Lost in the talk about Dallas' planned on-the-fly rebuilding, their failure to land a superstar, the team's solid response to the lack of a superstar helper, and the hope that they can try it all again during the summer of 2013, is the fact that — whew, that's a lot to get lost in — the Dallas Mavericks are going to be shooting for a 2013 and 2014 NBA title on the shoulders of one Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki -- the superstar that led them to the 2011 NBA championship, but also to a first-round failure in 2012 while suffering through his worst season in a decade at age 33.
He's 34, now, and would be turning 35 and 36 during the hoped-for Finals runs that the Mavericks would like to put together over the next two seasons. And it's also best to remember that Dirk played almost perfect basketball for his Mavsies during the 2011 postseason, working up a sparkling Player Efficiency Rating of over 25 while managing a 61 percent True Shooting Percentage, on his way toward (yes, I'll get to the real stats) nearly 28 points per contest. In Dirk's defense is Dallas, starting with GM Donnie Nelson, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
"Dirk is one of, if not the, hardest-working people in the history of the Mavericks, so I don't foresee his hunger for a championship to end," Nelson said. "Once you've got one, you want to get another one and another one. It's our job to surround him with the kind of team that can put ourselves in position to make those dreams come true."
(Do we have to qualify Dirk's work ethic with "in the history of the Mavericks?" It really doesn't concern me that Nowitzki's offseason regime and practice habits are better than, say, Loren Meyer.)
It's a fair strategy, and though the Mavericks missed out on Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, the team did well to surround Dirk with Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Elton Brand and O.J. Mayo. Not exactly a murderer's row, to be sure, but something to get your foot in the door.
"I don't foresee Dirk all of the sudden hitting some wall in the next year or two," Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson said. "Our plan has always been to put ourselves in a positive position to win a championship. There's different ways of doing that."
One of those ways is not trading Nowitzki, who as the Star-Telegram's Art Garcia reminded us, owns one of the NBA's two no-trade clauses (Kobe Bryant also has one).
While the Mavs' intentions are clear, coach Rick Carlisle doesn't want anyone thinking that playing 'til May will just take care of itself:
"It's important not to assume anything," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "I think with these two years we've got to do the same thing we did last year and that's keep his minutes reasonable, we've got to surround him with the right guys and put ourselves in a position to be successful."
You'll notice a theme, both coming from the Mavericks and from some of the scribes (myself included) charged with covering the team. The idea behind putting themselves in that "position to be successful."
That's not script-speak. Even in 2011, the Mavericks were never going to roll into the playoffs as the clear favorite, and pull the trophy merely by living up to expectation. They were going to take advantage of the team's depth, versatility, smarts, and ability to adapt (behind Carlisle) while banking on Nowitzki's go-to scoring brilliance to put games away. Take advantage of matchups, think hard, play harder, see what happens. Same as the champs in 2011, and the same as first-round fodder in 2012.
We're on board with these Mavs in considering Nowitzki's out of shape 2011-12 an aberration, and not a sign of a drop-off to come.
One would hope, at least. Because we're not ready to consider Dirk more of a faded superstar, as opposed to a championship cornerstone.