18 seasons. 29, 280 points. 14 playoff appearances. 13-time All Star. 12 All-NBA Team selections. 2 NBA Finals appearances. 1 MVP award. 1 unforgettable playoff run resulting in the only championship in franchise history.
Dirk Nowitzki. The basketball player who came to the NBA as a 20 year old shy, German boy and over the course of his legendary career has become the man who will forever represent the Mavericks franchise and perhaps the entire city of Dallas.
Spending all of his NBA career with the Mavericks, Nowitzki has definitely experienced his share of lows during his time in Dallas. Of the fourteen playoff appearances mentioned earlier, seven have resulted in first round exits. That includes the 2007 first round loss to the the 8th seed Warriors following a franchise record 67 win season for Dallas. That led to an uncomfortable ceremony in May 2007 to honor Nowitzki’s only MVP award. Many of the MFFL’s still haven’t come to peace with the horrors and nightmares from the 2006 Finals collapse despite the eventual championship in 2011.
The years following the 2011 championship haven’t exactly been memorable for Dirk and the Mavericks. In the four full seasons since the title, the Mavericks have three first round bow-outs and one .500 campaign in which Nowitzki missed 27 games, a career high. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have been desperately trying to find another superstar to pair with the Big German to better his title chances in his final seasons and to set the franchise up for success after his retirement. Notable swing and misses include their pursuits of Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and the disastrous DeAndre Jordan fiasco last summer. In order to have the salary cap space necessary to sign those types of players, Nowitzki has taken less on his last two contracts and seen a revolving door of different teammates the last five seasons with the vast majority of them coming to Dallas on one year contracts.
Even after landing two potential franchise building blocks the last two summers in Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews, this season could potentially yield the Mavericks’ worst win-loss record since their 40-42 record during the 1999-2000 season; Dirk Nowitzki’s sophomore campaign.
It definitely isn’t a lack of performance on Nowitzki’s part that is holding back the Mavericks this season. At age 37, he’s the team’s leading scorer with over 18 points per game. March has seen Nowitzki step his game up even further: averaging 23.2 points per game on 52% shooting and scoring 20+ points in 7 straight games. The latter is something the future hall of famer hasn’t done since the middle of the 2013-2014 season.
Despite Nowitzki’s performance, the Mavericks have lost 7 of their last 8 games and find themselves under .500 with less than a month to go in the season. They’re clinging to the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and seem destined for a quick and tidy first round series loss should they make it to the tournament.
When Dirk Nowitzki agreed to his incredibly team-friendly 3 year/$25 million contract back in the summer of 2014, the Mavs and he agreed on the third year of the deal, next season, being a player option. If the Mavs aren’t able to finish the season strong enough to make a first round series interesting or even make the playoffs at all, is it possible that Dirk could opt out of the final year of his contract and leave the Mavericks?
This fan’s question to Nowitzki: Why wouldn’t you?
The man has given this city everything over the last 18 years and it has been the most amazing ride for the Mavericks fanbase. However, the rest of the league is trending in a direction that doesn’t look good for the mediocre-at-best Mavericks and it’s going to be nearly impossible to right the ship in a way that will allow Nowitzki to legitimately compete for a championship in the royal blue uniform before he retires.
With his level of performance this season, it’s certainly reasonable to believe that Nowitzki could play at least two or three more seasons if he really wanted to. The key to the remainder of his career is his passion for the game. If he wakes up one day and suddenly doesn’t feel like putting in the work he’s used to putting in to still perform at a high level, he’ll hang up the sneakers. Winning and competing for championships is definitely something that will delay that inevitable feeling for Nowitzki.
As it stands now, the Dallas Mavericks are not close to realistically competing for a championship. They’re dead in the middle of the league in terms of just about everything with no draft pick to offer them a chance to infuse themselves with cheap, young, under control talent this offseason. For Nowitzki, what is the draw to keep putting in time at the gym and spending time away from your growing family if you don’t have a realistic shot at a title?
Would he really leave and play for someone besides the Mavericks? Probably not at this stage in his career. If it were 2005 and he was hitting the open market, maybe. He simply doesn’t appear interested in wearing another uniform. At the All Star game in February, Lakers star and Nowitzki-contemporary Kobe Bryant revealed that he once tried to lure Dirk to the Lakers. Nowitzki had none of it. Telling Bryant that Dallas is his “home.” He even reportedly was in the mix for “max” contract offers (a value of AT LEAST $20 million per season) from the Lakers and Rockets during his brief 2014 free agency. He never even took calls from the teams and settled for a 3 year deal with the Mavericks with an average annual value slightly above $8 million.
His loyalty to this team, this fanbase and this city is something we’re lucky to have. Dallas appreciates it, Dirk. We have loved every moment of every game with you. The good, the bad and the ugly. The bow-legged free throws. The statue shot that will eventually be the reminder of fans young and old how great you are every time they enter the American Airlines Center. The countless memories from that spring/early summer playoff run in 2011 that led to this city’s only professional sports championship so far this century. All of it. We appreciate it more than you can ever know.