When some observers raised concerns about Kevin Durant’s decision to accept a much larger pay cut than originally expected to return to the Golden State Warriors, others noted that it wasn’t exactly mold-breaking for a player to leave money on the table — lots of it, even — to help their teams’ front offices add or retain talent and bolster the team’s chances of competing for a title. One name frequently brought up in this discussion? Dirk Nowitzki, who has been part of the Dallas Mavericks since “Saving Private Ryan” was in theaters, and who has taken multiple hometown discounts over the years in hopes of keeping the Mavs in the mix.
Dirk got some of those forsaken funds back on his last deal, signing a two-year, $50 million pact last summer that included a team option for Year 2. But after the Mavs declined that option in favor of signing him to a new deal, and based on the news to come across the wire Thursday, we can only conclude that the big German saw Durant’s deal, heard the hue and cry about players giving back money, and said, “Hold one of my 30,000 Bud Lights.”
From Tim MacMahon of ESPN:
The Dallas Mavericks are in the process of finalizing a two-year, $10 million deal with Dirk Nowitzki, league sources told ESPN.
The second season of the deal will be a team option, source said.
The Mavs, in consultation with Nowitzki, declined a team option last month that would have paid Nowitzki a $25 million salary this season, $5 million of which was guaranteed. This marks the third time Nowitzki, the face of the franchise, has given the Mavs a significant hometown discount.
To be clear: the 13-time All-Star is not making less money because that’s all he’s worth. Even at age 38, moving at times like the Tin Man cosplaying as The Mummy, Dirk averaged 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 26.4 minutes per game, shooting a shade under 38 percent from 3-point range on four attempts per contest.
Nowitzki shook off a debilitating early season Achilles tendon injury that made him consider retirement more seriously than ever before. He persevered and just kept getting buckets, same as ever, en route to becoming just the seventh player ever to reach 30,000 career points and helping the scuffling Mavs stay within hailing distance of a lower-reaches-of-the-West playoff berth until late March before falling off the pace (not entirely unintentionally) down the stretch and deciding to do stuff like suiting up Tony Romo.
In his 19th NBA season, he actually got stronger as the campaign wore on, playing more minutes more productively after the All-Star break. He felt good. Surprisingly good. So much so that, as the season neared its end, he said he not only intended to come back for the 2017-18 campaign, but that he might even be interested in going past the 20-year career milestone he’d set for himself.
“You’ve still got to enjoy the grind,” Nowitzki told Michael Lee of The Vertical in late March. “Sometimes it’s tough. If you don’t like the lifting and all the practicing, or the extra shots, I might as well retire. I still love the game. The practices. The weightlifting sessions in the summer, when you’re on vacation, all of that gets a little old. Once the game starts and the fans, that’ll always be fun. So I’m going to do it as long as my health holds up. And we’ll see how long it goes.”
If Nowitzki’s going to keep taking such deep discounts — seriously, $5 million a year, after the Mavs were 9.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than off it after the All-Star break — then it can probably go on as long as he wants. Owner Mark Cuban has been very clear in the past that he will do whatever Dirk wants to do in terms of contractual obligations. The 2006-07 NBA Most Valuable Player and 2011 NBA Finals MVP, for his part, has made it very clear through word and deed that he wants to just keep plugging along.
“I was fortunate coming to a situation where Dallas supported me from Day One. The fans, even my first year struggling, I got standing ovations subbing in. Almost like they wanted me to succeed,” Nowitzki told Lee. “I never forgot that. End of my second year, Cuban bought the team and he’s been my No. 1 supporter on and off the floor. Every time there was something, he came and helped me out. He’s been loyal to me. Made me his franchise player when I was 24 and everybody said, ‘Are you crazy? You can’t give this foreigner a max deal?’ And he did. And stuck with me after all of the disappointments and it paid off. He’s been loyal to me, the city has been loyal to me and it’s easy for me to pay that back.”
There is a counterargument, here. One that suggests Nowitzki — the linchpin of the Mavericks’ turn from a laughingstock of a franchise throughout the 1990s to a team that made 12 straight playoff berths, won 50 or more games in 11 consecutive years, made two trips to the NBA Finals and won the franchise’s only NBA championship — doesn’t need to “pay back” a damn thing.
That, after Cuban and Donnie Nelson decided to dismantle Dallas’ title team for fear of punitive luxury tax complications in the years after the 2011 lockout, and subsequently failing to build a legitimately competitive roster around him for the rest of his prime (and for a half-decade running), the Mavs are the ones who’ve got red in their ledger. That, in fact, Nowitzki’s once-in-a-generation brilliance has generated more value for Cuban and everyone else associated with the organization than he could ever reasonably recoup, and that every dollar he could conceivably receive from the Mavericks is one he’s earned, and is owed, and should be paid, just on general principle.
I think that’s a good argument, personally. I’m not even sure Cuban disagrees. That doesn’t seem to be the way Dirk sees it, though.
And so, a man with more freedom to do what he wants than just about any other player in the NBA — even more, perhaps, than LeBron James, since Dirk’s been a civic institution in Dallas for a half-decade longer than The King’s been in the league — chooses to make less than the non-taxpayer midlevel exception. He chooses to just slide down the cap sheet while the Mavs try to bring back restricted free agent center Nerlens Noel and continue the process of building whatever the next competitive iteration of the team will be. He chooses to make room at the top of the food chain, run it back in pursuit of the 1,159 points he’ll need to move past Wilt Chamberlain into fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, and keep plugging along until he can’t.
It might seem mind-boggling to us. If ever a player’s earned a right to choose how he authors his exit from a city’s sporting scene, though, it’s Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. The good news for us sinners? He ain’t going anywhere yet.
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