-- DALLAS -- Drastic change has become the norm for the Dallas Mavericks' roster.
Dirk Nowitzki has been the lone constant on the roster since the Mavs' 2010-11 title run and NBA lockout the following offseason. He has had 53 teammates during the past three and a half seasons. The starting jobs at point guard and center, in particular, have been filled in revolving-door fashion.
After recent offseasons that will be remembered for big swings and misses, the Mavs' front office hopes that has changed after its most recent remodeling job. The Mavs turned an aging eighth seed into a team they believe will be legitimate contenders, acquiring center Tyson Chandler, small forward Chandler Parsons and point guard Rajon Rondo since the end of last season.
It should be much easier to keep this core together than it was to create it in the first place. For various reasons, the odds were against the Mavs acquiring Chandler, Parsons or Rondo on an individual basis. Parsons was a restricted free agent who had a significant part in his former franchise's plans for the future. Chandler and Rondo were trade targets the front office described to Nowitzki as "very long shots."
The chances of landing all three?
"I would have laughed," Mavs owner Mark Cuban told ESPNDallas.com when asked what he would have thought if the scenario was mentioned as a possibility after the Mavs' first-round exit to the San Antonio Spurs last spring. "No chance. We've been fortunate."
As Nowitzki said, "Sometimes you've got to get a little lucky."
A look at the circumstances of each of the Mavs' major acquisitions since the end of last season:
The Mavs allowed Chandler to leave after the lockout primarily because they wanted to create enough cap space to land a "big fish" in free agency, with Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams the top targets in the front office's plans at the time. Dallas ended up using a chunk of that cap space to bring Chandler back a few years later -- and Cuban admitted he made a mistake by not re-signing Chandler in the first place.
Felton, a point guard the Knicks wanted to dump who has a $3.8 million salary this season and a $3.95 million player option for next season, was essentially the tax the Mavs had to pay to get back the rim-protecting, elite-rebounding big man who was the finishing piece to the 2011 championship puzzle.
"You've got to put yourself in position to, when the right deal is there, strike," said Nowitzki, who is consulted on every move considered by the Mavs' front office. "We did that with the cap room. It worked out our way."
Chandler, 32, has made just as much of an impact as he did during his previous one-year Dallas stint. His numbers (10.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game) are actually better across the board.
Dallas president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who handles the majority of the Mavs' trade negotiations, had been quietly working on a deal for Chandler for a few months before pulling the trigger on June 25. Nelson saw the struggling Knicks' hiring of Phil Jackson as team president in March as a potential opportunity for the Mavs.
"When there's a change of regime, a lot of times guys are looking to set the table with their own players and coaches and philosophies," Nelson told ESPNDallas.com. "When you have a change of the guard, that's when the opportunity to turn over stones is a little bit better."
Dallas entered the offseason determined to make a significant upgrade at center after starting a collection of journeymen, such as Brendan Haywood, Chris Kaman and Dalembert, in the three seasons since Chandler left.
The Mavs liked Marcin Gortat, whom they once signed to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent that the Orlando Magic surprisingly matched, but weren't confident they could convince him to leave a good situation with the Washington Wizards. They were intrigued by Pau Gasol but had concerns about how he'd fit defensively with Nowitzki.
The Mavs knew how well Chandler, whose value dipped last season because of a disappointing season marred by a fractured leg, fit with Nowitzki and pounced on the chance to pair them up again.
"Let's just say we were very aggressive to get a presence on our front line that could make Dirk's life easier, not to mention a great guy in the locker room," Nelson said. "When that situation presented itself, it covered a lot of bases and reunited a pretty good front line. Those are two guys a lot of people want to play with."
The Mavs played out the pie-in-the-sky scenarios during the first week of free agency. Carmelo Anthony made a brief stop in his tour for a meeting with the Mavs at Cuban's home. Cuban traveled to Cleveland to meet with LeBron James' agent.
"We knew what we were up against on both of them, but to be one of a handful of teams that were granted requests, we knew we were doing things the right way," Nelson said. "Even in the process of taking those meetings, we focused on what was real and what was possible."
