Dirk Nowitzki works the charm on free agent to-be Mike James (Getty Images)
For the second consecutive summer, the Dallas Mavericks could have significant salary cap space on hand if they choose to pass on re-signing some of their free agents. And, for the second straight year, this is in spite of Dirk Nowitzki’s much-deserved but massive individual contract, something that paid him nearly $21 million this season and nearly $23 million in 2013-14.
After being passed over by Deron Williams and left wanting in Dwight Howard trade negotiations, he Mavericks did well last year to put together what felt like a good enough roster to make the playoffs. The team acquisitions (O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kamen) all came through with up and down seasons, though, while Elton Brand sadly was a bit of a non-factor. The biggest problem above all was the loss of Nowitzki to a knee injury to start the season. Dallas competed for a playoff berth towards the end of the campaign, but with Nowitzki taking to nearly the season’s midpoint to start playing like the superstar he is, the Mavs just didn’t have a chance.
Now Dirk is talking up the future. He wants Dwight Howard. He wants Chris Paul. He wants to part of the draft decision-making process. And he wants some pizza, dammit.
(He was actually very nice about all these things. From the Dallas Morning News:)
On Dwight Howard and Chris Paul:
Dirk Nowitzki: We'd love to get one of those two. We'd love to get a player in here who can create his own shot and be a superstar-type player. It's still a long way to go until July. Those guys need to clear their minds a little bit and get away and then start thinking what they want to do with their futures. Hopefully, that's where we come in and put a great pitch out there and see what happens.
On the pitch to free agents:
Dirk Nowitzki: I'll definitely be a little involved. But I'll be in the draft 'war room' for the first time ... order some pizza and talk some basketball. I got one year left on this deal and then I'm coming off the books. So if that helps for us to be better I'm going to take a paycut. That's part of the pitch. [Team owner Mark] Cuban and Donnie [Nelson, the team’s general manager] have got to be part of the pitch.
(If that last part is a shot at Mark Cuban, who infamously declined to go visit Deron Williams at a free agent recruiting last year in order to work on his television show ‘Shark Tank,’ then Dirk should take it easy, here. No team was going to drag Williams away from the Nets, who could offer him more money while stocking his roster with high priced name players like Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.)
(We don’t think that is a shot at Cuban, though.)
On Thursday, Nowitzki re-iterated his stance in a talk with reporters at an anti-texting while driving promotion, even calling the potential pay cut “significant,” if the Mavs are lucky enough to pry Howard or Paul from the clutches of the City of Angels.
"It's not about money. Obviously, Cuban took care of me for a long, long time. I always tried to pay him back by hard playing and being here for this franchise, so I don't think we're going to fight over money. I want to compete over these last couple of years. That's going to be the goal."
"I guess that's something we need to look at next summer when it gets to the point, but I'm sure it will be a significant pay cut," said Nowitzki, the lone constant on the Mavs' roster during the 12-year postseason streak that was snapped this season.
Of course, Nowitzki’s not hurting for dough.
ESPN pointed out that only four players – Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan – have made more money in salary than Dirk Nowitzki over the course of their careers, and each of the active players on that list may walk away from the game when their current contracts expire. And Nowitzki may have already passed those top four in overall cash retention, due to the fact that his max contract status has never been in question, so Nowitzki has gone into all contract “negotiations” without an agent, without having to pay an agent fee for the deals he put pen to.
Every bit of extra bread counts, y’know?
Again, though, the Mavs may fall short. Plenty of teams have cap space this summer, with the NBA’s best center and point guard available, but the Lakers and Clippers have too much on their side for competitors to overcome unless either player makes a completely unexpected decision. Both the Lakers and Clippers are frustrated with their first round ousters, but Dwight Howard doesn’t like to hurt feelings and take chances, which is why he picked up his player option to stay in Orlando over a year ago even though he didn’t want to play for that team. And Paul will have plenty of say in all Clippers personnel and coaching matters moving forward, encouragement to stay.
Most important is the money, though, as Howard and Paul (who both struggled with at-times debilitating injuries last year) have the security of an extra guaranteed year to convince them to stay with their incumbent teams, and the ability to make far more money overall. And if this ticks NBA fans off, understand that this is a direct result of fan complaints following the sort of free agent star-hoarding the Miami Heat executed in 2010. The same sort of set-up Nowitzki is trying to encourage in Dallas.
And before we canonize Nowitzki, understand that the Mavs star should be taking a pay cut next year. Even a significant one.
Dirk will be 36 when the 2014 offseason hits, and though we expect Nowitzki to bounce back with an All-Star level season in 2013-14 (he was out of shape for parts of 2011-12 and injured for most of this year), age ain’t nothin’ but a factor. It’s also worth pointing out that a “significant” pay cut in Dirk’s terms doesn’t have to mean the Mavericks legend has to work for a minimum salaried contract. Dipping down to even $13 million a year instead of nearly $23 million? That’s significant. I don’t care how many bedrooms you can afford.
Through all of this, Dirk may be smartly angling for something he seems well-suited for following his active career. By working as a 7-foot intern of sorts in the Mavericks’ front office this summer, Nowitzki can get used to the ins and outs that championship creators Nelson and Cuban are already quite used to. Helping sway players and giving the team cap space to work with can only endear Nowitzki to the team’s front office more.
As if that’s even possible, at this point.
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