SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It was less than two years ago that the Dallas Mavericks were first-time NBA champions. With the front office focusing on the future instead of a chance to repeat with an aging roster, the team made major changes.
According to star Dirk Nowitzki, the franchise actually considered trading him before deciding to get rid of nearly everyone else in hopes of landing a marquee free agent such as Dwight Howard, Deron Williams or Chris Paul.
The plan hasn't worked. Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois are the only players remaining from the title team, and the struggling Mavericks, who failed to land a major free agent, could miss the playoffs. While Nowitzki is still holding out hope for an “unbelievable” free-agent splash this summer, he has pondered the possible success that was lost after the post-title changes.
“That's what we went for [a marquee free agent]. Unfortunately, now it ain't looking too good,” Nowitzki said after the Mavericks' 117-112 overtime win over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night improved their record to 14-23. “But I think you can judge if we made a mistake or not on what we do with the [salary] cap space. We don't know if we can actually turn that cap space into something unbelievable.
“If we can do that, maybe it's a good choice. As of right now, it's tough. We are fighting for the eighth seed. It's obviously not what we want to do in Dallas. We want to win championships and we want to always play for the top four seeds. So right now, it's tough to see where the future is going.”
Nowitzki, who turns 35 on June 19, took some time recently to talk with Yahoo! Sports about a number of topics, including the future, the Mavericks’ direction and his health after having knee surgery in October.
Q: Could it be in the best interest for the Mavericks to trade you while you still have strong value?
Nowitzki: “That is a tough question. You have to ask that to [owner] Mark [Cuban] and [general manager] Donnie [Nelson] if that's something they would consider. As far as I'm concerned, I think I am going to finish my career in Dallas. I really only have this year and next year left on my contract for big money and then we will see what happens. The good thing is we have [salary] cap space for the first time in my career. We've always been over the cap. We've never been able to sign someone flat-out. We always had to do different deals to get somebody in.
“The good thing with cap space is you can turn your situation around pretty quick. It might look a little ugly at times this year, but you can take chances on a contract and be a player in free agency this year.”
Q: How much were you involved in the recruitment of Dallas native Deron Williams before he chose to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets last off-season rather than with the Mavericks?
Nowitzki: “I talked to him actually. We partied at one of the All-Star Games a long time ago. I've had his number. We've been talking. He's from Dallas, I know that. But he made the decision that was best for him and for his family. I wasn't mad at that. It is what it is. I have to move on.
“I've said a million times, 'You got two options: If you don't get the big fish and there was nobody else out there, either blow up the whole team or trade me or trade everybody; or keep your core, get a bunch of one year deals in and try to be a player in the next summer when you have cap space again.' [The second option] is the best option we went for.
“People said I said I wanted to be traded. What I said was you have two options and we tried to go for the second option and sign eight, nine new guys, which is tough at times. We are still battling through that. They played together for two months and now I am new again trying to play with guys. It's been a real adjustment period, but hopefully from here on out it's going to get better.”
Q: Do you think the option you spoke of that included trading you was seriously considered?
Nowitzki: “I don't think so. They didn't tell me. A fresh start basically with a lot of young guys was not an option. The option was to bring a bunch of one-year deals in and go for it, trade for somebody or go for it next summer. The decision was made pretty quickly and so here we are now.”
Q: Are you going to recruit Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard when he becomes a free agent this off-season?
Nowitzki: “We're not that close. It's going to be tough. Dwight is in L.A. Obviously, CP3 [Chris Paul] is with the Clippers and they're both in great situations. So, we will have to wait and see what the summer brings. Maybe we can still do something at the trade deadline. We still got a couple weeks to get better and you know Mark and Donnie are always working something to make the franchise better.”
Q: How different could it have been if the Mavericks’ roster were kept in tact after winning a championship?
Nowitzki: “Great question. What Mark didn't want to do, especially now with the new CBA, was lock himself in where he has a bunch of older guys with big deals. And then when we get too old, you're basically locked in for another two to three years and you can't do any moves. As I understood the CBA more, how the taxes are going to be, I understood his point of view on it.
“But us as players, we would have loved to have kept Tyson [Chandler], Caron [Butler], J.J. [Barea], all those guys who really would have had another shot last year. But it is what it is and you have to make tough decisions in this league, and Cuban thought it would be better to have the [salary] cap space for the future.”
Q: How does your surgically repaired right knee feel now?
Nowitzki: “After my first game on [December] 23rd, I figured this was going to take me a while. Now I feel three steps better with everything. I just had a tough time getting going. It's all right. I've had some good games. Obviously, back-to-backs are tough. My minutes have been up to 30, 35 a game. I look forward to getting better from game to game.”
Q: Would you be heartbroken if you are not an All-Star this year after making it 11 straight seasons?
Nowitzki: “It would be sad a little bit. It's been a long streak. Actually, [shooting coach] Holger [Geshwindner] said when I made my first All-Star Game, 'Now we are going to park here for the next 10 years.' I was laughing and I said, 'No chance.' Now it's at a number I can't remember. It's been a great ride. I'd be really disappointed. But obviously, with our record and I've been out for two months, I think this year is going to be the year [I don’t make it].”
Q: How have you taken losing?
Nowitzki: “It's been frustrating. I think we lost 13 out of 15 or something like that [13 of 16 actually]. Some of it at the beginning I sat out, but for the most part I was there since Christmas. It has been tough. I've been wanting to push, especially in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. But my body ain't quite ready yet to take games over after I played 30 to 35 minutes. Hopefully as I keep working we are going to close some of those close games out, find a way to win some of those and make a push at the eighth seed here in the second half of the season.”
Q: You have said you want to finish your basketball career with the Mavericks, but has there been any consideration to finishing it where it started in your native Germany?
Nowitzki: “Germany is over the hill for me. It's been so long since I've been gone. I have this year and next year on my contract. By then I am 36. I will probably play a couple years after that if the body holds up and there are no knee issues.”
Q: Do you think what you have done in the NBA is respected in the United States?
Nowitzki: “That was never really one of my focuses. I made the All-Star Game and that was great and then after that it was about winning a championship. That was all that I was working on. Everything else was secondary to me. I will never forget the 2010-11 [championship] season. That was one for the ages where we were the underdog in just about every series and we came out winning it all. That still brings chills down my spine. Other than that, I don't play for anything else.”
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