The Mavs, determined to upgrade from aging Shawn Marion at small forward, targeted Parsons over older, less expensive options in free agency such as Trevor Ariza, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng. Parsons infamously inked the offer sheet while partying with friends, family and Cuban in an Orlando nightclub.
The problem: The Houston Rockets had repeatedly stated their intention to exercise their right to match any offer for the restricted free agent.
Cuban called the Rockets' bluff with a near-maximum offer sheet, a luxury Dallas had due to the steep hometown discount deal agreed to by Nowitzki, who signed a three-year, $25 million contract after making $22.7 million last season.
"It was a white-knuckler for sure," Nelson said of the three-day waiting process, when Ariza, Pierce and Deng all agreed to sign with other teams. "We were happy that it worked out. We had [Parsons] circled. He was our guy."
For the Rockets, the devil was in the details of Parsons' offer sheet, which was designed by agent Dan Fegan to be as painful as possible for Houston. Parsons' deal includes a 15 percent trade kicker and a player option for the third year, factors in Houston general manager Daryl Morey calling it "one of the most untradable structures I've ever seen."
"I'll give Fegan credit," said Cuban, who negotiated the deal. "I went in and looked at the numbers. All these numbers came together. I was, 'Here's the numbers we have to hit,' but it was going to be longer term. Dan was, 'No, do it shorter term. It gives yourself a little more flexibility, but it also hurts Houston's perspective.' And he was right."
The Mavs still needed an assist from the Miami Heat to get Parsons. Morey has said the Rockets would have kept Parsons even at that price if they would have been able to successfully recruit Chris Bosh, who opted to re-sign with Miami when the Heat offered him a five-year max deal.
Without Bosh on board, Morey decided the flexibility to pursue a third star was more valuable to the Rockets than having Parsons on the roster. That thrilled the Mavs, who saw the 26-year-old Parsons as a foundation piece entering his prime.
A case can be made that Parsons, who is averaging 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, isn't performing up to his paycheck. He had a rocky transition early in the season and had his rhythm disrupted when the Mavs added Rondo and implemented a ball-dominant point guard into the starting lineup.
But the Mavs, who were willing to pay a premium price for a player they viewed as ascending, certainly don't have buyer's remorse. They look at Parsons and Nowitzki as a package deal that provides good value at roughly $23 million per year. (So does Nowitzki, who sarcastically demanded that Parsons buy every dinner on the road this season, reasoning, "It's my money anyway.")
"We needed somebody who was multifaceted," said Cuban, adding that he anticipated the looming spike in the salary cap as he negotiated contracts this summer. "We wanted somebody who was young, who could play, who could adapt and play around Dirk, who could be a point forward, who could score, who could finish. We just felt like he was kind of a glue guy and those guys are hard to come by.
"The structure of the contract evolved over time because it was a competitive environment, but we really felt like he could help us and he has."
Rondo's name had been swirling in trade rumors for at least two years. Nelson kept a pulse on the Rondo rumors and periodically reminded Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, his former boss with the Phoenix Suns, about the Mavs' interest.
"We're in the market for a quarterback," Nelson would tell Ainge. "Keep us in mind."
The Mavs realistically had no chance of landing Rondo, a four-time All-Star who played a critical role on Boston's most recent title team, for most of that time. Ainge's initial sarcastic response was to ask for Nowitzki in return.
Two things happened on draft night to boost Nelson's hopes: (1) The Mavs finally got rid of the protected pick they owed from the disastrous Lamar Odom deal, meaning they could dangle first-round picks in trade talks again; and (2) the Celtics drafted Marcus Smart, Rondo's likely successor.
According to Cuban, talks between Nelson and Ainge intensified early in the season and then cooled off quickly. Those discussions heated up again in December, with Ainge determined to deal Rondo before Dec. 19, the last day the Celtics could acquire a package of players who would be eligible to trade again before the Feb. 19 deadline.
