It’s been assumed for quite a long time that when Dirk Nowitzki’s four-year, $80 million contract ended in the summer of 2014, the Dallas Mavericks superstar would be giving the only team he’s ever known a hometown discount. Unlike Kobe Bryant, who flirted with two teams during his 2004 free agency and signed to be the NBA’s highest-paid player in a contract extension last fall, Nowitzki is actually on record saying that he might be up to taking a “significant pay cut” when he becomes a free agent in July, one that would be worked out in order to allow his Mavericks to add other players under the salary cap ceiling.
Nowitzki didn’t re-iterate those thoughts in a recent interview with NBA.com’s David Aldridge, instead bringing up the personal charge that would seemingly preclude Nowitzki shopping around this summer, just the second true free agent turn of his storied, championship-winning career. From the interview:
Me: We all know you've committed to re-signing with Dallas this summer as a free agent, and to finishing your career as a Maverick. But even if that's the case, why not explore free agency this summer, just to see what it's like, to be courted by other teams?
DN: Well, I think the first time I was a free agent was in 2010. Other than that, I always extended early. I didn't even like it. I hated the unknown. Even listening to other teams, I just wasn't interested. I wanted to be here. My heart's here. I've been here for 16 years now. My family's here, friends. I'd love to retire here. I think everybody knows that. So hopefully we compete my last couple of years, make the playoffs every year. I think that's important. And just compete at the highest level. And then, slowly, riding into the sunset. It's been a great ride here. I can't even imagine wearing a different uniform. I don't want to live in a different city. I can't even imagine it.
It’s true that nobody, really, could imagine Dirk in a different uniform, and I believe the man when he says he wants to return to not only team, but city.
Luckily for Dirk, in spite of some pointed (and rather needless, in Dirk’s estimation, though their relationship is fine) comments from Mavs owner Mark Cuban from last week, this won’t give the Dallas front office a reason to play hardball with the Greatest Maverick Ever. Mark Cuban is a smart businessman, but he’s not going to be a jerk, here.
We’re not enjoying taking shots at an injured Kobe, but unlike Bryant Dirk has had a fantastic year for his Mavericks, the team has a shot at 50 wins once again, and the team is currently a half game up on the fearsome Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the West’s playoff bracket. Nowitzki is managing over 21 points on 49 percent shooting, only turning the ball over 1.5 times a contest, and generally causing havoc for opposing defenses any time the ball has but a chance to be reversed over to his 7-foot frame.
The problem here is, in the West, this may not matter. If the Mavs finish the season on a 6-2 tear to grab those 50 wins, it should be enough to secure a playoff spot with ease, but nobody is lumping these Mavs in with the cream of the championship crop in their conference. Another free agent turn would hope to change this, but the rebuilding-on-the-fly Mavericks boasted cap space and Nowitzki’s presence in both the 2012 and 2013 offseason, with nary a fellow superstar to be found. This doesn’t mean the Mavericks’ front office plan was out of step, sustaining flexibility in the wake of that 2011 championship (Tyson Chandler’s not looking so hot these days, sadly) was the right thing to do, but the Mavs have had bad luck.
The team, and Nowitzki, is hoping things go better this time around, but the franchise will have some tough decisions to make in ways that go well beyond the uneasy task of determining worth between friends like Nowitzki and Cuban.
Shawn Marion and especially Vince Carter have played quite well this season, and Carter rightfully took to the press over the weekend to point to permanence as a pressing concern. From Eddie Sefko at the Dallas Morning News:
“I think I’ve earned the right to stick around,” Carter said.
The 6-6 future Hall of Famer will be a free agent after this season. Carter’s three-year contract he signed before the 2011-12 season has been a huge bargain, as the Mavericks paid him only about $9.3 million for those years of work.
He hopes it is a no-brainer that he re-signs with the Mavericks.
“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “Next year might be even better. We can attract some more people, more talent. Now I know my role, and I know the system, it’s second nature to me now. I know the city very well. I’m stepping out, going to SMU games and getting out and about. I’m very comfortable here.
“I like the guys. I like the nucleus we have here. With my role and the way I play and the way I go about things, it really helps guys here. And they like that. Hopefully, that’s enough so that they can still have trust in me enough to play significant minutes and help the other guys out.”
Sefko and Carter are right: Vince has been a bargain at his price, and though his game once relied heavily on VC’s other-worldly athleticism, Carter has smartly adapted his all-around game to the onset of age.
Marion, meanwhile, is making over $9.3 million this year, and his cap hold (stuck in place while the Mavs figure out what they’re doing with Dirk, Carter, and other potential free agents) will be a significant one. Marion has expressed a desire not to play into his 40s (he turns 36 in May), but he’s not exactly talking about retirement either.
Then there is Samuel Dalembert, who has played fantastic defensive ball at times this season, as much as he has played cluelessly on both ends while infuriating the coaching staff with his tardiness. If the Mavs decline to fully guarantee his contract, that could save the team $2 million in cap space, but it would also cost them a competent big man making half of the league’s average salary.
And then … Dirk. How do you sit down with Dirk Nowitzki, the man who has meant so much to the franchise, the man who wants to remain a part of your community, and slide that dollar figure over on a cocktail napkin?
That, like all other Mavs-y decisions that have taken place since June of 2011, won’t be easy.
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