular season of taking over when I had to,'' he said. ``For whatever reason, this playoff series I couldn't do it. I couldn't put my stamp on it the way I wanted to. It was definitely very disappointing. I still think I have pretty good leadership skills. I just didn't show it this playoff series.''
Although Nowitzki said ``you go down as a team,'' he knows it's not that simple, not for a perennial All-Star who is the face of the franchise. Thing is, his own expectations are just as high, which is why the six-game ousting by Golden State, and how little he did to stop it, will eat at him all summer - just like Dallas' collapse against Miami in the finals bothered him all last summer.
``That's the kind of person I am. I always take things very, very hard on myself,'' he said. ``I don't need media people to tell me that I did bad. I know I didn't play my best in the playoffs. ...
``I understand the business by now. If you play well and you win, you're the greatest. And if you lose, you're the worst player in the league. It's obviously not the position I want to be in, but it's nothing I can change now. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Hopefully I can learn from this experience.''
Nowitzki's critics are strictly outside the organization. Team owner Mark Cuban, front-office boss Donnie Nelson and coach Avery Johnson all still believe Nowitzki can lead the Mavericks to a championship.
``You can't put it on one guy's shoulders,'' Nelson said. ``We won 67 games this year. That's no fluke. We didn't all of a sudden become stupid and poor performers overnight.
``I think the easy thing to do in this is pile it on Dirk or Avery. But you can't do that. If you actually open up the hood and look into things, you'll see there's a lot more reasons.''
Cuban's support of Nowitzki is just as unwavering. Asked immediately after the Mavs were eliminated whether he questioned Nowitzki's leadership, Cuban said: ``Not at all. Not a little bit. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a moron.''
Nelson noted that Nowitzki is a different kind of leader, much like he's a mold-breaking 7-footer who shoots 3s.
``If you look at his entire career, he has always been a very unique combination of a total team player and an All-Star performer. There are not many of those guys walking around,'' Nelson said. ``Dirk is going to make the right play. Does that mean he's going to shoot over a triple team? No. Dirk's always going to do the thing that's in the best interest of helping his club.''
But wouldn't being more selfish be in the team's best interest?
``I think Dirk needs to be himself,'' Nelson said. ``We've had some pretty special years with that. ... He's not King Kong. He does it more with skill. Last year, just to get us to the point of being in the finals, he did everything, he put our team on his back. This was just a very odd matchup for us and we ran into a hot team at the wrong time.''
Nowitzki said he plans to take a month off, then start working out again in June. As always, his offseason goal will be to become ``more of a complete player.''
He also plans to join the German national team for the European Championship tournament in September, aiming for a top-three finish to clinch a spot in next year's Olympics or at least earning a spot in the Olympics qualifying event.
While the playoffs go on without the Mavericks, Nowitzki will have plenty of time to work on his MVP acceptance speech. That's what happens when you follow the best regular-season of your career with your worst postseason.

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