By that point, Rondo's value had taken a hit because of his mediocre performance in the last season of his contract. But the Mavs' interest was as strong as ever, believing Rondo would be refreshed by the opportunity to play for a playoff team again.
"We loved Rondo," said Cuban, who has repeatedly cited Rondo's tendency to be at his best in clutch situations and big stages as the factor that made him most attractive to the Mavs. "We've been trying to get him for a long time. It just had to be the right deal. You can't take a step backward to try to move forward."
The Mavs also knew they wouldn't take many steps in the postseason unless they addressed their point guard problem. They hoped Jameer Nelson would be a bargain-priced, quality stopgap after signing him for the $2.7 million cap-room exception, but that's a move the Mavs made this summer that didn't work. Nelson was a glaring liability defensively and nothing more than a floor spacer offensively.
The Mavs gave up three rotation players -- a starting point guard they needed to replace and two quality reserves -- along with two picks to get Rondo. The Mavs didn't want to lose Wright or Crowder, but that was a small price to pay for a point guard who probably would have been their top target next summer, if the Mavs had enough cap space to be in the market for a player of his caliber.
The biggest sticking point in the talks with the Celtics was the protection on the first-round pick. The teams settled on protecting it 1-3 and 15-30 in the next draft and 1-7 from 2016 to 2020.
"If you have a chance to get a point guard like that that has a championship and is experienced but is only 28, 29, I think that's a no-brainer," Nowitzki said. "I hated to see the guys leave that loved it here like Jameer and Jae, and B. Wright was a big part of what we were doing, but if you have a chance to go for a guard like that, you've just got to jump on it."
The Mavs aren't done tinkering with their roster. They're in the market for a backup big man to replace Wright, hoping to sign Jermaine O'Neal soon. They'd love to add a shooter, something that will probably have to wait for the summer, when they'll need to fill out their bench in addition to dealing with their free-agent starters.
But this remarkable remodeling job has provided real hope for the franchise right now, really for the first time since the Mavericks celebrated that June 2011 night in Miami.
"Over the last couple of years since the lockout, I think we've put ourselves in this position to keep making plays in the summer," Nowitzki said. "If you want to say it that way, I guess it worked out, but it's been a tough couple of years to get here.
"I'm thinking it took a little longer after the lockout, but we had to be patient. I'm thinking we've got a good team now and we've got to go for it."
This starting five forms a core the Dallas decision-makers envision remaining in place throughout the big German's golden years.
"The hope is that this group is one that we can build with and win with at the highest level," Nelson said.
It will take some work -- and a lot of Cuban's money -- for this starting five to remain intact next season. Rondo and Chandler are in the final seasons of their contracts. Shooting guard Monta Ellis, a summer of 2013 signing who has been a bargain, can opt out of the final season of his three-year, $25 million deal.
Nowitzki is somewhat skeptical, once having thought he'd play the majority of his career with Steve Nash and Michael Finley only to have his fellow cornerstones gone by his prime, then seeing a championship team stripped down several years later.
"You never know," said Nowitzki, 36, who has spent his entire 17-year career in Dallas. "You've got to go for it this year. If you're as old as I am, you want to be in position to win this year. You want to go for it this year, and then anything that happens this summer, we'll go from there.
"We'd love to keep everybody. I'm guessing Monta is going to opt out, but that's up to him. Rondo is a free agent. Tyson is up. We want to be in a position where we can strike this year and be the best team we can be. In the summer, who knows?"
However, Cuban is adamant that he's prepared to make competitive, long-term offers to each of his prospective free-agent starters, using the Bird rights the Mavs own for Rondo and Chandler and early Bird rights on Ellis to go over the salary cap and perhaps even push into luxury-tax territory.
"That's certainly the thought process," Cuban said, adding that a "huge, huge, huge difference" in this summer's scenario and the one after the lockout is that three of the Mavs' starters now are in the early stages or middle of their primes. "I've said it to these guys. What we want to do in a perfect world is keep this team together and just add to it.
"We think we've got great pieces. We'll get better over time."