From the outset of 2016-17, or even before, it was obvious that Dirk Nowitzki did not plan to make this season the final of his illustrious career. The future Basketball Hall of Famer was drafted in 1998 and counts this campaign as his 19th, but the 38 year-old signed a two-year deal for a reason last July, and he’d like one more chance to do it all right in 2017-18.
Not that 2016-17, even with Dirk’s Dallas Mavericks possibly on their way to the lottery for just the second time in Nowitzki’s time in the league, has been significantly removed from the realm of “all right.” Dirk’s been fantastic, for any age, but he still reserves the right to do it all again (and for $25 million!) next season.
“I said last summer: I signed a two-year deal, [and] that obviously meant I want to play for two more. I want to complete that deal.”
When asked if he plans to return for what would be his 20th season, Nowitzki offered an “I think so.” He went on:
“Unless something drastic changes here in the next few weeks or the last few weeks of the season, which I don’t anticipate.”
“Twenty is a great number. I think 20 seasons also with one team, like I’m trying to do it — I think only Kobe has done it — that’s another great accomplishment. So I kinda want to make the 20 fold. Plus that summer I’m turning 40. I think that’s also a good number to be in the league … from 20 to 40. That’s what I’m looking at. Hopefully I’ll finish this season out strong, and then have a decent year, hopefully not as [many] injuries next year.”
Nowitzki averages 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 35 games with the Mavs this year, turning the ball over less than a single time per evening while playing 26 minutes a contest. He’s started each turn out, and the Mavs have gone 9-6 since Nowitzki was shepherded in as the team’s starting center full time toward the end of January, and 17-15 since he returned to full healthy (mainly working at center) following his return from an early-season series of right Achilles woes.
Dirk chased off retirement talk then (which would have been an understandable time to walk after a slow start) just as he’s doing now with the Mavericks taking on yet another new identity (the 492nd in Dirk’s time with the team, since the franchise’s 2011 NBA title) in the wake of the trading of center Andrew Bogut, release of veteran guard Deron Williams, and the ascension of hybrid guards Seth Curry and (especially) rookie Yogi Ferrell.
The Mavs are just three games out of the Western playoff bracket with 21 to play, entering Saturday night, with Dirk having contributed 10 points on 4-10 shooting and seven rebounds in his team’s Friday night conquest over the similar-styled Memphis Grizzlies. Now is no time, especially with $25 million on the line in guaranteed money for 2017-18, technically on the hook.
“Technically,” as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would no doubt find a way to send everything he’s currently owed Nowitzki (in some unofficial form or another) should Dirk find the onset of age too strong to overcome if Nowitzki chose to walk away.
Which, thankfully, Dirk Nowitzki will not. He thinks so, at least.
With his Mavericks bounding and his franchise legend seemingly in pocket for another year, Cuban (who purchased the struggling franchise in early 2000), decided to use the setting to recall one of his first interactions with then-Mavericks Dirk and Steve Nash around the Y2K turn, just before his purchase became official.
“The night before I announced I bought the team, he and Nash were [at Dallas’ since-shuttered Stark Club] and I went up and tried to buy him a beer, and I was dressed like a freak show,” Cuban said prior to Friday’s game against Memphis. “I was walking around with a bottle of champagne and I was like, ‘Can I buy you a beer, I think I’m going to be seeing you tomorrow.’ ”
“[Nowitzki] said, ‘No, that’s OK.’ Nash rolled his eyes and they walked away. Then they saw me the next day and everybody was like, ‘Who the [expletive] is this guy?’ ”
He’s the owner of the team, mostly for better over worse. And the guy that decided to stick with Dirk Nowitzki, a compelling prospect yet lightning rod for criticism in a league that was also watching Vladimir Stepania struggle to compete at the NBA level, instead of fully clearing house upon taking over the Mavs. As expected by many.
In Nowitzki’s final game under former owner Ross Perot Jr., he nailed 12 of 17 shots for what was then a career-high 32 points in a 109-104 loss to the Toronto Raptors. Playing all 48 minutes in the contest, mostly against Charles Oakley and fellow second-year stud Vince Carter, Nowitzki’s was a breakthrough performance at the fin de siècle, leaving the Mavs at 9-21 on the young year.
They’d finish the season on a 31-21 run, a “tear” of sorts for a team that hadn’t even sniffed the playoffs for a decade at that point. Since then, under Cuban and Nowitzki, the team has made it to the postseason in 15 of 16 seasons – with the end of Cuban’s first (half) season as owner going a long way toward establishing the sort of credibility and good cheer needed to expect great things.
That “15 of 16”-qualifier does not count this season, with the Mavs still with several hopeful teams to overcome in order to make the postseason, and we’re nowhere near even being able to consider the club’s playoff odds for next season.
Another reason to not think so much about that much-discussed “next season” is because there is so much left to learn about 2016-17. Dirk Nowitzki, however, can be forgiven toward looking forward to what could be the final 16 months of his NBA career.
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